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Behold! Your Glorious Adoption!

October 23, 2022


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: Romans 8:12–30

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

The Highest Privilege of the Gospel

This morning, we are going to talk about a blessing that God gives in the gospel, which, I and many others often say, is one of God’s most undervalued, under-taught, under-cherished blessings. That is the matter of our adoption into God’s family, that in Christ we should be called children of the most high God. While I fear many Christians think little of their adoption, it is nonetheless the highest privilege offered to us in the gospel, with the most shocking privileges.


Think of how the apostle John describes this privilege of adoption in 1 John 3:1. He refers to this privilege with what R. C. Sproul calls “apostolic astonishment”—


1 John 3:1 | See what kind of love the Father has given to us(!) — that we should be called children of God; and so we are.


Do you see the sort of love God poured out upon us, as our heavenly father? Do you see it?! That we should be called children of God?! And so we are!


This was a teaching that shocked John, as well as the other apostles. It was a source of great comfort, strength, solace, and boldness in the faith.


So the question before us this morning is this: Does your adoption—that you should be called a son or daughter of God—astound you? Does it comfort you? Does it strengthen you unto perseverance, or move you to prayer? That’s what Paul seems to be pushing upon us here, in Romans 8. Look at verse 14—


All who are led by the Spirit of God [by faith] are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!


That’s boldness, perseverance, and even prayer offered to you there—not in your justification (per se), but in your adoption. That’s where Paul goes, here in Romans 8, only after the 7 previous chapters wherein he lays the groundwork of our justification wherein we are declared righteous. The gospel, folks, is not simply that you’re declared righteous in God’s courtroom, but even that you’re declared to be his child.


J. I. Packer said at this point, “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.. . To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.”


Especially when you’re suffering, it’s one thing to know that you are forgiven and at peace with your cosmic judge and maker. It’s another thing to know that the same cosmic judge and maker has taken you from criminal court, to family court—and he adopted you into his family, to protect and provide for you at infinitely great cost to himself. This isn’t just shocking, it’s life changing. It should be no less life-altering and practically relevant to us than a child being adopted out of the slums of Mexico city, into a healthy, loving family. This changes everything.


Voddie Baucham said this, “I believe that many of the difficulties that we have—not only in understanding our salvation, but resting in our salvation, arise from the fact that we do not understand the doctrine of adoption.”


So, understanding our adoption will help us understand and rest in our salvation. It’ll change our perspective on life, as any adoption should.


This morning in Romans 8, we’ll see three ways our adoption might change things for us, and help us rest more in our salvation.


  • Adoption Changes How We Approach God.

  • Adoption Changes How We Understand Our Assurance

  • Adoption Changes How We Understand Our Hope

  • Adoption Changes How We Understand Suffering.


So, let’s dig into Romans 8 and see for ourselves.


1. Adoption Changes How We Approach God

Look at verse 15—


5 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”


Now, there’s a lot to unpack just in this verse—and, we will come back to it in a moment to consider some more particular lessons this is teaching us. But first, we simply need to acknowledge at this point that the Holy Spirit is compelling us to address the sovereign, holy God with the words “abba! father!”.


Let’s back up for a moment and simply acknowledge how that, right there, is an astounding reality. The simple fact that the NT teaches adoption at all—that it teaches us to address God as our Father at all—is a stunning reality that completely changes the way we should think about God and how we approach him.


Many say the predominate understanding of who God is and how we should approach him in the Old Testament was with reference to his holiness. He’s holy, we aren’t. It would have been altogether presumptuous to approach him as “Father”. There’s a reason why, in all the prayers of the Psalms, you never see the Psalmist say “Abba, father, pardon my guilt and protect me”. The Old Testament saints simply did not address their holy God that way.


No doubt, there are a handful of places that might allude to God’s fatherhood, but it wasn’t as personal. God regards Israel, the nation, as his “firstborn son”. God referred to the nation of Israel that way, at times—but, I don’t think an individual Israelite would have said, “see! therefore, I should regard God as my personal Father who regards me, individually, as my son”. That would have been quite presumptuous.


