1. The Usual Meaning. The Bible recognizes the usual meaning of the word adoption, which is the placing of one rightfully outside blood ties into the position of a legal child (not, a natural child) in the family. Though not known at first among Jews, adoption was practiced by the Egyptians. Exodus 2:10 records the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh's daughter (cf. 1 Kings 11:20). The adoption of Esther (cf. Esther 2:7, 15) demonstrates that the custom was practiced by Jews in Babylon. Greece and Rome were evidently included among those who followed this custom. The Apostle Paul, indeed, uses this term only when writing to Gentiles. He writes to such about the national placing of Israel above other peoples—"To whom pertaineth the adoption" (Rom. 9:4-5)—as an adoption, but this instance bears closely upon the spiritual, New Testament use of the word. However, it is evident from Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 31:9; and Hosea 11:1 that Israel, though called the son of Jehovah, is a son only by virtue of decree or sovereign placing and not by virtue of natural or spiritual ties in their relation to Jehovah as a child.
2. The New Testament Meaning. The spiritual use of the word adoption signifies the placing of a newborn child—in point of maturity—into the position of privilege and responsibility attached to an adult son. Here an important distinction appears between two Greek words, namely, rexviov—used to denote little children who are under the authority of parents, tutors, and governors (cf. John 13:33)—and uioq—used to denote an adult son. Christ accordingly spoke of Himself as Son of man, and by employing the latter meant that He is One of full maturity. Perplexity may arise over why a born, and thus a natural, child should be adopted at all; for adoption, as usually conceived, could add nothing to rights which are gained by natural birth. It is thus, however, that the true spiritual meaning of adoption appears. The naturally born child is by adoption advanced positionally to his majority and given at once the standing of an adult son. Since spiritual adoption occurs at the time one is saved and thus becomes a child of God, there is no childhood period recognized in the Christian's experience. The one reference in 1 Corinthians 3:1 to "babes in Christ" sustains no relation to an immaturity which is due to brief experience with the Christian life; it is a reference to limitations which belong to an unspiritual or carnal state. The believer who is carnal may have been saved for many years.
In its distinctive significance, spiritual adoption means that the one thus placed has at once all the privilege—which is that of independence from tutors and governors—and liberty of a full-grown man. The Christian is enjoined to "stand fast" in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free and not to be "entangled again with the yoke of bondage," which is evidently a reference to the legal or merit system (Gal. 5:1). Spiritual adoption also imposes the responsibilities belonging to full maturity. This is clear from the fact that, whatever God addresses to any believer, He addresses to all who believe. No portions of the hortatory Scriptures intended for Christians are restricted to beginners in the Christian life. The same holy walk and exercise of gifts is expected from all the children of God alike. Since the Christian life is to be lived in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, this requirement is reasonable; for the enabling power of the Spirit is as available for one as for another. Practically, long years of experience in the Christian life will doubtless tend to skilled adaptation to that new manner of life; but those years add no more resource than is given by the Spirit from the beginning to those who are saved. The whole field of Christian responsibility is by so much related to this doctrine of adoption.
Adoption assumes a practical meaning as set forth in the Galatian and Roman Epistles. In the former it becomes a deliverance from slavery, from guardians, and from nonage; in the latter it signifies a deliverance from the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:14-17). All of this is directly due to the new, complete responsibility which full maturity imposes and to the divine plan that the believer's life is to be lived from the start in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The final placing as exalted mature sons awaits the redemption of the body, which will occur at the return of Christ (Rom. 8:23). This, too, is related to the "glorious liberty of the children [not, little children] of God" (Rom. 8:21).
Dr. C. I. Scofield presents this same definition of adoption in the notes of the ScofieldReference Bible: "Adoption (huiothesia, 'placing as a son') is not so much a word of relationship as of Position. The believer's relation to God as a child results from the new birth (John 1:12, 13), whereas adoption is the act of God whereby one already a child is, through redemption from the law, placed in the position of an adult son (Gal. 4:1-5). The indwelling Spirit gives the realization of this in the believer's present experience (Gal. 4:6); but the full manifestation of the believer's sonship awaits the resurrection, change, and translation of the saints, which is called 'the redemption of the body' (Rom. 8:23; 1 Thes. 4:14-17; Eph. 1:14; 1 John 3:2)" (p. 1250).
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