I wrote an article earlier this week in the literary genre known as “Tongue & Cheek.” If you read it, I hope you caught the sarcasm. I was offering a brief critique of Jason Johnson’s doctrine of adoption. His position is that God adopted his people and that his people should, therefore, adopt orphans. Using the same flawed logic, I proposed that we marry all sorts of sordid women and try to make them beautiful because Christ marries the Church and purifies her and that we dig up old bones and put new cloths on them because God will raise us from the dead and clothe us in glory. Of course, my two propositions are ridiculous; but they are no more ridiculous than Johnson’s doctrine of adoption, which was my entire point.
Today, I would like to offer something more than just a critique. I would like to offer an alternative position to the one held by Johnson. Johnson’s claim is that God’s people should be adopting orphans because the very act of adopting an orphan is a demonstration of the gospel. This means that, in Johnson’s view, adopting orphans is not ultimately about adopting orphans. Adopting orphans is ultimately about demonstrating the gospel. So, his doctrine of adoption is not so much a doctrine of adoption as it is a doctrine of gospel demonstration that happens to include adoption. Therefore, the alternative I will provide is not an alternative doctrine of adoption but rather an alternative doctrine of gospel demonstration or presentation or proclamation.
Suppose we live in a world in which everyone treats everyone else unlawfully and has broken some law that requires they be executed by the king. Since everyone awaits the death penalty, they all spend their entire lives trying to escape the coming judgment. One day, the king has you brought to the castle. To your surprise, your head remains attached to your body; and you hear this from the king, “Son, I have derived an alternative means of justice. You will not be executed, and neither will the others in your village.” He lets you go free, and you are left with the decision of what to do with this information.
Assuming you want to tell the others in your village the good news, which of the two following options do you think would most clearly and effectively communicate the good news?
1) From this day forward, you decide that you will forgive all of your neighbors when they treat you unjustly. When the little boy across the way kicks down your fence, you invite him in for milk and cookies. When your neighbor steals your wheat, you bake him a loaf of bread. You hold nothing against anyone. This will be a physical demonstration of the good news that no one in the village will be executed by the king.
2) You decide to tell everyone in your village that the king has derived an alternative means of justice and that none of them will be executed.
Now, which of these two options do you think communicates the good news most clearly and effectively?
Suppose a man has spent the past 20 years building a beautiful home in the woods for his wife. If he wants to show her everything he has done for her, do you think it would be more effective to draw her a picture or to take her to the house?
The same thing is true with the gospel. If God has done something truly amazing on behalf of his people, why would we want to merely draw them a picture of what he has done? Adoption can be used as a picture of the gospel, but why would we want the picture when we have the real thing? Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The good news that God has secured the salvation of his people through the demonstration of both his perfect justice and grace on the cross is God’s power to cause a person to be born again and to put his faith in Jesus Christ and to repent from his sins. The message of the gospel contains the power to bring about conversion.
Faith does not come about by seeing inadequate physical demonstrations of some of the spiritual truths contained in the gospel. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), hearing the verbal proclamation of what Christ has done on behalf of his people. No one has been converted to Christ because some Christian family somewhere adopted an orphan. All conversions to Christ happen, without exception, because of the verbal proclamation of the gospel.
So, my alternative to Johnson’s position is this: In God’s adoption of the saints, they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom, into his family. They are raised from spiritual death and given eternal life. They escape judgment and are given the all-satisfying joy of beholding their creator in all of his glory and of obeying his commandments. Therefore, the mission of the Church is to declare, with words, that in God’s adoption of the saints, they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom, into his family. They are raised from spiritual death and given eternal life. They escape judgment and are given the all-satisfying joy of beholding their creator in all of his glory and of obeying his commandments.
The mission of the church is not to encourage Christians to adopt orphans into their families. God is in the business of redeeming his people and delivering them into his kingdom. We should make God’s business our business, but it does not follow that we should be in the business of finding orphans and delivering them into our families. Rather, the Church should be in the business of proclaiming the redemption of God’s people and their deliverance into his family.
God has been kind enough to give us everything we need for life and godliness in the pages of the Bible. Everything needed to bring salvation and maturity is contained in the pages of a book that we too often ignore. I propose that instead of coercing God’s people into using their lives to draw pictures of the gospel by adopting orphans, the leaders in the Church teach God’s word and demand that people obey God’s commandments.