God wants us as his children
Many of us grow up wondering whether we are wanted in life. John and Stasi Eldredge tell the story of Lori who longed to know that her father wanted her but kept receiving contradictory messages: “When her elementary school held a father/daughter dinner, Lori desperately wanted to go. She invited her father to go; she begged him to come, but he would have none of it. Lori assumed he did not want to attend because he was ashamed to be seen with her…. Lori took ballet lessons. She felt so pretty in her pink leotard and tights that she asked her father to please come and watch her dance. He answered her that when she was on a real stage, then he would come and watch her. As you might know, dance classes end with recitals, and so, the day did come for little Lori to dance on a real stage. Pretty in her shimmering costume, she eagerly waited and watched for her father’s arrival. He never came. Later that evening, friends of her father had to carry him into the house, as he was too drunk to walk in by himself…. The message was that she wasn’t worth his time. She wasn’t worth loving. She felt that there must be something terribly wrong with her.” (Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, p. 65-66 & 68)
The apostle Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with a very different message. He begins his letter with the report of a loving adoption by a heavenly Father who deeply wants us as his children: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
Adoption was no trifle matter in the Roman world in which Paul wrote this letter.
1: By Roman law, adoption was volitional. No one was forced into adoption. The one being adopted and the one doing the adopting would stand before a judge. The judge would ask the one who was adopting, “Do you want to adopt this person?” That person would answer, “Yes, I want to.” Then the judge would ask the person being adopted, “Are you willing to be adopted by this person?” That person would answer, “Yes, I am willing.” This set of questions was repeated two more times. Both parties had to affirm three times that they wanted to legalize the adoption.
In similar manner, we are adopted into God’s family. No one is forced into such an adoption. God chose to adopt us as his children “before the foundation of the world,” but God will force no one to be his child. It is left to each of us to affirm the adoption or to reject it.
2: Adoption in the Roman culture was rewarding. When a person was adopted into a Roman family, the newly adopted child was given all the rights and privileges of family membership. Indeed, it was often the reason for adoption in Roman culture—to choose an heir to the family wealth.
Likewise, when we are adopted into God’s family, we are granted access to all of God’s riches and resources. God chooses us to be the heirs of his riches!
3: By Roman law, adoption was permanent. After standing before a judge and affirming adoption, the one who adopted a child cannot back out of the deal, and the one who agreed to adoption cannot nullify it.
Similarly, when God adopts us as his children, it is permanent. We need never fear that God will grow tired of us and boot us out. We belong to God forever.
4: According to Roman culture, adoption changed one’s very identity. At adoption, all records of a person’s prior life are destroyed. Upon adoption, a person’s biological parents lose any claim upon the child’s life. The adopted person’s name is changed; the old family name is dropped; the new family name is taken. Even the person’s birthday is forgotten. From then on, the “birthday” to be celebrated is the day of adoption, not the day of birth.
Equally, when we are adopted into God’s family, we are given a new name and a new identity. We are now known as Christian, one belonging to Christ.