On November 9th, many around the world will recognize World Adoption Day. As one who has had a front-row seat to the adoption stories of numerous friends, adoption has always been a practice that’s touched me deeply. And, as a Christian, I’ve long seen it as a beautiful example of God’s people reflecting his love to the broader world.
So today, I’d like to reflect on the role that adoption plays within the Christian faith. After all, God’s adoption of his people as his beloved children and heirs is one of the most frequent gospel metaphors in the Bible. As such, it should be no surprise that God regularly calls his people to “care for orphans in their distress” (James 1). The love of God’s people for children in need is a reflection of his own redeeming love.
Let’s consider each of these thoughts in turn.
Adoption as a Gospel Metaphor
Numerous New Testament texts refer to God’s “adoption” of his people to be his children. As just one example, consider Galatians 5:4-7.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Here, God quite clearly describes the good news of the gospel through the lens of adoption. And this adoption represents God’s deliverance of his people from their plight as slaves—to idolatry (Galatians 5:8) and sin (Romans 7-8). God’s adoption of his people is therefore a redemptive act of divine rescue—he takes an oppressed people that have nothing to commend themselves, lowly slaves, and instead calls them to be his sons and heirs.
And that brings us to a second thing to notice—that those who God adopts become heirs. Indeed, Romans 8 says that those whom God has adopted are “co-heirs” with Christ. In other words, we have an inheritance of eternal life in glory. That inheritance is the rightful reward of Jesus, God’s Son, which he graciously shares with all those who follow him. A tremendous alternative to slavery if there ever was one!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this passage affirms that we may call God “Abba,” often translated “Daddy.” It’s a term of deeply personal and intimate love. It shows that, in rescuing us and calling us his own, God sees us not as a project or a charity case, but as his precious children. And he invites us to lean on him as a young child leans on a parent.
As described here, then, the good news of the gospel is that God has looked upon us as spiritual orphans, slaves to idolatry and sin, and called us instead to be his beloved children. This beautiful picture makes adoption an essential way of understanding the gospel, the core of the Christian faith.
Reflecting God’s Love
But, as Christians, we’re called to more than just receiving the love of God. We’re also called to show that love to those around us. After all, it was Jesus himself who instructed his followers to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 14). There are, of course, many dimensions to living out that love. But it’s significant that, at the same meal where Jesus told his disciples to imitate his love, he went on to promise that he “would not leave them as orphans” (John 15).
If God’s love for us is described using the language of adoption, as we’ve already seen, then surely practicing actual human adoption is a natural way to carry out Jesus’ instructions. And perhaps this is why concern for orphans is such an abiding command in scripture. In fact, James 1 describes “looking after orphans in their distress” as one component of “religion that is undefiled before God the Father.”
When Christians engage in acts of love and service to the poor, to the hurting, and to the broken, they are living out God’s command to reflect his gospel love to the broader world. And when they adopt or care for children in need, they specifically reflect God’s loving adoption of us to be his children and heirs.
Perhaps that’s why the Christian church has always had a special concern for the practice of adoption. Indeed, evidence suggests that families in the early church would counteract the ancient Greco-Roman practice of abandoning unwanted infants to die of exposure by searching out and taking in the abandoned children. That tradition continues today.
I believe all of this suggests that we, as God’s people, should be in the business of adoption. But that doesn’t mean that every Christian will be called to adopt a child. Doing so is clearly a major undertaking that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. Rather, I believe that this is a corporate calling. It’s something we should all do together as the body of Christ.
After all, nearly all of us have opportunities to support the broader work of adoption in our communities and churches. Do you feel equipped to actually take in a child? Perhaps adoption or fostering is a calling for you. Not in that position, but blessed with financial means? Consider helping others cover the costs of adopting a child, or donating to a charity that supports children and young parents in need.
Know of families in your community that are adopting or fostering, or perhaps have already adopted? Approach them with grace and love and offer them your support. A free night of babysitting, an extra measure of patience as their kids adjust to Sunday School, a ride to the hospital, or delivering a hot meal when things are crazy are easy ways to show your care and support.
And don’t let up! Many adoptive parents report that the support of their church, while tremendous at first, tends to wane long before the challenges that go along with adopting a child do. They often face long struggles with health issues or emotional and spiritual trauma related to their child’s past, for example. Having the support of the body of Christ for years, and not weeks, goes a long way towards making their stories a success.
A Spiritual Family
In the end, we serve a God who “puts the lonely in families” (Psalm 68). And, while this is undoubtedly reflected in the adoption of children, I believe it speaks to the broader reality of the Christian spiritual family. As Christians, we are all like brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers (1 Timothy 5:2). We should all be loving and supporting one another, reflecting the adoptive love of God in a beautiful spiritual family.
Let’s live that calling out faithfully. Let’s live it out through the adoption of children, if and when we’re called to it. Let’s live it out through serving those in our spiritual family who are called to adopt. And let’s live it out by always welcoming the poor, the needy, and the lonely, and becoming a spiritual home for them. For it is through God’s people that he accomplishes his saving, rescuing, loving purposes in the world.
Share Your Thoughts?
Have you been impacted by adoption? Have any comments on these ideas, or anything else you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or find me on Twitter. I’d love to engage with you!