The following article was originally published in October 2018 on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelical’s blog entitled Christward Collective (now absorbed into Place for Truth).
During family worship one night, my son was growing increasingly distracted—to which children his age are inclined. I gently reached over and grasped my son’s shoulders, and said, “Remember son, we are people who are privileged by God to be nurtured to worship Him.” If you had been in his shoes, how would you respond? Would you blush and look down, ashamed because you were born into a Christian family? Would you laugh in denial? Or would confusion come over you as you try to understand what in the world “people of privilege” means?
In our day, the word “privilege” is a loaded term. Sometimes, the word is taken up like a club to knock down political opponents. “Check your privilege at the door, man!” At other times, the word is used as some sort of keycard to access protections guaranteed by law. “I am not bound to answer that inquiry, due to attorney-client privilege.” Frequently, the word is trotted out in the context of public ceremony. “It is my privilege to welcome to the podium…”
Generally speaking, to be a person of privilege is to enjoy some special benefit that others may not be able to enjoy, as a matter of circumstance. Sometimes it is easily identified, relatively innocuous, and subject to alteration. Consider the man with the best view from his office. He is privileged, but his colleagues are not missing out on anything truly significant, and his office could change on the whim of a superior. Other examples are more controversial – like white privilege or male privilege.
Immediately after telling our son that we were a privileged people I said, “We are children of God the Father, covenantally adopted in Christ Jesus the Son. We belong to Him.”
According to the Bible, to be saved is to be justified, adopted, and sanctified. Justification is God’s pardon and acceptance of us by the gracious gift of Christ’s righteousness to us, and is received through faith alone. Sanctification is God’s continuing work in our lives to make us more like Him, progressively destroying our sin and nurturing holy Christlikeness. Adoption is God’s granting of family status and privileges to us as sons of God.
It is in by our adoption that we are people of privilege. In Ephesians 1:5, we are told that God has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself.” In Galatians 4:5, we learn that Jesus came to “redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” In John 1:12-13, we read that “as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” As observed by David Garner, there are “filial contours” to the gospel. To the Christian, God is King, Savior, Redeemer, Creator, and Judge. But He is also Father by adoption. When we meditate on our adoption in Christ, and when we remind our little ones of their privileges as covenant children adopted into God’s family, what specifics ought we to grasp?
First, we bear God’s Name by our adoption. Jeremiah 14:9 contains the appeal to God, “Yet You are in our midst, O LORD, And we are called by Your name; Do not forsake us!” Israel’s blessing of being called by God’s Name is the church’s blessing contained in Acts 15:17, which contains a prophetic reference to “all the Gentiles who are called by My name.” It is a great privilege to bear the Name of God as a family name. Just as we give our children our names to identify them with us, so too does our heavenly Father place His Name upon us to mark us as His own.
Second, we exchange a spirit of slavery for “a spirit of adoption as sons” (Romans 8:15) in our relationship to God. Having come to realize our guilt of sin, we may initially approach God wondering if he will accept us at all. And yet, the unified witness of the Scriptures is that the Father desires to bring us into communion with Him through His Son. In our adoption, we approach God as a Father, and we call to Him in bold confidence as sons who have access to the very throne of grace (cf. Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16) upon which our Father sits, and from which He governs all things.
Third, the Psalmist tells us that “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13). He regards with compassion those He has adopted.
Fourth, He protects us. Proverbs 14:26 describes God’s children as having a refuge in Him, corresponding to the “strong confidence” that is theirs through faith.
Fifth, He provides for our needs. Jesus clearly taught His disciples to trust in God on the basis of his fatherly relationship to them. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32). He likewise instructed them to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), trusting in His fatherly care.
Sixth, He disciplines us for our good and His glory. Hebrews 12:7 tells us that “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” The end-goal is stated in verse 10, “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.” The resounding ethical message of God’s Word is that holiness is the gateway to God. Both the Old Testament sacrificial system and the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ make known God’s requirement of holiness for His people. God has made us holy in Christ Jesus, so that we can enjoy communion with Him. His fatherly discipline is a great privilege of our adoption as justified and sanctified sons.
Seventh, He promises to never cast off His sons, but rather He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit “for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Consider the great promise contained in Psalm 89:33, where God swears, “I will not break off my lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.” God loves His sons with an everlasting love.
Eighth, the promises of God outlined in His Word are ours to inherit as adopted sons. Hebrews 6:12 tells us that Christians inherit God’s promises “through faith and patience.” Lamentations 3:31-32 makes this clear when it promises us that “The Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.” Though we face trials in this life, through patience we will inherit that which God has promised to His sons.
Ninth and finally, we are what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “heirs of everlasting salvation” (WCF 12). Peter describes our inheritance as one that is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Just as our older brother has passed through shadowlands of the grave to emerge into the light of everlasting day, pronouncing victory over death itself, so too shall we rise victorious at the time of God’s own choosing. This is the great hope of God’s adopted sons, secured for us in Christ Jesus, our Brother, Savior, Mediator, and Lord.
So, when I remind my children that we are people of privilege, I am not referring to our current socio-economic status, ethnicity, opportunities, or family situation. There may be specific and limited earthly privileges contained in each of those categories. But they will ever be limited and earthly – unfit for the Glory that awaits us. Rather, I refer to our imperishable gospel privileges that are meant to make us co-heirs with Christ, adopted in Him by the gracious decree of God our heavenly Father. Meditate on these, embrace them by faith, and rejoice in them.