Adoption is one of the most awesome realities in the universe. And in order to understand and enjoy its meaning at the horizontal level, you must understand and enjoy its meaning at the vertical level. So I want to take a few minutes to make sure that everybody in this room understands from the Scriptures what it means to be adopted by God and then apply it to what this ministry stands for and what I’ve experienced in adopting Talitha with Noël. And I pray that, mainly, you will really enjoy your status as one adopted by the Lord. And if you’re not yet adopted by him, I hope that you will receive him according to the promise in John 1:12, which says:
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .
So even tonight, you could be adopted by God if you would yield to him and trust his Son. That would be a great result of tonight’s gathering. And then I hope we can move into a moment of application regarding what it means, if that happens, for when you contemplate supporting adoption or doing adoption.
Unto the Praise of His Glorious Grace
Now, if this were a Sunday morning service, I would say please take your Bibles, which I don’t assume you have tonight. But in your head, take your Bibles and go with me to Ephesians chapter one. And we’ll read Ephesians 1:4–6, which goes like this:
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace
Now, those few words are a fulfillment of another text, this one from Romans 11:33–36, which sets the stage for not just adoption but everything we do, and it goes like this:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
So adoption is among the “all things”. And what that text says is that from him is adoption, and through him is adoption, and to him is adoption. And that’s what you hear in Ephesians 1:4–6. Let me take those three phrases — from him, through him, and to him is adoption.
Adoption From Him
Let’s go back to Ephesians 1:4–6 now. It says:
In love, God predestined us unto adoption . . .
So we know that adoption, our adoption into his family, is from him. He predestined it, which means that he did not wait until you showed up cute on the scene and then like you because you were so cute. He did this long before you existed. In fact, if we were to go back further into the text, he chose you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). And if we were to go into Romans 9, we’d know that he did that before you were born and had done anything good or evil. We call it unconditional election. And it is precious for sinners beyond words.
So our adoption was predestined and thus it is from him. From him is our adoption. So it wasn’t rooted in what we did; it was rooted in his amazing grace toward us in selecting us before we were born. I was adopted and you were adopted freely. And therefore, it is not fragile. It is not uncertain as though he checked you out, sort of liked you, and brought you into the family but you made a mess of it, and then you were out. He chose you before that, and now that choice, being eternal, is absolutely sure, firm, and certain, and our adoption is from him.
Adoption Through Him
It is also through him. It says:
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:4–5).
Now, that’s a very devastating comment. Three verses later, in Ephesians 1:7, it it redemption through his blood, which means that a price had to be paid. Adoption is expensive. It’s expensive now to adopt a child, and it was expensive for God to adopt children. But be careful, because when you were adopted at a great price, it wasn’t because you were greatly valuable. It was because God’s glory is greatly valuable and you had trampled it under your feet and it had to be vindicated at the cost of his Son’s blood.
Oh, how American evangelicals turn the cross upside down, making it evidence of our diamond value instead of his diamond glory. I hope you’re not among that number. When we were adopted at a tremendous price, the price was to vindicate the righteousness of God in justifying the ungodly. The love of God is reflected not in discovering value, but in exalting the value of his grace by saving sinners who don’t deserve it. And oh, the implications of that for whom you should contemplate adopting are huge. I’ll come back to that perhaps later.
So adoption is from him. In love, he predestined us unto adoption. Adoption is through him, according to the counsel of his will, through Jesus Christ — crucified, risen, paying the price for all my sins that I might be counted righteous by faith alone, be drawn into the family though utterly unworthy, and conformed to the image of my elder brother in the family, Jesus Christ.
Adoption to Him
And now, thirdly, adoption is unto him. From him, through him, and to him are all things, and so, from him, through him, and to him is adoption. The text ends:
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace . . .
You were all adopted with a design in mind, in the mind of God — namely, that you would make him look great in this family. You were adopted unto the praise of his glory. Your destiny as an adopted child of God is to make your Father look great. And he designed it that way, which creates a massive problem emotionally for a lot of people — namely, if God is so self-centered in adopting me, burning with a passion that his glory be magnified in my adoption into his family, many Americans born and bred with the gospel of self-esteem do not feel loved when God is motivated by his glory to adopt them.
