“God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Kinship by blood (my parents, children, siblings, cousins, etc.) and kinship by marriage (my spouse, in-laws, sisters-in-law, etc.) form the warp and woof of the basic unit of human society, the family. Around the world, every society has developed an intricate system of rules and customs to govern questions of lineage (“to whom am I related?”), inheritance (“who will care for my children and my possessions after I die?”), marriage (“what rights and obligations do I acquire by publicly binding myself to my partner?”), and other questions.
But in this sea of rules, there is an exception: adoption (from the Latin ad– [toward] and –option [choice]). Breaking with the regular rules of kinship by blood and marriage, adoption creates a new category in which an adult chooses and confers on a child all the rights, privileges, and inheritance normally reserved for biological children. Though the adopted child has done nothing to deserve this outpouring of gracious benevolence—potentially lands, title, reputation, prestige, wealth, and even the right to be sibling with the biological children—the act is binding and irreversible, and the adopted child’s life is forever changed.
The writer to the young church at Ephesus uses this striking exception to the regular rules of human kinship as the symbol of God’s gracious action to include us in God’s very own family. Because of God’s gracious choice, we become “joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) and “heirs of the promise” (Heb. 6:17) which grafts us onto the life-giving vine that is Jesus Christ. Like the adopted child, we have done nothing to deserve this gracious deed and surely, without it, we would have died.
The response to this gracious gift must correspond to the graciousness of the gift itself: if God has graciously included us in the family of God, then in relation to every human being on the planet—human beings of all races and ethnicities—we are to live our lives as though we are family, because through Christ, in fact, we are.
- That “hard-to-get-along-with” office colleague who seems to enjoy criticizing me: how do I live in relationship to him as a member of my very own family?
- The woman experiencing homelessness who lives in a boarded-up house down the street from my church property and seems to be struggling with addiction: how do I move from fear and judgment to love and welcome?
- A 14-year-old “unaccompanied minor,” driven from Central America by gang violence all the way to the U.S. border: what would it look like if U.S. Christians acted as though such children were our own children?
In this country, millennials, Generation X-ers, and younger folks are increasingly giving up on Christianity—not because of Jesus’ teachings, but because of how we in the church live out those teachings . . . or do not. So let us Christians live fully into the truth that God has adopted us into God’s family through Christ—into the truth that we are family—and so bear witness that the gospel is truly good news for all.
The Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell became director of the PTS World Mission Initiative after serving as director of World Mission for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Ky. His mission leadership and service spans more than three decades. In his years as World Mission director, Farrell managed a 180-member staff in 52 countries while overseeing the areas of strategic direction and partnerships, funds development, operations, and communications. Earlier, as a Presbyterian mission co-worker in Peru, he organized and accompanied an international network of churches, non-profit organizations, and universities that linked social capital in Peru and the U.S. to address issues of poverty and justice. And while working with World Mission in East and West Africa, he supervised the work of mission workers in seven African nations in programs of health, development, evangelism, education, and theological education. He also taught in the Republic of Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of Congo.