What Manner of Love

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Jun 7, 2015

John 1:12-13

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We’ll turn in our Bibles this evening to Galatians chapter 4. We’ll start there. I’m going to read a couple of different places. As you’re turning there, Jennifer Ouellette, in an article written not long ago, is discussing the way that our things, our stuff, and people’s profiles on Facebook reveal our personality. She says, “We hold onto certain things and display certain things because they remind us of what’s important to us and they provide an outlet for others to know things about us.” And the thing she concludes her article with, she says that “We want to be known or loved by others in keeping with how we feel about ourselves.” It sounds attractive. It may actually be true to our experience in a lot of ways, but is it really what we need? Do we always feel all that great about ourselves and do we want to be living constantly thinking about how other people are viewing us. We want to look today at God’s Word and think about, “What is our status before God?” We’re going to think of our adoption as children of the Heavenly Father and the way that He loves us with an unimaginable love. So with that in mind, let’s go to Him in prayer again.

Father, we do give You thanks for Your Word and we thank You for these reminders of Your love in Christ. Would You call those things to our minds, help them sink into our hearts, and that we would go out and serve You with freedom and with joy? And we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.

Let’s look first at Galatians chapter 4. We’ll read verses 4 through 7. It says:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Then let’s turn over one book to Ephesians. We’ll look at one other passage there, one that should be familiar to us. We’ve read it recently in the morning worship services. Ephesians chapter 1 verse 3. It says:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

What is Adoption?

We’re going to consider the doctrine of adoption tonight. The Westminster Shorter Catechism actually gives us a helpful definition of what adoption is and I think it gives us a good outline for considering it tonight. The catechism says that “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.” So three things you see there - God’s free grace, God’s family, and God’s favor. So let’s think about those things for a few moments this evening.

Adoption: An Act of God’s Free Grace

First is God’s free grace. The passages we just read along with the rest of Scripture reminds us that God’s love is unmerited and free, that God in His grace chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son to redeem those under the law. It was all by grace. There’s no merit, no obedience, no sacrifice, no knowledge that can satisfy God’s demand for holiness. There is no effort, no respectability or no appearance of success that can cover our shame and our guilt before a holy and a just God. The most put together sinner and the most broken down sinner are both sinners in need of God’s grace, in need of forgiveness, and restoration and acceptance before their Creator, the living God. That grace is found in Christ alone who with astonishing beauty and in majesty took on flesh and lived His entire life free from sin in complete obedience to the Father. In a humiliation that began even in the womb, He lived and suffered and died a criminal’s death experiencing His Father’s displeasure, taking the penalty that we deserve, so that we might be forgiven, our guilt removed, our shame covered. We can have fellowship with God and eternal life. It’s all by grace. It’s all because God takes the initiative to give His love to us.

It’s a very simple Gospel; it’s simple grace and yet it’s so beautiful it’s staggering. It’s almost poetic. The kind of thing that causes Paul to break out in Romans 11 saying, “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God… for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory, forever and ever, amen!” It’s the same thing we just sang. It moves us to poetry, to song. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.” God’s grace is beautiful and God’s grace is free. That He did that, He showed that love to us who were sinners and who wanted nothing to do with Him. That is God’s grace for us and to us. Does it have that effect on you? Does it cause us to break out in singing and in praise? Does it enliven and energize our song and our prayers and our worship before Him? Or have we domesticated grace and forgotten how good it is, how amazing God’s grace is? His love is free. His grace is free. There are no preconditions, no prerequisites to receiving it. It is free. It’s not cheap. It cost God, it cost Christ His life. He went to the cross and cried out, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” God’s grace is not cheap and it has life-changing implications for us. It causes us to consider the cost as we receive that grace and yet it’s free grace and it’s free to all who see their need and turn to Christ in faith.

