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Children of God : by Birth, or Adoption?

by Robert Garrett

To be a child of God is a most wonderful thing, an honor of the highest.  That the Creator of the universe should grant that privilege to rebellious sinful mankind is a love so amazing, so divine, a love whose measure is more boundless than the universe itself.  It is a privilege that comes to us at enormous cost. God Himself, in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, took our sins upon Himself—took the penalty of our sin upon Himselfto die for our sin on that terrible cross.

This great privilege, to become children of God, by birth, is introduced to us in John 1:12-13:

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Jesus Himself spoke—not only of the possibility of our becoming children of God—but stated that the only way that could be accomplished was to be born again. He said  to Nicodemus in John 3:3:

I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then explained further to Nicodemus, verses 5-7.

I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.

Then follows nine other references in the Epistles to the new birth which we quote below.

James 1:18  “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”  NIV.

1Peter 1:3  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  NIV

1Peter 1:23  “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

1John 3:9   “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”  NIV

1John 4:7  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” NIV

1John 5:1  “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”

1John 5:4 “for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”

1John 5:18   “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  NIV

1John 2:29   “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” NIV

Adoption ?

But if we are children of God by birth, why do some scriptures speak of Adoption?  (Rom 8:15; Rom 8:23Rom 9:4; Gal 4:5Eph 1:5).

The problem of understanding comes because of the difference between the New Testament meaning of that word and how we use it in our western society. Adoption in our society means to take voluntarily a child of other parents through legal channels as one’s own child.

However, that is not the meaning of that word in the New Testament, it is not what the Apostle Paul is teaching in those verses.  The Greek word huiothesia is best translated by the phrase — “placing as a son,”  (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

That word does not refer to the taking of a child of other parents and bringing that child legally into a different family.  It refers to the coming of age of a son who already belongs to those parents by birth.

Gal 4:1-2  ” . . . as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole         estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.”  And then in verse 5 “that we might receive the full rights of sons.” —1985 NIV.  (KJV says, “adoption’).

In wealthy Roman and Greek households, male children were under the authority of tutors, guardians, governors, who themselves were often slaves.   The child was subject to their authority until reaching the age of maturity when he would come into his inheritance and now execute authority over those servants.  That is the meaning of the New Testament word “adoption,”“the “placing of a son.”  We are now children of God. But our “adoption” waits for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. According to Rom 8:18-23, that adoption as sons cannot be until the “redemption of our bodies.”  It is only then that we enter into the full and final privilege of our sonship.

Rom 8:23 “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (NIV. 1985).  (“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. ” KJV). Notice that Paul says “we.” We, who now are God’s children, are waiting for our adoption. Our adoption has not yet taken place.

I quote from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. “Taking the Scripture teachings as a whole, adoption, it appears, while not the same as our justification, is necessarily connected with it, as forgiveness would be empty without restoration to the privileges forfeited by sin. Adoption and regeneration are two phases of the same fact, regeneration meaning the reproduction of the filial character, and adoption the restoration of the filial privilege. See Justification; Regeneration.”

“Adoption is a word of position rather than relationship. The believer’s relation to God as a child results from the new birth (John 1:12-13), whereas adoption is the divine act whereby one who is already a child is, through redemption from the law, placed in the position of an adult son (Gal 4:1-5).”.

“2. The word adoption is also used by the apostle Paul with reference to the full and final outcome of salvation, the complete “revealing of the sons of God” and perfect investiture with all their heavenly privileges, for which Christians must wait. So he writes of waiting “for the revealing of the sons of God” and “waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body”. (Rom 8:19,23 —from The New Unger’s of Chicago, Illinois. Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press Copyright © 1988.) (emphasis mine)

The 1985 NIV translates Gal 4:5that we might receive the full rights of sons.”   (adoption,” KJV).

We, children of God, have not yet come into that position. In the parable of the pounds in Luke 19, it is upon the return of the king that he rewards his servants by giving them authority in his kingdom. To some He says, “take charge of ten cities.” To others, take charge of five cities.”

In Rev.2:26-27, the Lord Jesus says to us, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—’He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.”  (See also Rev 3:21).

And that is the fulfillment of Eph 1:5,  “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (NIV 1985). That is not predestination of the unsaved unto salvation. But we, who are already children of God by the new birth, are predestined to that place of privilege when we shall rule the nations and even rule angels. That cannot be until the “redemption of our bodies” when we shall be made like Him at His second coming, when He shall “bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  (Heb 9:28).

Children of God :    by Birth,   or Adoption ?

The answer is BOTH.  By the new birth we became His children. We became His children by regeneration. This is our relationship to God, it is why we can come to Him in prayer as our Father.  However as previously explained by Unger:  “Adoption is a word of position rather than relationship. The believer’s relation to God as a child results from the new birth (John 1:12-13), whereas adoption is the divine act whereby one who is already a child, is, through redemption from the law, placed in the position of an adult son.” (my emphasis).

It is now that we “serve the living and true God,” while we “wait for his Son from heaven.” (1Thess 1:9-10).

“We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom 8:23-24, NIV 1984).


Robert L. Garrett is the son of Missionaries to Southern Rhodesia and he has served his entire adult life as a Missionary in what is now Zimbabwe


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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4