A Promise is Stronger than Blood: The Doctrine of Adoption in Romans 8

Cover of "Penny Serenade"

Cover of Penny Serenade

There is a crisis with adoption.

There is a crisis in that there are more would-be parents desiring children than there are children available. This is so because of abortion. This is so because of unjust laws. Recently the president of Russia declared that there would be no more adoptions by Americans. Whatever his rationale, even the Russians apparently didn’t agree with him. They wanted whatever every biological or birth mother wants, and that is a home and a family for the child who needs it.

I am thankful that I was not aborted and that I was adopted. Adoption has played a significant part in the lineage of our family.

What we’re going to learn in Romans chapter 8 is that it is the only way to be born into the family of God.

Nowhere in the word of God is the doctrine of adoption more clearly shown in its relationship to the power of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit then in the great eighth — Romans chapter 8. Adoption is stronger than ethnicity, background, or anything else. This passage teaches us, just one of many, that adoption is stronger than blood, a doctrine and truth that brings about powerful consequences as it brings parent and child together. We will look at FOUR of those consequential TRUTHS today in faith for living.

1. Adoption is an act of God (verse 12)

That is what we read when we read, “We are debtors…” in verse 12 and “you did not receive…” in verse 15.

Any explanation of the text must include the truth, then, that adoption is altogether an act of God begins before the very foundation of the world and comes about as the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of redemption of Jesus Christ to the believer in real-time and space.

Foster care is a wonderful ministry. Yet foster care is not adoption. Foster care is caring for another’s child. Adoption is an engrafting of one human being into another human being’s life—into a family. It is here that promise or covenant is stronger than even blood. For Jesus Christ himself was not a foster child but adopted into the family of Joseph. The lineage of Jesus in Matthew chapter one is a lineage of Joseph.

The question must come to you: are you a child and the foster Care of the church? Are you receiving the sacraments and enjoying the blessings of the church without having been blessed by the reality of being in grafted into the church by faith? Adoption is an act of God. It is a gracious act in which God reaches out to you and you receive his gift of eternal life.

You can do that right now. And when you do, mystery of mysteries, you will know that it was God who truly reached out to you and through the power of the Holy Spirit engrafted you into his family.

You’re not someone else’s child. You are his child.

2. Adoption is a one-time act: not an identity to be referred to forever.

In other words adoption is something that happens once and for all and then is in the past tense. You do not go around constantly saying that you are the adopted son of the adopted daughter of someone or, in Scripture, of God. No the Bible makes it clear that you are co-heirs, equal with Jesus Christ, in his relationship with the father. Now He is God and you are not! Yet you have all the benefits and all the blessings of a Son. That is what Paul meant. Paul makes it clear that you’ve been engrafted into the very body of Jesus Christ. And if you are a part of the Body of His Son you have a life with Him in God. You are His child.

This is a very important doctrine because to misunderstand this is to misunderstand your relationship with God. You are not a foster child so that if you act up you may be sent away. A loving parent will never disown a child, no matter what happens. This doctrine is totally related to your assurance. Fanny Crosby wrote “Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” Your assurance is altogether tied up with your understanding of your Sonship, your daughterhood—your Father-child relationship to Almighty God.

Adoption creates a new covenantal relationship that is a forever parent-child relationship.

I remember reading that Billy Graham once said one of the greatest problems in the Christian church is a lack of insurance. I know from my pastoral ministry that many believers struggle with assurance. Sadly, many come face to face with this fear at the very hour of their deaths. You need to make this matter certain today. You need to receive the clear Word of God. You need to know that the doctrine of adoption identifies you as a true son or daughter of God. It is a one-time act in which the Holy Spirit Himself in engrafts you into the family of God as a true son or a true daughter. And nothing, says Jesus in John 10, can snatch you out of his hand because the Father gave you to Christ before the foundation of the world.[1] Let this bring assurance and peace.

3. Adoption is accomplished through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

Clearly, the apostle Paul is linking the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Romans chapter 8 with the doctrine of adoption. Adoption is the covenantal engrafting of a human being into the family of God whereby that woman or that man, that boy of that girl is truly made into the son or daughter of God. The one who brings this about is the Holy Spirit. The one who has foreordained this from the foundation of the world is God Almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, it is the Holy Spirit Himself who is the One who applies the benefits of redemption of Jesus Christ on the cross and who applies the predestined love of Almighty God the Father from before the foundation of the world to you in your life.

