For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:15-17)
Last night in youth group, we discussed God’s adoption of his people – how adoption serves as a beautiful metaphor for how God, in his kindness and magnanimity, chose to save men who, because of sin, were not his own. He initiated the pursuit; he made the first move. There was nothing a believer could do to seek God first; he reached out with his offer of salvation, and we responded. Amazing.
But it occurred to me last night that God doesn’t just initiate; he finishes. He closes.
Some friends of mine adopted a child a few years ago. As with many adoptions, the process was neither quick nor painless. Torturous snags were hit; legal battle was necessary. The family had to stick with it; they needed tenacity and a staunch love for the child to see the process through to his new last name. This, too, is part of adoption.
And God does this as well. He doesn’t just snap his fingers and we are instantly perfect; he finalizes the good work he has started in us.
We are legally God’s the moment we respond to his offer of salvation. We are irrevocably his. But we sure don’t look like it. We have a glorious new last name in Christ, but we don’t live it out. Too often, we live the old way, as if no adoption ever took place.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Yet God did not leave us there.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! (2:4-5)
With a change of address comes new rules. They are better rules. Adopted children often come from harrowing, heartbreaking conditions. Ideally – and the system is designed to promote this – they find new homes with more structure, designed to create safety, health, and delight for the children.
This is part of why you can’t just walk into someone else’s house with muddy boots, raid the fridge, kick the dog, drain their shower of all the hot water, and expect the homeowner to say nothing about it. Those rules exist to make a better world for others. So God fights for the order of his kingdom, fights for our sanctification. As the song says, he wrestles with the sinner’s heart. Throughout our eighty years, throughout our constant unfaithfulness and dreck and backsliding, he battles to sanctify us into our new name.
I’m glad he does. It escapes me why I keep going back to the ways of my old name. They never bring anything but pain. What a relief it is to follow his commands instead!
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)
The structure and commands God places in the believer’s life are not to be resisted or seen as spoilings of fun. Those who see them in that light (myself included on too many days) see them that way because they are deceived about what will bring them life. Only God’s ways will.
He fights our sin so that we may live as his children. And someday, our sanctification will be complete. It will all be finalized.
And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:6-7)