Adoption, a study in God’s Grace                                                        by Jack Kettler

In this study on adoption, we will look at the Scriptures, commentary, expository and confessional sources to gain an understanding of adoption and its related concepts. There are important theological ideas that flow from our gracious adoption by God.

To begin with, because of our adoption we are sons and daughters or children of God, and joint heirs with Christ. The goal of this study, is as always, to increase our praise and magnification of God’s glory! 

Introductory definition of Adoption:

An act of God whereby he makes believers members of his family and gives them all the privileges of children of God.*

From Scripture:

“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)

This passage from Ephesians sets the stage for our understanding of adoption and its related teachings about sonship with Christ, being joint heirs and children of the living God.

Matthew Poole's Commentary introduces us to the foundation or cause of the believer’s adoption:

“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children; having appointed us unto a state of sonship and right to glory. This seems to be more than the former, a greater thing to be the sons of God, and heirs of heaven, than to be holy.

By Jesus Christ; as Mediator, and Head of the elect, and the foundation of all spiritual blessings vouchsafed them, and so of this relation into which they are brought, by being united to him. The adopted children come into that state by the intervention of the natural Son.

To himself; either:

1. In himself, i.e. looking no farther than to himself for the cause of and motive to his adopting them. Or:

2. To himself, (according to our translation), i.e. to God. Or, rather:

3. For himself (as the Syriac renders it); God would have the honour of having many adopted children that shall all call him Father.

According to the good pleasure of his will; his sovereign grace and good will, as the only spring from which predestination issued, God being moved to it by nothing out [side] of himself.” (1)

As Pool notes, this first passage from Ephesians that we are looking at, deals with the cause of adoption. The cause is not within ourselves. We are adopted as heirs by grace. If the cause is in us in any way, then there is ground for false boasting. (See Romans 3:27-28) Boasting is excluded by the law of faith. And faith is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8.

Additional Scriptures:    

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17)

“Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

 “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” (Romans 9:26)

These passages from Romans speak of believers being sons of God, our adoption as children of God and joint heirs with Christ.

“Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:7)

The expression “heir of God” underscores our relationship to God the Father, being His children

MacLaren's Expositions from Romans illuminates our understanding of important terminology that we see in Scripture:


Romans 8:17.

“God Himself is His greatest gift. The loftiest blessing which we can receive is that we should be heirs, possessors of God. There is a sublime and wonderful mutual possession of which Scripture speaks much wherein the Lord is the inheritance of Israel, and Israel is the inheritance of the Lord. ‘The Lord hath taken you to be to Him a people of inheritance,’ says Moses; ‘Ye are a people for a possession,’ says Peter. And, on the other hand, ‘The Lord is the portion of my inheritance,’ says David; ‘Ye are heirs of God,’ echoes Paul. On earth and in heaven the heritage of the children of the Lord is God Himself, inasmuch as He is with them for their delight, in them to make them ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ and for them in all His attributes and actions.

This being clearly understood at the outset, we shall be prepared to follow the Apostle’s course of thought while he points out the conditions upon which the possession of that inheritance depends. It is children of God who are heirs of God. It is by union with Christ Jesus, the Son, to whom the inheritance belongs, that they who believe on His name receive power to become the sons of God, and with that power the possession of the inheritance. Thus, then, in this condensed utterance of the text there appear a series of thoughts which may perhaps be more fully unfolded in some such manner as the following, that there is no inheritance without sonship, that there is no sonship without a spiritual birth, that there is no spiritual birth without Christ, and that there is no Christ for us without faith.” (2)

In Galatians, the apostle re-emphasizes:

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

In the Psalms we see another aspect of the Father’s graciousness:

“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” (Psalms 103:13)

Barnes' Notes on the Bible explains more about the Father and His compassion for them that fear Him:

“Like as a father pitieth his children - Hebrew, “Like the compassion of a father for his children.” See the notes at Matthew 7:7-11. God often compares himself with a father, and it is by carrying out our ideas of what enters into the parental character that we get our best conceptions of the character of God. See the notes at Matthew 6:9. That which is referred to here, is the natural affection of the parent for the child; the tender love which is borne by the parent for his offspring; the disposition to care for its needs; the readiness to forgive when an offence has been committed. Compare Luke 15:22-24. Such, in an infinitely higher degree, is the compassion - the kindness - which God has for those that love him.

So the Lord pitieth them that fear him - He has compassion on them. He exercises toward them the paternal feeling.” (3)

Accompanying Scriptures:

“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15) 

Paul in Philippians, speaks of our calling as sons of God to be witnesses of His grace by being “lights in the world.”

“That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7)

This next passage from 1st John certainly encapsulates or summarizes the previous passages of Scripture we have consulted so far as a summary:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)           

Digging Deeper into the Greek:

Adoption from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

HUIOTHESI, huiothesia from huios, a son," and thesis, “a placing,” akin to tithemi, “to place,” signifies the place and condition of a son given to one to whom it does not naturally belong. The word is used by the Apostle Paul only.

