Pastoral Thoughts on Justification and Adoption

The Apostle Paul announces to the Ephesian elders that, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Here, the apostle provides profound insight that ministers of God’s Word ought to take seriously. In declaring to the Ephesians the whole council of God, Paul means to say that he preached to them the entirety of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in Scripture. In mimicking the apostle, we too, must declare to our people the whole council of God in our preaching and teaching.

While the whole counsel of God contains various components, attention will be given to the concepts of justification and adoption which are two essential doctrines for Christian belief. My reasoning lies in the fact that justification is all too often emphasized at the expense of other vital dogmas. It is, however, only in light of the others—namely adoption—that justification is to be clearly understood. The fact that a holy God who abhors sin would declare a sinner to be righteous is endlessly wonderful, but many tend not to look at justification within its proper context among the great works of God. I say this in consideration of the doctrine of adoption which does not seem to accumulate the “pulpit-time” that justification so often does. Hence, I will demonstrate that the biblical notion of adoption enhances our understanding of justification and that without adoption, justification loses its appeal.

The appropriate action, then, is to provide a working definition of justification and adoption while demonstrating how they are connected. The Apostle Paul states this wonderful truth in Romans 4:5,

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

Scripture speaks of the reality of human nature as being wicked and not able to submit to the law of God (Eph. 2:1-3, Rom. 8:7). Essentially, humans are desperately lost in the wickedness of their own heart with no hope of pleasing God. All have transgressed the perfect law of God which makes us guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23). Though our sin is fatally crippling, as people belonging to the One who redeems we are not left to the darkness of our hearts. Scripture relays the awesome truth that God offers to us a substitute to die a sinner’s death in our place, and that substitute is none other than Jesus Christ,

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Therefore, it is ultimately through the life and death of Christ that God offers justification to sinners. Thus, John Frame concludes that,

Justification is forensic. It is about our legal status, not our inner character; for the important thing is that in justification God justifies the ungodly, those who by their inner character are wicked” (Salvation Belongs to the Lord, pg. 201).

Certainly, this is the heart of the gospel message, but it is not the whole heart. God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous by the work of Christ should naturally lead to a discussion of the doctrine of adoption. It is because God has declared sinners righteous that those same sinners are brought into a more profound relationship with God; one of sonship. Consider Paul’s own words,

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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16).

Those of us who are ministers of the gospel must be reminded from Scripture that we are sons of the Father because of Christ’s salvific work, therefore rendering it imperative that we remind our people that they are sons and daughters as well. The beauty of this truth lies in the fact that as sons and daughters we have the promise of an eternal inheritance which waits for us in the future. This inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept by God’s power for us (1 Peter 1:3-5). Therefore, our adoption as sons and daughters, and the promise of an eternal inheritance, rests upon the sure foundation of the Father’s promise to us in Christ. What a glorious thing to behold!

In connection, then, we must understand that our justification leads to our adoption as sons and daughters. In Christ, we stand before the righteous judge and are declared legally righteous. Our sin has been judged in the death of Christ, meaning that there is no longer any wrath kept for us. We walk into the court room guilty and defiled, but exit as children of the King. Again, Frame concludes,

Pas“Justification gives us a new legal standing. Adoption gives us the additional privileges of inheritance. So, adoption carries us beyond justification. Justification is amazing and wonderful, but adoption is the apex, the high point in our relationship with God. So, the doctrine of adoption deserves far more emphasis in our preaching and theological work than it has usually received (Frame, 207).

This is what our people need to hear exiting our mouths as we preach and teach. It is within the context of these truths that we ultimately find the immense love that God has for His people. Let us not starve our people. Give them the whole counsel of God.

To conclude, then, consider the words of J.L. Girardeau as he offers this,

The servant with hat in hand stands at a respectful distance awaiting the orders of his master. The child of God…rushes into the presence of his father, leaps into his lap, and nestles in his bosom.

So then, it seems that although justification is most important for Christians, it is not the end of our experience of salvation; rather just the beginning. God, in a righteous manner, through Christ, declares sinners to be righteous, but then brings us into His family through adoption enhancing our experience of justification. The notion that God brings rebellious sinners into His family is an excitedly profound thought. Certainly, this is what Christianity is all about.

Dylan Rowland is an elder at Grace Community Church in Waverly, OH, and also serves as the President of The Southern Ohio Pastors Coalition. He teaches history and philosophy at Pike Christian Academy in Waverly, and is currently a student at Reformed Theological Seminary (MA).

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