The Gospel’s Highest Privilege

I have to admit it. Until recently reading chapter 19, God the Son, in J. I. Packer’s classic, Knowing God, I never considered the notion of ranking the manifold privileges of the gospel. Is there a highest among such heights of the spiritual blessings of our salvation in Christ–election, predestination, justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, and glorification?

Packer thinks so. He calls adoption the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification (p. 206). That turned my head a bit. After all, reformed types cherish justification as a gift of gifts from God ever since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg door.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith summarizes the biblical doctrine of adoption this way in chapter twelve:

For the sake of His only Son, Jesus Christ, God has been pleased to make all justified persons sharers in the grace of adoption, by means of which they are numbered with, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of children of God. Furthermore, God’s name is put upon them, they receive the spirit of adoption, and they are enabled to come boldly to the throne of grace and to cry ‘Abba, Father’. They are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by God as by a Father. He never casts them off, but, as they remain sealed to the day of redemption, they inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.

No wonder John exclaims in 1 John 3:1a – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The truths contained within this doctrine of sacred Scriptures take your breath away. But do they do so enough to warrant ranking them above the likes of justification?

Packer explains why he thinks so:

Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves. . . . The two ideas are distinct, and adoption is the more exalted. Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge. In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross.

The free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cost of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience–but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting. [Chew on that notion for a bit!]

But contrast this, now with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship–he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater (p. 207).

To borrow from Wesley and dare embellish a bit, Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me AND make me your child! And can it be? Yes, oh my, yes, it can! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gifts of justification AND adoption!

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