In Romans 8:15, believers are said to have received “the Spirit of adoption,” that is, the Holy Spirit who, given as the Firstfruits of all that is to be theirs, produces in them the realization of sonship and the attitude belonging to sons. In Galatians 4:5 they are said to receive “the adoption of sons,” i.e., sonship bestowed in distinction from a relationship consequent merely upon birth; here two contrasts are presented,

(1) between the sonship of the believer and the unoriginated sonship of Christ,

(2) between the freedom enjoyed by the believer and bondage, whether of Gentile natural condition, or of Israel under the Law. In Ephesians 1:5 they are said to have been foreordained unto “adoption as sons” through Jesus Christ, RV; the AV, “adoption of children” is a mistranslation and misleading. God does not “adopt” believers as children; they are begotten as such by His Holy Spirit through faith. “Adoption” is a term involving the dignity of the relationship of believers as sons; it is not a putting into the family by spiritual birth, but a putting into the position of sons. In Romans 8:23 the "adoption" of the believer is set forth as still future, as it there includes the redemption of the body, when the living will be changed and those who have fallen asleep will be raised. In Romans 9:4 “adoption” is spoken of as belonging to Israel, in accordance with the statement in Exodus 4:12, “Israel is My Son.” Cp. Hosea 11:1. Israel was brought into a special relation with God, a collective relationship, not enjoyed by other nations, Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 31:9, etc. (4)


An exquisite commentary on Adoption from Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray:

“Adoption is an act of God's grace distinct from and additional to the other acts of grace involved in the application of redemption. It might seem quite unnecessary to say this. Does not the term itself and the specific meaning which attaches to it clearly imply its distinctiveness? Yet it is not superfluous to emphasize the fact that it is a distinct act carrying with it its own peculiar privileges. It is particularly important to remember that it is not the same as justification or regeneration. Too frequently it has been regarded as simply an aspect of justification or as another way of stating the privilege conferred by regeneration. It is much more than either or both of these acts of grace….

Adoption, as the term clearly implies, is an act of transfer from an alien family into the family of God himself. This is surely the apex of grace and privilege. We would not dare to conceive of such grace far less to claim it apart from God's own revelation and assurance. It staggers imagination because of its amazing condescension and love. The Spirit alone could be the seal of it in our hearts. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10). It is only as there is the conjunction of the witness of revelation and the inward witness of the Spirit in our hearts that we are able to scale this pinnacle of faith and say with filial confidence and love, Abba Father.

Adoption is concerned with the fatherhood of God in relation to men. When we think of God's fatherhood it is necessary to make certain distinctions. There is, first of all, God's fatherhood which is exclusively trinitarian, the fatherhood of the Father, the first person of the trinity, in relation to the Son, the second person. This applies only to God the Father in his eternal and necessary relation to the Son and to the Son alone. It is unique and exclusive. No one else, not even the Holy Spirit, is the Son in this sense. It does not apply to angels or men. In modern theology it is sometimes said that men by adoption come to share in Christ's Sonship and thus enter into the divine life of the trinity. This is grave confusion and error. The eternal Son of God is the only-begotten and no one shares in his Sonship, just as God the Father is not the Father of any other in the sense in which he is the Father of the only-begotten and eternal Son.” (5)

Note: John Murray was a founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, where he taught for many years. His books include, the four-volume Collected Writings, a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Principles of Conduct, The Imputation of Adam's Sin, Baptism, and Divorce.

Now for a final summary on adoption from the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XII. Of Adoption

Section 1.) All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption:(1) by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God;(2) have His name put upon them,(3) receive the Spirit of adoption;(4) have access to the throne of grace with boldness;(5) are enabled to cry, Abba, Father;(6) are pitied,(7) protected,(8) provided for,(9) and chastened by Him as by a Father;(10) yet never cast off,(11) but sealed to the day of redemption,(12) and inherit the promises,(13) as heirs of everlasting salvation.(14)

(1) Eph 1:5; Gal 4:4, 5. (2) Ro 8:17; Jn 1:12. (3) Jer 14:9; 2Co 6:18; Rev 3:12. (4) Ro 8:15. (5) Eph 3:12; Ro 5:2. (6) Gal 4:6. (7) Ps 103:13. (8) Pr 14:26. (9) Mt 6:30, 32; 1Pe 5:7. (10) Heb 12:6. (11) La 3:31. (12) Eph 4:30. (13) Heb 6:12. (14) 1Pe 1:3, 4; Heb 1:14.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 34

Q: What is adoption?

A: Adoption is an act of God's free grace, (1) whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. (2)

(1) 1 John 3:1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

(2) John 1:12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. Romans 8:17. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Closing comments:

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained. 

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


1.      Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted, 1985) p. 663.

2.      Alexander MacLaren, MacLaren's Expositions of the Holy Scriptures, Romans, Vol. 13, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Publishing, reprinted 1988), p. 133.

3.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Psalms, p. 1614.  

4.      W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 23-24.

5.      John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1955), pp. 132, 134.

 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at: Rebecca Writes:

Adoption by Robery Murray M'Cheyne                                      

The Work of the Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption by James Buchanan