So you’re confronted now with a crucial question. If Ephesians 1:6 is true in that God was driven in his adoption of you for his glorious grace would be made much of and praised, then you have to ask, do you feel more loved when God makes much of you or when you are enabled by him to enjoy making much of him forever?
There are Americans — and I’m sure people of other nations because it is Adamic and not just American — who cannot conceive of feeling loved any other way than being made much of. And that’s deadly because the Bible says in every book that God adopted us, God created us, God sent his Son, God is sanctifying us, God propitiated his own wrath, and God is coming back in consummation for one great glorious purpose — that his praise would be magnified. He does everything he does in order to make much of himself. And there are so many people who, when they hear that, do not feel loved by that, including I’m sure many in this room.
What is your definition of love? Is it biblical or is it just psychological? Is it just American and human? Let me try out a definition on you. I’m defining God’s love here — and I think it applies to horizontal human relationships as well — like this: love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying. And what’s that? God alone. So let’s fill in the blank. What is love? Love labors and suffers — God in loving you labors and in his Son — to enthrall you with himself.
I wonder if you’d agree with that definition of love. I can’t imagine being loved any better than that. I have longings. They are huge and they are long. I want to be satisfied and I want my satisfaction to be full and forever. And along comes the Almighty God in unbelievable grace, and he tells me in Psalm 16:11:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
He is saying, “Here I am, make much of me.” God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act. He is stuck with being glorious and beautiful and all-satisfying. He must commend himself to you. He must be utterly self-exalting if you are to be eternally satisfied.
And therefore, when Paul says our adoption into his family is not only from him and through his Son, but also unto his praise, as self-centered as that is, it is gloriously loving. Because I get swept up into the family where I can enjoy not being made much of forever. What a small destiny that would be for a human soul made for the glory of God. But rather I get swept up into a family where I can enjoy my Father forever.
Saved for What?
We need to unpack some of our religious, evangelical, saving language in order to get God at the center of every one of the categories. Let me just mention three.
What about forgiveness? Do you know what I do when I go around these days? I say to groups like this, who cares about forgiveness? Who cares about being forgiven by God? Why would you care about that? And not many people have asked themselves that question because they just take for granted that it’s a good thing. But why? Why is forgiveness a good thing? You can be really happy about forgiveness for hellish reasons, like, “I just don’t want to go to hell. I would like to go to heaven.” Why? Not many people give the right answer. There’s only one right answer. God is there. It’s not that health is there or mom is there or golf is there; God is there.
So when Noël and I have a lousy morning — it’s usually my fault — and I get out of bed and I say something stupid and off-the-cuff and insensitive, and I can tell it was not helpful, and there’s ice in the air and she’s down in the kitchen. And then I come down after having my devotions, and she’s at the sink and her back is manifestly toward me and I’m in the room, I would like there to be forgiveness.
Now, I have to ask for this, why? I mean, who cares about forgiveness? I don’t care about forgiveness. I want her back. I want the hug. I want the smile. I want the touch. I want the ice out of the air. The issue is her, right? Everybody knows this. This is not rocket science. Because we know forgiveness is about getting things out of the way so you can enjoy a person.
So know that about God, and then you will be confronted with your own love affair with your health, your family, and your job more than God. And what you really enjoy about being saved is that things go better for you. That’s not the main reason to be saved. The main reason to be saved is to know God and to be satisfied with God. Forgiveness is one way to think about this.
Salvation would be another. What are you saved from? What are you saved for? You’re saved from hell for eternal life? Yes, that is an absolutely glorious truth. So what? Who wants eternal life? It might be boring. There are a lot of people scared to death of eternal life. They think it’s boring, like church. So you have to answer, what’s so great about existing forever in life? And the Bible gives this answer:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
Is that why you are glad to have life? Is it because life is about knowing Christ? Is it about having a relationship with Christ? Do you see it as life being granted so that you can have eyes to see the beauty of the most all-satisfying person in the world? That’s what life is.
