The gospel = adoption

In defining the content of the gospel message, consider Paul's introduction in Ephesians:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (Ephesians 1:3-6 NIV).

This amazing statement tells us several things about the scope of the gospel:

1. Where? The gospel involves blessings from God that come to humankind "in Christ." It is in (and only in) union with Jesus that humankind receives from God what Paul refers to as "every spiritual blessing."

2. When? Though Paul does not here say explicitly when humans would receive these blessings, he does say that God *predetermined* to give them "before the creation of the world." This is important to note because it tells us that the blessings are not merely God making provision for our sin (though God certainly foresaw that sin would come and had in mind a way to deal with it). God's decision to bless came not only before we sinned, it came before God became Creator.

This leads us to ask: Why did God create in the first place? Were God unitarian (singular) in his essential nature (rather than trinitarian), the answer would have to be that he creates for his *own* glory and personal benefit. A God who is eternally alone does not seek fellowship.

But the God who reveals himself to be a *triune community (communion) of love* exits in and for fellowship and, in love, sought to share his life of fellowship with others. God is love and love seeks another to share love with. Thus the plan to bless others comes from within God's own nature.

3. What? What is the specific nature of the blessings God created us to receive? Paul refers to it as our *adoption.* And the implication here is that God created the entire space-time continuum to provide a "womb" within which this adoption would be brought to fulness within and through Jesus, the unique God-man.

Through adoption, God would create a humanity that was "holy and blameless in his sight." The NIV translation here is a bit misleading, for it can imply to our Western minds the idea of God wanting to have before him (in his sight in a passive, arm-length's way) trophies to merely gaze upon and thus to bring him glory.

This view of God comports with an unfortunate interpretation of the gospel as merely God's solution to humankind's sin problem. But resolving the problem of sin is only part of the gospel - it is not the gospel in itself. I understand Paul to say here that the gospel, in its essence, is about creating a people, through adoption, for relationship with God - "in his sight."

This understanding of the meaning of "in his sight" ("before him" in other translations) conforms to an Hebraic/Eastern way of speaking of "face-to-face," intimate fellowship. As the author of Hebrews notes, God's plan is to bring "many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10) - not merely for God's own glory, but for the glory that his adopted children would share with him. They would, face-to-face, reflect their Father's glory. Forever. And in love.

And so the gospel, in Paul's thinking, is the glorious truth of humankind's adoption in and through Jesus. This was God's predetermined plan from before time was created. And it was predetermined both in outcome (adoption) and method (Jesus' incarnation, life, birth, death, resurrection, ascension and continuing High Priestly ministry).

And thus Scripture becomes for us what God gave it to be: The story of how this plan of adoption is worked out from eternity past into eternity future. And the story, which focuses on Jesus, includes all of humankind.

Note how Jesus speaks to this plan: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1-2 NIV). Here Jesus talks about leaving his disciples and returning to heaven so as to advance the Father's plan for their adoption - making "a place" for them in the Father's heavenly "house." Again, this is a wonderful Hebraic way of speaking of intimate fellowship and sonship.

Thomas replies: "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5 NIV).

In response, Jesus begins to explain in more explicit terms what he means by a "place" in the "Father's house": "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6 NIV). The "place" Jesus prepares for us in heaven is our sharing in the intimate communion that he has with the Father.

Paul speaks to the same sharing in using the metaphor of "adoption." In Jesus, we are included (adopted) into the triune life and love: "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me...On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:11a, 20 NIV).

So what is the "good news" that both Paul and John (quoting Jesus) proclaim? It is the eternal plan of the triune God to create, redeem and thus to adopt humankind into the intimate, eternal fellowship of God himself.

How God our Father has and continues, in Christ, through the Spirit, to work out this plan is the story of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. It's an amazing story of a loving God who predetermined his plan for our good and is working it out through his own self-giving, "to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (Eph. 1:6).