I am beginning with a story that we’ll come back to a few times as we study adoption in Galatians 4:1-7. In 2002, Russell Moore, a Christian writer on cultural issues, and his wife adopted two Russian boys. In his book, Adopted For Life, he writes about the first time he and Maria saw the boys:
They were lying in [their waste], covered in heat blisters and flies, in an orphanage somewhere in a little mining community in Russia…
[Earlier,] Maria and I recommitted to God that we would trust him and that we would adopt whomever he directed us to, regardless of what medical or emotional problems they might have…
Sure enough, the orphanage authorities, through our translators, cataloged a terrifying list of medical problems—including fetal alcohol syndrome—for one, if not both, of the boys. My wife and I looked at each other as if to say, “This is what the Lord has for us, so here we go.” The nurse led us up some stairs, down a dank hallway, and into a tiny room with two beds.
I can still see the younger of the two, now Timothy, rocking up and down against the bars of his crib, grinning widely. The older, now Benjamin, was more reserved, stroking my five o’clock shadow with his hand and seeing (I came to realize) a man most probably for the very first time in his life.
Both the boys had hair matted down on their heads, and one of them had crossed eyes. Both of them moved slowly and rigidly, almost like stop-motion clay animated characters from the Christmas television specials of our 1970s childhoods.
And we loved them both, at an intuitive and almost primal level, from the very first second…
Leaving them at the end of each day was painful, but leaving them the final day, before going home to wait for the paperwork to go through, was the hardest thing either of us had ever done. Walking out of the room to prepare for the plane ride home, Maria and I could hear Maxim [Benjamin] calling out for us and falling down in his crib, convulsing in tears…
When Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed.
We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them…and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.
They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming…
I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance…
I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you—a home with a mommy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”
But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.
[Later, w]e knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.
They are now thoroughly Americanized, perhaps too much so, able to recognize the sound of a microwave ding from forty yards away.
I still remember, though, those little hands reaching for the orphanage. (Russell Moore, Adopted for Life [updated and Expanded Edition]: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015])
What is a Christian? We could answer this question in many ways. We could talk about a Christian being a follower of Jesus Christ. We could point to a Christian being someone who is born again. But another way that we could define Christian is like this: A Christian is someone who has God as his or her Father.
This is a definition that sounds strange at first because it seems to leave Christ out, until you realize that it steps beyond the actual work of Jesus Christ to the actual goal of Jesus Christ—to unite people with the Father.
In the Bible, this process of making us united with the Father is called adoption. Turn to Galatians 4 and we’ll work on understanding the process of biblical adoption. Let’s start with…
THE PREPARATION FOR OUR ADOPTION (4:1-3)
Galatians 4:1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
Galatians 4:2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
In the Roman world, a minor child in a well-to-do household looked no different from the servants and slaves. But then a day finally came, “appointed of the father,” that the child would be a son in the full sense. He would receive his full inheritance. Paul then takes this analogy and compares it to us.
Galatians 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Before we became Christians, we were in “bondage under the elements of the world.” What does he mean? The word “elements” (stoicheion, translated “rudiments” in Colossians 2:8,20) refers to the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” Before we were saved, we were in bondage to sin and Satan.
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Ephesians 2:2)
Before we can be adopted by God, we need to recognize that we are in bondage. Often, we are like Timothy and Benjamin as they were leaving the orphanage, reaching back and crying to go back home. This bondage to sin and Satan feels natural to us. We don’t desire to leave the comfort of sin.
But what if Russell and Maria had taken the boys back to the orphanage? What sort of life would they have had there? It would have been terrible and possibly very short. The same is true for us. The elements of this world seek to destroy us like a cancer destroys a body.
The boys could not understand what Russell said when he talked about the orphanage being a pit and that he was promising a life of love and family and McDonald’s Happy Meals. But we, when we come to Christ for adoption, must understand that God offers us a much better life than what sin can deliver.
God is everyone’s Creator, but He wants to be our Father. He wants us to be part of His family. He wants us to be adopted sons alongside His Son, Jesus Christ.
How can that happen? Let’s talk now about…
THE PAYMENT FOR OUR ADOPTION (4:4-5)
How much does it cost to adopt a child? The cheapest sort of adoption today is adopting a foster child, it runs about $3,000.
