Beneath this internal conflict lies an offensive yet no less pressing perception that adoption is less than optimal. Some wrongly believe that no matter how noble the adopting family’s efforts, the adopted child is still not quite family—at least not in the way the biological children are. Oh, the new child may find herself tenderly positioned between siblings in the family photo, but still she is the adopted daughter. The young lad may fish with his father and devour mom’s chocolate cake like his brothers. But he is still adopted, and bound to, well, an inferior standing.
To be clear, most adopting parents and siblings do not behave or feel this way—ever. But despite compassion for the adopted children and respect for adopting parents, many secretly count adoption as second class.
This warped outlook has bulldozed into our thinking about biblical adoption. We affirm that redemption is marvelous. Justification and forgiveness deliver blessings beyond words. Yet however gratefully we receive adoption, it seems a second-tier backup plan. Surely if God had kept Adam from sinning, our present and our future would be better. We timidly wonder what we miss as adopted sons that “real” sons would enjoy. We hail our adoption with a secret sigh, hoping God won’t notice or be offended by our disappointment.
But if such disappointment is valid, the good news of adoption has a terrible leak in its goodness. And why do Paul’s words about adoption drip with delight? Perhaps the Apostle contrasts our sinful state with our new adoptive status, relishing redemption’s retrieval over its riches. Perhaps he finds being a second-rate son sufficient. After all, being a redeemed slave in God’s kingdom is surely preferable to being a son of perdition.
So, should we understand our adoption in Christ with such qualification? Hardly. Paul cringes at our distortion of his Spirit-given words.
Adam and Eve, created in the image of God for His glory, defaced their God-given image. They looked at their Father, weighed His word, and defiantly decided they had a better idea. Theirs was a sin of commission—we will eat the forbidden fruit. Theirs was a sin of omission—we will deny our Father honor. “Thanks a bunch for everything, but we’ll be our own gods,” the divine glory robbers muttered.
Just then, Almighty God appeared in Eden as His pathetic impostors sought to turn paradise into the garden of the gods. At the moment of anticipated wrath, the sovereign Father spoke words of grace. Instead of executing final judgment, He pronounced promise. Genesis 3:15 was as stunning as it was freeing, and our first parents’ terror dissolved into awe.
God told of a Son to come. This Son would obey the covenant requirements; this Son would crush the serpent’s head; this Son would reverse the curse to save fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
From that Edenic sermon forward, generations from Adam to Joseph awaited just one excellent son. They looked for just one who would rescue the desperate from their desperation; just one who would live after God’s own heart, rather than his own; just one who would receive divine affirmation and secure divine pleasure; just one who would solve the cosmic dilemma; just one who would be the Just One.
When the Apostle Paul penned his epistles, his audiences were quite familiar with the practice of Roman imperial adoption. In first-century Rome, when an emperor sought an heir to his throne, he first considered his biological sons. As he surveyed his offspring, he hunted for one with the competence to rule. To preserve his name and dynasty for future generations, the king wanted proven strength, reliability, integrity, and courage, not to mention unqualified devotion to his own vision for his kingdom.
Many times, biological offspring disappointed the emperor. Having squandered their privilege and lived recklessly, his sons were hardly wise candidates for the throne. Faced with their debauchery or immaturity, the emperor looked outside the family to find a son in whom he could be well pleased. Upon identifying and selecting the most excellent candidate, the king adopted this proven adult son to sit on his throne.