Thoughts on Justification & Adoption
There is no arguing that the notion of God’s justification of sinners by grace through faith is one of the most important doctrines believed by Christians. The fact that a holy God who hates sin would declare a sinner to be righteous is mind blowing. However, although the doctrine of justification is endlessly wonderful, it is my humble opinion that, as Christians (surely not all Christians of course, but I am preaching to myself mostly and perhaps some of you), we do not keep justification in its rightful place among the great works of God.
I say this because there is one important orthodox Christian belief that does not seem to get the “pulpit time” that justification does (I see this in my own preaching); namely the doctrine of adoption. I want to take some time and discuss the relationship between justification and adoption in hopes of keeping each in its rightful place in God’s work of salvation. I believe that if taught right, discussions of justification will naturally lead to conversations about God’s adoption of sinners into His family; a conversation that all sinners, saved or not, need to consider.
I suppose the appropriate action to take is to give a quick, but detailed, definition of justification and adoption while displaying how they are connected. Paul states this wonderful truth in Romans 4:5:
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
Scripture speaks of the reality of human nature as being wicked and not able to submit to the law of God (Eph. 2:1-3, Rom. 8:7). This means, basically, that humans are desperately lost in their sin with no hope of pleasing God; we have all transgressed God’s law which makes us guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23). However, our story does not end there. God has loved His people so much that He provides a substitute to die a death deserved by sinners (2 Cor. 5:21); this substitute is none other than Jesus Christ. It is through, and because of, the death of Christ that God offers justification to sinners. Thus, John Frame concludes that,
“Justification is forensic. It is about our legal status, not our inner character; for the important thing is that in justification God justifies the ungodly, those who by their inner character are wicked” (Salvation Belongs to the Lord, pg. 201).
Does any of this sound familiar? I hope so, because it should if you’re a Christian! This is the heart of the gospel message, but it’s certainly not the end. God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous naturally leads to a discussion of adoption into God’s family. It is because God has declared sinners righteous, due to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, that those same sinners are brought into a child/Father relationship with God. Consider Paul’s own words,
“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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” – Romans 8:15-16
Again, Frame concludes,
“Justification gives us a new legal standing. Adoption gives us the additional privileges of inheritance. So, adoption carries us beyond justification. Justification is amazing and wonderful, but adoption is the apex, the high point in our relationship with God. So, the doctrine of adoption deserves far more emphasis in our preaching and theological work than it has usually received” (Frame, 207).
Those of us who are ministers of the gospel must be reminded from Scripture that we are sons of the Creator of the universe, and must remind our people that they are as well. With this in mind, while we are called sons and daughters of God, Scripture clearly indicates that we have the privilege of suffering with Jesus in this life (Rom. 8:17), and that we will also have the privilege of reigning with Christ over the entire world in the future (Rev. 3:21). To conclude, J.L. Girardeau says this,
“The servant with hat in hand stands at a respectful distance awaiting the orders of his master. The child of God…rushes into the presence of his father, leaps into his lap, and nestles in his bosom.”
So then, it seems that although justification is most important for Christians, it is not the end of our experience of salvation. God righteously, through Christ, declares sinners righteous, but then brings us into His family through adoption; something that we must always be aware of. Certainly, this is what Christianity is all about.
Check these out: