Understanding adopting grace will protect us from the enchantment of legalism. This is the lesson we learned from Paul as he addressed the distortions of the gospel caused by false teaching in Galatia.
Paul responded to the error of legalism by reminding the Galatians of God’s gracious activity. Paul reminded them that their relationship with God was the result of God’s initiative.
Paul writes about this in Galatians 4:4–5:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
In these words we encounter the most important point in redemptive history. Apart from these words and the saving events they describe there is no hope of reconciliation with God and no hope of adoption by God.
God has intervened. He has intervened to address our sinful condition and to provide us with the Savior we so desperately need. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, Paul tells us that this was all determined by God in eternity past.
While we were slaves to sin, God sent forth his Son. From heaven to earth, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the manger to the cross—God sent forth his Son. Here we behold the love of God revealed through the initiative of God in sending forth his Son for those enslaved by sin.
Charles Spurgeon writes:
Observe, concerning the first advent, that the Lord was moving in it towards man. ‘When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.’ We moved not towards the Lord, but the Lord towards us. I do not find that the world in repentance sought after its Maker. No, but the offended God himself in infinite compassion broke the silence, and came forth to bless his enemies. See how spontaneous is the grace of God. All good things begin with him.¹
Yes! When the fullness of time had come, God broke the silence and acted. He acted by sending his son.
The Suitable Mediator
Before God the Father adopted us we were not merely orphans, we were slaves. We were slaves to sin. We were captive to the power of sin. It was humanly impossible to be freed from sin or its penalty. And we all deserved the appropriate penalty for our sin. We were law-breakers living under the curse of the law and the wrath of God.
We needed a Savior. We needed a Redeemer. And in order to save us, our Savior must be like us (“born of woman”). But he also must be unlike us (God). He must be fully man and truly God. And he must give his life as a ransom for our sin. And that is what he did! God the Son, born of woman, perfectly kept the law and died a unique death as a substitute for sinners on the Cross. He liberated us from our sin. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13).
This is grace—amazing grace!
Yet as amazing as this is, if we stop at this point we miss something important. Because of our Savior we are not only redeemed, we are adopted.
Redeeming us out of our slavery to sin and from the penalty for sin would have been sufficiently astounding! But God’s purposes extend beyond the redemption of slaves and include the adoption of those slaves as sons.
Here we encounter what J.I. Packer calls “the deepest insight into the greatness of God’s love.”
And God initiated it all.
Justification and Adoption
Over the years I have become aware of how easy it is to focus on justification and fail to prioritize the doctrine of God’s adopting grace. Historically, we have tended to emphasize the doctrine of justification over adoption. Please don’t misunderstand; we must never teach less on justification. The doctrine of justification must always remain primary because all the saving benefits (including adoption) depend upon justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.
Justification provides the foundation for adoption. And, rightly understood, justification positions us to fully appreciate adoption. We cannot speak of the Fatherhood of God apart from the cross.
But adoption is also distinct from justification. Without separating them, we need to distinguish between them.
So you may be asking yourself, so what is the difference between justification and adoption? And why is understanding this difference of such critical importance?
I’ll allow J.I. Packer to answer this question for us in the next post.
This post is part of a series of posts exploring and celebrating the adopting love of God, entitled Adopted!
¹Charles Spurgeon, sermon: “The Great Birthday and our Coming of Age” (sermon No. 1815).