On the other hand, private or international adoptions are quite costly. There are a number of variables, here is an example with 2012 numbers:
Adoption Agency Fees: $17,000.
Legal Fees: $4,000.
Birth Mother Expenses: $3,200.
Advertising Networking: $2,300.
If you are adopting a child from another country, you can expect to spend $10,000 in travel expenses, plus $1,000 for visas and passports.
All said, you should expect to pay $30,000 to $40,000 to do a private or international adoption (https://www.americanadoptions.com/adopt/the_costs_of_adopting).
It’s a costly venture, but one that I think every adoptive parent would say is worth it.
God wants us to be His sons and daughters. He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants to adopt us as His children. But that can’t happen if we are in bondage to sin.
Sin, the Bible tells us, has a very high penalty—eternal death (Romans 6:23). It’s a penalty no one can pay themselves—we cannot make ourselves clean and righteous enough to approach God.
Think of Timothy and Benjamin in their dark room, lying in their waste—could they have ever paid to been adopted? No. That is also our situation:
6 But we are all as an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; And we all do fade as a leaf; And our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
God, however, arranged a way for our sins to be paid. He as arranged for our adoption expenses to be paid!
Galatians 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
God’s “Son” is Jesus Christ. The fact that He is God’s “Son” means that Jesus Christ is God, because a “Son” of something is of the same kind. My sons (and daughters) are are not cats or dogs or cows or rocks or trees. They are of the same kind as I am—human.
Jesus is God’s Son and He is fully God. But He became fully human as well:
1) “made of a woman”—Jesus was born of a woman. Why did He have to be born of a woman? Because, otherwise, He could not have redeemed man from our sin. He had to be fully man. As John MacArthur writes:
He had to be fully God in order for His sacrifice to have the infinite worth necessary to atone for the sin of mankind.
He also had to be fully man in order to represent mankind and take the penalty of sin upon Himself in man’s behalf. (John F. MacArthur Jr., Galatians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1983], 108)
To identify with sinful humanity, Christ became a human, but not a sinful one (Hebrews 4:15). He was also…
2) “made under the law”—Jesus was a Jew and, as a Jew, He was subject to all the requirements and demands of the law. But unlike every other Jew, Jesus lived up to the law’s demands. He did not break one single law. He lived a perfect life.
As God, and as a sinless human, obeying the law perfectly, Jesus was able…
Galatians 4:5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
The word, “redeem” (exagorazō), means to “buy out or buy back.” It was a word used in the slave market in the Roman Empire. A slave’s freedom could be purchased (redeemed) and the slave would become a free man and even receive adoption as a son.
And “adoption” (huiothesia) refers to someone conferring the status of son on a person who was not his natural son. In this case, payment was made to redeem the slave and then adopt him as a son.
What did God pay in order to adopt us? He paid with the life and the death of His natural Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’s death was a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins. His life was lived in perfect obedience to fulfill the demands of the law.
You and I cannot fulfil the law’s demands. But Jesus did. When we trust in Christ, we fulfill the law’s demands by being in Christ. The payment for our adoption was the life of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Now, let’s look at…
THE PLEDGE OF OUR ADOPTION (4:6)
A pledge is a token given as a confirmation or guarantee. How do we know that God has adopted us as sons? We know because He has given us a pledge.
Galatians 4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
The Spirit acts as a pledge for our adoption. What does the Spirit do as a pledge to confirm our adoption?
He causes us to cry out “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is an Aramaic term that refers to the intimate relationship with a father. In English, we might say, “Daddy” or “Papa.”
Here, it’s somewhat unclear whether it’s the Spirit crying out “Abba” or if the Spirit is causing us to cry “Abba.” It’s more clear in Romans 8:15, where we read that we “have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
The Spirit also confirms our adoption by witnessing to our spirits: the
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
Coming to faith in Christ means believing certain objective truths about God: That He exists. That we have sinned against Him. That the penalty of our sin is eternal death. That He sent Jesus to die in our place. These are objective facts that a Christian must believe.
But there’s a subjective side of faith as well. This is the work of the Spirit causing you to know in your heart that you are indeed a son of God. That you are adopted by the Father.
