Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
WSC 34 of 107
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.1 John 3:1-3
WSC 34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace,1 whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.211 Jn 3:1; 2Jn 1:12; Rom 8:17
We are continuing our series of studies ordered according to our Shorter Catechism. We have seen how the Lord Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest and King lived, suffered and died to purchase the benefits of redemption for us. We have also seen how these benefits are applied to us by the Holy Spirit in our effectual calling.
We noted how those who are effectually called receive justification, adoption and sanctification, as well as the several benefits that flow from or accompany these. We considered the benefit of justification previously. In our present study, the Lord helping us, we must consider the benefit of adoption.
Our Shorter Catechism, question 34, teaches us, “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.”
We want to examine this doctrine from the inspired words of John in 1 John 3:1-3. But before we go to the text, we should consider briefly what the first letter of John is about.
There appear to be two reasons why the apostle John wrote this letter.
The first is to expose false teachers. John clarifies this in 1 John 2:26: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.”
The second reason for this letter, however, is to instruct true believers concerning the assurance of their salvation. In 1 John 1:4, John says, “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” And likewise, in 1 John 5:13:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.1 Jn 5:13
In other words, this letter is written so that you, who profess the name of Christ, may know for sure if you have genuine faith and eternal life. Or, to put it in another way, this letter is written so that you may know if you are indeed a Christian.
Just read through this letter and count how many times the words “we know” appear, and you will see what I mean. Throughout this letter, we are given tests to examine ourselves with so that we may know if we are true believers. It is for this reason that this letter is often called the “Test of Life Epistle.”
If you fail the test, this letter is designed to provoke a deep conviction of your sin so that you may genuinely repent and turn to the Son of God for salvation.
But if you are indeed a child of God, this letter is filled with comfort and encouragement to strengthen your faith and to evoke in your heart a sense of deep gratitude that you have been accepted into the family of God.
This is precisely the purpose of the verses we have chosen for our text, 1 John 3:1-3:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.
Let’s do three things with this text. First, let us be amazed by the wonder of our adoption into God’s family. Secondly, let us lay out the benefits of our adoption. Thirdly, let us decide how we ought to respond to this blessing.
1. The Wonder of Our Adoption
Our catechism says: “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace.” Now God’s free grace towards undeserving sinners is truly amazing. This fact is easily overlooked when we read it in our catechism. But it is something that the Holy Spirit seeks to impress upon our minds.
See how John exclaims, v. 1:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
Do you sense the voice of amazement and excitement as he says those words? Some early manuscripts have the words: “even us”: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, even us! That we should be called the children of God?”
We are not sure if the word “even us” were in the original, but that is the sense of what John is exclaiming: Behold! Look! Stand in amazement at this fact! God has called us His children. The word translated as “sons” is tekna, which generally speaks of children and not just male children. So sons must be understood as children.
The word translated “what manner” (ποταπός, potapos) literally means “from what country?” When the Lord Jesus had rebuked the wind and the sea and calmed the storm, the disciples of the Lord marvelled and cried, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Mt 8:27). What sort of man is this? From what land did he come from?
Here in our text, John is expressing the same kind of amazement. He is not simply talking about how great the love of the Father is in calling us His children. He is excitedly asking us to consider: How strange! How wonderful! How marvellous! How inexplicable is the love of the Father that He has bestowed upon us in calling us His children!
John is contemplating how utterly undeserving of God’s love we are. And as he beholds the love of God lavished on us, despite our unworthiness, he cannot help but exclaim in awe and wonder.
We are called “the sons of God.” How is it possible that we who are mere creatures of dust, even proud dust, should be called the sons of God? This is amazing, isn’t it?
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He is eternally begotten of God. Angels are called the “sons of God” (Job 38:7) because they were immediately created by God. Adam is known as the son of God (Lk 3:38) because He made him in His own image out of the dust of the ground.
What about the rest of us? God did not make us directly; we are not perfectly holy like the angels. How can we be the children of God?
The answer lies in the word “called.” We are not by nature children of God, but we have been “called the sons of God.” Who is the one who calls us thus? Not other people, for others do not see it (v. 1), nor do they have the power to declare us to be the sons of God. No, no; He who called us His children is none other than God the Father. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
When the Father calls us His sons, it is not merely an empty designation, for God makes no empty talk. No, no; when He calls us His sons, He is actually declaring that He has received us His sons and daughters. We have been adopted as the sons and daughters of God. The apostle John is alluding to the doctrine of adoption taught in numerous places in the New Testament.
