The second yardstick for measuring the immeasurable—as if we required more convincing—is our spiritual adoption. God the Father not only sacrifices his only begotten Son for us; he also adopts us as his children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us,” John writes, “that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). In our adoption, the Father’s love is on full display.
Does your heart resonate with those words? How would the members of your church respond to this verse? Are they convinced that God the Father, in his great love, has adopted them as his children? J. I. Packer asks us this question in his book Knowing God:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. . . .
To those who are Christ’s, the holy God is a loving Father; they belong to his family; they may approach him without fear and always be sure of his fatherly concern and care. This is the heart of the New Testament message. . . .
Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.¹
Do the words “closeness, affection and generosity” describe your church’s perception of God? If not, perhaps your church is more aware of their sin than they are of adopting grace.
It is indeed a great thing to be right with God the Judge through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is a great thing to be forgiven of sin, to be free from the fear of God’s wrath. But it is possible to grasp these great realities and remain unaware of what is even greater: we are adopted and loved by God the Father. In Christ, God the Father justifies us, but he does not stop there: he adopts us as his sons.
Does your church understand the great, but not the greater? Do they know about justification, but not adoption? Do they celebrate being made right with God, while unaware that they have been adopted by God?
The doctrines of justification and adoption are related, but they are not the same. We must distinguish between them without ever separating them. In fact, the doctrine of justification must always be foundational to our teaching and ministry, because all the saving benefits we receive depend upon justification alone. But we must also help our churches understand and celebrate the doctrine of adoption. We are not only declared righteous; we are made God’s children. We are not only right with God the Judge; we are loved by God the Father. And the more we teach on adoption, the more our churches will experience God’s fatherly love, affection, care, closeness, and generosity.²
So are those you serve certain of the Father’s love for them? Are you laboring to convince them of it? How do you leave your church at the end of a sermon? Where do you leave them at the end of a counseling appointment? What is the effect of even a casual conversation with you? Does a member of your church leave your presence more aware of his sin, or more aware of the love of God the Father? Is your church more secure in the Father’s personal and passionate love as a result of your ministry?
Let me ask a more personal question: Are you convinced of the Father’s love for you? He crushed his Son for you so that he might adopt you, so that he might convince you of his holy love for you. Pastor, are you more aware of your sin, the weaknesses in your pastoral ministry, the deficiencies in your church, or of the Father’s love? You cannot convince your church of the Father’s love if you are not convinced yourself.
As Paul concludes his letter to the Corinthians, in spite of all their faults, he closes not with a parting correction but with a reminder of the Father’s love for them. As pastors, we are called to lead our churches to experience the love of God the Father. And this begins with experiencing the love of the Father ourselves.
If your church is not persuaded of God’s love for them, I recommend that you lead them in studying the doctrine of adoption until they are secure in the Father’s love. You may even want to restrict the teaching diet of your church to this topic for a time. As you immerse yourself and your church in an extended study of this topic, you can expect to be freshly aware of, and overwhelmed by, the Father’s immeasurable love for you and those you serve.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.
¹J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 201, 203, 207.
²As you study the doctrine of adoption, let me recommend three books: Sinclair Ferguson’s Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1989), particularly the chapter “Adopted Children”; J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God, particularly the chapter titled “Sons of God”; and Trevor Burke’s Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006).