Then there’s Psalm 103:13,


            “13 As a father shows compassion to his children,

                        so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”


There, we see God compared to a loving father—the LORD (Yahweh) shows compassion like a father to a son toward those who fear him. This does not say “so the heavenly father shows compassion”. No, it says “so the LORD shows compassion”. Hear the difference?


This is where J. I. Packer reminds us that God revealed himself to Israel as “Yahweh”, a most holy God to be feared and approached with utmost reverence and obedience.


The whole spirit of Old Testament religion was determined by the thought of God’s holiness. The constant emphasis was that human beings, because of their weakness as creatures and their defilement as sinful creatures, must learn to humble themselves and be reverent before God. Religion was “the fear of the Lord”—a matter of knowing your own littleness, of confessing your faults and abasing yourself in God’s presence, of sheltering thankfully under his promises of mercy, and of taking care above all things to avoid presumptuous sins. Again and again it was stressed that we must keep our place, and our distance, in the presence of a holy God. This emphasis overshadowed everything else.


We’d do well to remember this, as we remember our adoption. There really is a lesson here for us, to teach us humility and awe. We’re talking of the same holy God, here, who is now revealing himself to us as our Father!


Let’s think of a few examples from the Old Testament. When God revealed his glory to Israel on the mountain, it was such a fearful and astonishing sight that it compelled the Israelites to say “we can’t approach that!” “We need a mediator, someone to go between us sinful creatures and that pure, righteous, all-consuming God”. And what did God say to this? “Ah, don’t worry, I’m God your Father, and I love you”. Nope. Deuteronomy 5:28, God says to Moses about this impulse the Israelites had,


“They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it may go well with them and their descendants forever!”


There’s the fear of the Lord—there’s the heart of OT religion and piety and spirituality. You want to live long in good fellowship with God? Well, admit that you are sinful and unworthy of God’s presence, and that if you approach God with your sin, irreverently, God is a consuming fire.


You could think of Isaiah as another example, who was caught up in God’s holy throne room in heaven. What did he say? “Woe is me! For I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips!”


When God called Moses out of the burning bush, God said “do not come near; take off your sandals, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground”.


And of course, later on, we discover that Yahweh’s glory is so glorious that when Moses came down from the mountain, with his face shining with the glory of God, he had to put a veil over his face because the people couldn’t even behold the glory of Moses’s face without bringing harm to themselves.


This is all illustrating that God is perfectly holy, righteous, pure, and is committed to maintain the integrity of his holiness and purity and perfection. That is, in a word, a definition of his justice—a commitment to his purity and holiness. God cannot be profaned, for he is committed to his purity, he is just. And this creates a big problem for us sinful people, who are not holy.


The command in scripture is clear: Leviticus 11:44, “be holy, for I am holy”. This was jarring at times! When Nadab and Abihu were struck down for approach God irreverently, their father Aaron was forbidden to weep over their deaths because he’d be weeping over God’s good and swift ministry of justice. If you are not reverent toward his holiness, you will be consumed the second you approach him.


Now to be clear, neither I nor J.I. Packer (whom I’ve been citing) are saying that the Old Testament God is the God of wrath, and the New Testament is the merciful God. That’s *not* what I’m saying. God was merciful in the Old Testament, just as he is now in the New Testament. God is holy and to be feared in the New Testament, just as he was in the Old Testament.


What I *am* saying is that it should absolutely shock us when we see Jesus tell us to pray to God with the warm and affection words, “abba, Father, in heaven, hallowed be thy name”. Nothing was taken away in that prayer—we still revere and hallow (or, make holy) the name of Yahweh. We are still approaching a most holy God, even as sinners. Yet, we are instructed by Jesus to call him “our Father”.


