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The Spirit’s Adoptive Work

The work of the Spirit in adoption is two-fold. He provides us with inner and outer experiences of our adoption, both of which are inextricably connected. As we noted in part 9, adoption as sons was redemption’s primary objective. When “God sent forth his Son” at the climax of the story of redemption, according to Galatians 4:4-5, adoption was the direct result. Adoption as sons took effect within human history when the Son of God became man and accomplished redemption.

Then, in Galatians 4:6 Paul adds, “And because you are sons (by adoption), God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” The Spirit of adoption, as Paul refers to him in Romans 8:15, comes to us from God to cry “Abba! Father!” within our hearts. God the Father sent the Spirit to do this because we are His sons.

Now here’s the question: What is the primary significance of the “Abba! Father!” cry? Though I do believe “Abba! Father!” is an inner cry of familial intimacy (“God, you are my Father!”), I do not think that its primary significance lies in its familial intimacy. Rather, it is primarily a hope-filled cry for deliverance—a cry grounded in the reality of Jesus’ redemptive accomplishment.

Ultimately, we should understand the “Abba! Father!” cry as the intense expression of our deep inward groaning for the completion of our redemption—the renewal of our decaying bodies. It is the Spirit’s work to make us long for the full realization of our adoption (Romans 8:23). Let me explain.

Jesus, our Elder Brother, is the only one on record in Scripture who ever cried, “Abba! Father!”; and he cried it in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his wrath-bearing work on the cross. When “Abba! Father!” came from Jesus’ sinless lips, it was a humble yet impassioned cry for deliverance: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Although Jesus prayed for the removal of the cup of his Father’s wrath against our sin, he humbly submitted to his Father’s will and drank every last drop that he might deliver us from what we justly deserved.

The Good News

The good news of the gospel is that the Father’s all-wise and all-gracious decision not to grant Jesus’ “Abba! Father!” cry, coupled with Jesus’ humble submission to his Father’s will, resulted in an indescribably good gift to us—the gift of sonship through adoption (Galatians 4:4-5).

For the joy set before him (see Hebrews 12:2) Jesus submitted to the will of his Father and, as a result, eternally secured our adoption as sons; and, as Paul goes on to say, because of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, and because of our subsequent status as sons, God “has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).

Here is what we must keep in mind: “Abba! Father!” was first cried by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a cry for deliverance. The Spirit now places that same cry within our hearts because we have become God’s sons through adoption. This means that “Abba! Father!” has become our cry for deliverance. But we cry not for the removal of the cup of wrath against our sin—no, our Elder Brother already drank that cup in our place—but for the consummation of our adoption, that is, for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus has transformed the “Abba! Father!” cry into a cry for deliverance that is grounded in the hope of the gospel, and it is the work of the Spirit to place it in our hearts. Therefore, to cry “Abba! Father!” is to cry for the glorification of our decaying bodies and for our deliverance from this present “time of affliction and suffering” and our intense struggle with indwelling sin (see Romans 8:18 & 23). After all, it is in Christ Jesus that God justifies and glorifies all whom He has predestined to adoption as sons (Romans 8:30 and Ephesians 1:5) in order that the resurrected Christ might be “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 9:29).

The Spirit of Adoption’s ministry, then, is to bring our future experience of glorification to bear upon our present internal experience so that we might increasingly long for the day when we are revealed to be the true sons of God (Romans 8:19). Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15 teach us that the “Abba! Father!” cry comes from a heart that is eagerly anticipating the great day when we will live on the New Earth as glorified sons of God.

So how important is adoption within the story of Redemption?

Parts 1-9 of this series.

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