Romans 8:14–17—The meaning of adoption.
Now that we have surveyed these four verses on adoption and sonship, we can gain some added perspective by tying them to what the Bible says elsewhere and also by taking note of the cultural context behind Paul’s concept of adoption.The theology of adoption
There is no higher privilege than our adoption as sons, for it elevates us to a status similar to that of Jesus Christ. God made the decision to adopt us even before he made the world, and he did it out of love to reveal his grace through the work of Christ (Ephesians 1:4–6). Adoption describes not only our position or status, but also defines our destiny—likeness to the character and glory of Christ.
Jesus is God’s Son by nature. We are sons adopted by grace to glorify, please, and obey the Father as Jesus did. Another distinction is worth noting: Regeneration gets us into the kingdom of God. Adoption makes us members of God’s family.
In the Old Testament God referred to Israel as his son, perhaps the reason Paul refers to adoption as belonging to the Israelites (9:4; see Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1). The revealing of the Son, Jesus Christ, so transformed the concept’s meaning that sonship as applied to Christians added features not found in the OT: unprecedented intimacy with the Father and brotherhood with the Son.Cultural background
Jews did not practice adoption, so the Roman believers would have understood adoption in terms of its practice in that day and in that culture. Here is what they would have known about Roman adoption:
2. The adopting father considered his adopted son no less important than any biologically born son in his family. Marvin Vincent: “Roman law made all children, including adopted ones, equal heritors. Jewish law gave a double portion to the eldest son. The Roman law was naturally in Paul’s mind.”
3. Adoption canceled all previous debts and relationships of the son.
4. Adoption conveyed a new identity. It defined the son wholly in terms of his relationship with his new father. According to historian Charles Merivale (cited by Vincent), Roman law entitled the chosen heir to become the adopter’s “other self, one with him.” Paul’s readers would have well understood “that the adopted son of God becomes, in a peculiar and intimate sense, one with the heavenly Father.”
5. Adoption had to be attested by witnesses. In verse 16 the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are God’s adopted children.
6. Adoption entitled the son to inherit the father’s possessions. By Roman law, even a slave, once adopted, could inherit his master’s possessions. In like manner, as we have seen in Romans 6–8, the Christian moves from being a slave to sin, to being a child of God, then an heir. In fact, we are co-heirs with Christ.
7. Adoption was often undertaken for the benefit of the adopter. Ephesians 1:5 says God adopted us “to himself” through a sovereign act “in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
Advancing the Father’s interests
That last point is particularly noteworthy. We are shortsighted if we focus on the benefits and blessings of our adoption yet do not also seek to honor and seek the interests of the Adopter. In closing, ponder these questions:
2. What does your answer tell you about your importance to the Father?