March 16, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Adoption | Music
Congratulations to my friend Bob Kauflin whose album Sons and Daughters has won the 2009 Worship Compilation of the Year award in the Worship Leader Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards.
I love this album!
And apparently many others love this album as well.
What I love about the album is the theological lyrics on the theme of God’s adopting grace.
So why did Bob focus this project on the doctrine of spiritual adoption? A while back on his blog, Bob wrote this:
The project came out of a perceived lack of songs that help us meditate on the unfathomable love God has shown us in adopting us through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5). We are now part of God’s family—in Christ we will forever be the objects of God’s particular and passionate mercy and love. We are not only forgiven, we are co-heirs with Christ, and never again have to doubt God’s care for us. That biblical reality, rather than leaving us focused on ourselves, drives us once again to proclaim the greatness of the God whose grace turns hopeless rebels into precious children.
We need songs on this important topic—especially worship albums for individual and corporate worship.
In his classic book Knowing God
, J.I. Packer writes:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God.…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. (pp. 201–202)
I highly recommend Sons and Daughters. It will help convince you of God’s passionate and personal love for you. This album will remind you of God’s adopting grace, a theme that should prompt and control our worship. What better album to do this than Sons and Daughters.
Congratulations to Bob and to all the musicians and songwriters that made this album possible!
See related posts by C.J. on the theme of adoption here.
Today on his blog Kevin DeYoung posted C.J.’s most valuable reads of 2009. Read about C.J.’s picks here.
October 14, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Today we end our study of Galatians 4:1–7 with the final verse: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
In this passage we see a change from the plural (“sons” in v. 6) to the singular “a son.” Paul brings his argument down from an address to the Galatians in general, to individuals in particular. The doctrine of God’s adopting grace is deeply personal.
In this passage God is making eye contact with you! He is looking into your eyes because he wants you to be certain of his love for you. He wants you to be convinced of his adopting grace. He wants you to receive his love, experience his love, and rest certain in his love.
But I am not worthy of his household
, you may say. True, you are not. I am not! No one can be a son through human effort or merit. We can be his children only “through God,” only through his initiative and sovereign grace.
Here we conclude our study of adoption: by looking to God. Adoption is not about drawing attention to ourselves, it is about God and his activity, his initiative, and his love. He sent his Son to die for us. And he sent his Spirit to dwell within us for the purpose of convincing us of his love.
Our sinful condition is not unlike the two boys we met at the outset of this series
. They were destitute and without hope. They could not initiate a relationship with their adoptive family. They did not ask to be adopted. They could not conceive of adoption. In fact, they were afraid of being adopted and taken away from what they knew.
Those boys could not earn adoption. And neither can we. Yet we are tempted to reach out, to reach back, to grab at the familiar life of sin. Yet God, in his mercy, has adopted us.
And he is taking us home, to a place of unimaginable beauty and pleasures forever.
October 13, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Adoption | Book reviews
Puritan John Owen penned an unforgettable statement about God’s love: “The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him, is not to believe that he loves you.”*
Stop for a moment and reflect on that sentence—it could change your life.
Now, let me ask you three questions: Do you believe in God’s personal and passionate love for you? Are you delighting in God’s unconditional love? Or have you laid a sorrow and burden upon your adopted Father by questioning his love for you or refusing to believe that he loves you?
If you are uncertain of God’s love for you—or simply unfamiliar with the gift of adoption—I want to encourage you to restrict your spiritual diet for a season so that you might experience the greatness of God’s love. This is more than an academic exercise; this study is a means to experiencing God’s affection, closeness, and generosity as Father. Immerse yourself in an extended study of this topic, this passage (Galatians 4:1–7), and other passages on this topic.
Allow a godly scholar to hold your hand as you study, explore, and experience this topic. I would recommend three resources, ordered from the easiest to read to the most technical:
• J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1993), 316 pgs. Especially note chapter 19: “Sons of God.”
• Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Banner of Truth, 1989), 144 pgs. Especially note his chapter: “Delighting in the Father’s Love.”
• Trevor J. Burke, Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (IVP Academic, 2006), 233 pgs.
Why devote so much time to studying the doctrine of adoption? For fresh motivation I close with words from J.I. Packer:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.**
* John Owen, Communion with God (Banner of Truth, 1991).
** J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1993), pp. 201–202.
October 6, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Today's post will be short, not simply to take less of your time, but because at the end I would encourage you to pause for a moment of reflection.
