"…to the praise of the glory of His grace…" Ephesians 1:6

Adoption Sustained only by the Gospel

David Platt, author of RADICAL and his wife are just completing their adoption of a little girl from China. In the midst of that process he has been writing about adoption. I found this piece particularly powerful and a good follow up to our month’s emphasis on adoption. May the Lord help us to live out the gospel.

He writes:
“…I am reminded as we go into tomorrow that the initiative for adoption obviously resides with a parent, not with a child. A child does not choose to initiate adoption; instead, a parent chooses to adopt a child. The same is true in spiritual adoption, as well. The Word is clear that in our sin, we were once children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), alienated from God (Colossians 1:21) and totally unable to save ourselves from our sin in order to become His sons. Talk about special needs. Our minds were blinded (Romans 1:21-23), our emotions were disordered (Romans 1:26-27), our bodies were defiled (Romans 1:24-25), our wills were distorted (Romans 3:10-12), and our relationships were broken (James 4:1-4). We were slaves to sin (John 8:34), lovers of darkness (John 3:20), morally evil (Genesis 8:21), and spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). And the good news of the gospel is that God saw our need and initiated our adoption:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10).

Understanding this biblical foundation of spiritual adoption is critical for understanding the proper motivation for physical adoption. We have a tendency in our day to romanticize adoption, envisaging cute children around the world (both domestically and internationally) just waiting to be adopted. Obviously, they are all cute in their own ways, but they are also needy…and many of their needs are great.

As a pastor of a church that is, by God’s grace, captivated by an adoptive culture, I have talked and prayed with countless parents who have fostered and/or adopted children with challenging needs. And the only sustainable motivation for these parents is the glorious reality of the gospel. What do you do when the child you adopted has fetal alcohol syndrome and can’t ever seem to sit still without throwing a tantrum? What happens when that child’s birth mother was addicted to crack cocaine and as a result, he or she has permanent brain damage that affects their behavior for the rest of their life, and in turn their teenage years turn into a living nightmare for you, for them, and for your entire family? What happens when the years that child has spent in an institutional orphanage by themselves causes them to not know how to even begin to receive love, so that every time you try to show love, they resist it? What happens when the child you adopt is dangerous?

Mere altruism will not sustain you in situations like these. Only the gospel will. Because in the gospel, you are reminded on a daily basis that there was a day when you were a child of wrath, filled with evil desires, totally unable to control your sinfulness, and desperately in need of Savior, and God reached down His hand of mercy past the depth of your wickedness in order to adopt you as His own. When there was no initiative to draw you to Him, He initiated a relationship with you. So now, when you see a child with minor or major needs, you reach out to that child, simply because you realize you are that child. I can’t improve here upon the words of my friend, Russell Moore, who wrote a wonderful book called Adopted for Life. He wrote:

Imagine for a moment that you’re adopting a child. As you meet with the social worker in the last stage of the process, you’re told that this 12-year-old has been in and out of psychotherapy since he was three. He persists in burning things, and attempting repeatedly to skin animals alive. He “acts out sexually,” the social worker says, although she doesn’t really fill you in on what that means. She continues with a little family history. This boy’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather all had histories of violence, ranging from spousal abuse to serial murder. Each of them ended their own lives. Think for a minute. Would you want this child? If you did adopt him, wouldn’t you watch nervously as he played with your other children? Would you watch him nervously as he looks at the knife on the kitchen table? Would you leave the room as he watched a movie on TV with your daughter, with the lights out?

And then Dr. Moore writes:

Well he’s you. And he’s me. That’s what the Gospel is telling us.

My goal is certainly not to paint a grim picture of adoption, and many children in foster and/or adoption situations are perfectly healthy. But adoption is not easy, and children are indeed needy. It’s important to realize, then, that we adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued. And in this way, the gospel uniquely portrays, compels, and ultimately sustains adoption.