Love of God: The Basis of Adoption

Benjamin Morgan Palmer was pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans for I believe almost half a century. And in a recent book that’s a collection of his shorter writings he writes this story in his pastoral ministry - he was preparing for a funeral; he was on his way to a funeral. And he received a note saying that a young man who was at the point of death needed to see him, asking him to come and to visit this man. And so Palmer went to the funeral, he led the funeral, and then went to go visit this man. This man was in his last hours, an unbeliever, and burdened by guilt and fearful as he faced his own death. And so Palmer goes and he shares with him the grace of God, he shares with him the Gospel and the need for Christ, the offer for forgiveness and of sins forgiven and of eternal life. And the man thinks, he says to him, “Well if I could just recover. If you would just pray for me to recover this time then I can do better. I can be better going forward.” Palmer says to him, “There’s no time. The end is near. You must accept and turn to Christ now or be doomed forever.” And he presses Christ to this man and he turns and he receives Christ; he trusts in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and for the gift of eternal life. As Palmer writes he says - and he leaves this man. Some of his last words were coming to Christ. He died shortly thereafter with Palmer in the room with him. And as he leaves he writes these words. He says, “Sad yet sweet were the pastor’s thoughts as he walked to his home beneath the stars through the streets of the silent city. Thoughts of the vast solemnity and preciousness of his office, thoughts of that blessed family covenant by which God remembers the prayers of a believing parent, and looks at the tears in His bottle, sometimes even upon the deathbed of the child.” It says, “Thoughts of that unutterable love which saves even to the uttermost and makes it never too late to pluck the brand from the burning.”

For that man, there was nothing that was going to make him physically better; there was nothing that was going to make him spiritually better but to trust in Christ and to come to Him and receive His grace, to receive God’s love by faith. That story struck me because I read it about a month ago on a Friday morning. That afternoon in my office I was at my desk and I was preparing for a funeral and I got a phone call. And I picked it up and it was a woman who was in distress. She was fearful and crying and she told me that she was near the end of her life; she was at the point of death. And she had no peace, no calm, no confidence facing death. And she told me that the last weeks and days she had spent reading her Bible from start of the day to the end of the day. She had been listening to sermons online over and over and over again and yet she had no peace at the time of death. She was looking to her performance, to her actions to try and find this peace, to find a confidence, a rightness before God.

And she said to me, “I just had a question for you.” She said, “Do you believe in deathbed conversions?” I said, “Well yeah, as a matter of fact I do. I just read about one this morning.” And I even shared that story with her. And we went to the thief on the cross and prayed together. And by the end of our conversation she said, “I’m trusting in Jesus until the day that I die.” That’s the free grace of the Gospel that Paul is speaking of, that the Scripture brings to us in Christ Jesus. God’s grace is free and it demonstrates to us His love, even at the point of death, to save even to the uttermost. That’s the beauty of God’s free grace. It’s not just the dying but it’s the dead who need it and who are made alive by His grace and receive His love in Christ.

Adoption: Brought into God’s Family

And that grace leads us to the next benefit that we see as we consider adoption and these passages are speaking to us. It’s that we are brought into the family of God. We are brought into God’s family. We are made to enjoy the love of our heavenly Father. In J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God, Packer writes that “Adoption is the highest privilege that the Gospel offers.” He says that if you were to ask him to focus the New Testament message in three words he would say that it is “adoption through propitiation.” That Christ’s death on the cross to cover our sins, to take the penalty that we deserve, and to bring us into the family of God as brothers and sisters, as children of our heavenly Father, that’s the Gospel. That’s the message of the New Testament in three words, Packer says. Adoption represents a radical change in status. We go from being, and we saw this in these passages, we go from being a slave to a son, from being an orphan to a child of God, from being a child of wrath to a child of His love. We have not received a spirit of bondage again to fear but we receive a spirit of adoption, a spirit of His Son, that we are now made an heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ. He’s taken that initiative to put His love upon us. Our status is not based on how we - it’s not based on love on our own terms or based on love on somebody else’s terms but it’s based on love on God’s terms. A love that knows us at our worst, knows the worst about us and yet loves us with a love that cannot be measured. A love that will never let us go; a love that cannot be broken.

God, Our Father

You see, if we were to go back into Paul’s day and consider family life and consider the legal ramifications of adoption, when a family took in a child in adoption that person’s, the relationships from his past were broken, all of his debts were released, and he was brought into a new life. He was given a new family. He would be considered just as one who was born into that family, given all the benefits; it was a legally binding arrangement. It was life-changing. It was a complete change in status. And Paul is using that to show us that these are the better benefits of the new covenant. Now we relate to God as our Father and that we are to work out the implications of that as His sons and daughters in every aspect of our lives. Think about how important that notion is that God is our Father. What was it that Jesus used as He was teaching His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe the major theme in that whole Sermon on the Mount is the Fatherhood of God to Christ’s disciples along with maybe the kingdom of God. But Christ is constantly pressing on His disciples God’s Fatherhood. And He’s contrasting that with a kind of religion which was external and surface and rigorous and joyless. He’s saying, “Look to your heavenly Father. Pray to your heavenly Father. Know that your heavenly Father knows that you need and He wants to give you what you need.”