In the ancient world a father's inheritance was passed along to his son. If a father had no son, he had no heir. Necessitated by this dilemma, a son-less father would search for a suitable son to adopt. This adopted son would become the father's heir.
Now think about this: God had a Son. And not only did the Father have an heir, He had a perfect Heir, a beloved and well-pleasing Heir (see Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22, 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17
Reflect on this: God had a Son—a perfect Heir.
Which means that under the shadow of the ancient custom:
Your adoption was unnecessary.
My adoption was unnecessary.
October 2, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Not long ago we looked at God’s initiative in our adoption
. The more aware we are of God’s initiative the more amazed we are of grace. Our position and status as adopted sons and daughters was secured by God’s initiative in sending his Son.
Today I will focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in our experience of adoption. “God’s purpose was not only to secure our sonship by His Son,” John Stott writes, “but to assure us of it by His Spirit. He sent His Son that we might have the status of sonship, and He sent His Spirit that we might have the experience of it.”*
In other words, God first sent his Son to die for our sins and then God sent his Spirit into our hearts. The immediate cry of the Spirit within our hearts is “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15).
The Spirit’s Call
This cry—“Abba! Father!”—is the precious privilege and common experience of all Christians. This cry is evidence that we have received adopting grace. This cry assures us of God’s love. It is a means of certainty that God loves you
I never tire of reading the following illustration from the ministry of Charles Spurgeon:
I once knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts, and when I got to the bottom of her doubt, it was this: she knew she loved Christ, but she was afraid he did not love her. “Oh!” I said, “that is a doubt that will never trouble me; never, by any possibility, because I am sure of this, that the heart is so corrupt, naturally, that love to God never did get there without God’s putting it there.” You may rest quite certain, that if you love God, it is a fruit, and not a root. It is the fruit of God’s love to you, and did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may conclude, with absolute certainty, that God loves you if you love God.**
Let me ask: Are you aware that God loves you, if you love God? You can be. You can be assured of God’s love for you. That cry did not originate with you. That cry is a gift from God. That cry is an evidence of adopting grace. That cry is a means of assuring you of God’s love for you.
Yet it’s possible to grow less aware of this cry. It is possible to hear only the voice of slavery and fear and grow insensitive to the cry of the Spirit.
This was happening to Christians in Galatia. In Galatians 4, Paul writes people who have been seduced by legalism and no longer enjoy adopting grace and have grown deaf to the cry of the Spirit within.
Many voices cry out for our attention each day and seek to distract our attention from the voice of the Spirit. The cry of indwelling sin is one voice. So is the cry of legalism. And the voice of condemnation can be consistently noisy, too. These are loud and distracting voices.
Which voice are you most aware of?
If you are distracted by these voices and the noise in your soul created by sin and legalism and condemnation, this cry will be muffled.
If this is you, I would recommend a pair of divine noise-cancelling earphones. What I mean is that I would encourage you to memorize Galatians 4:1–7. What is revealed in these verses about adopting grace and the Spirit's work within revealing and applying adopting grace will protect you from the voices of sin, legalism, and condemnation. And it will help you to better hear the Spirit’s cry—“Abba! Father!”—for yourself.
* John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians
** Charles Spurgeon, sermon: “The Relationship of Marriage” (sermon No. 762).
September 30, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
This is a question for Dr. J.I. Packer. And here is his answer:
That justification—by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future—is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God's judgment; his law condemns us; guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid; we have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world; and this the gospel offers us before it offers us anything else...
But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with the God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.*
* J.I. Packer, Knowing God
(IVP, 1993), pp. 206–207.
September 24, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Understanding adopting grace will protect us from the enchantment of legalism. This is the lesson we learned from Paul
as he addressed the distortions of the gospel caused by false teaching in Galatia.
Paul responded to the error of legalism by reminding the Galatians of God’s gracious activity. Paul reminded them that their relationship with God was the result of God’s initiative.
Paul writes about this in Galatians 4:4–5:
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.
In these words we encounter the most important point in redemptive history. Apart from these words and the saving events they describe there is no hope of reconciliation with God and no hope of adoption by God.
God has intervened. He has intervened to address our sinful condition and to provide us with the Savior we so desperately need. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, Paul tells us that this was all determined by God in eternity past.
While we were slaves to sin, God sent forth his Son. From heaven to earth, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the manger to the cross—God sent forth his Son. Here we behold the love of God revealed through the initiative of God in sending forth his Son for those enslaved by sin.