The third category after forgiveness and salvation would be adoption. Why is it such a great thing to be adopted into the Father’s family? Answer: not that we now have food and clothing and lots of recreation possibilities in our Sugar Daddy’s house. But daddy’s there, daddy’s there. That’s why adoption is precious.
What It Means to Be Loved
I think the main challenge I have, and I just give it to you, is knowing what it means to be loved by God who has adopted me. What does it mean? It does not mean an eternity of him making much of me. It means an eternity of me being by grace-enabled by him, through the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit, to enjoy making much of him forever. I like to say that nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self-esteem, but people go there. Why do they go? It’s big. It makes you feel precarious and small, and all these Americans schooled on the doctrines of self-esteem go there. Why? I’ll tell you. It’s because there’s something written deeper on our hearts than the craving to be made much of. And it is the craving to see greatness.
The Grand Canyon is a little echo of the glory of God. The Alps are an echo of the glory of God. Galaxies are a dim echo of the glory of God. We were made for God. We were made, not to enjoy standing in front of a mirror that’s cocked at 90 degrees to heaven. We were made to stand in front of a mirror cocked at 45 degrees for heaven. You were made for God. You were made to enjoy God. And when you hear, “You are by the blood of Christ adopted,” your heart should leap, saying, “I have the Father of the universe as my father,” and then enjoy spending the rest of your eternity getting to know him and enjoying him. Now, let’s go to the horizontal side. My point was that you can’t really know the nature of adoption horizontally until you have tasted the nature of it vertically.
Implications of God’s Exaltation in Our Adoption
I’m sure I wouldn’t be here doing this had we not adopted Talitha about seven years ago when I was 50 years old. All the soccer chapters were over and I was ready to have a great future with free time to write, preach, and build a church. I had paid my dues, hundreds and hundreds of soccer games, concerts, and spelling bees, loving every minute of it, but ready for a new chapter, especially at age 50 for goodness’ sake — good night. God had different plans, and I am glad.
So let me give you about five implications of what I just said. I hope it flows from that. In other words, how do you think about adoption, give regarding adoption, and, I pray, do adoption in order to make much of God, your adopting Father? That’s the challenge of life. How do you eat, and drink, and adopt to the glory of God?
1. For God’s Glory, Not Our Own
Number one: I do not adopt a child for my glory. Now, the reason I mention that obvious thing is that there could be a little logic chopper in the room who would say, “Ah, you said that God adopted us in order that we might praise his glory as our Father. Therefore, I am to imitate God and I should now adopt a child who will spend the rest of her life making much of me. Because that’s what you just taught us to do.”
And that’s the same message that the serpent spoke to Eve. He said, “You will be like God if you eat,” and Eve should have responded — actually, Adam should have responded, because I think he was there, listening and abdicating his role — and said, “We’re already like God, thank you, be gone.” They didn’t. Because there are two ways to be like God. One is to assume his role and determine what is good and evil for yourself, which is God-like — and deadly demonic for humans to assume. And the other is to say, “I’m already created in the image of God and my job is to image forth God by trusting his wisdom to determine what is good and bad.” And they got it wrong.
So I’m going to clarify, when I say that God adopted us for his glory, I don’t mean dads or moms should now adopt a child for their glory. I mean they should copy God in adopting them for his glory. God adopts for the glory of God, you should adopt for the glory of God. That’s point number one.
2. Not Building Self-Esteem
Number two: I do not aim in adopting Talitha — this is very controversial and I don’t know where you’re going to stand on this — to spend the rest of my life making much of her. I intend, God helping me, to spend the rest of my life enabling her by grace to enjoy making much of God forever.
Oh, how many people would say, “Well, if a kid’s going to ever learn to do that, you have to make much of the kid.” Well, I just think there might be parenting that has not yet been tried in many of those families. There is a way to parent a child, love a child, play with a child, kiss a child, sing to a child, and read to a child that is continually directing the child away from his or her intrinsic un-worth or worth to the one who can satisfy her soul. There’s a way to do that and you are called to do it.
