predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will”. Ephesians 1:5 NASB
Adoption – The Greek word huiothesia isn’t very common in Scripture. Occurrences outside the Bible demonstrates that adoption was used to bring a son into the family for the purpose of providing care for the adopting parents. Adoption was the ancient social security system. Adoption did not necessarily occur when the child was young. The name of the adopted person did not change. What was established in adoption was a familial relationship between parent and child regardless of the names involved – a relationship that often had reciprocal obligations and benefits.
In the New Testament, the theme behind adoption is that the relationship established between the believer and God is never one that depends on natural descent or earned merit. God’s adoption of the believing community is a function of His freely given grace. It is God who, for His own purposes and desires, decides to adopt someone into His family. The believer’s sole responsibility in this process is acceptance of God’s gracious act. Of course, we know from the Hebrew use of hesed that once this gracious act is accepted, mutual obligations attach. Galatians makes it clear that adoption into God’s household is equivalent to liberation from the consequences, not the instruction, of Torah. Once adopted, the believer is no longer judged on the basis of his past familial relationship with human beings but rather is judged on his relationship with God. God’s adoptive plan includes not only human beings but also the re-institution of creation, now fallen from its original relationship with Him. Paul asserts that all creation groans in agony waiting for this final phase of adoption.
The most marvelous feature of this little word is its staggering implication – adoption out of the life of sin and into the life of spiritual grace is not up to us. It is not a result of how hard we work, how much we achieve, how cleanly we live. It is not lost by failing one more time, slipping, crashing or not quite making it today. Because God is the one who chooses to adopt, the process of belonging to His family depends solely on Him. We are relieved of the impossible task of earning perfection. Freedom comes from knowing that even in our imperfections, He chooses us.
It is worth noting that the meaning of adoption is found not in the legal contract but in the purpose of the adopter. As is typical in Hebrew thought, purpose determines definition of the term. While Greek paradigms look at the essence of substance (what a thing is made of), Hebrew looks at the useful purpose (what something is made for). And the useful purpose of huiothesia is to provide God with active agency in the world through the hands and feel of men and women. In other words, one is not adopted by simply uttering the proper spiritual incantation. One is adopted by changing behavior so that the purpose of the adopter is identifiable and active. The offer is free. The transformation is not. The transformation will cost you your life as you know it. Adopted ones serve a different purpose. Thank God!
Topical Index: adoption, Ephesians 1:5, huiothesia, purpose