Knowing God, chapter 19: Sons of God (2)

Continued from yesterday.

In the previous chapter, we saw that even though the word ‘propitiation’ may not verbally occur in one’s translation of the NT, nonetheless the concept it presents is fundamentally important in the NT. The same can be said of the word ‘adoption’. The two concepts link together, and Packer’s summary of the NT in 3 words is adoption through propitiation.

Packer now draws evidence from the epistles to show how adoption gives insights into 5 matters:

  1. the greatness of God’s love
  2. the glory of Christian hope
  3. the ministry of the Holy Spirit
  4. the meaning and motives of what the Puritans called ‘gospel holiness’
  5. the problem of Christian assurance
  • Our adoption shows us the greatness of God’s grace. The NT gives two yardsticks for measuring God’s love: the cross (Rom 5:8, 1 John 4:8-10) and the gift of sonship (1 John 3:1)

God adopts us out of free love, not because we are worthy to bear His Name, but despite the fact that we’re the very opposite. He wasn’t obligated to adopt us, He chose to. His love doesn’t end there either: His promise to us is an eternity of love, without distinctions of affection.

  • Our adoption shows us the glory of Christian hope. Our hope as Christians is a promised inheritance. Rom 8:16-17; Gal 4:7. The sum and substance of our promised inheritance is a share in the glory of Christ—Rom 8:17; 1 John 3:2; Rom 8:23; Heb 2:10. Christians can also look forward to the hope of heaven—John 17:24; Matt 5:8; 1 John 3:2; Rev 22:4; 1 Thess 4:15. There, we will be in the presence of Jesus and of the Father.
  • Our adoption gives us the key to understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of His tasks is to make the Christian realise, with increasing clarity, the nature of their relationship with God through Christ. Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6, He keeps us conscious of the fact that we’re God’s children by grace through Jesus Christ, which results in faith, assurance and joy. He moves us to look at God  as Father, with respectful boldness and unlimited trust. He impels us to manifest the family likeness by conforming to Christ, loving our brothers and sisters and by seeking God’s glory. 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Our adoption shows us the meaning and motives of ‘gospel holiness’.

“‘Gospel holiness’ was Puritan shorthand for authentic Christian living, springing from love and gratitude to God, in contrast with the spurious ‘legal holiness’ that consisted merely of forms, routines and outward appearances, maintained from self-regarding motives.”

Consequently, gospel holiness is an expression of one’s adoption and is motivated by the adoptive relationship itself. The children know that holiness is their Father’s will for them (1 John 3:3), and they actively seek to fulfil His purpose. His purpose includes chiselling them into the image of Christ, which may prove to be a painful process— Heb 12:6-7,11. Only after grasping this can we make sense of Rom 8:28, in addition to maintaining our assurance of sonship in the face of assault.

  • Our adoption gives the clue we need to see our way through the problem of assurance.

“If God in love has made Christians His children, and if He is perfect as a Father, two things would seem to follow, in the nature of the case.

“First, the family relationship must be an abiding one, lasting for ever. Perfect parents do not cast off their children. Christians may act the prodigal, but God will not cease to act the prodigal’s father.

“Second, 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.”

The apostle Paul in Romans 8 confirms both inferences:

  • He tells us that those God eternally resolved to take in as sons ‘he called… justified… glorified’ (Rom 8:29-30). ‘Glorified’ is in the past tense, even though it is a future event: it is already fixed in God’s decree.
  • Having never met the church at Rome, Paul took it for granted that if they were Christians, they would know the inner witness of the Spirit to their joyous status as sons and heirs of God (Rom 8:16-17). The witness is a dual witness: our spirit and God’s Spirit who bears witness with and to our spirit. However, since we humans have a tendency toward self-deception, it would do us good to test our assurance by applying the criteria 1 John provides— 1 John 2:3,29; 3:6-10, 14. 18-21; 4:7-8, 15; 5:1-4, 18.

Finally, it needs to be said that Christians who grieve the Spirit must expect to miss the fullness of the gift of the double witness, just as naughty children stop their parents’ smiles and provoke frowns instead.