5 Ways Spiritual Adoption Can Change Your Life… Starting Today

The 1982 movie, Annie, was originally a musical set in 1933 during the Great Depression at the Hudson Street Orphanage in New York City. Miss Hannigan is the oppressive caretaker of the orphans. One day, Grace Farrell, secretary to the billionaire philanthropist, Oliver Warbucks, comes by to pick up one of the children who will live in Warbucks’ mansion as a guest. Ms. Ferrell asks Annie, “What would you like to do first?” Annie replies, “Do the floors?”

Of course, Grace is talking about the amusements, not the work. Annie has not been brought to the Warbucks estate to work, but to enjoy the blessings of luxury. Annie has been invited to bask in grace.

But her orphan tendencies are so strong that she can only imagine the kind of servanthood that Miss Hannigan required.

The same thing can be true spiritually as we live functionally as spiritual orphans.

I suspect that many of us are living as spiritual orphans. I know this because this is so often true of my life.

Consider this simple diagnostic tool below developed by my friend Dr. Johnny Long. With orphan tendencies on the left of the chart, where do you find yourself struggling with being a spiritual orphan? When I am honest, I find myself circling many if not most of the numbers. 😐

Orphan vs Son Chart-page-0

Orphan vs Son Chart-page-1

I want to help us move from spiritual orphanhood to full confidence of our spiritual sonship/adoption, where we are convinced that we are objects of the Father’s eternal affection.

This shift can take place as we embrace the truth of the gospel for us in Romans 8:15-18, where Paul writes,

15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  18 For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.



Psychologists tell us that our relationship with an earthly father has a tremendous impact on how we view ourselves— our identity. If it is a mother’s role to nurture her children, it is the rold of the father to validate them.

If this validation does not happen (whether due to absence, abuse or simply neglect), we spend our lives trying to prove ourselves, being emotionally stuck in a perpetual emotional adolescence. But we really don’t need extensive psychological studies to tell us this.

We know it by experience. So much of our striving to achieve success is simply the boy inside seeking for a father to say, “You are my son, in whom I am well pleased.”

We note that the power of a father’s affirmation and validation is not a psychological invention, but is deeply rooted into the DNA of our being created in the image of God.

After all, at the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, this is exactly what the Father said to the Son. Knowing that Jesus would have his identity not only questioned, but violently resisted, the Father validated his core identity, saying, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Immediately after receiving these words of affirmation, Jesus departed into the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, himself. Quoting Scripture from the Old Testament, Jesus would respond, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The most recent words, those heavenly words of validation received at his baptismal ordination, would prove to be the critical words, empowering him to face criticism, persecution and ultimately death.

The impact of the Father’s declaration of the Son’s identity is emphasized when we realize that these words were spoken at the beginning of his ministry.

Jesus would not have to earn the Father’s love by his obedience and sacrifice. It was the declaration of the Father’s love that became the fuel for his obedience and sacrifice.

Jesus would not have to earn the Father’s love by his obedience and sacrifice. It was the declaration of the Father’s love that became the fuel for his obedience and sacrifice.

The same is true for us.

In our adoption, the Father says to you and me, “You are my son (or daughter), in whom I am well pleased.” Let’s not miss the impact. These are not words that follow our obedience, but words that precede the entirety of our lives as children of the Father.

Like they did for Jesus, validation and affirmation motivate and empower obedience. They are not the result of it.

If you are like me, this may be a difficult reality to embrace.  We are conditioned by the flesh to operate on a law and reward relational scale, not one determined by love and grace. Common motivational tactics of the world are fear and punishment, which may get short term results, but do not result in long term growth in affection between a father and son.

The Christian life begins with grace, grows with grace and is secured by grace.

The Christian life begins with grace, grows with grace and is secured by grace.

This is what we are called to believe as we abide in Christ.

In Galatians 3:26, Paul says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”  Through faith. Not by striving, but abiding in the promise of the Father that we are his fully forgiven, perfectly accepted and dearly loved, adopted children.



There are two primary fears that we all face.

The first is the fear of rejection. If someone really knows me, how will be able to accept me? The law condemns me. Therefore, I hide—just like our first parents in the garden.

We all hide.

We hide behind niceness and avoiding conflict. We hide behind success. We hide behind physical appearance. We hide behind shallow, surface conversation. We hide behind our social media image we create, project and protect.

