ADOPTED FOR LIFE
Adoption And “Real” Children
The stranger casually walked up to the mother of three, wondering how she could have had so many children in such a short span of time.
“All yours?” he asked with an obvious inflection of incredulity.
“They sure are,” she said with a smile.
“Ah,” he said, and added, “Are any of them yours?”
“They’re all mine,” she said, pretending not to know what he was implying.
“I meant, are any of them your real children?”
Her smile was long gone by now.
Unfortunately, that fictional account mirrors real-life conversations that take place far too frequently. Just ask any parents who have chosen to adopt children. Or think back to when you were school-aged. Remember how your friends would tease? “Your mom called and told me you were adopted.” If I could go back to such an occasion, I’d probably say in response, “Yeah, so what if I’m adopted?” What’s wrong with adoption, anyway?
The Good News of Adoption
Although the tide seems to be turning, it’s strange to think that adoption was ever stigmatized, especially among Christians. Don’t we know that everyone comes into God’s family through adoption? If you are a Christian, you are have been adopted for life. That’s what the good news is: God has adopted us into his family as sons and daughters.
Perhaps we forget that we’ve been adopted (spiritually speaking) because we think of ourselves as “naturally” being God’s children. In reality, we are “naturally” children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and haters of God (Rom. 1:30) who are headed for destruction. All of us. And those who are God’s children only become so through Jesus (Gal. 3:26). As the apostle John writes, “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Paul explains, “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Gal. 4:4-7; cf. Rom. 8:14-17).
Jesus Was Adopted
Christians have another reason to think highly of adoption: Jesus himself. As a baby, Jesus was legally adopted by his father Joseph. As we are reminded in the so-called Christmas story, Jesus was conceived miraculously through the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary, his mother (Luke 1:30-35). That means Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a difficult choice: stay with a women who was pregnant with child that wasn’t his, or abandon her and the life inside her womb. But he didn’t send her away. He faced difficulties and public shame, provided for his wife, and protected their child, becoming the legal father to her son (Luke 3:23). God called all of this righteous.
Adoption as a Picture of the Gospel
The connection between physical adoption and the gospel of our adoption through Christ is nothing new. Think about it what happens in adoption: an unloved, abandoned, and helpless child is welcomed into a new home where she is loved, accepted, and cared for. She did not choose her new parents; they chose her. She did not have to earn the right to be loved; they just loved her in spite of anything she might have done or anything that might have been done to her. And the same is true with God: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6).
Moreover, the apostle James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (Jas. 1:27). The Bible also tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. That’s why in addition to caring for orphans and widows, early Christians would also hide in the woods, waiting to rescue unwanted babies (often girls) that Roman families would abandon. The Romans called this practice “exposure,” but the Christians called it by another name: murder. So they resisted it, adopting those unwanted babies, taking into their homes at great cost to themselves. Their actions did not go unnoticed. On one occasion a Roman official wrote of them, “See how they love!” Just as Jesus said things would happen (John 13:35).
What Can I Do?
The need for adoption in our own day has not diminished. While hardly anyone kills their children by “exposure” anymore, we routinely kill our children through abortion. In fact, many people who support abortion personally or politically do so because they fear the alternative: children growing up in homes where they are not loved or cared for. The same is true for the millions of children who are already born, languishing in orphanages around the world, waiting for someone to welcome them into their home just as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).
It’s easy to feel helpless when we consider the number of orphans in the world, or the number of babies who are killed through abortion every day. But there are things we can do. We can continue to defend the value of every life, especially the “unwanted” ones, believing that Jesus’ heart is most clearly seen in the faces of the “least of these.” We can keep telling everyone the “gospel of adoption,” the good news that God welcomes us into his family through Jesus, and we all have equal standing in him. We can take a long look at our own hearts, asking if we really believe that children are the blessing God says they are? When we sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” do we believe it? Most of all, when Christian parents think about their future life together, they can prayerfully and soberly consider adoption as a way to change the life of a child forever. Just as your adoption through Jesus has done for you.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.