Think about Paul even in the book of Galatians. What’s he dealing with there? He’s dealing with the Judaizers, those teachers who wanted to add external, ceremonial restrictions to the Gospel that said you had to be circumcised in addition to trusting in Christ. And Paul’s saying, “No, you are sons of God through Christ. You have a freedom. Your status before God has totally changed and you are now free to serve Him and to worship Him and to know Him in this love completely based on what Christ did on the cross, not anything that you can add or improve to that relationship.” That’s the beauty of adoption that Paul is highlighting for us and calling us to recognize and to apply to every aspect of our lives.

A New Home

I remember a story from Margaret Doster. Some of you may know Margaret Doster. People call her Mama D. She’s in her nineties and lives in a nursing home in Brandon. And she told me a story that’s always stuck with me. One time she was growing up in Brookhaven and she has this memory of her family, drove up from Brookhaven to an orphanage here in Jackson; it was actually at the corner of West and Woodrow Wilson. And they were coming to adopt a young girl, a daughter. And they went through the process, they picked her up, and they were driving away and she says she remembers, it’s kind of engrained in her mind, she remembers looking back at the orphanage and this girl who had just adopted, her sister was left behind and she was at the fence watching them drive away. And she has this memory impressed in her mind. She said it was about a week later, I think that image stuck to all of them, about a week later the family drove back up and adopted the other daughter, the sister, so that the three of them were now in a family. She had a home. She had a family. She was a sister. Three sisters in the family. That’s the picture of adoption that we see in the Bible - that we are given a home, that we are given a new status, that we are accepted and loved by our heavenly Father.

I think it’s appropriate to take a moment out here even to think about first of all how important this is for those who have had negative experiences with their earthly father - a hard past. To know that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and is committed to us and that we cannot be separated from His love; that He provides for us and knows our deepest needs and is there and committed to us for eternity. But also I think we should consider, as earthly fathers, the implications of this and encourage ourselves that we would be fathers in such a way that would demonstrate God’s Fatherhood so that we would give a positive experience to our children of how God is as a Father, that they would know the love of the Father in heaven by the love that we give to our children as weak as it may compare. But that we would provide spiritual leadership, nurturing them and being committed and faithful to our children. And we can apply that even to spiritual fathers as they take on a role of discipleship and mentor men and lead them in the faith and apply the Gospel to their own lives. That’s an important aspect, I think, that we can take from this.

A Picture of the Gospel

And also I want to just mention the beauty of adoption, of earthly adoption. In a day and age in which reproductive technologies push the bounds of ethics and even transgress the law of God at times, what a beautiful picture it is to be engaged in adoption. And maybe this is some time to consider how we can think about that and start to make that a reality in our families here in this church. What a beautiful picture of the Gospel it is. What a beautiful picture of God’s grace. I think of the times in our own church when we’ve baptized covenant children who were adopted. The tears that come to people’s eyes to think of the grace that is illustrated, the prayers that were answered. The care for the orphan - that is a theme that runs throughout the Scripture. It’s such a beautiful picture and maybe that’s an encouragement for us to think about that even in our own families. Russell Moore, he wrote a book called Adopted for Life. He says, he makes this comment, “There’s no such thing as adopted children. There are only children who were adopted. In a Biblical understanding, “adopted” is a past tense verb, not an adjective. So once someone has been adopted into the family that person is part of the family with everything that means.” That’s what we are like as we are adopted by our heavenly Father in Christ. We are a part of His family and we receive all that that means - all the privileges and all the blessings and the wonder that comes to us as we consider that.

Adoption: God’s Favor toward Us

That’s why I want us to think about finally here, and thirdly, is God’s favor. God loves you with a Father’s love. God’s love for you as a Father has tremendous implications and applications throughout our lives.

