Ephesians 1:4-6, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons 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.”
We have been adopted by Jesus Christ. Most scholars agree that Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians while he was in prison in Rome. Knowing this possible context helps us better understand the idea of adoption that Paul was referring to. In fact, even if Paul isn’t the author and it wasn’t written in Rome, the influence of Rome at the time was so widespread that it’s worth considering the following.
In the ancient world, where Roman law ruled, the family was based on patria potestas, the father’s power. As long as he was living, a father had absolute power over his children. Roman historian, Dio Cassius, explains “the law of the Romans gives a father absolute authority over his son, and that for the son’s whole life. It gives him authority, if he so chooses, to imprison him, to scourge him, to make him work on his estate as a slave in fetters, even to kill him. That right still continues to exist even if the son is old enough to play an active part in political affairs, even if he has been judged worthy to occupy the magistrate’s office, and even if he is held in honour by all men.” In fact, there are actual instances of a father condemning a son to death during these times.
Under this Roman law, children could not posses anything; and any inheritance willed to them, or any gifts given to them, became the property of their father. No matter how old a son was, or to what honors and responsibility he had risen to, he was completely under his father’s power.
Considering these circumstances, it is obvious that adoption – a change in the father – was a very serious step. It was a change in the authority a person lived under and in their identity. The results of adoption are equally significant.
After adoption, the person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and lost all rights in his old family. According to the law, he was a new person. He was so new that all his debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they never existed.
The weight of this one phrase “adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” is so great. Having been born into sin, we are sons of the enemy; against God. Sin rules us and has complete power over us. This ‘father’ leads us to death. Yet, Christ gave himself so that we could be reunited with the Father we were made for. Because of the cross, by God’s grace, through faith, we are adopted by God. He is now our Father. And we have become a new person. Our old debts from our former ‘family’ have been covered and abolished. Now we have new rights and an inheritance from a gracious, holy, loving Father. We are now known by our new Father. Our identity is in Him. He has absolute power over us. He is the authority over all our life.
Galatians 4:1-7, “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 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.“