Though we do not deserve God’s favour, He made us His children, pitying, protecting, and providing for us as our loving heavenly Father. Let us think about this for a moment so that we may stand amazed with John.
Even if you have not adopted children, you would surely have heard about adoption or know people who have adopted children. In a civil adoption, an orphan is adopted into a family and made the legal child of a husband and wife.
There is much joy involved, indeed. A child who has lost his parents or was abandoned by them waits forlornly in the orphanage for someone to pick her up to bring her into his home. When the day comes, the child is filled with joy that she does not need to be in an institution any more. She can now be in a cosy home as part of a family to enjoy the warmth and love she could only dream of.
The child, likewise, will bring much joy into the family.
I’ve not had the experience of adopting a child, but I was privileged to be asked to be a character reference for a couple of families seeking to adopt children. What a joy it was for them and for me when the children were finally brought into their homes!
Our adoption into God’s family is like civil adoption. We were made legal children of God. We were not in His family, but we were made members of His family, having Christ as our elder brother and having one another as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But our adoption into God’s family is not entirely like civil adoption! Though civil adoption involves much joy, we have far greater reasons to rejoice on account of our adoption into God’s family. Let me give three reasons.
i. First, our adoption into God’s family is not a second thought. In civil adoption, childless couples usually do not plan to adopt. They will try hard to have children. Only if they cannot have any, will they go to the welfare services.
On the other hand, our redemptive adoption is inextricably tied to God’s eternal decrees. We were “predestinated … unto the adoption” (Eph 1:5). God has, from eternity, planned our adoption. He knew us from eternity past, elected us, then called us in due time, changed our hearts, declared us righteous in Christ Jesus, adopted us as His children, and made us joint heirs with Christ.
ii. Secondly, we are adopted into God’s family not because God need us or is incomplete without us. In the case of civil adoption, adoptive parents often choose to adopt because they have no children and feel that their life would not be complete without children.
Not so in the case of our adoption into God’s family. God does not need to adopt us. If He does not adopt us, He’ll continue to be infinitely blessed. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will continue to have eternal, perfect, ever-blessed fellowship even if He did not adopt us. Therefore, we are, in this sense, the only ones who benefit from our adoption.
iii. Thirdly, we ought to realise we were not adorable but abominable to God. In the case of civil adoption, the children that are adopted are usually healthy and adorable. Children who are sickly, disabled or have disciplinary issues are seldom adopted.
But this is not the case in our adoption into God’s family. We were by nature children of disobedience, of wrath and of darkness (Eph 2:2; 2:5; Col 3:6). We spent our days fulfilling the lusts and fancies of Satan, the arch-enemy of God. We were “enemies in [our] mind by wicked works” (Col 1:21). We were heading down the road of destruction, and nothing in us makes us desirable and pleasing at all. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). He died for us to pave the way for our adoption. Amazing love!
Who but God would adopt a drunk like Noah, a liar and idolater like Abraham, a covetous and compromising man like Lot, a prostitute like Rahab, an adulterer and murderer like David, an evil man like Manasseh, a cheat like Zaccheaus or a blasphemer like Paul? Who but God would adopt proud and ungrateful sinners like you and me?
John Newton was a slave trader saved by God’s amazing grace. He says what every child of God knows in his heart to be true:
If I ever reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had thought to meet there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.
Oh, does not this thought fill your heart with amazement and gratitude to live for Him? Isn’t it amazing that we should be called the sons of God and made the sons of God? This is our first lesson.
2. The Benefits of Our Adoption
What are the rights and privileges of our adoption?
The apostle John does not answer this question directly. His emphasis is on how the world does not recognise that we are the sons of God. But read between the lines, and we see a few things.
a. First of all, it is clear that our adoption is not just in name. Instead, we are given the Spirit of God to change us from within. Thus in the verse just before our text, we are reminded that those who are the true children of God are born of Him (1 Jn 2:29).
This is why it is significant to understand that the world does not know us because it knew not the Father (v. 1). If we are merely called the sons of God without any actual change in us, then the world can be excused from not knowing us to be the sons of God, regardless of whether they know the Father.
But the fact is, we are not only declared to be God’s sons and daughters, but we are made sons and daughters of God! We were dead in sin and trespasses but have been quickened and given a new birth.