The Father’s Tender Care for Us

The first of those is that He gives us a Father’s care and provision. Some of you may be going through financial concerns and uncertainty about the future. Maybe you’re going through a trial with your health or experiencing sorrow in the loss of a loved one. Know that your Father, He knows your needs. You are valuable to Him and He gives good gifts to His children. We can count on Him to give good gifts to His children. I’m sure everyone in this room just about could think about five situations, almost on the top of your head, in which you feel unequipped and uncertain and a weight of responsibility is on top of you. And to think that our heavenly Father gives us access to Him by prayer. We don’t come before Him as a judge or as a ruthless King, similar to the way Esther and Nehemiah approached the king. But we come to Him as to our Father, Abba, Father. It is a closeness; there is an intimacy in our access to our heavenly Father. He delights to hear from us. He delights to help us. And we can be persistent and consistent in expecting Him to answer our prayers in ways that are good for us and which will bring Him glory.

The Father’s Mercy toward Us

He’s given us the spirit of adoption so that we have direction, we have wisdom. As we open up the Word and produce fruit in our lives and are conformed by the Spirit into a family likeness, the likeness of Christ our Elder Brother, the Spirit Himself is reminding us of God’s Word, reminding us of His love, encouraging us and leading us out to serve Him with joy. And even when we are in difficulties, even when we may face consequences for our sins, we know that it is never to punish us, that we will never experience the wrath of God for our sins. Instead He is disciplining us, He is chastising us, He’s doing it for our good in order to restore us, to lead us away from sin, to lead us away from destructive behaviors, and to lead us into ways of His love and of His joy and of His blessing. And we can go to Him even in repentance and know we will not be cast away, that we can always find forgiveness before our heavenly Father. That’s a tremendous blessing.

Intimate Fellowship with One Another

Not only that but we experience fellowship because we are adopted as God’s children. We become brothers and sisters in Christ together. That changes - and David even mentioned that this morning - that just completely changes the nature of our gathering here tonight and each time we gather. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s a word that in the book of James it’s one of his key words that he goes to over and over again - brothers and sisters. “My beloved brothers.” He’s constantly bringing messages to the church as brothers and sisters. It has a tremendous impact on the way he’s instructing them and the way they are responding to trials and the way they are living together as a church. They are serving each other and serving those in need. They are encouraging each other with their words. They’re praying with and for one another. And they’re putting to rest all quarrels and disputes in their midst. That’s the nature of being a brother and a sister in Christ Jesus. And even think about the ramifications as we gather together for the Lord’s Supper. It’s a family meal. It’s a joyful occasion. It’s reminding us of why we are brothers and sisters, that we are bound together by the blood of Christ which was shed in our place, which restored our relationship with our Father but also with our brothers and sisters. That’s a great blessing.

Eternal Fellowship with the Father

And then finally, is our destiny is secure. Jesus tells us that “In my Father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so I would tell you.” Christ is preparing a place for the children of God. Our destiny is secure. We know that we will be in the presence of our heavenly Father forever and that should cause us to look up and to endure and to persevere and to take encouragement, not to lose heart in the face of trials, in the face of difficulties. We know that we have a right to an inheritance, an inheritance in which we will be made perfect, that we will receive the fulfillment of all the promises of God that are ours in Christ Jesus, and we will experience joy, full joy, unpolluted joy forever in our Father’s presence. Those are astounding blessings that come to us as children of God.

Derek Thomas would say in our seminary classes that’s the best thing about the Gospel. Adoption is the best thing about the Gospel. Do you recognize that? Do you realize that? Or do we sometimes view God with suspicion, like we’re walking on thin ice with Him and we’re waiting for His displeasure at any moment? Or do we recognize that He loves us, He’s committed to us, He will never leave us, He will never forsake us? Think about the pictures in the Bible that we get of God the Father. In Hosea is tells us about the Father teaching a child to walk or in Revelation the Father drying the tears of the child. That’s the tender love that the Father has for His children. That should cause us to wonder and to marvel and to praise Him but it should also cause us to see Jesus, because it is through Jesus that we have this great privilege. We need to see Christ and to go to Him and to continue to remind ourselves of that grace and of our new status as His children as we go out to live as He has made us to be. Do we want to be loved in keeping with how we feel about ourselves? We have something much better. We know how God feels about us. We know how God loves us. That should cause us to respond as John says in 1 John. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God, that that is what you are.” Let’s pray.

Father, we give You thanks for Your love. We are not deserving. We are often stubborn and rebellious children and yet You are faithful and You are good. Draw us back to see Your love and to, out of gratitude, to go out and live representing Your honor and representing Your name in all the places where You would have us serve. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

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