So my second point is nothing that I have said tonight points me towards devoting my energies to making much of Talitha. Too many kids are made too much of by their parents, and there are names for them. They need to be taught and modeled — and I’m coming to that now — of how to enjoy making much of God forever. You don’t bash them over the head and say, “God’s the authority, obey God. Do what God says. You’ll be a worthy person.” That’s stupid. You so live, so think, so pray, so sing, and so worship that they learn God is the most precious person in the universe. They see, “He satisfies daddy’s heart and makes daddy a tender daddy.”
3. Modeling God’s Justice and Mercy
Number three: therefore, I am to model God in his justice and mercy as a parent towards my adoptive and biological children. I am to model God in his justice and mercy. Now, let’s supply that in a couple of ways. One would be at the front end of adoption. Now, I’m going to risk something here because I don’t know if I have my statistics right, if I have them wrong, just blow this one away, okay? But I think it’s the case that there’s a much longer waiting list for Caucasian kids than say African-American kids at this agency and most others as well. That’s not good. And it flows directly from modeling God in the way you adopt.
Does God do that? I don’t think so. Talitha is African American. I’ll bring her up here in a minute and let you see my Talitha and Noël. Maybe we’ll even sing a song together. If you pray hard that might happen. Racial justice in Macon, Georgia and Minneapolis ought to be a very big issue in the lives of Christians. And the church of Jesus Christ ought to try — I know it’s hard, I’m not pointing any finger, we don’t do much better than anybody in this city does — in displaying in our worship services, in our families, in our schools, and in every other place what the kingdom is going to look like eventually. From every tribe and tongue and people and nation, he has redeemed us (Revelation 5:9). And so I pray that those statistics at Covenant Care Services will be turned around.
I will close with some pointers to future grace. I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina in the fifties and sixties. My father is there and wrote me a long letter about how what I’m doing is just crazy. And now, owing to miracles of God, that has changed. When Talitha was about 10 months old, we went to a family reunion of all southerners, I mean real southerners. This little girl had pulled away from every man that ever tried to touch her for the last 10 months, except me. I do not know why. And we thought if my daddy reaches out for Talitha at 10 months and she pulls away, everything in him is going to say, “That’s exactly what I expected to happen when you do this sort of thing.” And you know what? God made her lunge for his neck. That was a miracle. And he has been a boasting granddaddy in Easley, South Carolina ever since. That’s a miracle.
And this modeling of the justice and mercy of God inside the family means dads and moms display the right proportion of discipline — that is, spanking. I believe in spanking. Invite me back in 10 years and ask me to talk about spanking. And parents should also display playing, kissing, hugging, and tenderness, because that’s the way God is.
I’m reading Ezekiel right now. Ezekiel is a bloody, horrible book, and God is behind it all, bringing judgment upon the apple of his eye, Jerusalem. And God is tender, kind, merciful, patient, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. We have a very complex God, and we must be complex parents — firm with fierceness in our eyes when a mother is disrespected, and having warmth and tenderness and security in our hearts and arms and hands when a child needs us, which they might right after the moment of fierceness.
All my boys have learned to distinguish that. And they know there is such a thing as spanking if they write with an orange crayon on the wall, and they know that after they’ve had a good cry there’s a hug and their conscience is clear and they’re back at their play, clean. But don’t get me going on spanking.
4. Reflecting the Character and Worth of God
Number four: develop, under this glorious grace that God has shown you, family routines that reflect the character and worth of God. So when you consider adoption — and this applies just as well to all the other children as well — develop routines that reflect the worth and the character of God. That is, build the word of God into your family. We have morning devotions and we read through a book of the Bible, a paragraph at a time. We’ve done this for 30 years with our children. We’re doing it with Talitha now. Then we send her away to have her personal devotions. We’ve done this since the age of about two or three. Noël says three, I think earlier.
