Not many books have made such a lasting impression on human minds as Paul’s letter written to the Galatians, nor has any done so much to shape the history of the modern Christian. This letter has been called the ‘Magna Carta of Christian Liberty’. In it, Paul gives the impression of a master-lawyer, who skillfully and patiently dismantles the entire legal case of the opposition. He is a theological-surgeon, who cuts away at all the dead tissue of legalism, a cancerous sore on true biblical Christianity, to leave only the life-giving, soul-saving truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, in which every believer stands to receive the full benefits of sonship in the same manner as Jesus Christ.[1]

Adoption is not a subject we talk about very much in the church. We don’t often think about it from a biblical point of view. I realize that there are many people who are intimately acquainted with adoption. You may have been adopted, or you may have adopted a child yourself, or perhaps you were raised in a family that included adopted children. If any of those things are true about you, you probably have a better understanding of the biblical teaching than those who have never experienced adoption first hand.

Adoption Defined

Many Christians don’t realize that adoption is a profoundly biblical concept. It is one of the key words that the apostle Paul uses to describe our relationship to God. Let’s begin with a simple definition, as it will help in the development of the topic.

Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with parents other than the birth parents. Adoption results in the severing of the parental responsibilities and rights of the biological parents and the placing of those responsibilities and rights onto the adoptive parents. After the finalisation of an adoption, there is no legal difference between biological and adopted children in most jurisdictions.[2]

In a number of places, the New Testament uses the word adoption to describe how we come into God’s family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4 Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). However, the meaning is not exactly the same as our common English usage. The Greek word for adoption means ‘the place and condition of a son given to one to whom it does not naturally belong.’[3] That’s the background of Paul’s thought in Galatians 4:1-7.

Sonship Explained

The idea of ‘sons’ or ‘sonship’ is a concept that is found in Scripture. It primarily signifies the relationship of offspring to parent. According to Vines Expository Dictionary it is used in the New Testament of a ‘male offspring’ (see Galatians 4:30), and also refers to legitimate offspring as opposed to illegitimate (see Hebrews 12:8), and also to descendants without reference to sex or gender (see Romans 9:26-27).

Christ’s Sonship Explained

  1. The Sonship of Jesus Christ comes to light in the Old Testament as evidence points to the fact that God indeed had a son (Proverbs 30:4; Psalms 2:7-12 and Isaiah 9:6).
  2. Melchizedek was a type of the Son of God because he was without father, mother, without descent and having neither beginning of days, nor end of life (Hebrews 7:3). Yet we know that regarding his humanity Jesus did have a mother, genealogy, beginning of days and end of his life. It must however be noted that His divine Sonship has nothing to do with human parents, human lineage, human birth or any kind of time measurement, it is is an eternal Sonship.
  3. The Bible teaches that it was the “Son” who created all things, therefore showing that Christ was the Son of God at the time of creation (Colossians 1:13, 16; Hebrews 1:2).
  4. The Bible also tells us that the Son has eternally existed in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18).
  5. God gave His Son John 3:16 implies that Christ was God’s Son before He was given. God the Father did not give one who would become His Son, but gave one who already was His Son.
  6. John 16:28 teaches that Christ came from the Father, meaning that there existed a Father and Son relationship before He came into this world. John 17:5, 24 also indicates the existence of the Father and Son relationship before the creation of the world.
  7. The one who existed as the Son of God became the Son of David at the time of the incarnation. (Romans 1:3-4) This is when God became a man and not a Son. He was God’s Son from all eternity.
  8. The Jews knew that when Jesus Christ said he was the Son of God, He was claiming to have the same nature as God and to be equal to God. (John 5:17-18) According to William Barclay any scholarly Jew would grasp the full force of Christ’s words. (Barclay 1975:183).
  9. The Jews understood that in saying these words (John 5:18) Jesus was making himself equal with God.
  10. In Hebrews 1:2-14, Christ is set forth as Son and Heir, whereas the angels are called ministers. In contrast to his father’s servants, a son is his father’s heir (Matt. 21:33-39; Luke 15:11-32; Gal. 4:7 and Heb. 3:5-6). Subservience to one’s father is not associated with the Biblical idea of Sonship and for Christ, the term Son of God does not mean subservient to God.
  11. The Sonship of Jesus has no beginning. There has never been a time when He was not the Son of God. There has always been a Father and Son relationship in the God head. Thus the Sonship of Jesus is not merely a title, role or function that Christ assumed at some point in history like us but He is and has always been the Son of God.
  12. The Father, God bore witness to the Sonship of Jesus at least three times while He was on earth.
  13. The first was at His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17).
  14. The second time was when He spoke to Peter, James and John in the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).
  15. Finally the Father testified of the Sonship of Jesus when He raised Christ from the dead. (Romans 1:4).
  16. Jesus is thus seen according to John as the unique Son from the Father (John 1:14, 18, 34) who fully reveals the Father (John 8:19; 14:9).

