The Grace of Adoption

We must not leave our gospel introduction before we see how union with Jesus by faith is not merely a legal issue. We are not merely given a new status as fully forgiven, perfectly righteous humans.

We are engrafted into a new relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters. The gospel is not merely about being given a new grade, but a new life—a new status and a new family. Not to mention a new hope, a new purpose, and a new… well, everything.

In Galatians 4:4-6, the apostle Paul tells us,

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.

If you think about it, the concept of adoption is such a perfect way to describe the fullness of God’s grace. After all, adopted children are always wanted. They are chosen. Not just tolerated, but treasured!

The challenge for the new believer is to embrace the love of the Father who has chosen us in love unto adoption, believing that he really has given us his name, an eternal inheritance of joy, and that his smile is always upon us.

We are his delight! 

The concept of adoption is such a perfect way to describe the fullness of God’s grace.

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Something else to note. Children are not adopted because of what they can contribute to the family or because they earn their way in. They are recipients of grace. Period. It is a grace that will never let us go because of what Jesus has done for us. It is resting and abiding in what he has done for us now empowers what he does in us.

As a well-known contemporary song by Chris Tomlin reminds us: “You are a good, good Father. That’s who you are. And I am loved by you. It’s who I am.”

Amen and amen. 

We must not leave our gospel introduction before we see how union with Jesus by faith is not merely a legal issue. We are not merely given a new status as fully forgiven, perfectly righteous humans. We are engrafted into a new relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters. The gospel is not merely … Continue reading The Grace of Adoption

God’s Work For Us Versus In Us

In the grade exchange, Jesus does the work and we get the credit. He studies; we succeed. This is called justifying grace, where God works for us. However, there is another kind of grace that takes place when God begins to work in us. This is called sanctifying grace, where God indwells his people in the person of the Holy Spirit and produces from within them the fruit of new life.

In Galatians 5 we read about what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” He is referring to the virtues that begin to be displayed in the lives of those who have experienced the grade exchange—fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. This fruit is evidence that these folks now have the indwelling presence of God in their lives, the Holy Spirit. As they continue to believe who they are in Jesus (newly minted A+ students), the Spirit flows like sap in their lives to produce fruit, as if from a vine into a branch. This is how God works in us. We could say that as grace becomes the internal, spiritual life-blood of the believer, fruit begins to grow. That is the dynamic of grace.

If someone wants to intentionally reject following Jesus in practical ways, he reveals that he really has not understood grace in the first place. He probably has experienced nothing more than religion, which doesn’t have the power to transform anyone at a deep level, especially not the motives of the heart.

If someone intentionally rejects following Jesus in practical ways, he really has not understood grace in the first place.

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This is because there are essentially two ways to motivate change—one is by fear and shame, the other is by love and grace. When I have been loved, it compels love in return. So, if I have no desire to love Jesus through following his ways and will, it reveals that I really do not know what it means to be loved by Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said that he had a new motivation that was driving his life. No longer was he compelled to follow God out of fear or shame, but rather because of the love and grace of Jesus. Paul now wanted to serve and love the Savior—not out of guilt or duty, but out of gladness and joy. As John said, “We love him because he first loved us.”

Therefore, the way to experience life change is not to beat the horse harder in order to get more obedience out of it. The solution is to go back to understanding how God has worked for us. When we begin to get it and believe it, God will begin to work in us. Not only will we see new fruit, but also, we will begin craving it. In this light, both justification and sanctification are all of grace, and both serve to magnify the greatness and glory of God.

The Gospel is Not a Second Chance nor a Clean Slate

After we have made the grade exchange through repentance and faith, what now? This is where true Christianity often gets derailed. If you have ever heard anyone say that in salvation God “gives you a clean slate” or “a second chance” then you know what I am talking about.

When we experience the grade exchange, God does not give us a clean slate or a second chance. I cannot be more emphatic about this. What he gives us is far better!

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Remember, the grade exchange does not just wipe away our bad score (ie, forgive our sins). It gives us a new score—a perfect score (i.e., the righteousness of Jesus). This means that our “slate” is not clean—it is full of the righteous obedience and moral merit of Jesus that he has credited to us through faith.  It is a slate that can never be erased. God has written his indelible grace in the indelible ink of Jesus’ blood.

When folks speak of God giving us a second chance, the idea is that he has forgiven us for failing the exam the first time, but now requires us to retake the exam. In this model of Christianity, we essentially are told to try harder and do better the next time. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need more that a second try. In fact, there is no chance for me if all I get is a second chance—or even a third, or fourth, or fifth, etc.

“Second Chance Theology” leads to either self-righteous pride for those who are able to look religiously respectable on the outside (Phariseeism), self-righteous despair for those who keep failing to keep the rules, or flat out rebellion. The problem with second chance Christianity is that it leaves grace at the door like an umbrella on a rainy day. But grace is not just for initial the grade exchange. It is for living every moment after the exchange takes place.

This means that the “what now” of the grade exchange is to keep living in the shadow of the cross where I can be perpetually mindful of my new status as an A+ student in the eyes of God.

The problem with second chance Christianity is that it leaves grace at the door like an umbrella on a rainy day.

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Did I earn that status? No. Do I deserve that status? No. Do I have it? YES! This is to the glory of God’s grace. For He is praised not by my abilities, but by His gifts. And the ultimate gift is the new status before God that I possess through the person of Jesus that leads to knowing God as Father.

