In our Western 21st Century culture we often have little idea of the importance of various customs which informed Jesus’ words. For example, our concept of adoption is so very limited . . .
Did you know the ancient Greeks and Romans were most fanatical about the idea of male heirs? If a couple didn’t have a male child they would adopt a boy, generally one who was almost grown up, and give him all the rights as their heir. The term ‘adoption’ refers to giving someone adult status with full rights of inheritance.
In the Roman Empire during the first century, a son automatically held his father’s power of attorney. For business purposes, the son was legally equivalent to his father in his authority to transact business on behalf of the household. He could hire and fire employees, he could buy and sell slaves, he could enter into contracts, and all his acts were as binding as if his father had performed them.
Sometimes if a man had a trustworthy slave with a good flair for business, he could adopt the slave as his son. The adoption automatically gave the slave a full power of attorney to manage his adoptive father’s business affairs. So it was not uncommon in those days for slaves to be adopted as sons for business purposes.
So strong was the idea of adoption that some people adopted their own offspring. A family with a number of sons sometimes adopted their second or third boy so as to make him their heir if they believed the oldest would not be a good manager of the family property.
Adoption in the NT
It is with this background that we can begin to appreciate the strength of some of the statements in the New Testament. Take for example John gospel where it says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12, 13).
When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, God gives us the right to become his children. In other words, we receive authority and an inheritance. As Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
This is why God call us sons (whether we are males or females) because he wants us to receive the full rights of being sons.
What ‘being adopted’ means for us
This has significant implications for our living. If we are adopted sons of God, with all the authority of our father, then we should start living like it. On the last day, the New Testament tells us, Jesus will reward us according to how well we have carried out our Father’s business. (Matthew 16:27)
Knowing we are sons should cause us to live up to the family name by being kind, honest, true, loyal and pure. Knowing we are “full heirs” along with Jesus Christ should give us a confidence and assurance of our place in the world. Knowing that all those who profess Jesus as Lord are members of God’s family should motivate us to treat one another like brothers and sisters.
No doubt God is pleased when we live up to what it is to be his sons and live like spiritual adults and future kings. Conversely, I’m sure God is distressed when we act like spiritual infants or hapless paupers. So often in church life our actions seem to demonstrate immaturity rather than maturity. God wants us all to continue to grow and live in the authority and responsibility of being his sons.
Let us pray for ourselves and each other that we may all be worthy of the calling to which we are called (Ephesians 4:1).
Stephen L Baxter