What changed? That’s a shocking change, when you really think about it! “Our father”–or even, “Abba father” (so our passage says in Romans 8). What changed?


Well, remember what Romans 8:15 in our passage says. “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”. The Spirit of adoption changed. This is referring to the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, as the Spirit personally applies all the accomplished blessings of Christ to Christ’s people, on Christ’s behalf.


Remember that in the gospel, what Christ accomplished for himself, he accomplished for us. That’s how the New Testament talks. He took on human flesh to identify perfectly with us, so that the Spirit might unite us with him in all of his privileges and blessings by faith. He identified with us so perfectly so that his glory might be our glory; His righteousness would be our righteousness; His death would be our death; His resurrection would be our resurrection—and get this, His reception into glory by the Father as God’s Son in whom the Father is pleased would be our reception, even as we might be received as God’s children. This is so because it’s what the Father ordained; it’s what the Son accomplished, and it’s what the Holy Spirit works into us as he unites us to Jesus by faith. As John so famously said in his gospel, in John 1:11–12, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11–12).


Jesus was naturally God’s eternally begotten son, so that he was naturally received into heaven by his Father who was well pleased with him. So we, through our union with Christ, are made children unnaturally through adoption. It’s the highest privilege, or right, in the gospel.


Jesus gave us that right—even as he merited the right through his life, death, and resurrection unto the Father’s glory. If you are outside of Christ, then you are no different than the Israelites at the base of the burning mountain, in desperate need of a mediator between you and an all-consuming God who consumes sinners in his fury.


Adoption is a right given to us by Christ. It’s a privilege that only those who receive Jesus, through the Spirit, partake in. This is not very American, is it? “We’re all God’s children” they say. Nope—that’s not what the Bible says. You can only be adopted into God’s family through the Spirit and through faith in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, the Bible says you are a child of the devil, or a child of man—but certainly not a child of God.


So, all this to say—verse 15 of our passage in Romans 8 really should shock you. “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”.


But, think more practically about this, now. What does this open up for you?


J. I. Packer says on this matter — “the stress of the New Testament is not on the difficulty and danger of drawing near to the holy God, but on the boldness and confidence with which believers may approach him: a boldness that springs directly from faith in Christ, and from the knowledge of his saving work” (even adoption).


Think about how this affects your prayer life. As I said earlier—we pray to God in a way the OT saints never would have dreamed of: “our father in heaven”. But notice what Jesus says before giving us the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6. In verse 7, Jesus teaches us “do not heap up empty phrases as the gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”


Isn’t that amazing? Jesus, here, is telling us not to pray in a way so as to impress God or move him, Why? Because he already knows what you need! He’s your Father. “Not a single hair can fall from your head without him knowing”.  You don’t need to convince him with fancy words—he knows what you need better than you know what you need. That’s what it means to be a good Father! And of course, this is where a cocky person might say, “So why pray?”. Because he’s your father, and you want to express your love and adoration for your father. You want to express your dependence upon him, and your cares and frustrations. These are all good for you to do, as any child does to his Father’s honor.


And, I think one major reason why we often fail to receive this fully is because our protestant, evangelical, Bible-believing churches have focused on seeing God through our justification rather than through our adoption. A problem occurs in our spirituality when we merely understand God as our justifier, to the exclusion of seeing him as our father through our adoption. In our justification, God acts as our judge—he justifies us in his courtroom. Think about this. Judges are impersonal, impartial; fathers are intimately personal, loving, and partial to his children. Those on trial are cold or indifferent toward their judge; sons are secure and loving and warm-hearted toward their father. Those on trial have no desire to know their judge outside of the courtroom; sons have every desire to know everything about their father—and to be like their father. You see, your adoption ought to be a foundation for the vibrancy and warmth of your faith and obedience to God.


