Awaiting Our Adoption
“Impatient”- it is a word that singularly describes most of us who are Americans. From our fast-food to our hi-speed internet, we are seldom satisfied by anything less than instant gratification. We must have it all, right now.
Though it would be difficult to prove a direct line of causation between this tendency and the shape of popular theology in the American church, I don’t think much of a defense would be required to suggest that this desire for instant gratification has at least acted as a set of blinders against our seeing anything that would suggest that the Christian must wait for her reward.
A gross example would be the preponderance of the “Prosperity Gospel”, the promise of health and wealth today in exchange for faith, despite the promise of suffering expressed in the New Testament. A less obvious example would be the popular belief among Christians that a person experiences an immediate transport to her eternal heavenly residence upon death, despite all of the biblical evidence that indicates that this depends upon the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body. Common across this spectrum is a resistance towards any motion that would seem to increase our wait time for anything.
I am sympathetic to this. I have found myself on a number of occasions looking up into a starry night, whispering, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is no surprise that we would like to close the gap whenever we can. And yet, Scripture seems to be stubbornly insistent on reminding us that we are waiting. I was recently reminded of this in my study of Romans 8.
In Romans 8, Paul weaves the reader back and forth between the competing realities of life lived according to the Spirit versus life lived according to the flesh. To this end, he writes in verse 13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” He follows this up by stating in verse 14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Throughout the course of Paul’s logic here, the reader may be tempted to think that he is suggesting a sort of Platonic/Gnostic dualism, that spirit=good and that material=bad. Indeed, one might to be tempted to think that our sonship is reduced to being led by the Spirit. But then Paul takes a curious turn.
Looking to God’s physical creation Paul writes in verses 22-25,
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” [Romans 8:22-25 ESV]
Just when it might be presumed that Paul is opting for some spiritual existence over and against physical existence, he seizes upon the hope of the creation’s physical redemption. Just as the creation groans for this redemption, so also do we, “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
My first thought upon reading this was, “Wait...we are awaiting our adoption? Did I not just read in verse 14 that ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’? Aren’t we already sons/daughters of God?” I had always supposed that our adoption was complete and that we weren’t waiting on anything in this aspect of our redemption. But Paul is quite intentional here in presenting a picture to us of the “now but not yet” reality of our adoption.
The firstfruits of the Spirit are indeed a token of our sonship, evidence of our kinship with Christ. And yet our adoption is left incomplete if we are left like this. Paul equates our adoption with the “redemption of our bodies” and that it is “in this hope we were saved.” Doubling down, he goes on to say in verses 24-25 that we call this our “hope” because it is unseen and is yet to be realized.
Similarly, the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Even as the Apostle John confirms that we are God’s children, he suggests that the meaning of this is yet to be filled out. It must be filled by Christ when he appears in his return, when the children of God will be made like the Son of God.
This may seem like a minor nuance, but I think it is important to point this out for a couple of reasons. First, the redemption which God promises us is truly holistic- it does not bifurcate us into physical and spiritual parts, throwing the former away into a junk heap. Just as the creation groans out for redemption, so do our bodies, and not simply physiologically, but also psychologically. Evil has infected the very elements of our existence to the point that however much we may possess the firstfruits of the Spirit, we will likely continue to suffer physically and mentally. When we forsake the divine promise of our bodily redemption, many are left to despair the fact that they are not “spiritual enough” to overcome their condition. Rather than looking with hope to the redemption of their bodies at Christ’s return, they prize death and are tempted to flirt with suicide as the solution to their woes.
Second, it is important that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking that the perfection of our condition can be achieved in our lifetime outside of Christ’s return. There is no point before Christ’s return in which I can say, “God has finished working on me.” This is not an invitation to apathy but to self-examination, to the study of God’s ever-present mercy in his progressing work of sanctification upon our lives. Moreover, it reminds us that our adoption is definitively realized only by God in Christ as we depend upon our resurrection from the grave. It is God who adopts us from our dead condition; we cannot assert ourselves into the household of God.
Admittedly, I struggle waiting for this adoption “with patience”. I would like for it to be completed in the next moment. Despite how much I desire this adoption, I take surprising comfort in realizing that my adoption is incomplete. For however much God has blessed me, saved me, healed me, I can know that these are only the firstfruits- that there is much more awaiting me, awaiting all of us, on the day of our adoption.