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Part 4 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
Blessing upon Blessing
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (1:5-6).
In 1:3, the apostle Paul writes that God has blessed the believer “with every spiritual blessing.” In 1:5-6, he praises God for the blessing of adoption.
Often, adoption results in a child going from a bad situation to a good situation (e.g., Michael Oher, adopted by a wealthy couple and now an NFL football player). Certainly that is true of the believer’s adoption.
Believers have been welcomed into God's family.
Paul’s concept of adoption probably comes from the Roman law and practice of his day. “Under Roman law the procedure of adoption had two steps. In the first step, the son had to be released from the control of his natural father. This was done by a procedure whereby the father sold him as a slave three times to the adopter. The adopter would release him two times and he would automatically again come under his father’s control. With the third sale, the adoptee was freed from his natural father. Regarding the second step, since the natural father no longer had any authority over him, the adopter became the new father with absolute control over him, and he retained this control until the adoptee died or the adopter freed him. The son was not responsible to his natural father but only to his newly acquired father. The purpose of this adoption was so that the adoptee could take the position of a natural son in order to continue the family line and maintain property ownership. This son became the [head of the family] in the next generation” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 196).
Children of God
In 1:5-6, we find five truths about the believer’s adoption.
1. Our adoption was predetermined.
“In love [God] predestined us for adoption.” To “predestine” means “to determine in advance.” The Greek word for “predestined” (proorizo) is found six times in the NT (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29, 30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11).
2. Our adoption makes God our Father and us God’s heirs.
We were adopted “as sons.” Paul refers to all believers—both male and female—as “sons” of God. Why? Again, Paul was thinking of Roman adoption, which was “a legal practice by which the father of a family accepted as his heir a male child who was not his own” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, p. 52). So Paul calls us all “sons” because we all-whether we are male or female—have been given the same privileged position in God’s family.
In chapter 2, Paul writes that we were once “the sons of disobedience” (v. 2) and “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (v. 3). We who were slaves to sin are now sons of God! “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:14-17; cf. Gal. 4:4-7). We went from having nothing to being an heir to everything (cf. Eph. 1:11, 14)!
3. Our adoption was possible only because of Christ.
We were adopted “through Christ.” “To all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12). “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). Without the cross, there could be no adoption.
4. Our adoption brought God great joy.
We were adopted “according to the purpose of [God’s] will.” The KJV says, “according to the good pleasure of his will.” As adoption brings human parents great joy, so too with God. In eternity past, God had a plan for those whom he had chosen to save (and who would believe). “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). (Of course, there is an important distinction between the Son of God and sons of God.)
5. Our adoption reveals that God deserves our praise.
We were adopted “to the praise of [God’s] glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Our adoption proves that God is full of love for us. Scholars are divided as to whether “in love” qualifies “before him” or “he predestined.” But certainly we were adopted by God because he loved us.
The first time the word “love” is used in the OT is in Genesis 22:2. In that verse, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” In the end, Abraham discovered that this was only a test. Isaac was spared (vv. 12-13).
The first time the word “love” is found in the NT is in Matthew 3:17. In that verse, God’s voice is heard from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love” (NIV). The ESV says, “This is my beloved Son.”
What Abraham was asked to do, God has done. He offered his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Christ suffered so that we could be blessed. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
We have been blessed “in the Beloved.” The “Beloved” is Jesus (Matt. 3:11; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35; Col. 1:13; 2 Peter 1:17). Since we are in Christ, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Imitating Our Father
Paul writes in 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” God loves us, and we should love one another.
Ephesians has much to say about loving other members of God’s family. We are to bear with one another “in love” (4:2). We are to speak the truth “in love” (4:15). We are to build up one another “in love” (4:16). We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]” (4:32). Those of us who are husbands are to “love [our] wives” (5:25) and love them as ourselves (5:28, 33).