** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **
A father's hands
One of the grounding realities to all of life is identity. Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my value? Am I loved? What is my purpose? As I look back on my life to this point I realize that much of the reason why I have been so easily swayed in my affections is because I haven’t fully grasped and applied truth to these basic questions of identity.
As I reflect on the significant seasons of growth and change in my life I see a consistent pattern: these were always times when I was beginning to connect the dots between the gospel that has saved me and my current identity. In other words, the most life-changing seasons have been those times when I realized that the gospel was not just God’s means of giving me a ticket to heaven on some future day, but rather, the gospel is God’s means of grace to me now. In the gospel I find every comfort and every assurance of God’s love for me. In the gospel I find my identity, my value, my purpose.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of how God’s True Son was killed in order that we might become adopted sons & daughters, indwelt by the very same Spirit who was in Jesus. The same Spirit who was in Jesus, moving him to pray, filling him with compassion, giving him direction, comforting him through the weakness of his humanity, reminding him of his mission, empowering his miraculous works — that same Spirit is in me. He’s in every Christian, every son and daughter of God.
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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4.4-6)
For 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…. (Romans 8.14-17)
I’m not alone, I don’t think, in coming to see just how important the doctrine of adoption is and how essentially it is bound up with the gospel. JI Packer was once asked to sum up the gospel in three words. Here was his response:
“… My proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God [Downers Grove, IL: 1993], 214)
Here’s the thing: while, like any Calvinist, I see that the gospel is about God making much of God and acting for his righteousness’ sake, I have now come to see that his righteousness (shown in the propitiation accomplished by Jesus (Rom 3.23-26) means a lavish display of fatherly love towards his adopted sons & daughters. His covenantal promises through all generations to be our God, and to have us as his people, is bound up in adoption — dwelling with us, in us, in our midst, as a father with his children:
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6.16-18)
If God is so committed to loving me and being with me (for his own righteousness’ sake!) that he is willing to bear all his wrath on his True Son to adopt me and have me conformed to his image (Rom 8.29), then I have a meaningful identity: I am a child of the King. I have a purpose: to reflect my Father. I have value: I have been purchased with the blood of Jesus. And I am loved (Gal 2.20; John 3.16; John 15.13; 1 John 3.16; Rom 5.8). I thank God that I can never undo that, no matter how much I mess up. No matter how much I fail, no matter how much other people value me or don’t, I know who I am in Christ. I am a son of God.
I have learned that the gospel takes care of the big questions of my identity. That gives great freedom to live with joy, hope, and expectation of God doing great things in me and through me… because he is my Father and I am his son. I pray that however many years I have left would be one continual season of growth in living in light of the reality that God has made me his child.