This I believe is a faithful representation of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer.

The Sonship of the Christian Explained

The idea of spiritual adoption is presented clearly in the New Testament, as John tells us: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

Here John is quite clear that being a child of God is not by natural descent (not of blood, nor of the will, nor of the flesh) but rather by receiving Christ by grace through faith (nor of the will of man, but of God).

Later, Paul himself will tell us that: “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:14, 15).

And in Galatians Paul says: “So that He might redeem those under Law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the spirit who calls out, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:5, 6).

Israel always had waited for the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled through blood lineage, but that was not God’s purpose. The children of God are so named by their belief in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 9:6-8: “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

When we come to Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us new life and the assurance that we are God’s children. This is the “still, small voice” of God that speaks to the soul and whispers, “You are now a child of God.” That same Holy Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father.” The word “Abba” comes from an Aramaic word that little children would use to speak to their fathers. It is an intimate, personal word of endearing affection. In English you might say “Dad” or “Dear Father.” It’s a very tender way of talking to our Heavenly Father. No longer is he some distant God up in the sky. Now he is our “Heavenly Father” (Stott 1968:107).

If we know Jesus as Saviour, God is now our Heavenly Father and we can come to him in prayer anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and he will never turn us away. When we are in trouble, when the world has turned against us, when we are so discouraged that we feel like giving up, when we are confused about what to do next, the Holy Spirit within us brings us back to our Father again and again and teaches us to say, “Abba, Father.”

Here are six blessings Paul mentions in Galatians 4 that flow to us because Christ came:

1) We are redeemed (verse 5a).

2) We are adopted (verse 5b).

3) The Holy Spirit now lives within us (verse 6a).

4) We call God Father (verse 6b).

5) We are now God’s children (verse 7a).

6) We are the heirs of God (verse 7b).

Verse 5 is the heart of the matter. Christ came “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The NIV uses the phrase ‘full rights of sons’ to bring out the meaning of adoption. Christ came to redeem us and to adopt us into God’s family. To redeem means to set free from slavery by the payment of a price. You redeemed a slave by paying the purchase price and then setting him free. Now suppose that in addition to freeing that slave, you also said to him, “Come with me to my home and live with me. I want you to legally join my family, take my name, and take an equal share in my inheritance.” As amazing as it sounds, that’s what God did for us the moment we trusted Christ. He set us free (redeemed us) from the slavery of sin with the purchase price of the blood of Christ. Then he brought us into his family and gave us “full rights” as his own children.

Here are the words of William Barclay: “Paul says that when the Galatians and indeed all men were mere children, they were under the tyranny of the law; then, when everything was ready, Christ came and released men from that tyranny. So now men are no longer slaves of the law, they have become sons and have entered into their inheritance” (1976:35).

The Benefits of Sonship

So it is clear that the benefits of adoption into Christ are many, and basic to these benefits is the fact of a new relationship with God the Father through adoption. All believers are now declared sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26), for all are baptized with Christ and all have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). As a protective father wraps his arms around his precious child in a violent storm, so does Christ wrap his children with himself in eternal protection of them. As Galatians 2:20 declares: “I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The believer in a very real sense no longer lives, not to self, but Christ lives through him, sanctifying him and bringing him closer to the image of the Son of God. The desire and need of the person to live by the flesh is now replaced with a need and desire to live by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.

According to Scripture adoption as a son of God is a relationship of grace unlike the Sonship of Christ. For the Christian it involves change of status, planned from eternity and mediated by Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5) from slavery to sonship. Through spiritual adoption, the believer has passed from death to life, from darkness to light. In this new relationship, obedience secures the benefits of adoption (Matt 12:50), and barriers between sinner and God are broken down as strangers and aliens are changed into fellow citizens with the saints, as well as incorporation into God’s household (Eph. 2:19). Christ is no longer ashamed to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11) and we are now called brethren of his with full family rights.


Barclay, William. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. The Westminster Press.1976. Philadelphia.

Barker. L. Kenneth, Kohlenberger III R. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: New Testament. 1994 Zondervan. Grand Rapids.

Douglas. J.D. The New Bible Dictionary. 1975. WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids.

Green, B. Joel, McKnight Scot. Ed. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. InterVarsity Press. 1992. Downers Grove IL.

Stott. R.W. John. Only One Way, The Message of Galatians. InterVarsity Press. 1968. Leicester

Vine. W.E., Unger. F. Merrill, White, Jr. William. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. 1985.Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Wikipedia article on ‘adoption’


[1] Expositor’s Bible Commentary Abridged Edition

[2] Wikipedia article on adoption

[3] Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words