Mike Donahue

God’s Big Plan of Adoption

God’s great plan has always been to have spiritual sons that He can share all He has with (Ephesians 1:5); interestingly, the Bible never uses the term “daughter of God.” This is not because it is misogynistic; on the contrary, it is because God’s plan for all His children, both men and women, is to be brought into the full rights as heirs to His inheritance.

Born into a new relationship

Our relationship to God as our Father is established the moment we are saved. When someone trusts alone in the Lord Jesus to deliver them from their sins, they are born again and become a child of God. Many Christians stop there in their understanding of sonship.

They are happy to be called the children of God, and so they should be; however, God has a much bigger plan than we could imagine. What does it mean to be sons of God? To understand this we need to understand how the Bible uses the word adoption.

Different than earthly adoption

Because of the way our culture uses the term adoption, we often place that meaning on the Greek word for adoption (huiothesia). But biblical adoption isn’t quite the same as taking an unnatural child and making him part of a family. It’s actually much better than that.

The Greek word for adoption is made up of two words, huios (son) and thesis (placing). The word has the idea of “placing as a son.” As Henry Thiessen put it in his Lectures in Systematic Theology, adoption has to do with our “rights, position and privilege.”

The family business

To help us understand this, J. B. Nicholson uses the analogy of signs that we commonly see. When we see a sign in front of a house that reads “It’s a boy!” we understand that that family has had a baby. This is like regeneration.

But when we see the sign “Smith and Sons Inc.” we don’t think that it is an announcement that the Smith’s had a baby, but that they have taken their sons on to help run the family business. This is like spiritual adoption.

A change in position

In his classic book, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, William Evans helps us see the difference between some of these big ideas related to our salvation, “Regeneration has to do with our change in nature; justification, with our change in standing; sanctification, with our change in character; adoption, with our change in position.”

Paul is the only one to use the term adoption in the New Testament, and he uses the term in three distinct ways:

The first two ways Paul uses adoption can be found in Galatians 4. He uses it to refer to Israel’s relationship to God in Romans 9:4, “Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption.” This is similar to, but not quite the same as, our adoption as Paul explains in Galatians 4:1-3.

Fully grown heirs

Israel was still in a childish stage and needed the law to oversee them. Paul immediately contrasts this with our adoption as believers in Christ (Galatians 4:4-7). We have been brought into an adult relationship to the Father and receive all the benefits of a full grown son. This is what it means to be an heir of God.

In Treasury of Bible Doctrine, J. M. Davies explains that “the believer, then, is not under the law. He is delivered from its condemnation [Rom. 8:1]. He is not under rules and regulations to control his life. Sonship means freedom from the law as a mode of living, and as a means of sanctification.

In its place, those constituted sons by redemption have been made the recipients of the ‘Spirit of His Son,’ the ‘Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ [Rom. 8:15].”

What is our inheritance?

A young believer recently asked me, “So what are we an heir to? What are all the blessings we get?” In part, that remains to be seen when we come into our full inheritance, which is the third way Paul uses the term adoption (Romans 8:19). But there is much that we can know about our inheritance right now. To summarize Henry Thiessen, here are the results of our adoption as sons of God:

  • First is deliverance from the law (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4).
  • Next is the down-payment of the inheritance – this is the Holy Spirit Himself (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:11-14). The Father starts his sons out with the initial payment of the full inheritance which they will receive when Christ comes.
  • Then there is the witness of the Spirit, or assurance (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
  • If the believer appreciates these blessings, he will show a family resemblance to the Father (2 Peter 1:3-4).
  • This will naturally be followed by a walk in the Spirit, for the believer will be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18).
  • The result will be greater and greater conformity to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29).
  • And for the future, the believer has the prospect of one day being displayed as a son (Romans 8:19).

It literally doesn’t get any better than that! We certainly have a lot to enjoy right now as sons of God and so much to look forward to. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Revelation 21:7).

Mike Donahue


  1. Avatar

    Well written, Mike. This should be required reading for those engaged in studying the NT epistles, particularly Romans. Looking forward to your articles on predestination and election!


Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.