24 April 2021
“In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:5).
In the days of Apostle Paul, adoption is declaring someone who has come of age as the legal son or daughter in a family. The one adopted is treated as belonging to the family, entitled to all privileges and inheritance of the family; we see the great privilege of being adopted into God’s family and being siblings to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, sharing in His privilege, inheritance and glory. Everything He has will some day be shared with us, for it is our inheritance no less than His; we are among the many whom God is bringing to glory (Heb. 2:10), and God’s promise to us and HIs work in us are not going to fail.
Our adoption as God’s children gives us the key to understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches the mind of God, and glorifies the Son of God, out of the Scriptures; also, He is the agent of new birth (regeneration), giving us an understanding so that we know God, and a new heart to obey HIm; also, that He indwells, sanctifies, and energises Christians for their daily walk. In addition, assurance, joy, peace and power are His special gifts.
In outworking however, many believers do not find these to be ‘real’ in their lives. They complain of something vitally missing and wonder how they can experience these practically. They search for this reality intently, looking for a breakthrough in their personal ‘unspiritual barrier’.
The event may be thought of as the ‘full surrender’, or ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit, or ‘entire sanctification’ or the gift of tongues, or a ‘second conversion’. Yet, in the case of many, even if something happens which they feel able to identify with what they were looking for, they soon find that the ‘unspiritual barrier’ has not been broken after all, and so move on restlessly to something new. What helps to clear this issue is the light shed by the truth of adoption on the ministry of the Spirit.
What they are pursuing is a type of supernaturalism which leads various ones to hanker after a transforming touch as from an electric impersonal power that will make them wholly free from the burdens and bondages of living with themselves and other people. The quest for an inward ‘explosion’ rather than an inward communion shows deep misunderstanding of the Spirit’s ministry.
The Spirit is given to Christians as ‘the Spirit of adoption’, and in all HIs ministry to Christians He acts as the Spirit of adoption. As such, His task and purpose throughout is to make Christians realise with increasing clarity the meaning of their filial relationship with God in Christ Jesus, and to lead them into an ever deeper response to God in this relationship. There are three aspects in the work of the Spirit.
Firstly, He makes and keeps us conscious that we are God’s children by free grace through Jesus Christ – this is the work of giving faith, assurance and joy.
Secondly, He moves us to look to God as to a father, showing towards Him respectful boldness and unlimited trust that is natural in children secure in an adored father’s love – this is His work in making us cry ‘Abba, Father’.
Thirdly, He impels us to act up to our position as royal children by manifesting the family likeness (i.e. conforming to Christ), furthering the family welfare (i.e. loving the brethren), and maintaining the family honour (i.e. seeking God’s glory).
All these constitute the work of sanctification – through this progressive deepening of filial consciousness and character, with the pursuit of what God loves and the avoidance of what God hates, He transforms us in ever-increasing splendour into His own image (2 Cor.3:18).
Our adoption as sons and daughters of God shows us the meaning and motives of ‘gospel holiness’, a term denoting authentic Christian living, springing from love, and gratitude to God, in contrast with the spurious ‘legal holiness’ that consists of forms, routines and outward appearances, maintained from self-regarding motives.
‘Gospel holiness’ is simply a consistent outworking of our filial relationship with God; it is just a matter of the child of God being true to his or her new nature, true to the heavenly Father, to the Saviour Jesus Christ and to himself/herself. It is in fact the expression of one’s adoption in one’s life; a matter of being a good son or daughter, as distinct from a prodigal or black sheep in the royal family. The relationship arising from the adoption displays God’s grace and provides the motive for authentic holy living. Christians know that God’s intention for them is to be holy and blameless and they know also that they are moving towards a day when this holiness would be fully realised when Christ comes again (1 John 3:2).
The ‘discipline’ from the Father exercised through outward pressures and trial helps the process of being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus; Christians going through trouble can take comfort in the knowledge that in the Father’s kindly plan, there is a positive purpose to further his or her sanctification. In this current world, royal children have to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them and prepare them for their high destiny. Christians’ primary motive for holy living is not negative but positive – it is to manifest their love and gratitude to their adopting God by identifying themselves with the Father’s will for them.
This reveals at once the place of God’s law in the Christian life. Many believers have the misconception that the law is no longer applicable in their lives; after all, salvation does not depend on law-keeping and we are justified through the blood and righteousness of Christ. Since justification means we are pardoned from all sin, past, present and future and we are completely accepted for all eternity, why should we be concerned whether we sin or not?
Although it is certainly true that justification frees one for ever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as a means of pleasing one’s new-found Father. Law-keeping is the family likeness of God’s children; Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, and God calls us to do likewise. Adoption puts law-keeping on a new footing; as children of God, we acknowledge the law’s authority as a rule for our lives, because we know that this is what the Father wants. If we sin, we confess our fault and ask our Father’s forgiveness on the basis of the family relationship. The sins of God’s children do not destroy their justification or nullify their adoption,but they mar the children’s fellowship with their Father. If we are truly born again, the family relationship must be an abiding one, lasting for ever. Perfect parents do not cast off their children; Christians may act the prodigal,but God will not cease to act the prodigal’s Father. God will go out of HIs way to make His children feel His love for them, and know their privilege and security as members of His family.
Being prone to self-deception, we do well to test our assurance by applying the doctrinal and ethical criteria which 1 John provides for this very purpose.
“By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3)
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (2:9).
“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:6-10).
Other verses in 1 John – 3:14, 18-21; 4:7,15l 5L1-4,18) – all these throw more light on the doctrinal and ethical criteria regarding our assurance of salvation.
It is imperative to note that the source of our assurance is not our inferences from studying these verses; rather it is the work of the Spirit, apart from as well as through our inferences, convincing us that we are God’s children and that the saving love and promises of God apply directly to us. Christians who grieve the Spirit by sin, and who fail to seek God with all their heart, must expect to miss the full fruition of the crowning gift of the double witness of the saving love and promises of God, just as careless and naughty children stop their parents’ smile and provoke frowns instead. Some gifts are too precious for careless and naughty children, and this is a gift which our heavenly Father will, to some extent at least, hold back if He sees us to be in a state where it would spoil us,by making us think our Father did not care whether we lived holy lives or not.
Believers have to appear also before the judgement seat of God – judgement would begin in the household of God. But if we fail miserably the doctrinal and ethical criteria listed in 1 John, we must beware that we may not even be born again. Scriptures have ample warnings for those who continue in a life of sin, and indulge in the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the love of the world – the Apostle Paul concluded that such ones have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God! Those who are born again have God’s seed abiding in Him; they have a new nature and they are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) – they therefore cannot ‘act’ against this new nature and sin naturally – the Spirit would ‘rebuke’ them and their new conscience and new reality would convict them of their grieving of God’s Spirit. In other words, sinning is not consistent with their new nature; increasingly, they would learn to hate sin and learn to love what God loves.