We hide behind our smiles.

We also can hide behind our toughness. We can hide through rebellion.

The reality is that we all want to be loved and accepted. The fear is that if anyone really knows me—the broken, ugly, prideful and insecure parts of me—they eventually will reject me.

Our adoption as sons and daughters alleviates this fear, at least as it concerns our ultimate acceptance. It is true that people will reject us. However, the more grace oriented friends become, the greater the potential to experience our Father’s acceptance and love with each other.

With our Father, we are safe. When we begin to enter into that safety of “no condemnation” but total security of love, we are empowered to be safe for others.

This is what creates the kind of community the church was designed to be. This is not only for us, but is a powerful missional dynamic, as we invite others into a place of safety where we can be real about our need for a Savior.

The second fear concerns outcomes. How will things “turn out?” Will it rain on the picnic? Will I get the job? Will the diagnosis come back benign or not?

The anxiety of not being able to control outcomes is a symptom, like the fear of rejection, of the orphan spirit.

Paul says that the Father has not given us a spirit of fear. Fear is not of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit relieves our fears by convincing us of God’s love in our adoption.

He will not let us go.

No. Matter. What.

As Paul asks in Romans 8, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?”  The resounding answer: nothing and no one. Not even our continued sin and failure.

After all, it was for that sin and failure that Jesus was condemned on our place. That is why in Romans 8:1, Paul makes the audacious claim that “there is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

To the degree I fail to believe that is the degree to which I will continue to struggle with the remnants of the fleshly fear of rejection.

But not only the fear of rejection, our fears and anxieties of outcomes are also relieved as we trust that our Abba is in control of all things and is working them (every detail) for our ultimate good and his glory.

The word that Paul uses, “Abba,” is an Aramaic word that, when properly translated, means “Dada.” When a child in the first century middle east was learning his first words, the child would either say, Abba or Imma. Imma is a childlike expression that parallels our word, mamma. Abba is dada, or daddy.

This is the word Jesus used when addressing the Father. Abba.

It is the same word we are invited to use when addressing God as our Father. A term of endearment and dependency. What father doesn’t love being called, “Daddy?”

Even though our Abba is the sovereign ruler of the universe, he is also our Abba. When we can see him as strong and able, as well as tender and affectionate, we are in a position as adopted sons and daughters to have our anxious fears relieved.

A number of years ago when my children were small, I was driving my family back from my in-laws in Benton, Mississippi to Greenwood on Highway 82 in the Mississippi Delta.  Hwy. 82 is a long, flat two-lane road. That night happened to be one of the worst thunderstorms I remember driving through. I gripped the wheel tightly, staring at the road ahead.

Thinking my children must be terrified by the treacherous driving conditions, I looked in the rear-view mirror only to see that they were sound asleep. They could rest in the storm because they trusted their Daddy.

They could rest in the storm because they trusted their Daddy.

I wonder how it would feel to live our lives with THE Father at the wheel? Trusting him like my children trusted me and could sleep in a tempest.

Giving up control of the wheel is easier said than done. Letting go of a need to control outcomes and let my Abba be responsible is a huge step of faith. It can feel frightening. It also is freeing.

To not have to carry the weight of the world? Priceless. But this is not effortless.

Faith is a conscious decision. To trust is not passive, but active. To trust that we are loved and securely in his plan and in his hands. His eyes are on the sparrow and they are on me.



The decision to trust cannot be overstated. For in verse 17, Paul employs a conditional clause to this effect, saying, “if we share in his sufferings.” Sharing in suffering could include all fallen world discomforts, such as sickness and general hardship. However, I think what is in view here is suffering for loyalty to Jesus.

If my identity is defined by peers, then I may demonstrate functional loyalty to other people rather than to Jesus. I will follow their ways instead of the ways of Jesus.  Out of a need for approval and fear of rejection, I will be loyal to those whom I give power to define my core identity.

But if I will allow my core identity to be defined by my Father as the son or daughter in whom he is well pleased, then I will prioritize loyalty to Jesus over anyone else. I will be empowered to do his will, follow his ways, and heed his wisdom.

Again, facing insult, rejection and suffering related to loyalty to Jesus is easier said than done.

Although I understand that Disney may be phasing out the Indiana Jones Stunt Show at Hollywood Studios in Orlando, the attraction is one of my favorites. There is one stunt where a vehicle explodes and a man catch on fire! However, after the stunt, the director reveals to the audience how the actor was not burned. The genius of a flame retardant suit!