Some people have compared the Christian life to a dance. It is really a simple dance. Not easy, just simple. Kinda like a two-step.

The first step is to take the step of repentance. Keep taking your failures to Jesus.

The second step is faith. Keep receiving his record of righteousness as your own by faith. Then keep it going. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right, etc. But as you dance, don’t look at your feet. Keep your eyes on Jesus!



At this point, many will ask, “Okay, if I am saved by sheer grace, then why should I now obey God? If I no longer must take the exam for my grade, why not skip class?” These are great questions! To answer them, it will help us to distinguish between the work of God for us and the work of God in us.

We'll address that in the next post.

The Grade Exchange

In our last post, we discovered that God requires perfection. But we have all failed the test... and miserably.

But there is hope!

This hope is what I call grade exchange.

Here is how it works.

I fail the exam and Jesus makes a perfect score. As the grades are being handed out, Jesus stands up and makes an offer to the class.

 

Anyone who made an F is invited to come forward and exchange that grade for the perfect score achieved by Jesus. If I will make the exchange, in God’s record book, my grade will be changed forever. The result is that my status changes from unrighteous to righteous, from condemned to justified[1], from an object of wrath, to an object of mercy, from an orphan to a son. I will no longer have to live in fear of God as a judge, but can know him as a good, wise, trustworthy, strong and loving Father. 

This Father’s love for his children is such that he cannot love me more, even if I do good things, and He will not love me less, even if I do bad things. It is a perfect, complete, eternal love that will not ever, ever let me go—regardless of my past, present or future performance.

So how do we make this exchange? There are only two steps in the process.

First, we take our F to Jesus. This is what we call repentance. We simply admit our failing grade and acknowledge the consequences that it deserves. We confess not only our rebellious sins (the stuff we know is wrong), but also our religious sins (the stuff that think is good and feeds our prideful self-righteousness).  

Second, we receive Jesus’ perfect score as our own. This is what we call faith. Faith is not just believing that there is a God or that Jesus was a real person who lived, died and rose again. Gospel faith believes that Jesus‘ record is now my record.

This exchange is what we call a gift, or grace. It is not deserved and cannot be earned. We can think of it as charity (after all, our English word charity comes from the Greek word that means grace, charis). In that light, we can say that every Christian is a charity case! This is because, in the gospel, rather than achieve for God, we receive from God. Period.

Of course, this entire picture defies religion. That is why Christianity is not religion in the sense that we expect it to be. We are not saved by our works and effort, but by the works and effort of Jesus for us, and now can affirm Romans 8:1 with full confidence, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

After we have made the grade exchange through repentance and faith, what now? This is where true Christianity often gets derailed. If you have ever heard anyone say that in salvation God “gives you a clean slate” or “a second chance,” then you know what I am talking about.

We'll address that hot potato tomorrow in the next post. 



[1]  To be justified is to be declared by God, as if in a court of law, to be seen “just as if I’d” never sinned and “just as if I’d” done everything right. It is a legal term that denotes a new legal status.  

The Heart of the Christian Message

Why do we have Christmas? In other words, why did Jesus have to be born? Why not just Easter? Why did Jesus, as the eternal God, have to enter this world as a human child and live thirty-three years before going to the cross?

The simple answer is that Jesus came to be a substitute.  He came to live as one of us, in our place. You see, Jesus was not born merely to be a great moral teacher (although he was) or a spiritual Mr. Rogers who could sweetly guide us into being good boys and girls. No, my need is not for a teacher or even a moral example to follow. I need a substitute Savior. I need someone to take my place and do for me what I can’t do form myself. I don't need a helper. I need a hero.

To substitute simply means to replace one thing for something else. Sometimes we substitute artificial sweetener for real sugar in certain recipes. In professional baseball, the American League allows for a stronger slugger, called a pinch, or designated, hitter, to replace a weaker batter in the batting lineup. In Hollywood, a stunt double often replaces a lead actor in performing a dangerous scene. Of course, we’re not talking about recipes, baseball or Hollywood. But the concept is similar.

Jesus put himself in my place, taking the consequences for my sin so that I could receive the benefits of his obedience. He bore my guilt so that I could receive his grace.

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When Jesus went to the cross, he went as a substitute for sinners who had failed the exam. That is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is also the idea in Galatians 3:13, where Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...’” Or as 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”

What Paul is saying is that Jesus put himself in my place, taking the consequences for my sin so that I could receive the benefits of his obedience. He bore my guilt so that I could receive his grace. He took my F so that I could receive his A+.

And you know, my guilt is not primarily because I have broken a list of rules. My guilt centers on the fact that I have not loved God, nor have I really loved my neighbor—and certainly not my enemies. I am a self-consumed idolater who seeks to create a man-made righteousness (i.e., praiseworthy reputation) through being good, being right, being successful, etc., rather than a repentant sinner who simply receives and rests in the gift-righteousness of Jesus.

In light of the exam, I have failed on every count. And when I really think about the depth of my sin patterns and how often I am ruled by my sin nature, I can’t help but identify with the apostle Paul, who in Romans 7 cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”  

We will find out in the next post.

Dr. McKay Caston

McKay Caston's passion is to help people live all of life in view of the cross.