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Adopted With a Promise
By Grace Trumbo
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)
I always knew I was adopted. My parents were forthright in a gentle, reassuring way. The story was simple. Your parents couldn’t keep you, but they loved you very much. They placed you in a public place where someone would find you quickly and take you to the orphanage. You are a treasure. We pray continually for the salvation of your birth parents and that you might know them in this world or on the other side of eternity.
This satisfied me as a child. When questions about adoption came up, I rarely gave myself space to consider the implications. People always asked. I gave the same scripted response: “Yes, I’m adopted from China. No, I don’t remember anything—I was adopted as an infant. No, I have no interest in going back to find my birth parents. Yes, I love my parents here and they love me.”
Any further considerations about what adoption meant beyond this seemed unnecessary. Why should I care about a family who relinquished their daughter? They probably didn’t want me. Or if they did, they couldn’t keep me. China has a culture that prefers sons, after all. When I was born, the Chinese government brutally enforced the infamous one-child policy. I was the child my parents gave up in hopes of another. Or perhaps they already had someone else.
Thoughts about my birth family seemed irrelevant. Almost scandalous. Especially when I had a perfectly good family who loved me without abandon, who taught me to anchor my identity in Christ. There was no good reason to learn about my cultural heritage. No positive outcome that might result from DNA tests. I was satisfied with skipping past this brief chapter in my life that closed before my real life began. My life started when I crossed the Pacific into America in the loving arms of my real parents.
Yet adoption is not so simple. I realize now that my reluctance to reflect on this part of my story was a coping mechanism. An act of self-defense against feeling pain and acknowledging loss. I avoided grappling with innumerable questions that lacked answers. I refused to identify the tragedy that occurred before incredible gain. The severance of one family to unite another. I am reminded of this in the pang of sadness that comes when walking past older Asian couples on the sidewalk. What did my parents look like? Why didn’t they want me? I grieve for a family I never knew. I am caught between longing for an old identity and living in my new identity bestowed by the One who reigns over all creation.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he explains their new status as sons of God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Christ came to redeem those under the law, “that we might receive adoption to sonship.” We have the Holy Spirit given to us so that we might call out Abba, Father! We are no longer slaves but children of God. And as children of God, we also have a glorious inheritance promised (Gal. 4:4-7; 3:29).
The Greek word for sonship referred to full legal standing as a male heir. A status with all rights and privileges to the inheritance given by the father. If this sounds exclusive to males, it was. Contemporary culture tempts us to insert “daughters” alongside sons, yet this misses the significance of how revolutionary Paul’s statement is. Had he said, “sons and daughters,” the early church could have easily interpreted this to mean Gentiles had only as much standing as daughters. In ancient times, daughters had access to a relationship with the father, but no claim to the promise of inheritance. This belonged to sons, particularly the firstborn son. In this context, those with full standing as sons were the Jews, the sons of Abraham.1 But this is not what Paul says. He shows just how radically inclusive the gospel is for everyone. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28).
As children adopted into Christ’s family, we each have a full inheritance promised to us. Yet so often we forget this. We continually run back to our prior identities. We are more comfortable living by the name that is rooted in the flesh and its desires rather than by the name above all names. And this ultimately leaves us broken, longing for more.
Paul reminds us that those united with Christ in death will also be united with him in resurrection. We know “our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:5-7).
This constant striving to live in our new identity is difficult. While we have citizenship in the eternal city, we still have one foot in the here and now. We live in a broken world, longing for things to be set right. All of creation cries out for the children of God to be revealed (Rom. 8:18-24). We groan inwardly and wait for the redemption of our bodies when Christ returns. And he will return. But knowing this is one thing—living like we believe it is another.
Brokenness is reflected in so many lives around us. We see it in the boy who longs to spend one day with his absentee father. The girl who alternates weekends between two homes of divorced parents. We recognize it in the adult who cuts off all communication with his aging parents. The pre-teen who watches cuter babies leave the orphanage and just prays someone will adopt her son before he ages out of the system and is put out on the streets.
Sitting amongst shards of broken relationships we cry out Abba, Father! This is not an easy, cheerful cry. It is visceral spiritual warfare. As Russell Moore observes,
The Abba cry just might be the most easily misunderstood and misinterpreted aspect of the biblical revelation of our adoption. How many of us have heard Abba described as an infant cooing out the words “Da-da” or “Papa”? This cry, though, in the context of the Scriptures, is not an infantile cooing. The Abba cry is a scream. It’s less the sound of a baby giggling up into his father’s face, and more the sound of a child screaming “Daddy!” as his face is being ripped apart by a rabid bulldog. It is primal-scream theology.2
When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, he was not at peace. He was not placid. The stained-glass windows or paintings depicting Jesus as calm and serene miss something. Christ was “screaming to his Father for deliverance, to the point that the veins in his temples burst into drops of blood (Luke 22:39-44). That’s the Abba cry. It’s the scream of the crucified.”3 So often we fail to see the gravity of this.
The Holy Spirit is given to us to release us from fear as slaves under sin. The Spirit testifies on our behalf, reminding us of our sonship status we so quickly forget. By the Spirit, we have full right to scream Abba and trust that He hears our every cry. Learning to cry out Abba, Father means free falling into the arms of God again and again. As co-heirs with Christ, we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom. 8:14-17). We rejoice in the hope we have for a future absent of pain. An eternal city where families are never broken, and children always have a home.
But until then, we cry out. We bind up wounds. We care for the orphans and widows. We continually fight the battle against principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness (Eph. 6:12). We stay on guard against spiritual forces of evil lurking behind every corner, waiting to snatch up the lost and tell one more soul he or she is not worthy of the grace freely given by God.
I still wonder what my birth parents look like. It hurts to hope for information I may never know. Unwelcome sorrow feels like grasping for substance where there is only mist. But then I realize I don’t need to see my parents to know myself. I know what they look like. When I look in the mirror, I see a reflection of both my father and mother. And I see a child of God.
I see someone who is adopted both on this earth and into eternity. I take comfort in the words of Psalm 27:10, that though my parents “forsake me, the Lord will take me in.” For all who believe in Christ, we are wonderfully and completely adopted into his family. We have a new name. A new status that will never be stripped away. We continue putting to death our old self in favor of our new identity. The gospel is a message of hope and deliverance from bondage. A gift of adoption through Christ with an inheritance we can only imagine.
Grace Trumbo is a graduate of University of Birmingham, modern art historian, and lover of wandering aimlessly through museums.
Russell Moore, Adopted for Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 43.
Artwork: Do Ho Suh. Blueprint, 2014. Thread, cotton, methylcellulose. 101.6 x 152.4 cm. New York: Lehmann Maupin. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.lehmannmaupin.com/exhibitions/do-ho-suh10.