Charles Spurgeon writes:
Observe, concerning the first advent, that the Lord was moving in it towards man. ‘When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.’ We moved not towards the Lord, but the Lord towards us. I do not find that the world in repentance sought after its Maker. No, but the offended God himself in infinite compassion broke the silence, and came forth to bless his enemies. See how spontaneous is the grace of God. All good things begin with him.*
Yes! When the fullness of time had come, God broke the silence and acted. He acted by sending his son.
The Suitable Mediator
Before God the Father adopted us we were not merely orphans, we were slaves. We were slaves to sin. We were captive to the power of sin. It was humanly impossible to be freed from sin or its penalty. And we all deserved the appropriate penalty for our sin. We were law-breakers living under the curse of the law and the wrath of God.
We needed a Savior. We needed a Redeemer. And in order to save us, our Savior must be like us (“born of woman”). But he also must be unlike us (God). He must be fully man and truly God. And he must give his life as a ransom for our sin. And that is what he did! God the Son, born of woman, perfectly kept the law and died a unique death as a substitute for sinners on the Cross. He liberated us from our sin. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13).
This is grace—amazing grace!
Yet as amazing as this is, if we stop at this point we miss something important. Because of our Savior we are not only redeemed, we are adopted.
Redeeming us out of our slavery to sin and from the penalty for sin would have been sufficiently astounding! But God’s purposes extend beyond the redemption of slaves and include the adoption of those slaves as sons.
Here we encounter what J.I. Packer calls “the deepest insight into the greatness of God’s love.”
And God initiated it all.
Justification and Adoption
Over the years I have become aware of how easy it is to focus on justification and fail to prioritize the doctrine of God’s adopting grace. Historically, in my own ministry, and in Sovereign Grace in general, we have tended to emphasize the doctrine of justification over adoption. Please don’t misunderstand; we must never teach less on justification. The doctrine of justification must always remain primary because all the saving benefits (including adoption) depend upon justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.
Justification provides the foundation for adoption. And, rightly understood, justification positions us to fully appreciate adoption. We cannot speak of the Fatherhood of God apart from the cross.
But adoption is also distinct from justification. Without separating them, we need to distinguish between them.
So you may be asking yourself, so what is the difference between justification and adoption? And why is understanding this difference of such critical importance?
I’ll allow J.I. Packer to answer this question for us in the next post.
* Charles Spurgeon, sermon: “The Great Birthday and our Coming of Age” (sermon No. 1815).
September 22, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Every time I read about
Russ and Maria Moore’s adopted boys reaching back to their squalid orphanage home, I am moved. That orphanage was the only home they knew and those boys could not imagine the home that was prepared for them.
Like those little boys, we can tend to reach back to what is familiar rather than reaching toward what we are promised in Scripture. We are vulnerable to the subtle temptation of legalism. And this temptation has everything to do with our spiritual adoption.
One group that needed clarity on the dangers of legalism was the Galatians. They were returning to a pre-conversion lifestyle. They were seduced by legalism and failing to appreciate the good of the gospel. They were reaching back to the squalor.
We need to hear their story.
The book of Galatians was written to Christians in Galatia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey. The Galatian churches were composed of Gentile Christians in the process of deserting the gospel. False teachers and false teaching had infiltrated the region and begun influencing the Christians there. The result was the Galatians’ failure to understand and appreciate the doctrine of God’s adopting grace (Galatians 4:1-7). It was if a spell had been cast over them (3:1). And that spell was the subtle and serious error of legalism.
To better understand legalism, and the path taken by the Galatians into legalism, it’s helpful to watch how this unfolded.
The Path into Legalism
Although they had received the grace of God through the proclamation of the gospel (3:1), the Galatians were now in the process of abandoning the gospel of grace and adopting the Mosaic Law as their means of salvation. Through their obedience to the law, the Galatians were seeking to earn God’s forgiveness, God’s justification, and God’s acceptance.
This couldn’t be more serious. For the Galatians, the person and work of Christ was no longer sufficient. As a result of the false teaching, the Galatians erroneously assumed that atonement for their sins required adding their own obedience to the work of Christ. And this was a complete misunderstanding and misapplication of the law. It was a distortion of the law! It was a desertion of the gospel!
And it demanded a passionate response from Paul. Here’s why.