In fact, as you might desire to pray to God because he’s your father, you might also want to obey him because he’s your father. Isn’t every son’s desire to be like their dad? So it is with the heavenly Father. I’ve always found it intriguing and heartwarming to notice the way Jesus puts a spin on the Old Testament command—“be holy, as I am holy”? That’s the Old Testament command. Be Holy as Yahweh is holy. How did Jesus reference that? “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Be perfect like dad (there’s a good motivator for you). This totally transforms our understanding of God, and how we are to approach God, and why we are to desire to be like God. He’s good, he’s taking care of us, he’s immediately available as a Father.


So, God no longer draws near to us as a judge, with his holiness and terrifying judgments. He has dealt with our sin, he has given us his righteousness, and he now draws near to us as a loving and compassionate father. Now, many of you may be thinking, “well, if that’s true, how does he do that?” How does God actually draw near to me as my father, and I his son, with his love and compassion?


Every night, I have this unsatiable fatherly instinct to say goodnight to my kids and tell them how much I love them (you know, just in case they might forget). Isn’t that a funny thing about parenting, or loving someone? You always feel that you need reassure them that you love them. How does the Father do that for us? That’s the next reality about our faith and God’s work that adoption helps to clarify. You see, adoption doesn’t merely changes how we understand who God is, but it also changes how we understand our assurance of God’s love for us.


2. Adoption Changes How We Understand Assurance

Look back at those same verses in Romans 8 with me again—verses 15–16:


15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,


Here, Paul is telling us that when we received the Holy Spirit, we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. There, he’s referring to slavery to sin and to the law. That’s what Paul has been explaining in Romans 4–7 up to this point in his letter. That’s why Romans 8 begins, “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. But of course, what every justified sinner asks at some point is, “well, how do I know I’m justified? I still sin”. Or perhaps you’ve gone through hard affliction and you say, “how can I know God still loves me? I’m a sinner, I don’t deserve his love, and it sure doesn’t seem like he’s loving me now!”


That’s what Paul is addressing just before this chapter (in chapter 7)—Paul explains that he is a conflicted person. God tells him he is justified and righteous, and yet he still sins. This brings up frustration in his soul—“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?!” Paul is trying to make sense of this reality, and find some hope that can bring assurance to his soul that even though he still experiences death and sin, he is nonetheless justified. That’s Romans 8—assurance of the promises of God. And here in verse 15, Paul is telling us that we received a spirit—the Holy Spirit of God. This Spirit is not a spirit of slavery and fear, but the spirit of adoption. Now what does that mean? In one sense, I already explained it. The Spirit unites us to Christ, God’s son, so that we too might be called God’s children.


Yet more than this, the Spirit is even more involved in our adoption. The father is a good father—and just like any father, he wants his children to know that he loves them, cares for them, provides for them. That’s the Spirit’s ongoing role in our adoption. Paul says “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “abba! Father!”. That is, the Spirit is bearing witness to our souls that the Father loves us—and therefore, we cry “abba! Father!”. That’s literally what the next verse is saying! “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”. If the Spirit does such a work of assurance in your soul, I can trust you’ll be moved to cry out to your Father in a time of distress. That’s how this works, folks.


Packer says, “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. Adopted children need assurance that they belong, and a perfect parent will not withhold it.”


God does this with his Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we feel the warmth of our father’s love, and the privilege, and that we come to a greater awareness of the blessings we receive from our heavenly Father.


So, the Spirit is involved not only in uniting us to Christ for our adoption, but even in assuring us of our adoption. He has an ongoing ministry from the Father, to assure our hearts that we belong to the Father.


Now, look to the next verse (verse 17). Notice that we aren’t just being reassured of the Father’s love for us. We’re being reassured of the father’s inheritance—that is, our hope. Adoption changes the way we understand not just our assurance, but even our hope.


3. Adoption Changes How We Understand Hope

Look at verse 17. “…[I]f children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”.


There’s our hope. Do you see it? The Spirit, there, is bearing witness to our hearts that we are not only children, but heirs.