For the disciple of Jesus, his righteousness becomes like a flame retardant covering that, when we clothe ourselves in it, enables us to endure the heat of peer pressure, the arrows of criticism, and blunt force of personal rejection as we share in the sufferings of Jesus.

As we begin to desire loyalty to Jesus, we discover that our loyalty to Jesus is really fueled by his loyalty to us—loyalty displayed at the cross by his wearing a flame retardant suit. He was condemned so that we can be covered.



In his book, A Praying Life, Paul Miller says that prayer is one of the final frontiers of evangelical legalism. The feeling of guilt, fear and duty is so strong when we think of prayer, that he suggests we may need to unlearn everything we thought about what prayer is and how we can engage in it.

It is common to see prayer as an obligation or rule. With self-loathing, many of us would confess, “I know I should pray more.” This is evidence of an orphan spirit.

If that is you, let’s pause. Stop here and read slowly.

The word “should” is a red flag when it comes to prayer, and most other aspects of the Christian life. Should is a duty word. A fear word. A guilt word.

If prayer has become a should for you, it may be helpful to unlearn what you have known of prayer thus far in your life.

A story may help.

There once was a father who gave his son his inheritance in yearly installments. He would have his son visit in person to receive the annual gift. Eventually, the Father altered the arrangement. Rather than distribute the funds in one lump sum each year, he decided that he would provide it on a daily basis. The purpose wasn’t to punish his son, or make it inconvenient to receive his inheritance.

The father simply wanted to spend time with his boy. He had cherished that one day but wanted to connect with him every day. He simply wanted to be with his son.

I wonder if this is why Jesus taught us to pray for our “daily” bread, knowing that God’s mercies (like the son’s inheritance) are new every morning.

As with any spiritual practice, prayer merits us nothing, but profits us much. Apparently, Jesus knew this. His habit was to wake early and spend the first moments of the day with his Abba in prayer.

For Jesus, prayer wasn’t a duty. It was a gift and a lifeline.

For Jesus, prayer wasn’t a duty. It was a gift and a lifeline.

When we begin to see God as our Abba, Father, our view of prayer is transformed. It becomes he same for us as it was for Christ—a gift and a lifeline.



In my opinion, Romans 8:18 is one of the most hopeful passages in all the Bible.

“For I do not consider our present sufferings worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”

It is noteworthy that this verse follows in context with Paul’s encouragement that as recipients of spiritual adoption, we should no longer fear. We have a reason to hope, even if the present context appears hopeless.

I am not advocating a groundless optimism that says everything is going to be okay in this life. It isn’t. It wasn’t for Jesus. I’m saying that rather than optimists or pessimists (which is rooted in an orphan spirit), we can be realists. It is the real that this world is broken. It is real that there is hope in the gospel of Jesus. Both are true.

Yet the gospel trumps the brokenness because whatever we face in this temporary life, we know that there is an eternity of joy and glory ahead—such glory that it makes any suffering we must endure now as utterly insignificant.


In the early 1960s before her death, actress Marilyn Monroe was interviewed by a freelance reporter from the New York Times. Marilyn had grown up as a foster child… shuffled from one home to another. Knowing that background, the reporter asked about the times Marilyn felt most loved.

“In my life, I have felt loved… once.

“When I was about seven or eight. The woman I was living with was putting on makeup, smiling, she… reached over and patted my cheeks with her rouge puff… she made me feel pretty, and for that moment, I felt loved.”

Some of us can probably relate to her experience. We remember feeling loved… once. Or in a distant memory. But now, not so much.

Yet in the gospel, we have an adoptive Father who smiles upon us and has made us beautiful. Not by patting us with rouge, but by covering us in the perfect righteousness of his own Son, Jesus. By receiving that perfect covering of righteousness, we may know him as our Abba, with confidence that we, in this moment, right now, are objects of his eternal affection.

This gift is available to any who will receive it.

Discussion Guide – Chapter 2

  1. In what ways do you tend to manifest an orphan spirit?



  1. Why do you think it is so hard to give up control of your life and trust your Abba?



  1. How might your life look differently if you did?



  1. What will it take for you to trust him?



  1. How did the story of the father giving his son a “daily” allowance affect you?

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