One of my favorite movies is “Penny Serenade.”[2] I’m a lover of old classical movies, so maybe you haven’t seen this one. It stars my favorite actress, Irene Dunne, and one of my favorite actors, Cary Grant. The situation is this: there’s been an accident and Irene Dunne’s character is unable to bear a child in the natural sense. Something supernatural must occur in order for this couple to have their child. And so it does! There’s a woman at an agency becomes an angelic figure who brings together this couple with a child. What follows is a beautiful and lovely scene — a picture of familial joy. I won’t give away anymore of the movie because I want you to see it!

But, clearly, the woman who brought the family together is very much like the Holy Spirit. He brings you together with your heavenly Father. He is the one who applies the righteousness of Jesus – his life, his perfect life — as well as the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross. He brings the righteousness and atonement that you must have to be declared just before Almighty God and to become His child. That is necessary to bring you out of your sin, out of your waywardness, out of your unfamiliar relationship and into this most beautiful familial experience or God Almighty as truly Abba,[3] father to you. This is the role– the unique role in the triune Godhead — of the Holy Spirit. We will have more to say about him in the next message from Romans Chapter 8. But for now let us just say that he is the one who breaks through the crisis and supernaturally creates the most joyful everlasting family.

4.  Finally, we want to say that in Romans chapter 8, Adoption brings us into the full family experience.

This comes from verse 17 or we learned that if we suffer with him we will also be glorified with him. No what is that say?

When we are adopted into God’s family and we become his children we have full identification with Him and full identification in the family life of God. The life of God almighty is revealed to us in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry on earth. He was born. He was loved. Yet he was despised for his identity. Even His own family rejected him. This was prophesied and it came true. We know that His suffering lead not only to human rejection in relationship but finally rejection upon across.

You will not have to go to the cross because Jesus did. But Jesus said you would have to carry your cross. You’ll have to assume the family legacy of trial and rejection and sometimes persecution in this old world. We are people, along with the Jewish people, identified as those who worship one who is outside of this world. We claim that we are children of the living God. We make claims that Jesus is the only way. We make the claim that we are not all truly children of God but only those who have been adopted by God. Such claims of exclusivity place us in a dangerous situation. We all know this to be true. In the examples of those who have been persecuted range from nearly church to Bonhoeffer to the believers in the 20th century who became martyrs under Communism to those in our own day who are murdered by Islamic radicals. And there is a much less deadly but every bit as real persecution that is going on against believers by unbelieving secular humanism, which has become a dominant faith in this country. But if we suffer with him, and that is a family trait, let us be certain that we will also be glorified with him. This means that we are headed for Resurrection. We are headed for future life. We are headed for place called a new heaven and a new earth where we are told we will reign with Christ. I’m not sure of the full implication of all of this except that there are family Promises — a family legacy — that is laid before us as an encouragement to carry on in the suffering.

Twice Adopted

Recently it is been my joy and honor and privilege to get to know, personally, the son of the late 40th President of the United States. Michael Reagan has become a friend of mine. It’s been my joy to talk with him about many things. One of the things we talked about is something that we have in common and that is our past. No, I’m not the son of a president or even the son of the son of the son of a president! But we were both adopted — that is a past tense word and we both know it. Our identities are secure. We became sons supernaturally through promise—covenant—not just blood. That is a forever relationship. And that was carefully drawn forth and laid out and Michael Reagan’s wonderful book, Twice Adopted.[4] He was speaking, of course, about the fact in his life and the life of his parents that he was chosen by them and engrafted into the Reagan family as an infant. He had nothing to do with this. It was by the sovereign choice, if you will, of his loving parents. The other adoption that he talks about is the doctrine of adoption in Romans Eight and elsewhere in the Bible. He told me, just the other day, “You’d be surprised how many Christians don’t understand what I mean by twice adopted! Can you believe that?” I told him, sadly, “Yes, I can believe that. It is one of the most misunderstood doctrines and neglected doctrines in the entire Bible. Yet if people knew the teaching of this passage they would surely have the assurance that God Intends for them to have.

