Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adoption: Grace Upon Grace

In Fiscal Year 2016, the United States Sentencing Commission received information on 67,874 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced. Almost 12,000 more individuals were resentenced or had the sentences modified. Thus, nearly 80,000 criminal cases (the vast majority related to drug, immigration, fraud, or firearms) included a sentencing of some kind – and that is just at the federal level. Effectively, that means that in each of these 80,000 cases, the defendant heard a verdict of guilty – at least, to some degree. Most of these verdicts resulted in jail time with an average sentence around five years. (1)

In a country with a population of well over 300 million, the numbers may not seem too disproportional. However, what is important to us at this moment is that you and I are not among those for one reason only – the grace of God. Romans 3 makes clear that no one is righteous (v .10) and that we all sin (v. 23). Sure, those of us gathered today may not have committed certain crimes, but if circumstances were different, we could have, and be facing time in jail. However, by the grace of God, we did not and hear about these statistics rather than being a part of them.

Now, what I want you to imagine is that what if each of those 80,000 cases had been declared “Not Guilty” instead. Whether the case was heard by a jury or not is somewhat irrelevant. But, whomever determined the judgment, the judge proclaimed the defendant “Not Guilty.”

Ultimately, as Christians that is what has happened to us. The difference for us is that we are guilty, but Jesus paid the price. He served the sentence. And the wages (the sentence) of sin is death. But Jesus defeated death and thus those who place their faith in Him do not die, but live forever – not because of what we have done, but because of grace.

I realize we just had a sermon on sola gratia, by grace alone, four weeks ago. And I realize that the word grace is in the title twice. But what may surprise you is that grace is not the ultimate subject today. Grace is necessary to realize the fullness of the subject, but grace is simply a step. In fact, as great as grace is, as amazing as grace is, it is simply the avenue to what God really has for us.

Over the next several weeks, we will explore this great gift God desires for His children. In fact, that is it, He wants us as His children, and thus the grand idea – the great gift – available because of His grace is: adoption. As we will see in the coming weeks, even if you have never really thought about the idea of adoption, it is a foundational core of those who believe in God – for whenever we call Him Father, or talk of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we imply that we have been adopted by God. So, as we unpack this great gift over the next seven weeks, my prayer is that we will better understand what the Bible says about adoption and what it means for us now and for eternity.

Adoption Is Made Possible By Jesus (John 1.1-12)

Some who read this may have parts or all of this passage memorized. It is a great passage, but let me start with verse 12 and then summarize the previous eleven verses. Verse 12 says we have been given the right to become children of God. Why? Because Jesus came and died? How? By believing that to be true and our only source of salvation. It is Jesus that we are to receive, the name in which we are to believe (v. 11, cf. Acts 4.12).

Why should we believe in His name? The preceding verses give us a great deal of information.
  • He was there in the beginning. He was with God. He was God.
  • All things were made through Him.
  • Life was in Him. He is the light of man. He drives out darkness.

The reason John wrote this version of the gospel is to show that Jesus was real – that is, He is God, but He came as a human. Verse 10 paints a very clear picture. He was in the world…even though He made the world…but the world did not care. Not even the chosen people of Israel cared.

But those who do recognize who He truly is become the true children of God.

Adoption Requires a New Birth (John 1.13)

Each person is here today because two individuals – one male, one female – engaged in procreation. The biology behind the birthing process is known and understood. Therefore, when you are born, you have a father and mother.

But with adoption, a child receives a new parent or set of parents. Such is the case with God’s children. Verse 13 makes this contrast clear. John begins by writing of a natural birth – where blood, the flesh, and man’s desires are involved. He then wrote that adoption requires a birth available from God. In John 1, we are not given any real detail of what that kind of birth would be, but John 3 answers the question fully – we must be born again.

Like Nicodemus, when we first hear a phrase like being born again, we should have questions. Nicodemus asked how it was possible for a grown man to enter his mother’s womb. Jesus responded that a person must be born of the Spirit (John 3.5). Jesus response fits perfectly with John 1.13 which, again, states that the being born of God is different from birth related to the flesh. Because the Holy Spirit is God, then the new birth through the Spirit is of God. And thus, when we are born of the Spirit, we are born again, which means we are born into the family of God – that is, we are adopted as a child of God.

But now, let me show you why I am preaching this series. As I consider the idea of adoption, in a theological sense, I am becoming convinced that adoption is a greater gift than salvation.

Adoption Is a Compounding of Grace (John 1.14-18)

In the previous point, I mentioned we must be born again to be adopted by God. Adoption requires us to be born of the Spirit, but that is only possible because Jesus came in the flesh (v. 14). For God to send His Son was an act of grace. For the Son, Jesus, to die for us was an act of grace. But if that is where the grace ended, something would be missing.

