How many words does Scripture use to talk about our relationship with God? Redemption, salvation, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and the list goes on. But so often, Christians get tied to one image and forget the rest exist or simply ignore them. Doing so narrows our vision of what God is up to in the world and limits our imagination in understanding what the Biblical authors were saying. Among Lutherans and other Protestants, justification is normally the image that takes central place in our mind, preaching, and teaching. And justification, when we understand that word to be shorthand for God being solely responsible for our salvation, is absolutely essential. We have no merit on our part to deserve salvation; it is all God's work in Jesus Christ. God declares us to be righteous and sacrifices in order to make us so.
But when justification comes to mean the full law court analogy as the only way of describing the Gospel, as the only way of speaking of our relationship with God, then we are left impoverished of so many other images Scripture uses. Let's be clear to keep God as the only actor in the story of our salvation, but let's be free to tell that story with all of the metaphors and images that Scripture provides for us.
One of the most beautiful, and most neglected images, is adoption. Paul uses the word adoption only a few times in only three of his letters (Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians), but the image is a powerful witness to the intimacy that God desires with us and the lengths to which God is willing to go to gain us as children. But adoption is also behind the scenes in much of the New Testament. Whenever Christians refer to each other as brother or sister, whenever John (in the gospel or the epistles) refers to believers as children of God, the doctrine of adoption is under-girding that language.
I hope these essays and resources will bring adoption into clearer focus as a theme of Scripture and will help all of us to use this amazing image to present the Gospel of Jesus in our own day.