The objective truths cannot be neglected. You can’t claim to be a child of God and not believe that Jesus died for your sins, for instance.
But at the same time, it’s not just that you have knowledge of the facts of the Bible. After all, the demons know the facts of the Bible also.
The Spirit works in the believer’s heart to confirm their relationship with God. You will know in your heart that you are God’s child—His adopted Son.
Finally, we need to look at:
4) THE PRIVILEGES OF OUR ADOPTION (4:7)
Galatians 4:7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
The slave is redeemed and becomes a son. And, as a son, he becomes an heir.
First, the Christian becomes a “son.” This is, of course, a family term. You become part of God’s family. Why does Paul use the term “son” instead of a more inclusive term like “children” (as he does in Romans 8:15-17), or even “sons and daughters”? Clearly, Paul isn’t being chauvinistic here (the Romans 8 passage proves that).
He is making a special point by referring to all Christians as sons that is actually very inclusive. In those days, a daughter did not receive any inheritance from her father. Instead, her father would pay a dowry when she was married.
So when Paul says that all Christians are adopted sons of God, he is actually being more inclusive than his culture because he is including women as sons, and sons who have an inheritance.
If it sounds strange to you ladies to be called a son, keep in mind that the Bible is evenhanded here, because Christian men and women are all called the “bride of Christ” (Revelation 21:2). So men get to be the bride of Christ and women get to be the sons of God.
One aspect that Russell Moore struggled with about adoption was how other people could not see that the two boys they had adopted were really brothers and were really his sons. They were not biologically related, but to Moore that did not matter.
It bugged him to no end when so many people would ask, “Are they brothers?” and would not be satisfied with his answer of “They are now.” The questioner would laugh and say, “No, really, are they brothers?”
To Russell Moore, that person had failed to understand the reality and extent of adoption—the two boys were adopted by the same set of parents so they were really brothers now.
Likewise, when the infertility that Russell and Maria struggled with vanished and they were suddenly blessed with a natural-born son they named Samuel a few years after adopting Benjamin and Timothy, the issue returned:
[A lady] approached Maria and said, in the hearing of my sons, “I’ll bet Dr. Moore is really proud of Samuel.” Maria replied, “Yes, he is proud of all of his sons.” The lady smiled and retorted, “Yes, but I’ll bet he’s especially proud of Samuel, since he’s his.” (Moore).
Friends, when you become a Christian by trusting in Jesus, the Son of God, you really become the Father’s sons and Jesus becomes your brother (Hebrews 2:11). It’s not a second-rate thing. In the Father’s eyes, you are the same as His “natural” Son, Jesus Christ.
The second privilege of adopted Christians is that we become sons and as a son, “an heir” (klēronomos). An heir is someone who is legally entitled to receive the property of another person, usually upon that person’s death.
What is the Christian’s inheritance? Peter calls it…
…an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:4)
Our inheritance is eternal life in Heaven. It is “incorruptible”—it cannot be diminished in any way.
Imagine that your parents own a special car that you will inherit one day. But as time passes, the car ages poorly, and by the time you do receive it, it’s in need of a lot of work to restore it. It is a corruptible inheritance, but the Christian’s inheritance is incorruptible—it will never diminish in value.
Our inheritance is also “undefiled.” It is unstained by sin, Satan, and evil. That special car may have a grape juice stain on the seat (put there by your little sister when she was a toddler). But Heaven will have no trace of the stain of sin. There will be no jealously, no anger, no envy, no bitterness, or any other sin in Heaven.
Our inheritance “fadeth not away.” It is unchangeable. Many an selfish heir has gotten bitter and angry when their parents have spent their inheritance before they died. Heaven is not going anywhere. It will always be there for us and will always be glorious.
Christian, your inheritance is “reserved in heaven for you.” Our inheritance is Heaven, but it’s what is in Heaven that we inherit. And it’s “reserved” for us. It has, as it were, a tag with our name on it.
Why is this inheritance ours? Because, if we are a believer in Christ, we have been adopted by God. We are sons of God along with Jesus, the Son of God.
Today, are you an adopted son of God? Are you in line to inherit Heaven and all it entails?