I told him that I was particularly moved by the close the book in which he talks about his son Cameron. Cameron was at school when boys began taunting him. Apparently their parents had told their children the Cameron’s father, that is Michael Reagan, had been adopted as an infant. Therefore, they said to Cameron, no doubt with jealousy dripping out of the side of their mouths, [words to the effect of] “You are not really the grandson of the President; because he is not really the son of the President.” Cameron went home that day and was crestfallen. His father could see that something was wrong. He probed and learned what had happened. Michael Reagan said the old pain came back in his heart as he has experienced the same taunting. Often people would even introduce him as “the adopted son of Ronald Reagan…” Instead of “Ronald Reagan’s son…” Yet, again, adoption is a one-time event. You certainly wouldn’t go about saying “this is Ronald Reagan’s prematurely born daughter…” Yet we really get things turned around. Others get confused about what adoption really is. And it leads to an identity crisis. And it leads to pain. It leads sometimes to a dark hole and a lifelong heartache. This is what was happening to Cameron and Michael knew the feeling well.

As they set on the steps of their front porch, Michael Reagan ask his son, “Cameron, do you see those black Suburban trucks across from our home with guys in suits and dark sunglasses?” The boy nodded his head yes. Michael Reagan told his boy, in so many words, “Well, I guess they wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s son. But you see, Cameron, I am his son. He chose me to be his son and I had nothing to do with it. God brought us together. Adoption is a one-time act. People are born into families through adoption or through reproduction. They both have the same effect. In fact, only one of them can really make a child a child forever and that is adoption. I am the real son of Ronald Reagan and nothing and no one, however insensitive, can deny that. That’s why those Secret Service agents are here. You are your grandpa’s grandson.”

From that moment on the boy never had any problems with any of the taunting children. He would just point to the Secret Service agents. That was all that was needed.

Some of you are being taunted by the devil and maybe even by false doctrines to make you believe that you cannot have assurance that you were a son or daughter. Maybe something has happened. Maybe you’ve fallen into sin. Maybe you have fallen away from the Lord. But I want you to look today in Romans chapter 8 and you tell me,

“Are you God’s child or not?”

What does God say to you?

Child, do you see that cross? Do you see that Savior suffering for you? That is your Lord. And through his life and through his death I have paid the price for your Sonship —your daughter-hood. And nothing can separate you from My love. Anytime you feel alone, you just look at the evidence that is before you through the Spirit and the Word and the Cross and the Christ and the Spirit that has sealed you forever as God’s very own child.

These evidences stand as permanent reminders that you are really God’s child. You are really God’s child and He loves you

Because the Bible teaches that covenant—Promise—is stronger than blood.

[I wrote a song for this series that is being produced now and will be released as a single. The song will premier in Los Angeles at the Valley Christian Center on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 and available on iTunes after that. Our goal is to draw attention to the sanctity of life and that adoption in our lives is always connected to adoption in God’s life.]

A Promise is Stronger than Blood

© 2013 Words and Music by Michael Milton, BMI

You may feel like you’re all alone
A cosmic orphan with no name, no home
You may feel untethered
Weak and worn and weathered
But I’ve got news for you
And it’s the Gospel truth
A Promise is stronger than blood
When the Promise is given
By the Father above
A Promise is stronger than blood
And the Covenant of Grace
Is a beautiful place to call home
You may feel like an abandoned child
No mother, no father, maybe you’re running wild
You may be hiding from the pain
Inconsolably crying in the rain
But I have news for you
And it’s the Gospel truth
A Promise is stronger than blood
When the Promise is given
By the Father above
A Promise is stronger than blood
And the Covenant of Grace
Is a mighty good place to call home
 A Promise is stronger than blood
When the Promise is given
By Abba above
Through the blood of His Son
His grace has won
Many sons and daughters
And you’re one


[1] “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29 ES).

[2] See http://www.irenedunnesite.com/filmography/1941-penny-serenade/.

[3] I agree with Dr. Philip Ryken that the word Abba is not to be translated in a familiar “Daddy.” It is an intimate and loving word of endearment that also conveys respect. See http://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/abba-is-not-daddy/. It would seem too humanly familiar to begin a prayer, Dear Daddy…Yet Precious Father, or Loving Father or Our Dearest Father comes closer to relating the respectful intimacy of this word, Abba.

[4] Reagan, M. and J. Denney. Twice Adopted: Broadman & Holman, 2004.