The Blessing of Being a Justified and Adopted Child of God
Calvin once said that justification is the main hinge on which religion turns. According to him, "justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God's sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man. By faith in Him we receive not only forgiveness of our sins but also a righteous standing before God." We find echoes of this definition of justification in Lord's Day 23 of our Heidelberg Catechism when it speaks of God imputing "to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; ... as if I never had had, nor committed any sin ... as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me." Yet, glorious as the doctrine of justification is, there is another, related doctrine, which is even more glorious: those who are justified by faith are also adopted by God as members of His family.
Why is this a greater blessing than the one flowing from justification? Because adoption brings us into an even richer relationship with God than justification. Justification has to do with our legal relationship to God. In justification, God as Judge declares the sinner who believes in Christ free from the demands of the law because those demands have been met by another Surety. In adoption, however, God is not only our pacified Judge but our reconciled Father. This is the supreme good of the Christian religion. "Behold," says John the apostle, "what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1).
Why is this superior blessing so rarely experienced in its richness by us? Why do so few believers enjoy the privileges of sonship as they should? Why do so many feel constrained to say with Newton:
Tis a point I long to know;
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord or no;
Am I His or am I not?
There are valid reasons for such laments. All God's people have times when fears and doubts beset them. When they realize who and what they are before a holy God, they can find it difficult to appropriate such great blessings to themselves. Yet it is also true that ignorance can play a role. A lack of insight into the way of salvation can keep a soul in darkness for years. There are many who possess the essential marks of grace and yet hesitate to say, "Abba, Father!" They may believe that Christ is their only Hope and Refuge and there are moments "when peace like a river attends (their) way," but they also go through periods when they cannot bring themselves to say with confidence, "I am a child of God."
Am I describing your case? What you lack is boldness to approach God as your Father. So what do you do? You start looking within to see if there is something that may help you conclude you are a child of God. The warrant for your adoption is sought in tears, prayers, longings, and other things the Holy Spirit has worked in you. Yet this is the wrong approach. Instead of looking to those marks of grace as evidences of sonship, you must learn to fix your mind on this truth: children of God are adopted through grace, for Christ's sake. Our sonship grows out of Christ's Sonship! It is based on what He has done to earn the blessing of sonship for us. He was rejected by God for a time and so deprived of His Father's love that He cried out, "My God" – not my Father, but my God – "why hast thou forsaken me?" He did this in order "that we might be accepted of God and never be forsaken of Him" (Lord's Supper Form).
How marvelous is God's way of salvation! Does not your heart burn within you when you hear these wonderful truths of the Word of God (Luke 24:32)? Are you still afraid to call God your Father, even if you cannot deny that you believe on His Son? Your Father wants you to call Him by His rightful name. When the prodigal son returned to his father's house with a repentant heart, he was no doubt afraid that he would find the door to that house closed. Having sinned against heaven and his father, he could not expect to be received as a son. Maybe there would be a bunk and table for him somewhere in the barn that he could share with the other servants.
But his father had other plans for him. Picture the scene: the father running toward his long-lost son, followed by a hearty embrace and ardent kiss, then the best robe, the ring, and the shoes. Next, the fatted calf and the feast, the music and rejoicing in the house – not in the barn – and all for a son who had been dead but was alive again. That night words like these must have gone up to heaven:
O how shall I the goodness tell
Father, which thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven
Blest with this antepast (foretaste) of heaven?