The Shocking Splendor of Sonship: Part 2
May 29, 2021
Today’s guest post is by Josh Maurer, pastoral resident at College Church in Wheaton and adjunct professor at Wheaton College, where he is also completing a PhD in New Testament. You can read Part 1 here.
“The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of it [adoption]” – J. I. Packer
In Part 1, we established the foundational, redemptive-historical, creation-to-consummation shape of adoption. Or, you could say, we uncovered the basic theological sub-structure of adoption. But we ended with the hypothetical(?) objection that such theologizing seems too distant from our day-to-day life and of little help. “How is this practical?” one might ask. In the context of discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, C. S. Lewis responded to this very objection, saying, “I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool” (Mere Christianity, 153). I also do not think you, the reader, are such a fool. In other words, I agree with Lewis: theology is inherently and immensely practical. And my aim now, in Part 2, is to show the truth of this claim with respect to adoption.
But first, an important preliminary point needs to be clarified. The privilege of being a son of God applies equally to every male and female who is united to Christ by faith. “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God,” Paul says, and “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26, 28, ESV). Let there be no confusion: males and females in Christ are together the sons/children of God. Nevertheless, it is important to retain the language of “sonship” where Paul does, even for females, because of the inseparable connection created between Jesus and believers via such language. And far from being a relic of an outdated, traditional, prejudicial patriarchy, it is actually an exaltation of women to a status equal to that of men, something exceedingly rare in that culture—they, too, are heirs!
Five Features of Adoptive Sonship
What follows is only a brief taste of the rich and complex flavor of our sonship described in the New Testament, but I trust it will be delightful nonetheless (and maybe even leave you with a craving for more). There are at least five features of our adoption we must grasp:
- As sons, we have intimacy with God our Father (Rom 8:15–16; Gal 4:6)
- As sons, we are expected and empowered to be holy (Rom 8:14; Eph 5:1–2)
- As sons, we will share in the sufferings of Christ (Rom 8:17; Heb 2:10–11; cf. Phil 3:10)
- As sons, we will share in the glory of Christ (Rom 8:17–23; cf. Phil 3:10, 21)
- As sons, we will inherit all things with Christ (Rom 8:17, 32; Gal 4:7; Eph 1:11, 14)
First, knowing God as our Father and being known by him (Gal 4:9), i.e., intimacy with him, is fundamental to our adoption. The Spirit, in addition to awakening faith and uniting us to Christ, creates and sustains a true, subjective awareness of being a son of God, casting out fear with love and security. We cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15). Luther powerfully captures the essence of this reality: “Although I be oppressed with anguish and terror on every side, and seem to be forsaken and utterly cast away from thy presence, yet am I thy child, and thou art my Father for Christ’s sake: I am beloved because of the Beloved” (Commentary on Galatians).
Flowing from such intimacy, indeed grounded in it, is our Spirit-empowered pursuit of holiness. Notice Paul’s flow of thought: “13If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:13–15, ESV). The for at the beginning of v. 15 suggests that the experiential intimacy of v. 15 grounds the Spirit-empowered obedience of vv. 13–14, which is necessary for attaining eternal life. In other words, we do not pursue holiness to become sons of God; we pursue holiness because we are sons of God. And we do it in the very power of the “Spirit of his Son” (Gal 4:6).
The third and fourth features—suffering and glory—really belong together as two sides of the same filial coin, laying out a pattern of sonship if you will. Just as the Son of God suffered the effects of sin in a fallen world, so the sons of God will suffer the same. And just as the Son was glorified, so the sons will likewise be glorified. Paul is quite explicit on this point: “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17, ESV). As C. S. Lewis poetically put it, “The cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning” (The Weight of Glory, 45). Suffering, then glory. But what does glorified mean? At least two things. First, it means bodily resurrection, sharing the glory of eternal, resurrection life. It is this aspect of our adoption to which Paul refers in Rom 8:23 when he says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Being glorified also means sharing with Christ in his rule over creation, a restoration of God’s original design for humanity (Rom 8:21; cf. Rom 5:17; Gen 1:26–28). In short, our life as sons is patterned after the life of the Son, and this is good news.
Finally, as sons of God, we are his heirs (Gal 4:7) and thus stand to inherit everything—the greatest treasure being God himself. We are both “fellow heirs with Christ” and “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17). I take the first phrase, “fellow heirs with Christ,” to signify the inheritance from God we receive with Christ that properly belongs to us as sons—namely, all things. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). The second phrase, “heirs of God,” I take to signify the fact that the greatest treasure belonging to us as sons is not the innumerable gifts of God, but the Giver himself, for he is our “exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4).
Intimacy, holiness, suffering, glory, inheritance—these features combine to reveal the shocking splendor of our adoption as sons. As you can see, it is nothing less than being conformed to the image of the Son. “I warned you that theology is practical” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 161).
To receive God Centered Life articles directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, click "subscribe" and fill out the information.