Knowing God, Chapter 19

Sons of God

“Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.” This shocking statement in at the center of this chapter entitled “Sons of God,” and it highlights what Packer calls a truth “that is little regarded in Church history.” If asked to focus the entire New Testament message into only 3 words, Packer says he would propose, “adoption through propitiation,” so important in his mind is this wonderful doctrine. And he is absolutely correct on all counts. This chapter is too lengthy for me to give more than the briefest of surveys, so if you want more detail you’ll have to read it for yourself!

Adoption is the gift of sonship by which it can be said of the Christian that God is his Father. Contrary to what many believe, “Sonship to God is not…a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus.” And this is the highest privilege afforded to believers by the gospel, for “to be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.” So while we may rightly rejoice in the fact that God has forgiven us and cleansed our sin in Christ, our hearts ought to burst with gratitude when we consider that God has adopted us as sons. And if we have become sons of God, then we may also recognize that Jesus is at once our Savior and our brother. This new relationship, then, forms the basis for our entire understanding of the Christian life.

First of all, our Christian conduct is based on it, for we are called to imitate, glorify, and please God who is our Father. Our prayer is also based on the fact of our adoption, that is, we do not think of prayer in terms of impersonal attempts to manipulate God to hear us and respond to our needs, but we pray freely and boldly, as a child who does not hesitate to ask his parents for anything, because he is confident of their love. Third, the life of faith is rooted in our understanding of adoption. Packer gives a helpful illustration:

We might have a crash,” said the small girl anxiously, as the family car threaded its way through traffic. “Trust Daddy; he’s a good driver,” said Mommy. The young lady was reassured, and she relaxed at once. Do you trust your heavenly Father like that? If not, why not? Such trust is vital; it is in truth the mainspring of the life of faith, which without it becomes a life of at least partial unbelief.

There are still other matters in the New Testament which the truth of adoption illuminates, as Packer continues. “First, then, our adoption shows us the greatness of God’s love.” Do you not know how ludicrous it is that God should take sinners and grant us, by his extravagant love, a place in his own family? And yet that is exactly what our adoption means. Second, our Christian hope is impossible to understand apart from our adoption. “To see, and know, and love, and be loved by, the Father and the Son, in company with the rest of God’s vast family, is the whole essence of the Christian hope.” Third, adoption helps to explain the ministry of the Holy Spirit. His ministry is not found in what Packer calls “a single transforming psychic event whereby…[our] ‘unspirituality barrier’ may be broken for good and all,” but in making us conscious that we are God’s children and moving us to act according to our royal position. It follows, then, that adoption gives meaning to “gospel holiness.” Packer explains that this is “authentic Christian living, springing from love and gratitude toward God…It is just a matter of the child of God being true to type, true to his Father, to his Savior and to himself.” In other words, adoption is more than an idea, it is a practical reality which produces a godly life. And finally, “our adoption gives the clue we need to see our way through the problem of assurance.” Simply put, if God is our Father, and if he is in fact perfect as a Father, then ours must be an abiding family relationship which lasts forever and in which “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.”

If you want to live a God-honoring life, then Packer suggests that you repeat this statement to yourself as often as possible, and ask that you may be enabled to live knowing that it is absolutely and completely true:

I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too.

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