Note: Before reading this article, please read Galatians 3:23-29 and Galatians 4:1-7.

Who am I?

Have you ever asked yourself, “who am I?” If you think about it, this question is actually a question of identity. When we consider our identity, one way to think about it is to think of what we identify with, which, in turn, we generally associate with our roles and seasons in life.

If I were to ask you, “Who are you?”, you might answer, “I am so-and-so, and I’m a student.” I might reply, “I am Julius, and I’m a pastor.” The answer to that question would change, depending on what I am most into at the time you ask me that question. For example, before I became a pastor, I was a builder, or contractor; some old acquaintances may identify me as a biker. Some of you may see yourselves as gamers, scholars, or basketball players.

It’s true that, in some way, these labels are part of who we are, but they shouldn’t be taken as the essence of our identity. Because while these roles set us apart from others, they, on their own, are not enough to define us. Yes, they can help us find our social fit, but not our ultimate nature and worth.

The answer to “who we are” must ultimately be rooted in something durable, something that doesn’t change. For us who believe, we do not define ourselves by our age or stage in life, but choose instead to be identified as sons and daughters of God. We have the privilege of calling him “Abba Father.”

Our identity is in our adoption.

Galatians 4:4 says, “… 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.

In Philippine culture, to be adopted–inampon–can have negative connotations. Many Filipinos think adopted people feel rejected, that they don’t belong, or aren’t “original.”

This isn’t a good way to look at adoption, though; adoption is a beautiful thing. When someone is legally adopted, he is welcomed into the family of another person, usually someone who is not familially related to him, and  given all the rights and privileges of that person’s family members. Even by the world’s standards, that’s a merciful, loving, and gracious thing, a beautiful picture, if ever there was one.

Adoption in Scripture

In the Scriptures, the fullness of the love, mercy, and grace that comes with adoption has a much richer meaning. The Bible has many adoption stories, including the rather popular ones of Moses and Esther. There is one lesser-known but unusually tender adoption story, though, in 2 Samuel, that tells of the cripple Mephibosheth, a member of the house of Saul, who was granted sonship in the house of David.

Mephibosheth was a descendant of Saul, David’s enemy, but he did not possess any of Saul’s prestige or power. As a cripple, he couldn’t even stand on his own feet. He was so insignificant that he lived in a place called Lo-debar, which meant “the barren land.” But, when David heard of Mephibosheth, he showed mercy to an otherwise unworthy man who was descended from his evil enemy, and adopted him into his own family.

Plot twist: this story is our story! Just like Mephibosheth, we had connections to God’s enemy, but God reached out to us in mercy, and adopted us to be his sons and daughters. Here are a few other parallels between us and Mephibosheth:

  • David was motivated by his love for Jonathan (son of Saul). In our case, God was motivated by love for Christ and He redeemed us for Christ’s sake.
  • David desired to show kindness, and so Ephesians 2:6 says that we’ve been saved in order that God might show us eternal kindness.
  • David chose one who was outside the standard of perfection, and so God chose us, who are definitely standing outside the standard of perfection.

Mephibosheth means “a shameful thing,” and he lived in a place of no pasture. He was a nobody from nowhere, and the parallel in this with our story is that we, who are nobodies from nowhere, are the kind that God would take in to be His sons.

Let us meditate more on the beauty of our spiritual adoption in God, where He takes His former enemies to be His sons, by His own initiative, based not on our own worthiness but on His own love. This is what it means to be the adopted of God. This is who we are.

Father God

“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.” Galatians 4:6

J.I. Packer, a great author, wrote Knowing God. In this classic book, he asks the question, “What is a Christian?”, and answers afterward, “[t]he question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

The realization of the fact that we are sons or daughters of a heavenly Father is at the foundation of who we are as Christians. Galatians 3 and 4 contain of the most magnificent doctrines of the Christian faith; as we read it, it almost feels like the apostle is taking us higher and higher in our understanding of Christian truth, and as he reaches a new peak, he expands the vision we have of God and his glory.

Here is how he explains how we are adopted:

  • The great doctrine of redemption tells us that we have been purchased from sin.
  • The doctrine of justification asserts that we could not gain righteousness on our own, and so righteousness of Christ must be imputed, counted toward us, reckoned as ours. 
  • The doctrine of adoption says that we are not only saved from sin, but we are saved to sonship or daughter-ship, that in the gospel we have the distinct privilege of calling God our Father. This is the apex of all of the privileges of the gospel.                                           

From slaves to sons

“There is a contrast between how life was to be lived before and how life is to be lived after,” Packer adds. “The moment that represents the distinction is the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This represents such a marked distinction that everything changes.”

Something happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that forever changed the way we relate to each other, the way we relate to the law, and the way we relate to God.

Ask yourself: has my life and my view of God as my Father, shifted already? How do I see myself now?

If you find yourself still serving and fearing God more like a slave than a son or daughter, that has to change.

Not only is our unrighteousness accounted for through the Gospel, but we actually have righteousness counted to our accounts, and it doesn’t stop there. Although justification is at the heart of all of the blessings of the gospel, and it is a foundational and central privilege of the gospel. Instead, the highest privilege of the gospel is our adoption as sons (Galatians 5:5).

John Piper said, “The greatest good of the gospel is that you get God.” The greatest good of the gospel is that we get God, that we get to be reconciled into relationship with the Father through the Son.

The key for us today is to not just think of God as Sovereign or Savior, but to think of him as Father and Friend.

Redeeming our Idea of Father

I understand that for many of us, the image of a father may have negative connotations. Some of us may have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by our fathers, and these experiences may corrupt our ability to understand and relate to God as our heavenly Father.

If the idea of the fatherhood of God is somewhat terrifying to you, I encourage you to press into that terror. Figure out what’s going on. There is the possibility of redemption. Even if it is not redeemed by getting a good father figure in the here and now, allow by way of contrast for God the Father Himself to redeem that image. Your earthly father abused you; this Father is gentle. Your earthly father abandoned you; this Father is forever faithful. Allow the fatherhood of God to change you, because it’s foundational to how we relate to God.

The New Testament and Father God

J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God: “You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase if you speak of it as a revelation of the fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father….for everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the fatherhood of God. ’Father’ is the Christian name for God.”

In a nutshell, Packer is saying that If you don’t relate to God as a Father, you don’t understand Christianity very well at all. I’m not saying you’re not a Christian if that’s not the primary image you have of God, but I’m saying you are playing in the shallows. You’re avoiding the depths. Let us run toward the depths of the gospel!

There is still so much more to say about our sonship and daughter-ship in the Father, but I’d like to end with this:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” – 1 John 3:1

That’s my encouragement and exhortation to us today, that we might see the love of a Father who would give his own Son, if only that you and I might be called sons and daughters.