When God adopted us into His family, we were not only given a new status. We are also given a new nature. We were changed. This change is often unrecognised by the world, not because the change has not begun, but because the world refuses to perceive and acknowledge what has happened or is happening to us. So the first benefit is the new birth.
b. But secondly, and related to the first benefit, is that we are given an inward assurance that we are the children of God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. John refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the last verse of this chapter, where we are told we know that Christ abides in us by the Spirit that He has given us.
The apostle Paul states it even more clearly when he tells us in Romans 8:15-16:
…ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
So, we are not only baptised by the Holy Spirit in our regeneration. We are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit in our adoption. And the Spirit works in us to sanctify us and assure us of God’s fatherly love and care for us.
c. Thirdly, and again related to the previous benefit, we see that the Spirit who indwells us in our adoption is also given as an earnest (or guarantee) of our eternal inheritance. This is what John is alluding to in verse 2—
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.1 Jn 2:2
Though we are already sons and daughters of God, we are not yet perfected, nor do we experience the blessings of sonship to the fullest. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” says John.
But the day is coming when Christ will be revealed. On that day, we shall be made like him. “When he shall appear, we shall be like him,” exclaims John. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4), says the apostle Paul. And again, he says:
[We] which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.Rom 8:23
The Spirit of adoption has been given unto us as a guarantee that we will one day be perfected and enjoy everlasting fellowship with Christ.
We will be transformed, body and soul. We shall no more sin; yea, we will not be capable of sinning. We shall feel no more pain; yea, we shall not be capable of falling sick or feeling sorrow and pain! There will be no more death, yea, we shall never die!
Oh, what a blessed day it will be! On that day, the church will be vindicated. You will know that your labours and pursuit of righteousness are not in vain.
You will be perfected. You will enjoy the blessing of divine sonship to the fullest! And because you shall be perfected, you shall see the Lord as He is and love Him perfectly. “For we shall see him as he is,” reminds John.
d. But make no mistake. This is not all to our adoption. We don’t have to wait until the Last Day before we enjoy being the sons of God. “Now are we the sons of God,” says John.
Apart from the privileges we have already looked at from our text, the Scripture reminds us repeatedly of what a great blessing it is to be the children of God.
Consider the privilege of God’s fatherly audience and response to prayers. John alludes to it in chapter 5, but the Lord Jesus Himself teaches us clearly:
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?.Mt 7: 11; cf. 1 Jn 5:14-15; Eph 3:12
Consider also God’s Fatherly pity when sorrow attends our soul. The Psalmist says: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Ps 103:13).
Again, consider God’s fatherly protection through hardship. Solomon says: “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Prov 14:26; cf. Ps 121:7).
And consider how our heavenly Father provides for our spiritual and temporal needs. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things,” says our Lord (Mt 6:32b; cf. Ps 34:10).
And what about the blessing of God’s fatherly chastisement when we stray? “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” says the apostle to the Hebrews (Heb 12:6).
We can go on. But I think it is clear. We have not only been received into the number. We have been given the rights and privileges of the sons of God. And these rights and privileges are substantive and significant!
Oh, how our hearts should overflow with praise at the immense blessing that we have received from the hand of our heavenly Father because of what Christ, our elder brother, has done for us!
How, then, shall we respond to this great blessing of adoption?
3. Our Response
We must, of course, respond with gratitude and praise! But we must not forget the inspired response provided by the apostle John. He says in verse 3:
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.
John is speaking about the hope of being made like Christ. But this hope, we must understand, is founded upon our adoption as the children of God. As children of God, we must live for God. “The more abundantly God’s goodness has been manifested towards us, the greater are our obligations to him” (Calvin).
What is our obligation? Our obligation, says John is to purify ourselves, or in other words, to live holy lives. You are responsible for living holy lives, purifying yourself even as Christ is pure, or being holy as Christ is holy. Notice how important this responsibility is.
John has just reasoned deductively in chapter 2, verse 30: “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him” (1 Jn 2:30); and now he argues inductively: “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”
Only if you are pursuing righteousness and godliness as a priority in your lies will you not be ashamed at the coming of the Lord or when you shall meet the Lord. And notice how John speaks about the coming of the Lord each time he tells us to live faithful Christian lives.
In chapter 2, verse 28, he says:
Abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.1 Jn 2:28
Here in chapter 3, he revels in the hope of the appearing of Christ (v. 2) and then immediately, he opines that “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself” (v. 3).
