“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.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)
So, when I originally sat down to write up this post, I was going to go through all of the dark and confusing feelings that I’m struggling with, and talk about how I don’t understand how I could feel all of these things when I have Jesus.
But as I’m sitting here at my laptop, after spending a day of crying out to Him while doing household chores and tackling the “To Do” list that seems to keep growing, I have learned the same lesson I seem to be learning over and over again: His grace is enough.
I’m currently reading “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, and I recently finished his chapter titled “Sons of God,” talking about what it means for us to be adopted by God.
“Adoption,” Packer writes, “by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted. If you become a father by adopting a son or daughter, you do so because you choose to, not because you are bound to. Similarly, God adopts because he chooses to. He had no duty to do so. He need not have done anything about our sins except punish us as we deserved. But he loved us; so he redeemed us, forgave us, took us as his sons and daughters and gave himself to us as our Father.”
I hadn’t realized it, but I’ve been struggling with the insecurity that I am an utter disappointment to God, that, in this striving to be like Jesus, my constant failure and fearfulness and fragility of emotion has caused my Father to look down on me with great sorrow. And yet there is meant to be such great security in God’s love for me, that pleasing Him and obeying Him, however imperfectly, can be characterized by joy and contentment, not desperation, fear, and insecurity. And it’s in my understanding of what it means to be adopted by God that affects my feeling of security before Him. One aspect of being adopted by God that I’d never really considered was (this is going to sound weird) thinking of myself as Christ’s sister.
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:10-11, 17)
There has been this struggle, particularly when reading the Gospels, with wanting to be like Jesus but feeling helpless to do so.
“If only I could apply this verse to my life and be disciplined and consistent in it, then I’d be perfect, and I’d get that aspect of Jesus down.”
“If only I could have the perfect eloquence and quick responses that Jesus had with the Pharisees, or if I could only come up with the parables that He does, then I could actually teach people things in a way that makes sense to them.”
“If only I were virtually homeless and spent all of my time witnessing to people, then I would be like Jesus and God wouldn’t be disappointed in me.”
Here I am competing and comparing myself with my Brother to gain the affection and attention of my Father, who, because of Christ’s death on the cross for all of my sins against God, sees only Christ when He looks at me anyway. There is nothing left for me to do to gain the approval, love, affection, attention, protection, comfort, or provision of my Father, because my Brother has done so much; He has taken care of everything. All that is left for me to do is be, and get used to living like the royal daughter of the High King. I am adopted, and I will not be cast out.
This is not to say, of course, that I’m not supposed to seek to do good, to be holy, and to please my Father with my actions before the rest of the world. After all, Jesus does say, “‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.'” And God does desire that I be like Him, but not by my own way and through my own efforts. So, the brotherhood of Christ towards me now intersects with the 100% divinity of Christ: He is my Brother; He is also my Lord.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
It is the Spirit that sets me apart as God’s adopted daughter, and it is the Spirit that seals me for eternal life. This is the finalized adoption document, signed by the Judge, fought for by the Lawyer. I am His by the Spirit. So, the inward change concerning me, in living this life that I have now been given by my Father, is begun by the Spirit and through the Spirit. This process of my internal sin being revealed the more I grow in Christ is painful and ongoing, but not without security and purpose.
“In this world, royal children have to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with the children of the King of kings. The clue to understanding all his dealings with them is to remember that throughout their lives he is training them for what awaits them, and chiseling them into the image of Christ. Sometimes the chiseling process is painful and the discipline irksome; but then the Scripture reminds us: ‘The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Heb 12:6-7, 11).” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God
But then there’s this thought of not understanding grace if I mourn over my daily sins, if I’m aware of how it displeases my heavenly Father, and if I come broken before Him in confession. But this is in and of itself a misunderstanding: It is true that I do not have to do good works or keep the law in order for my sins to be justified, nor do I have to keep the law as a way of gaining eternal life, but being royally adopted implies gaining both position and the responsibility of keeping the instruction and the rules laid down by my new Parent. The law is now no longer here to condemn me, but rather to instruct me.
And so the feelings of being a disappointment, of guilt, of failure, are all rooted in lies external to my actual identity in Christ, before God. I am His daughter, who is unable to be snatched out of His hand, and He is pleased with me. He has already won, so I therefore cannot fail. Will I be disciplined? Yes, but not as a result of my Father’s disappointment, rather as a result of His love.
“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
“I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of—a happy life?—yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God