Ephesians: Adoption as Children of God


“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love, by predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will”

Ephesians 1:4-5

Here the apostle tells us of God’s motivation for all that He does in regard to our choosing and salvation. It is agape, the love of God.

When we think about love from the human perspective, we think most often of romantic love, the love of a husband and a wife for one another, the love of parents for children, or the love we have for friends and family. But agape is different; it is not simply an emotion but a defined disposition, the determination of the heart and mind of someone to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others. God’s love for us did not benefit Him, but it certainly benefited us because our need was great. We needed deliverance from sin, death, and separation from God. And the only one who could remedy this was God himself.

This agape motivated God to send His Son, to become the God-man, to become a servant to men, and to lay down His life upon the cross so that we might be made right with God. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Countless other passages also mention this agape love.

This agape motivated God to regenerate us, to raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life, and to forgive us all of our trespasses that we ever have accumulated or ever will accumulate. The love of God also motivates Him to give us eternal life (John 3:16) and to keep us secure eternally (John 10:28-30). As Romans 8:35 and 8:37-39 state, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction, or turmoil, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of the love of God, we can be assured that we are kept eternally by the Lord; His love and His determination toward us will never change.

We are also told that God’s love motivated Him to predestine “us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph. 1:5). The word predestinate means to determine or decree beforehand. The most familiar passage where this word is used is Romans 8:29-30, where Paul says those whom God foreknew, He also predestined “to become conformed to the image of His Son” and, therefore, to be called, justified, and glorified. Here the purpose of predestination is adoption as sons, which means the placing of those who were born of God into their proper position. Paul speaks of this adoption as children or sons of God in two other primary passages: Romans 8:14-17 and Galatians 4:1-7.

Now we need to understand that the adoption that Paul was speaking of here was not a concept of the Jews or the Old Testament law, but it was practiced under Roman law and in Roman culture. In our culture, we understand adoption as a legal act that is born out of grace and love, but that was probably not very often the case in Roman culture, where families adopted for the purpose of having someone to carry on the title or family name. Sometimes under Roman law, the adopted child, especially an adopted son, would have more privilege and prestige than the natural son, especially if the Roman father, whose authority was absolute, was displeased with his naturally born son. There were times at the father’s death when the adopted son would inherit the father’s title, most of the estate, and the wealth.

When Paul writes of adoption, he is nevertheless thinking of this passing down of privilege to the adopted child. In both Romans 8 and Galatians 4, this idea of the blessings and inheritance of His spiritually adopted children is discussed, with the added blessing that we have received the Holy Spirit who bears with us and gives us the constant assurance that we are His sons and have an eternal inheritance awaiting us. What a blessing to know that as the adopted children of God an eternal, incorruptible inheritance awaits us, reserved for us by our heavenly Father.

That intimate relationship is already noted in the passage by reference to the love of the Father. When Jesus taught the apostles the Lord’s Prayer as a model for their prayer life, he told them to begin by saying “Our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), indicating the close and abiding relationship and His promise to provide for their spiritual and physical needs.

In the sending of the Spirit into our hearts there is also a change in nature, unlike in a mere earthly adoption. We are no longer slaves to sin (Gal. 4:3, 7) and our old sinful nature, but our very nature is changed to imitate our Father and to follow after holiness, righteousness, and sanctification. We were “by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3-4). But now we have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). As Paul wrote elsewhere: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

With this adoption and by His Spirit, which causes me to cry out to Him as my Father, I know that I am His and that He loves me, and that I am promised the benefits of a child of God; I am an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ.

He has done all of this “according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:5-6). Not only do we see the motivation of God’s love for our adoption and all of these other blessings, but we learn that he saved us because of His purpose, better translated as His good pleasure. It was not a sense of obligation that caused God to do this, but it was His pleasure and His delight. As Philippians 2:13 concludes, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” All of God’s good pleasure is synonymous with His purposes, and He will accomplish all of this. His delight, His purpose, and His will all intertwine here, with His saving of a multitude that no man can number (Rev. 7:9).

For further reading
Commentary on Ephesians by Williams Hendriksen
God's Ultimate Purpose by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Commentary on Ephesians by John MacArthur
Interpretation of St Paul's Epistle to Ephesians and Philippians (Lenski's Commentary on the New Testament) by Richard C.H. Lenski
David Webber

David Webber

David Webber is married to Mary and they have four children and four grandchildren. He is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Longview, TX. Webber earned a BS in History from the University of Texas at Tyler, TX, and attended Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, TX. Throughout his ministry, he has served as a guest preacher and teacher in many churches and various Bible conferences.

January 24, 2024

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