The divine judge not only acquits, but invites the sinner home — and not just for an evening. He adopts us as his own forever and makes us heirs to all he has.
Martin Luther, whose tormented conscience and anguished thinking launched the Protestant Reformation, once remarked, “If the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.” It is hardly surprising, then, that there is voluminous Protestant literature on justification.
The doctrine of adoption, by contrast, has been largely neglected. Yet the two are inseparably linked.
Grace Beyond and Above
Which is not to say that they are identical. Adoption is a grace beyond and above justification. In justification, God acquits sinners of all the charges against them. Indeed, he goes further still and declares that in Christ their righteousness meets the highest possible standards. They are as righteous as Christ himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is not a stain on their characters.
At this point, in normal human systems of justice, the accused is then simply free to go, and both he and the judge hope they will never see each other again. But the divine judge not only acquits. He invites the sinner home — and not just for an evening. He adopts us as his own forever, tells us we are to call him “Father,” and pronounces us lawful heirs to all he is and to all that he has.
Paul is the only New Testament writer who uses the term adoption, but he is not the only one who speaks of believers being God’s children. John also highlights it, particularly in 1 John 3:1. “See,” he exclaims, “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Yet while they speak of the same subject, the two apostles use different language, and to get anything like the full doctrine we need to look carefully at each.
Change in Status
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