Because what you have to do for a kid to have personal devotions is for her to be able to push a button on a tape recorder with a Bible story on it. And you breed into this little girl at age 1, 2, or 3 to have personal devotions. You always meet with God in the morning. And when she’s 33, she’ll remember this is what one does as a human being. One meets God early in the morning. If you can’t read, you do it with tapes or mommy reading to you. But that happens in the evening or in homeschool or any other time of the day when mom can work it out if dad’s away. And then dad comes home and then we have devotions in the evening, there we use a Bible story book and we use a little catechism called My First Question and Answer Book. So breed the word of God into the life of a child, because only there will a child have faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing about the word of God. And so you build the word into a child’s life.
Playtime is the mercy of God and the tenderness of God. This is what we will know of God forever in heaven. There must be — besides the firm, demanding standard, directed by a father’s fierce eyes — playtime on the floor, letting Talitha decide what the play will be. And now I have a girl instead of four boys and it makes no sense to me whatsoever. And I’m trying to learn from Talitha how in the world to do playtime. It’s all about people. Let’s get the people, let’s get the little house, and let’s take it over in the corner and open it up. And I say, “I want a helicopter. We need bombs here. We need some action. We need a crash. We need a rescue.” So she said, “No, we’re going to have the house and we’ll have you sit at the table and I’ll sit at the table and this’ll be the brother. His name is Richard, your name is Francis, and Francis talks too much.”
I say, “Okay, this is not exciting. This is not the way the boys used to do it.” We would build towers and crash them down and see who could put the last block on it. It was blowing up all over the place. And here we have relationships. And I say, “Okay, how about a hurricane tonight when the house is gathered, and we’ll have an ambulance and the ambulance will come and we’ll rescue people, and then the next night we’ll do it with a flood.”
Well, I’m learning playtime is her time, it’s her time. There’s been playtime after supper in the Piper household for 30 years because the children need to know daddy is not just working for the world and for the church, and he’s not just distant, kind of marginalizing me. He is focusing on me, which is what God is going to do with us forever and ever in his most remarkable way.
Practicing Godward Routines
I’m trying to think how to close this off here. I’m going to reverse my last two points and then bring Noël and Talitha up here in a minute. The last point is this. I’m 50 years old, and I have an African-American daughter who’s the first girl in the family. I’ve only had four boys. I don’t know how to do girls. I certainly don’t know how to do biracial adoptions. I’m 50 years old. I will be 65 when she’s 15. Picture this now. Or I’ll be 70 when she’s 20. Maybe I’ll be there, who knows? Those are huge issues, right?
Look, if you folks that are contemplating adoption try to figure out whether you’re going to be up for this, forget it. You’re not. You’re not up for this. There will be no adequacy in anything, whether you’re 30 or whether you’re 50. The adequacy is in God. Put your ear to the Bible, put your heart to adoption. Do it tonight with your pocketbooks and do it with your volunteering and do it with your families. Support your relatives who do it, whatever the race. Get in the face of the people in your church. If they don’t like it, tell them to repent.
Noël, are you and Talitha willing to come up here? One of the things we do to build the word, which is Godward, into our lives is we have bedtime routines. And there are three things that Talitha and I do over and over again. The first one is a blessing, the second one is a song, and the third is a hug and a kiss. And I get to do this. Noël almost never puts Talitha to bed. I put Talitha to bed and I like to put her to bed. Now dads, you know you’re going to be tired, right? You’re on the sofa, you have your feet up, the paper is in your hands, you’re dog tired and it’s time to go to bed. And you said, “Well, you can put her to bed tonight.” Don’t do that. Get off the couch, okay?
You only have a few years at this. And this little girl needs to know such a bonding with her dad. When all those little guys come after her, she needs to know she has a man who will protect her. Okay? So it goes like this. She’s lying in bed and I put my hand up on her head and she’s already got her little cap on at this point. And I say, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace, joy, love, faith, and someday, a godly husband. And she always laughs when I say “a godly husband.” She says, “Why do you say that?” And I say, “Because I really care about that.”
And then we sing, right? She sings it with me. And then we have a kiss, right?