Joel D. Fick
Our daughter’s fussing started this summer just as we reached the summit of the Siskiyou mountain range that divides California from Oregon. Home was on the other side of the country in north-central Florida, far from the lofty mountains of north-central California.
But a family reunion still farther north in north-central Oregon had us driving along Interstate 5 from Los Angeles to Portland on this seemingly endless northern trajectory. We had been driving for some fifteen hours, and we were all tired. We were at that particular stretch of highway known to be among the more treacherous routes in the entire interstate system because of its sharp descent of 2,300 feet in the span of about seven miles. By the time we had descended into Medford, Darya’s fussing had turned to intermittent bouts of full-on screaming, and there were still many miles to go.
Our adopted daughter Darya (now five years old) has Down syndrome, and this steep decline was wreaking havoc on her already narrow ear canals. Meanwhile, Darya’s three older brothers, Sam, Ben, and Nate, were doing their best to calm their sister down by singing some of her favorite songs.
As I took stock of the situation that had been unfolding behind me, I thought to myself, “This trip would be so much easier without Darya.” And it was true—it really would have been easier. The boys were getting older, and were now self-sufficient in so many ways.
But as I thought about it more, God granted me grace to see the beauty of what was really unfolding behind me. A little girl, who had never had anyone to love her or care for her when she was hurting, now had a chorus of brothers seeking to calm her in her pain. This little outcast, in the eyes of the world, had been given a new name, which said she was no longer an outcast, but that she belonged to our family.
When we had stopped for dinner in Roseburg, I had no sooner unbuckled her car seat when Darya jumped into my arms, relieved that her distress was finally over and wanting nothing more than the reassurance of being held by Daddy. My heart melted. In that moment, I was reminded not only of the benefits of adoption for Darya, but more profoundly of the benefits for me. I would later say to my wife, “This trip would have been so much easier without Darya, but it would have been so much emptier as well.”
The present article is intended to be a follow-up to an article I wrote for New Horizons in January 2011. That article was entitled “Adoption: Costly Redemption.” In it, I chronicled the events, thinking, and theology that led to our decision to adopt Darya.
I considered the analogy between our adoption of children and God’s adoption of us, taking the title from those two phrases in Ephesians 1:4–7, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” and “In him we have redemption through his blood.”
My basic premise was that adoption is redemption and therefore is costly—as the psalmist says, “For the ransom of their life is costly” (Ps. 49:8). I sought to demonstrate how this premise courses through the teaching of Scripture.
For example, Israel’s redemption from slavery is called her adoption (Rom. 9:4; cf. Ex. 4:22–23), and God’s command for Israel to care for the fatherless was grounded in this redemption (Deut. 10:18–19; 24:17–22; Ps. 68:5). Likewise, the church’s redemption from her bondage to sin and the law is her adoption (Eph. 1:5–7; Gal. 4:4–5). The final, consummate blessing for which we wait is called nothing less than our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).
I also found this premise reflected in our standards. The Shorter Catechism teaches us that adoption is one of the primary benefits of our effectual calling, which is nothing less than the way in which “the Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ” (Q/A 30).
So far so good, but that only tells part of the story, and that part is focused on the costliness of adoption. But there is another emphasis in Scripture (and in our Shorter Catechism, for that matter), which is not on the costliness of adoption, but on its benefit and blessing. That benefit and blessing is the heart of this article.
Once again, I have drawn my title (“Adoption: Glorious Inheritance”) from another passage in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:16–22, Paul tells the Ephesian Christians of his prayers for them. He prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (vv. 17–19).
It is the phrase “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” that has caught my attention.
An inheritance is something that we immediately associate with the relationship between children and their parents. This is all part of the wonderful benefit of being one of God’s adopted children.
The emphasis in our Shorter Catechism is almost exclusively on the benefit and blessing of adoption. Question 34 asks, “What is adoption?” The answer given is, “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.”
Among those privileges of having God’s name put upon us is the privilege of an inheritance. The Scripture says that because we have “the Spirit of adoption,” we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15–17).
This inheritance is spoken of in Scripture as a “kingdom” inheritance (James 2:5; Eph. 5:5). That kingdom inheritance was prefigured in the promised land of Canaan (Num. 34), and will be realized consummately in our eternal life in the promised land of heaven (Heb. 9:15; 11:8–10).
The Spirit himself is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).
But more than that, the witness of Scripture is not simply that heaven is our inheritance, but also that the King, God himself, is our inheritance.
The land was a holy land only because it was the place where God dwelt in the midst of his people. It was God’s presence that made the inheritance of such great value. This was evidenced by the fact that God himself was to be Abraham’s “great reward” (Gen. 15:1) and by the fact that the Levites had no portion in the land because God himself was to be their portion (Num. 18:20; Deut. 10:9; 18:2).
This comes out in the intimate song of the psalmist, who says, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5–6; see also Ps. 73:25–26; Lam. 3:24). Such is the glorious inheritance that belongs to the adopted children of the King: we receive not just the kingdom, but the King himself.
But Paul may well have more in mind in his prayer for the Ephesian saints. In the ESV, Paul’s prayer is that the saints may know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (1:18). If this translation is correct (and I think it is), the point seems to be that God himself also receives an inheritance.
Now, it’s perhaps easy for us to see how we receive an inheritance, but it’s less easy to see how it might be that God does. And yet that seems to be the clear teaching of Scripture. So, for instance, Deuteronomy 4:20 says that God redeemed his people from Egypt “to be a people of his own inheritance.”
And this is hardly an isolated instance. It is a repeated emphasis in Scripture (consider also Deut. 9:26, 29; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; 2 Kings 21:14; Pss. 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62, 71; 94:14; 106:5, 40; Isa. 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer. 10:16; 51:19). And it is also clear that God intended for the nations to be part of the inheritance that he gives to his Son in the resurrection (Ps. 2:7–8; cf. Acts 13:32–34).
Now of course we should be clear that since no one gives to God anything “that he might be repaid” (Rom. 11:35), God does not receive this inheritance in the same way that we do. Rather, we should simply acknowledge that God gives this inheritance of his people to himself, and yet he finds benefit and takes pleasure in the inheritance of his people.
It is wonderful to consider that God takes worms like you and me and through his Son delights in us as gifts and trophies of his grace. Perhaps the benefit he receives is in some small measure analogous to the delight I take in my daughter’s love. In this marvelous grace of adoption, the benefit is a glorious inheritance in which we receive him and he for Christ’s sake receives us.
The author is the pastor of Redemption OPC in Gainesville, Fla. New Horizons, January 2014.