10 Themes to Understand Adoption in Christ

October 04, 2016

by David Garner

God’s adoption of believers through Christ’s death and resurrection is a wonderful yet complex reality. In his new book, Dr. Garner clarifies 10 important themes that can help us more fully understand our adoption in Christ:

  1. Adoption is not simply another term, even if a warmer and gentler one, for the forensic. The concept of adoption is not reducible to the other side of justification, nor does it function merely as a familial appositive for it.
  2. Adoption is not a feature of the gospel enjoyed by believers but somehow unattained by Christ Jesus himself. Adoption is a gift given to those united to Christ because of the filial status and glory gained by Christ himself. Adoption belongs to the redeemed because the Redeemer attained it truly and historically, vicariously and efficaciously. Adoption is a matter of fact, not fiction.
  3. Adoption does not serve to distinguish the redeemed from the Redeemer, but serves rather to align the believing sons with the covenantally faithful, chosen, and exalted Son. What Christ in his own person attained by right, he distributes to his own family by grace. Adoption is a term denoting not inferior filial status, but consummate filial excellence. Importantly, then, adoption does not distinguish the redeemed from the Redeemer, but discloses the filial heights of redemptive grace enjoyed by the redeemed in the Redeemer.
  4. The vortex of saving grace is the death/resurrection of Christ. Christ’s own resurrection marks the moment of his adoption—when he was vindicated by the Spirit (1 Tim. 3:16) for our justification; became life-giving Spirit for our holiness (Rom. 8:9–11; 1 Cor. 15:45); and received approval, confirmation, and appointment by the Father (Rom. 1:3–4; Heb. 5:5–10; cf. Heb. 1:5–14; 2:5–18). The resurrection marks the cosmic and redemptive event of transition from wrath to grace, and this mark embodies filial grace. As resurrected Son in his gloriously transformed body, Christ attained full glory and was appointed as King.
  5. A Pauline category of substantial importance, huiothesia comprehensively relays God’s covenant grace to sinners in and through the Son of God. Adoption reveals, interprets, qualifies, conditions, and situates the divine program of salvation. The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—purposes, accomplishes, and applies gracious adoption to the elect. The gospel is filial and familial because God is Father and Jesus Christ is his perfect and perfected Son. The eternal Son becomes the Son of Mary (Gal. 4:4) so that he might become the adopted Son of God (Rom. 1:3–4) and the firstfruits of the adopted sons (Rom. 8–9).
  6. Adoption is pretemporal (Eph. 1). The divine intention for adoption resides in the pactum salutis. Adoption commences in eternity past; it attains in history because it was purposed before the foundation of the world. Adoption resides in the center of the divine counsel and divine purpose.
  7. Adoption is redemptive-historical (Rom. 9; Gal. 4). Adoption locates soteriology in the life experience of Christ Jesus. Adoption attains because Christ Jesus, the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased, becomes the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness. Holy adoption comes by and through the covenant fidelity and resurrection power of Christ Jesus alone. The consummate sonly success of Jesus Christ grounds the consummate sonly success of the redeemed in him.
  8. Adoption is existential, applicational (Rom. 8). Adoption turns fallen and condemned sinners to certain hope in their resurrection from the dead in and through the Son of God. So vital is the union of the sons in the Son that Pauline theology operates with a vital bidirectional concept of adoption: the sons in the Son and the Son for the sons. The adoption/resurrection of the sons gives meaning to the adoption/resurrection of the Son, who is the firstfruits and firstborn from the dead. Adoption of the Son par excellence grounds and qualifies the fact and character of the sons’ adoption. Similarly, the meaning of Christ’s adoption finds illumination by the manner in which the apostle Paul speaks of the adoption of the redeemed sons.
  9. Adoption engages Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology in mutually informing ways. Christ the adopted Son pours out his Spirit in these last days that he inaugurated, redeeming sinners so that they become God’s family of sons. Thus, adoption situates the broad theological contours of the gospel in familial categories. The filio-Christology of the New Testament and its concomitant filio-pneumatology establishes its filio-soteriology and filio-ecclesiology. Gospel grace is adoptive grace because God is Father, and Jesus is the adopted Son, who pours out himself by his Spirit of adoption. The bride of Christ is made up of the sons of God.
  10. The ordo salutis is salus filiorum (“salvation of/for the sons”) because the historia salutis is salus Filio (“salvation in/by the Son”). Accordingly, Pauline adoption extends theologically and redemptive-historically, situating and shaping both facets of the duplex gratia. Justification and sanctification come in and by the resurrected, adopted Son of God.

This piece is adapted from David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 298–300. Used with permission of the publisher.

David Garner

Dr. Garner (PhD, Westminster) is associate professor of systematic theology and vice president for advancement at WTS.

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