The law was never meant to save from sin. The law was meant to reveal God’s character, our sin, and our need for a Savior. And so Paul surveys the history of the law in order to inform the Galatians about its divine purpose and to protect them from misunderstanding and misusing it.
In Galatians 3:19-26 Paul explains their situation by building up to a metaphor (4:1-2). He writes that Israel under the law was like a child waiting for his inheritance. As a “minor” this child had no access to the inheritance, so his status was not unlike that of a household slave. The law was given by God for a specific purpose: it was preparatory for the coming of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. For the Jews, God gave the law as preparation. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (vv. 23-24).
Of course the recipients of this letter, the Galatians, were Gentiles, not Jews. Before their conversion, they were largely ignorant of the law—but they were nevertheless enslaved. They were enslaved to the idols of their own imagination and creation, enslaved to false gods, enslaved to demons (4:8-9). And they were accountable for their sin.
The pagan Gentiles were not enslaved to the Jewish law. The Jews were not enslaved to pagan idolatry. But both Gentile and Jew were enslaved because of their sin.
By abandoning the gospel and subjecting themselves to the Mosaic Law as a means of salvation, the Gentiles were returning to their pre-conversion state as slaves. This was a different form of slavery, but slavery nonetheless.
They were like orphans reaching back.
Legalism is slavery. Why, Paul asks, do you want to return to this slavery? “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (v. 9).
“The Galatians,” Trevor Burke writes, “have singularly failed to grasp the fact that there is no higher honor than belonging to the household of their Father God.”*
And when we miss this supreme honor, we fail to comprehend and enjoy the gift of adoption. When we miss this supreme honor, we are susceptible to legalism’s enchantment. We are tempted to reach back.
Adopting grace will protect us from the spell of legalism.
* Trevor J. Burke, Adopted Into God's Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor
(IVP Academic, 2006).
September 18, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
As I mentioned in the last post, one way to appreciate the doctrine of God’s adopting love is to read stories of sacrifice and love displayed in human adoption. One of the most compelling adoption stories I have read was written by my friend Russell Moore in his new book, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches (Crossway, 2009).
Listen to their moving story in Moore’s own words (pp. 25–26, 43–44):
“So, are they brothers?” the woman asked. My wife Maria and I, jet-lagged from just returning from Russia, looked at each other wearily. This was the twelfth time since we returned that we’d been asked this question. When I looked back at the woman’s face, she had her eyebrows raised. “Are they?” she repeated. “Are they brothers?”
This lady was looking at some pictures, printed off a computer, of two one-year-old boys in a Russian orphanage, boys who had only days earlier been pronounced by a Russian court to be our children, after the legally mandated waiting period had elapsed for the paperwork to go through. Maria and I had returned to Kentucky to wait for the call to return to pick up our children and had only these pictures of young Maxim and Sergei, our equivalent of a prenatal sonogram, to show to our friends and relatives back home. But people kept asking, “Are they brothers?”
“They are now,” I replied. “Yes,” the woman said. “I know. But are they really brothers?” Clenching my jaw, and repeating Beatitudes to myself silently in my mind, I coolly responded, “Yes, now they are both our children, so they are now really brothers.” The woman sighed, rolled her eyes, and said, “Well, you know what I mean.”
Of course, we did know what she meant. What she wondered was whether these two boys, born three weeks apart, share a common biological ancestry, a common bloodline, some common DNA. It struck me that this question betrayed what most of us tend to view as really important when it comes to sonship: traceable genetic material.
This is the reason people would also ask us, “Now, do you have any children of your own?” And it is the reason newspaper obituaries will often refer to the deceased’s “adopted child,” as though this were the equivalent of a stepchild or a protégé rather than a real offspring.
During the weeks that Maria and I waited anxiously for the call to return to Russia to receive our children, I pondered this series of questions. As I read through the books of Ephesians and Galatians and Romans, it occurred to me that this is precisely the question that was faced by the apostle Paul and the first-century Christian churches. …
When Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.
They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming or felt like they were being carried along a road at 100 miles an hour. I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance. Suddenly it wasn’t a stranger asking, “Are they brothers?” They seemed to be asking it, nonverbally but emphatically, about themselves.
I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you—a home with a mommy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”
But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.
We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.
They are now thoroughly Americanized, perhaps too much so, able to recognize the sound of a microwave ding from forty yards away. I still remember, though, those little hands reaching for the orphanage. And I see myself there.