In Paul’s writing, there are several instances where the Holy Spirit used the term “adoption” to define our new status in Christ. Through our response to God’s gospel, we have been been made sons and daughters of God:
- Romans 8.15: 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!”
- Ephesians 1.5: He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
- See also Romans 8.23; 9.4; and Galatians 4.5.
While preparing this sermon a few years ago, I remember coming across the Roman perspective on adoption. In first century culture, adoption did not happen that often. When it did, it was significant. This week, in preparation for this sermon, I came across more writing on the Roman view of adoption. As background for both of these lessons, I’d like to share a summary of what I’ve found and then make the application on the action of God in saving us from sin.
During the first century, an adopted child would often be more honored than natural children. This stands in contrast to modern connotations of the practice, which, in some cases, tends to relegate adoptees to second-class status in the new family. There were many fathers who had sons but their sons did not meet their qualifications to pass on the estate so they went out and found one that did. An adopted son may have well received the joy of his father’s affection more than a naturally born son and he may well have reproduced his father’s moral standards more perfectly than natural sons. So, in the Roman system, adoption was done primarily to carry on the family name. The adopted son would be chosen for the purpose of inheriting the estate and wearing the name and title of the father.
To begin the process (something called Mansupoteo - the word we get “emancipation” from), the father wishing to adopt would have to seek permission of the adoptee’s father. This involved a symbolic sale. If the father of the potential adoptee agreed to let his son be adopted by the other party, they stood before a scale and used copper coins to symbolically carry out a transaction that demonstrated the father “selling” his son. They did this three times. Twice the father symbolically sold the son and twice he bought him back. Finally, on the third time he didn’t buy him back.
Next, the parties initiated the legal process (Vindicatio). Once it was completed, the adoptee legally wore the name and title of the new father. There were some very important after effects. After the adoption:
- The adoptee lost all relationship to his old family. All family relations from his past were done away with. Now, he had all the rights and privileges of being in his new family.
- The adoptee became an heir to the new father’s estate. Depending on the wishes of his new father, the adoptee could even rank above the other children as to what was received in the inheritance. Even if other children were blood born, it did not affect the adoptee’s rights.
- The former life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. All legal debts were cancelled as if they had never existed. The adopted person was given a new name. It was as if he had just been born. The adopted person was regarded as a new person entering a new life with no past.
- In the eyes of the law, the adoptee was literally and absolutely the son of his new father.
Think of how effectively this fits into the picture of what God has done for Christians.
We have been adopted into the family of God, Romans 8.15. We are called sons of God, Romans 8.14 and children of God, Romans 8.16. We have:
- Been made heirs of an eternal kingdom, Galatians 3.29, 4.6; Ephesians 3.6; Titus 3.7; James 2.5; 1 Peter 3.7.
- Had our past life blotted out as if it never happened, Ephesians 1.7; Acts 2.38; 3.19; 22.16; 1 Corinthians 6.11.
- been literally and absolutely made sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, Romans 8.15; Galatians 4.6-7; Isaiah 56.5.
What an honor it is to be inside the family of God, with full access to our heavenly Father. Realization of this relationship should inspire us each day to walk in the light – bearing precious fruit for the glory of God. Out of His own love, mercy, and grace our Father took the initiative and made the means of adoption possible through the death of His Son. He has raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2.6-7.
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