Yes, many in that day will be ashamed and filled with such dread that they wish the mountain would fall on them to hide their face from the wrath of the lamb. These people have scoffed at the idea that Christ will come again or that God will judge them for their lives. These are those who persist in living irreligious, indifferent lives, who squander their lives watching trash on TV, who engage in immorality, who murder their children by their godless examples and failure to train them up in the nurture of the Lord, who pursue after worldly pleasure without regard to whether God is pleased.
Oh, what shame will fill their faces: what terrible shame because He who will judge them will be the lamb slain from the foundation of the world for sinners. What an irony that the saviour of sinners should be the one to condemn them to eternal damnation!
But such as are indeed the children of God seeking to imitate Christ, their elder brother will have tears fill their eyes, not out of grief, but of joy unspeakable!
Dearly beloved brethren and children, the day will come. And it will be a day of joy and gladness for you because you are the sons and daughters of God. Will you not let the knowledge, reality and hope of your adoption spur you to pursue holiness?
Is there a sin in your life that you need to work on? Will you not repent of it? Each time you are tempted to sin, to explode in anger, to indulge in resentment, to give in the lust of your flesh, to live selfishly, to choose to watch TV rather than have family worship, or to access a pornographic site on the internet, think of Christ. Think of how grieved He will be, and think of how He will one day judge you, not only for your actions but also for your motives and the innermost desires of your heart.
Is there an area in your life you need to improve? Will you not resolve today to make a small change with the Lord’s help?
Is there an attitude you need to correct? Will you not ask the Lord for help to purify yourself as He is pure?
Do not be discouraged by the world or by your imperfection. Remember that you are first justified and then adopted. Strive, therefore, to live as a child of God, looking forward to that day when you shall be perfected in Christ. This is our third and final lesson.
We must conclude. We learn three things in this sermon.
a. First, we are reminded that it is an amazing thing that we should be adopted as the children of God. Does this not fill your heart with gratitude to live for Christ?
b. Secondly, we considered what immense rights and privileges are bestowed upon us because we are the sons of God.
c. Thirdly, we are reminded that, as sons and daughters of God, we must strive to live holy lives, as Christ is holy. Privileges carry responsibilities.
This is our reasonable response to the doctrine and blessing of adoption. What is adoption? As stated, “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number,—and have a right to all the privileges—of the sons of God” (WSC 34).
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a wedding in Malaysia. This was the wedding of my wife’s adoptive cousin. When my wife and I were married, she was our flower girl, and now she was getting married. The wedding itself was uneventful.
But what struck me was how different the bride was in appearance compared to her adoptive family! When she stood by herself, there was nothing unusual about her. She was a pretty young lady. But when she stood with her family, it became apparent that she was an adopted child, for she looked very different from her parents and sister. She was much taller and larger than them! Her physical features are very different from the rest of the family members.
Nevertheless, when it came to testimony time, as her friend spoke about her, it became clear that she is indeed a daughter of her adoptive parents: for it appears from what is said about her that she has developed a rather selfless attitude that her parents were noted for in the community.
Now, dearly beloved brethren and children, we are all adoptive children of God our heavenly Father, and Christ Jesus is our Elder Brother. We are all brothers and sisters to one another. Though we do not look alike, we share the same privileges and have the same work of the Spirit. Therefore, more than in the case of the earthly adoptive families, we should grow in spiritual likeness. We should grow Christ-like so that we may be like one another.
What qualities shall we share with one another if we are all Christ-like? No doubt, holiness, righteousness, meekness and love! Do you see these qualities in your life? Oh, do not be discouraged by the smallness of your likeness to Christ. Hope in the Lord that one day you shall be perfected. But do not rest easy. Strive today to be like Him by working out your salvation. Pray that more and more you may be recognised as a Christian by the world because you exhibit more and more the qualities of Christ, even holiness, righteousness, meekness and love. The Spirit of Christ who works in your heart will see that you grow in Christ-likeness.
And you who remain in unbelief, whether you are young or old, what is Christ to you? Know that He is coming again. If He does not return during your lifetime, know that you will go to him. If you remain in unbelief, what a terrible day it will be for you when you meet Him. Shame will be the least of your problems, for you will face eternal torment. Oh, will you not flee from Satan, the father of lies who wants you to go into eternal torment with Him? Will you not rather flee to the gentle lamb slain for sinners so that you may enjoy our heavenly Father’s love and warmth? Amen.