The terms “adoption” and the “spirit of adoption” are used several times in Scripture (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5) in connection with the Father-son relationship between God and His children—Christians.
Traditional Christianity believes these verses teach that Christians are only God’s sons through adoption. But is this what the Bible teaches?
“Adoption” is translated from the Greek word huiothesia, which is a compound of two other words: huios (“son, child, descendant”) and tithemi (“to place, put; to set, appoint, decided, arrange”). Together, they can mean “sonship” or “adoption,” depending on the context in which huiothesia is used.
Consider. When adopting, a married couple “decides” or “arranges” to “place” a son or daughter among them as a family. Likewise, when a husband and wife start a family through pregnancy, they have actually “decided” or “arranged” to have a child through natural means.
In the same way, when God calls and spiritually begets a person, He is deciding to place a son into His Family. But does He do this through adoption—or literal sonship?
Romans 8:15 states that Christians “have received the Spirit of adoption,” and through that Spirit, they are able to call God their Father. Yet, verse 23 reveals we are still “waiting for the adoption.” How can we be called sons now and be in possession of the “Spirit of adoption” now, yet still be waiting for adoption?
Notice I John 3:2: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
Upon baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, we are begotten by God. As we spend a lifetime growing in His character—His divine nature (II Peter 3:18; John 15:1-8)—we are waiting to “appear [as] we shall be,” at Christ’s Second Coming. At present, we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), waiting to inherit “all things” (Heb. 2:8)—the universe—with Jesus Christ, “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
This is why “the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now” (vs. 22), as it “waits for the manifestation [revealing] of the sons of God” (vs. 19). The vast universe is waiting for God’s begotten sons to be literally born into His Family as spirit beings. This is the “adoption” that awaits us (vs. 23).
When Christ returns, all who have qualified for eternal life and rulership in His kingdom will be changed into spirit (I Cor. 15:42-54)—and “we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2). “Like” means “of same or similar nature or quality.” In other words, we will be like our elder Brother (who, in turn, is like the Father) in perfect, divine character (I John 3:9; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 2:5), and as spirit beings (Rev. 1:13-18; I Cor. 15), which is why we will be able to see Him (John 3:1-8).
The terms “adoption” and the “spirit of adoption” should be correctly translated “sonship” and “spirit of sonship.”
The “Spirit of sonship” we possess is our spiritual down payment—“that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-14)—of what “we shall be.” “Earnest” means “deposit which guarantees, down payment, a pledge, that is, part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest.”
God is reproducing Himself. He has “arranged”—“appointed”—“decided to place” into His Family—children of His very own, by begetting us with His Spirit. At present, we are God’s begotten sons, waiting to be born again so that we can enter into His Family as full members. The Spirit that dwells in us is a down payment toward what we shall become—like Jesus Christ, in character and as spirit beings.
Traditional Christianity’s concept of adoption by God represents a subtle counterfeit to God’s Master Plan. Satan wants Christians to believe that they are only going to be artificially added by God to an already complete Family and family Name.
The popular belief and idea of a closed, completed Godhead—the trinity—does not allow for more sons of God beyond Jesus Christ. However, Colossians 1:18 and Romans 8:29 plainly state that Christ is the firstborn of many brethren who are to follow later into the family by the same process of conversion, begettal, spiritual growth and resurrection from the dead (John 3:3-6).
Christians are not adopted children, but are sons as legitimate as Christ Himself. This is because every child of God is begotten by the same Spiritual Father (Matt. 3:17). Christians are in every sense real sons—in a real Family—named of God.
Now read Hebrews 12: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives…But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons” (vs. 6, 8).
The term “bastard” is translated from nothos, which means “illegitimate, born out of wedlock.” Think. Adoption cannot change the way a person is born! One who is born out of wedlock remains so even after being adopted. But God says that when He chastises us, we are His authentic sons!
Clearly, God is not adopting us—He is literally reproducing Himself through us, making Christians His literal sons. God disciplines us in order to develop His holy, righteous character within us, so that we will become as He is—perfect (Matt. 5:48)!