What do children get from their Fathers? An inheritance of whatever the Father owned. What if God is your Father? Behold, your adoption! As you are adopted and to inherit all things from your Father, so this changes everything.


Keep reading of the hope—the inheritance—that flows out of your adoption. Verse 18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” when we gain our inheritance. So essentiallly, Paul is going to contrast the miniscule sufferings of this world with the eternal weight of glory that will be revealed when God does away with sin and death for good.


But notice how he describes that glory. He continues to describe the future glory in terms of God’s family, our adoption. Verse 19—“For creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God”. That is to say—creation is waiting for God to finalize the number of his children, to bring in his last child, and to bestow upon all his children the glory of eternity in Christ. Verse 21, then, says that creation (which is groaning under the curse as animals die and mosquitos still exist) “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And what exactly is that glory? Verse 23—“we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”


Brothers and sisters, you are God’s children now, as the Spirit reminds you of that daily. But this is telling you that you will always be God’s children, for eternity, and that a blessing which God’s children receive in eternity is a glorified body that will never die, never hurt, decay, or age.


That’s the sort of family you were adopted into. Have you ever looked at a child who was adopted from some 3rd world country, and he was adopted into a wealthy family who was loving and healthy—and thought, “do you have any idea how privileged and lucky you are to be adopted into that family?” Well, that’s you, isn’t it, if you trust in Jesus for salvation. You have eternity to look forward to.


4. Adoption Changes How We Understand Suffering

So, adoption changes the way you understand and approach God. It changes the way we understand our assurance and hope. There’s one more thing it changes. It changes the way we understand the ongoing trials of life, today (our sufferings). Remember—you have a loving father who loves you and cares for you today. This is also shown to you in Romans 8. Verse 28—


28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.


Now first, your adoption is referred to here in the phrase “that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” How does Jesus, the son of God, have brothers? The answer is adoption—if God, Jesus’s heavenly father, adopts you into his family. The good news is that God has committed to making all of Jesus’s brothers like Jesus—“those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son”. Just as Jesus suffered and glorified his Father through suffering, so God has purposed the same for all his children. He will “work together for good” every ill that could ever come upon us so that he might be glorified. He’s not simply a Father, but a Sovereign Father.


Perhaps the clearest place this is really elaborated upon is Hebrews 12—that famous passage on the Father’s discipline. Turn there, if you want to read along, or just listen. This is a passage that puts our sufferings under the lens of our glorious adoption. Hebrews 12, starting in verse 6—


6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”


Heb 12:7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons… [then v. 11]  11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


This is your adoption. This should change the way you perceive all evils that come upon you in this world. This is why Romans 8 concludes with those glorious statements that nothing can separate you from the love of God, for God uses everything, even evil and suffering, to bestow his fatherly love and care upon you. In those trials, God is teaching you that you really don’t need to be anxious when you don’t have tomorrow’s meal, for he will provide. You really don’t need to fear when the most precious things in life are taken away, because he is in control and can work this together for your good and the good of his church. You really can meet him in prayer and in his word and be satisfied by his promises, and rejoice in his hope, because he has poured his spirit upon you to fill you with his fatherly love and warmth, even when life is excruciatingly painful.



One last Packer quote. Packer said, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” (p 201)


I fear this thought is seldomly controlling Christians today—and in part, because we do not teach about adoption and being God’s children nearly enough. But today, these things are before you to receive by faith, and to find contentment in him. And I really do mean contentment—if there is anything that these matters have helped me with personally is to gain a certain contentment in God, the contentment of a son in his father’s loving care and protection and provision. Your heavenly father has granted you forgiveness of your sins, righteousness in Christ, a certain boldness with which you can approach him in prayer, promises to provide for you, and to use evil for your good as he disciplines you—and in all this, he has given you his Spirit to persuade you of your status as his son, and to move you to cry out to your God as “abba! father!”. May this fill you with the strength and contentment and warmth you need to persevere unto glory, to receive your inheritance from the Father.

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