God, Government, and Greatness: Adoption

I have my doubts that I will get across everything that needs gotten, but there is a base concept of Adoption which I really need to establish.

I may have mentioned this to some extent in my earlier posts on Goverment (Monarchy specifically), but I couldn’t find it if so, which means I didn’t go into enough detail.

First, I’d like you to read a passage from Romans 7. It’s verses 13-19, 22-23. The two verses I omitted do not significantly change the meaning of the text, so I’ve cut them for clarity. By all means, feel free to read the entire passage in context — I’m just not quoting it all here.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed….

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

This is not, of course, the only place we see reference to God-the-Father or, by extension, the members of the church as his sons and daughters. In the book of Romans, though, Paul is able to draw upon that concept more fully and powerfully because of the Roman cultural practice of Adoption.

Our culture has established its own ideas concerning adoption, specifically the conception of a second-class status for adopted children. It’s silly, it’s an easily-dispelled idea, but it’s one that persists in our culture and, honestly, that’s how we feel in relation to God. When Paul says that we’re the adopted sons and daughters of God, that makes perfect sense to the American mind. We’re not his REAL kids, but he was generous enough to adopt us.

That’s not how Adoption worked in the Roman empire.

(I referenced Goverment in my tagline, and that’s about to come into play, too.)

Y’see, when we think of old-timey inheritance, we generally think of a system called “primogeniture” whereby the first-born son inherits the entire wealth (including titles) of the father. This is one of the huge stumbling blocks of monarchy as we imagine it — that terrible corruption of passing the throne from Louis I down the line to Louis XVI.

The Romans had a system in place to prevent that, to some extent. Adoption. It was the responsibility of a Roman man to choose his own heir. It could be his first-born son, but a first-born son was not actually born with any inheritance rights. In order to pass his estate on to his first-born son, the Roman gentleman would have to adopt his son as his heir. He could just as easily adopt a nephew or a brother-in-law or, more likely, an apprentice or assistant. It was his responsibility to choose an heir who could effectively maintain the estate he would inherit.

Obviously this system was open to abuse of its own. I’m pretty sure most of you are already thinking of Nero and Caligula, and after all, who is going to try to hold an Emperor accountable for living up to his social responsibility? The Emperors did hold their followers responsible, though, and there were dozens (hundreds?) of kings within the Roman empire who were compelled to choose fitting heirs, and bound to that decision by the process of Adoption.

Adoption, then, was not an act of mercy or compassion, but one of investiture. When a Roman adopted a son, he proclaimed to the world, “I approve of this one. He deserves to one day own all the wealth and power that I possess.”

And that is what God has done with us. That’s the entire point of this passage in Romans. God has Adopted us into his sovereignty — not just into the comfort of his home, but into the position of wielding his great might. We have been proclaimed worthy of becoming like God himself.

Here’s the important bit “we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

We have been made Sons of God. We have been given all the power Christ bore when he walked the earth, but more than that. We have been promised the full power of God. This is the confidence he has shown in us. This is his expectation of us. Because adoption is a responsibility as well. We must live like Princes, in training to someday assume the throne. That’s the “sharing in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” bit. And that’s an amazing position to be caught in.

And — this is what irks me — it’s a role that we are not taught! My dad taught me about Roman adoption, and what it means to be a son of God. Other than that, I heard not a word. Have any of you heard of this before, from anyone other than me? We’re taught that every one of us is a foot soldier in God’s army. We’re taught that we’re prey the lion is stalking. We’re taught to think like the Israelites, for whom God provides manna. We’re taught that we’re like the lillies, and God will clothe us in beauty, or that we’re like the birds of the air, and God will fill our needs.

But that’s not even the point of that passage. Jesus cries out, “how much more, then, will he do for you?” We are not just soldiers, we are not just cute little animals and pretty flowers. We’re not even like the trackless Israelites, but like Moses who led them, all radiant from the Glory of God. We’re Princes. We’re Kings and Queens, arrayed before our Emperor. Stand up! Be proud, ye heavenly powers. The armies of angels are our armies.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Remember how he went away and sinned, and because he had squandered his wealth, he lived among the pigs, and lived like a pig. That’s what we’re doing, and the whole point of the story was that it was never necessary. Stand up! Go back to the wealth and the power that is your due — not on your own merits, but because you have been adopted by the most powerful benefactor reality has ever known.

Live like it. That’s your responsibility.