Consider the following. Suppose someone finds an animal that needs to be saved from something (e.g. the cold). After the animal is brought in from the cold, the person realizes it is likely hungry and thirsty, but s/he has “saved” it so let it fend for itself. In fact, let’s take this a step further and consider that the person does not have room for it, so s/he places it right back in the cold without any protection. Technically, the animal was saved, but then put it right back in (or near) the same conditions in which it was found.

The initial rescue was successful, but if nothing else was done, the potential for the animal to find itself in need of help again is very high. Would we say the rescue was complete in that situation? Of course not. The rescue would be complete if the animal is able to be warm, get food and water, and perhaps receive medical treatment, at a minimum.

With that in mind, consider the rescue (salvation) that Jesus provided? Many are happy to know Jesus died for them. But is that all? What if Jesus saved you, but then put you right back in a position of sin? What if His death saved you, but then He abandoned you? If that were true God’s grace may have saved you, but what kind of salvation would that be?

John 1.16 is one verse that helps us to know that Jesus did not rescue us for the purpose of then releasing back to our own troubles.* I must admit, I am enamored with this verse. “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” What does that mean?

* It is important to understand that trusting in Jesus does not remove us from our troubles and make life perfect – not in any way. But the difference is that having trusted in Jesus for salvation, His promise is to be with us as we have times of trouble in our lives.

Well, God’s grace saved you, but He offers more grace beyond that. Saving you was not the fullness of God’s plan. It was/is definitely a part of the plan, but He has something even more – the “fullness” mentioned in this verse – in store. To make sure we make the right connection, let us compare verse 12 and verse 16.

In verse 12, John wrote that those who receive Him get the right to become God’s children. Verse 16 says we receive from His fullness grace upon grace. The word receive is repeated. This word is the Greek word lambano – a word that is found many times in the book of John. So, if we receive Him (Jesus) we are saved (by grace), but the fullness of His gift requires more grace – grace upon grace – and that fullness is our becoming children of God. (To further elaborate, notice verse 11 contrasts those who do not receive Him – paralambano, in the Greek.)

So, grace is given for salvation, but more grace is needed, and thus supplied for us to become children. God was not content with merely saving His creation, but to claim it – to claim us – as His very own, just as He did in the very beginning with the man and woman in Eden.

Finally, notice how this passage ends. It ends by contrasting a knowledge of the law to truly knowing God. Again, the idea is grace upon grace. Apart from Jesus, no one has ever perfectly kept the Law given to Moses. It requires God’s grace for us to overcome the law. But simply overcoming the law does not necessarily mean knowing God intimately – at least not without more grace. Again, grace upon grace. What an awesome God we serve!


Let me now return to the idea of the criminal cases I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Remember, some 80,000 criminal cases last year ended with a verdict of guilty. But I asked you to imagine that the verdict had been not guilty – not because they were not guilty, but because the sentence had already been paid. Again, that is precisely what Jesus did for us.

But here is the twist for us to consider. Suppose, again, in each of those courtrooms the “Not Guilty” verdict was made. What happens next? The judge goes home. The defendant is free, but free to do what? Again, the defendant admitted guilt, so perhaps s/he had been incarcerated for months waiting for trial. Perhaps the person has nothing left – no place to go, no food to eat, etc. The defendant was saved from the sentencing that comes from a guilty verdict, but to what end? The judge’s job is complete.

But God is more than our judge. He wants to be our Father. God, unlike a human judge, does not just declare the person innocent, He invites the person home. He invites all people who receive His Son to eat with Him…to share with Him…to live with Him – as a child of God.

That is adoption. That is why I believe adoption is another step beyond salvation. Many earthly judges have “saved” a person because of verdict, but they will not be involved in the person’s life from that point forward – let alone for all of eternity. But God wants to do just that. He not only provided a means to save us, but He grants us all the privileges we can imagine as co-heirs with Christ – a term we will explore in a few weeks.

That my friends, is grace upon grace. That is, at least, a part of what John meant when He wrote that it is from God’s fullness that we have received all we have received – and all we will receive in the future. Let us be thankful for God’s grace. But let us be even more thankful for His grace upon grace. Let us be thankful for the opportunity to truly be a child of God!


The JOURNEY letter for today is Y because for us to receive all He wants to give you, you must first receive Him. We must never chase what God has for us over Who God is to us. To chase things is idolatry, but according to John 1.16 and other verses we can be certain that if we embrace God then He will embrace us and give us more than we can know possible. Why? Because we are His children. But it starts with You making a claim as to who Jesus is. Jesus asked His disciples, and He asks us here today, “Who do you say that I am?” Your response is the key to everything else.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn. This week’s step is to memorize a verse we will touch most every week during this series. The verse is 1 John 3.1. The goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.


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