I have lived long enough to learn from experience that if I am not actively locating my identity in the Gospel, I will locate it somewhere else. If I am not consciously — and, therefore, intentionally — living in light of the grand story of redemption, we will in light of some other story. There is never a moment when I am not locating my identity in something or being defined by some story or other — either by the story of Jesus or by a story written by fallen human beings.
Our adoption by God does two things. First, it places us firmly and eternally within the grand story of redemption. Not only did God mark us out for adoption as sons before the first chapter of the grand story of redemption was even written (Ephesians 1:4-5), but He’s also going to free creation from its bondage to decay by bringing our adoption to its completion at the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23). In His grace and kindness God has chosen to give us a central role in the unfolding story of redemption. Amazingly, there is no happy ending for creation apart from God’s adoptive love for us.
Second, our adoption by God eternally locates our identity in Jesus. Paul says that we were blessed with the grace of adoption “in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6). God has given us the inestimable privilege of being His children by blessing us in the supreme object of His affection, namely, His Eternal Son! Because of God’s kindness to us in Christ we are now loved even as he is loved. We have been given an identity that has no peer in the entire universe of existence. As far as identities go, it doesn’t get any better than this!
What does all this talk about Christian identity have to do with the global orphan crisis? Great question.
The complexity of issues surrounding the global orphan crisis is immense.
Polluted water sources. On and on the list could go.
When we consider the complexities of issues that surround the global orphan crisis, we are confronted with the fact that truly visiting orphans in their distress (James 1:27) requires more of us than we can imagine. The mandate to care for orphans over the long haul requires that we give of ourselves in ways that are at war with our culture’s pursuit of earth-bound treasures. It’s impossible to care for the orphan without living self-sacrificially.
As a result, if we are not actively locating our identity in or being defined by the grand story of redemption, our efforts to care for the orphan will likely be superficial, perfunctory, and short-lived.
The only way we can be truly mobilized to care for orphans in the complexity of their distress is if we learn to live within our God-given identity as God’s children. This is why we need to rehearse the gospel again and again. This is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. The gospel reminds us that God has eternally blessed us in the Beloved. It reminds us that we have been swept up into the only story that has a happy ending.
As we feast upon the good news of the gospel, we are freed from the suffocating limitations of our little self-written stories and from our anxiety-bound attempts to protect our self-made identities of comfort, ease, or worldly prestige. It is by the gospel that God progressively transforms self-focused people into self-sacrificial people. So, as I’ve said many times before, what vulnerable and orphaned children need are people who are daily gripped by the truth of the gospel and who passionately live in the reality of that truth.
Read the following article for a fuller treatment of this topic:
“The First Step in the Way Forward: A Response to David M. Smolin’s ‘Of Orphans and Adoption” in The Journal of Christian Legal Thought.
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