Are We Adopted By God or Born Into His Family?

Tadopthis can seem confusing.  Paul writes that we Christians have been “adopted” into God’s family (see Eph. 1:4-5 & Gal 4:5).  Yet, we remember that Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be “born again” (John 3:3).  So, which is it?  Are we born into God’s family or are we adopted into God’s family?  Are we natural children of God or do we become naturalized children of God?  Which one is correct?

The answer to the question is as confusing as the question itself.  That is because the question can’t really be answered the way its framed!

You see, the Bible seems to fluidly use numerous ways to describe our relationship with God.  For example, Paul, Peter, and Jesus all talked about us as being slaves or servants of God (see Romans 6:16-18, 1 Peter 2:16, and Luke 17:10.  Then, Jesus turned that around and told his disciples that they were no longer servants, but friends (John 15:15),  Paul also relied on the husband/wife relationship to describe the Christian’s relationship to God (Romans 7:1-4), while Jesus talked about us as being guests at a wedding (Matt 22:1-14).

These are just a few examples of the way Jesus and His Apostles spoke about how we relate to God.  It is obvious that we cannot take all of them literally.  For example, we cannot insist that we have been born into God’s family while at the same time insist that we have been adopted into God’s family.  Although an adopted son and a naturally born son are both equally sons, the way in which they became sons is different.  You cannot say of yourself that you were born naturally of your father, while at the same time say that you were adopted by your father.  As well, you cannot be the bride of the same wedding in which you are a guest.  All of these cannot be true at the same time.

It is easy to see, then, that these relationship pictures are metaphors of something else – something bigger.  Each of them captures something distinct of the reality of the relationship that we have with God.  That is why the Biblical writers could move easily from one illustration to another.  All of them give us something meaningful.  Yet, none of them completely captures the mystery of what God has done.

Perhaps John was thinking of this mystery when he wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, emphasis mine).

One day the fullness of our relationship to God will likely be made known.  Until then, we will use metaphors and illustrations to scratch the surface of something very mysterious, beautiful, and exciting.





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