The Westminster Confession of Faith: Adoption

All the benefits of redemption are found in Jesus Christ. While Phillip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s colleague and heir apparent, said “To know Christ is to know his benefits.” We could just as rightly say to know Christ’s benefits one must know Christ himself. Adoption is one of those benefits found in Christ Jesus. To experience the blessing of adoption we must be united to Christ by Holy Spirit-worked faith in him. Adoption has sometimes suffered from standing in the shadows of justification and sanctification. But it is no less significant for that fact. Scripture speaks about how we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ and the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers is indeed the “Spirit of his Son” (Galatians 4:1-7). When the Spirit indwells us he enables us to cry out “Abba! Father!”

We are adopted in our union with Christ because Christ himself was adopted in his resurrection. Paul in Romans 1:4 tells us that Christ was “declared” or “appointed” the “Son of God-in-power by his resurrection from the dead by the Spirit of holiness.” This is not the old heresy of adoptionism which suggested that the man Jesus “became” the Son of God at his baptism. No. Jesus was always the Son of God. But prior to the resurrection Jesus was the Son of God-in-humiliation. With the resurrection Jesus became the Son of God-in-exaltation. Philippians 2:5-11 suggests the same truth. Paul may have had Psalm 2:6-12 and Psalm 110 in mind as he penned the texts in question. Here the Scriptures speak of a time when God will set his king on his holy hill of Zion who will rule the nations with a rod of iron and that this king is God’s Son who will execute justice. Jesus in Matthew 28:19ff says that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…” Didn’t the Son possess all authority for all eternity? Yes. But as the God-man Mediator and Representative this authority was bestowed upon him at his resurrection. It is this declaration and appointment that is understood to be his adoption in the sense that Jesus takes his seat on his royal throne at the right hand of the Father as King of kings and Lord of lords. Since Jesus has experienced his royal coronation we in him are adopted as sons of God.

The Westminster Standards were the first Protestant confessional documents to have a chapter and questions devoted to the doctrine.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 34 asks and answers:

What is Adoption?

Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

Adoption is an act and so occurs at once when we are united to Christ by faith. This act means that we are received into the family of God and so have brothers and sisters to whom we are also united. As Paul said, we are no longer slaves but sons (Galatians 4:7). Since we are sons of God (men and women, boys and girls), we have access to all the privileges of such heavenly status. Among these are an inheritance kept in heaven (1st Peter 1:3-5). We hold a title to eternal life.

A. A. Hodge in his commentary on the shorter catechism notes that

Sonship includes (a) derivation of nature (2 Pet. 1:4; John 1:13); (b) the bearing of the divine image or likeness (Col. 3:10; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18); (c) the bearing the Father’s name (1 John 3:1; Rev. 2:17; 3:12); (d) the being the objects of his peculiar love (John 17:23; Rom. 5:5–8); (e) the indwelling of the “Spirit of his Son,” the “Spirit of Adoption” (Rom. 8:15–21; Gal. 4:6; 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:14; Heb. 2:15; 10:19, 22); (f) present protection, consolation, and provision (Luke 12:27–32; John 14:18; 1 Cor. 3:21–23; 2 Cor. 1:4); (g) fatherly chastisement for our good (Ps. 51:11, 12; Heb. 12:5–11); (h) heirship in relation to God and joint heirship with Christ (Rom. 8:17; James 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4).*

Clearly adoption is a rich and multifaceted benefit of redemption. As we contemplate the benefits that accrue to us as we are united to the living and reigning Christ, let’s ponder the richness of our status as adopted sons of God by grace.

*Hodge, A. A., J. Aspinwall Hodge. (1888). The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Opened and Explained. (pp. 66–67). New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Jeffrey Waddington