Superman. Snow White. Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Princess Leia. Peter Pan.
Why do so many inspiring stories have orphans as main characters?
These stories tap into the innate feeling that this world is not our home. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This is why adoption is such a comforting doctrine. To be adopted is to realize you were made for another world—and for another person. You were made for God.
The church I pastor has a growing number of folks involved in foster care and adoption—including my wife and me. But our emphasis as a church is not on adopting others. Rather, it’s on reveling in a loving God who adopted us. And this love inspires us to serve in a number of practical ways, including orphan care.
Doctrine that Comforts
Adoption is a doctrine unique to Christianity. We can call God our Father. There is no such concept in Islam, for example. To be a father implies having a son. The existence of our eternal Father demands an eternal Son—forever in fellowship with each other. Adoption means, by the power of the Spirit, we can share in this fellowship.
To have been adopted indicates that we were, at one time, not in God’s family. This is how Paul wrote about the Gentiles’ status before God added them to his family. Ephesians 2:12 describes their bleak homelessness:
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another’s feelings. Can you empathize with someone who has no relationship with Christ, no place at the Lord’s dining table, no hope, and no heavenly Father? Such were all of us before our adoption through Christ.
About 10 years ago, our friends adopted a beautiful little girl. Their journey culminated in a day at the courthouse. As the judge presided over a packed room, the arduous adoption process finally came to an end. Draped in his long, black robe, he soberly addressed the young couple. They should treat her as if she had been born to them—she possesses all the rights and privileges of a biological child. Then he brought down his gavel, and it was so. That precious girl, once far off, had been brought near. She now had a home.
God’s Big Plan
There is nothing trivial about adoption. It gets right to the heart of God’s big plan from before the beginning:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption 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. (Eph. 3:1–5)
If you are a Christian, this passage says at least five things about your spiritual adoption:
1. Your adoption is cause for praise.
God is to be blessed because he is an adopting God. His mercy, on display in your adoption, means he is worthy of worship. Who would give rebels a seat at his table? Only God.
2. Your adoption means you lack nothing.
You have received “every spiritual blessing.” You have so much more than Annie dancing around Daddy Warbucks’s mansion. You have mothers and brothers and sisters. Even more, you have a heavenly Father. There is no longer anything you need you do not have in Christ.
3. Your adoption is deliberate.
God did not accidentally or casually adopt you. He didn’t pick you because all the good ones were taken. “Before the foundation of the world,” God set his sights upon you. He chose you before you did good or evil. God predestined you.
4. Your adoption is through Christ.
Christ is the instrument of adoption. His work, planned by the Father and applied by the Spirit, made him your brother. Your adoption culminated not with a gavel, but with a cross. And it is through this cross the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ became yours too.
5. Your adoption is evidence of God’s love.
“Love” is the only reason we’re given for God’s glorious adoption of rebels. No longer do you need to be afraid of sin, trapped by loneliness, or unsure of your salvation. As Paul wrote:
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. (Gal. 4:6)
To be adopted is to be part of God’s big plan—a plan that began before he created the cosmos, a plan that will eternally unfold as we enjoy him in the new heavens and earth.
Ponder the Father’s Love
Jonathan Edwards once made a statement that arrested my attention:
God and Christ appear in the gospel revelation, as being clothed with love; as sitting as it were on a throne of mercy and grace, a seat of love, encompassed about with the sweet beams of love.
The Father and Son have always and will always love each other with a love that boggles finite minds. Left to our own devices, we are more selfish than can be imagined. Untouched by the Lord, we are malicious, greedy, unkind, and mean-spirited.
In Hosea, when God describes the punishment Israel deserves, he promises to relent. The reader is supposed to be stunned. Really, God, you are going to relent? How could it be that you won’t punish us? After all, that’s what we deserve. God explains: “For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:9). Why will God relent of his wrath? Because he is God, not man. Full stop.
Think of this: we don’t need God’s help to exercise wrath or anger. Our sinful nature is quite good at demanding justice (at least when we aren’t the ones being charged). But God is different. Yes, because he is holy, he will judge—he will come in wrath. But since he is love, he can and will acquit.
Love Makes the Difference
And here is why this matters. You don’t need to be a Christian to foster and adopt, to feed the poor and help the needy. But the only service worthy of the name “Christian” is service soaked in love:
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)
But if you do have love, your life will look radically different. Michael Reeves is right: God “is love in such a profound and potent way that you simply cannot know him without yourself becoming loving.” Love makes the difference.
My desire, then, is not to call you to foster care or adoption, but to the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. I want you to remember your own adoption, and the inestimable love God showed you through Jesus. My prayer is for you to be overwhelmed the Son would love the Father so much he would give his life for you. I long for you to be stunned the Father would love you so much he would give his Son for you.
And if this is the love you know, if this love has gripped your soul, you will live differently from the world. As Edwards argued:
True discoveries of the divine character dispose us to love God as the supreme good; they unite the heart in love to Christ; they incline the soul to flow out in love to God’s people, and to all mankind. . . . If love is so great a thing in Christianity, so essential and distinguishing, yea, the very sum of all Christian virtue, then surely those what profess themselves Christians should live in love, and abound themselves in works of love. If you call yourself a Christian, where are your works of love?
Where Are Your Works of Love?
So where are your works of love? Of course, there are many ways to serve the Lord, but here are a few simple reasons to participate in orphan care:
Parents in the trenches of foster care and adoption need help. Even if you don’t foster or adopt yourself, you can serve families who do. Getting the necessary screening to provide respite to foster parents is a crucial ministry. Encouraging adoptive parents with a night out is an easy but meaningful way to bless.
Orphaned children need a home. In Georgia, where I live, the number of state-sponsored foster kids rose from 7,600 children in 2013 to more than 13,000 in 2016. Thankfully, some of these children will be reunited with their birth family. It’s important to remember not all foster kids are orphans. Many have biological family who are unable to care for them. A Christian foster parent should strive to see children reunited to their families. Our love should overflow not only for the children, but also for the parents who can’t properly care for their kids. Yet far too many kids will not be reunited to a family member; they are looking to be adopted. Let’s be ready to help.
Orphaned children need the gospel. Children united to a Christian family don’t just receive a home; they get the best news ever. God is the author of salvation, but we are the means. Orphan care is an opportunity to make Christ known.
You need the gospel. Christians who have adopted often say something like, “Before I adopted, I thought I understood the gospel. After I adopted, it made more sense than ever.” Christians engaged in orphan care strive to make a difference in a child’s life. They quickly discover how God uses the child to deepen our love for our Father who adopted us.
Not everyone is called to foster or adopt. But as those forever adopted into God’s family, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful picture of God’s love.
Aaron Menikoff is pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia. This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition website.