For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q34

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q34-36) is The Benefits of Redemption: Adoption and Sanctification. (see Harmony Index)
We are in the section of the catechism which deals with the several benefits flowing from our effectual call in Christ. As a reminder, those benefits are justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several other benefits which accompany our life in Christ. The previous question dealt with justification. Now we consider adoption.
Again, may the Lord grant us understanding and faith as we study to show ourselves “approved unto God, …rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).
WSC Q34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace[a], whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God[b].
[a] 1John 3:1
[b] John 1:12; Rom. 8:17
Question #34 asks what adoption is, and answers that adoption is the act of God’s free grace by which we become his sons, with all the rights and privileges of being his.
Comments and considerations:
Whereas justification dealt with being made righteous in God’s sight, so adoption has to do with being made a member of God’s family, a “joint-heir with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Our modern understanding of adoption differs from its usage in Scripture, and we must be careful not to miss the implications of the biblical term. In Greek and Roman culture, particularly at the time when the Apostle Paul used this term, fathers viewed their children almost as slaves, not as privileged heirs. This is the attitude that Paul is referring to in Gal. 4:1-2—“Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.”
So from a biblical perspective, adoption involves not only a new quality of life, but also a new relationship with deep and rich implications. This also gives us a true picture of humanity in rebellion prior to adoption. We were slaves to sin, lost, despairing, and totally unable to bring about a change; only the Father’s grace could make us sons.
Consider our modern understanding of an orphan: He may not be aware of the difficulty of that condition, or discontent in it; but eventually the orphan is adopted into a family. If very young, he may be totally unaware of this great change. In some cases, the significance of adoption may be totally missed, while in others, the adopted child may comprehend and appreciate the implications of adoption. Compare this situation to that of a son, an heir-apparent, in New Testament times: That child is fully aware of his condition, and fully comprehends the breadth of the privileges and blessings which are nevertheless out of reach. He is shackled not by iron but by the customs of his culture, dependent upon the whim of his father, one who, up to a point, sees him only as a slave without rights or status.
Or consider the situation of the prodigal son (Luke 15). That younger son reached the age where he could assume his inheritance and privileged status; but he ran away from the father who had raised him to that position, squandered all his riches, and found himself destitute and without hope. Having once forfeited the status and privileges of a son, he can hope for nothing less than a return to the slave’s position. This young man, “not worthy to be called [a] son,” knows the true despair of being lost indeed. Is this not a true picture of the human race—made in the image of God, yet in rebellion, never assuming their rightful place? Finally, praise God, those who are indeed sons respond to the effectual call, cease to suppress the truth in unrighteous (Rom. 1:18) and say as the Prodigal, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The story continues, joyfully, “And behold his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him, …saying to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.’” Is this not the adoption of which we speak, the coming into our own as joint-heirs in Christ, accepted in the Beloved? Has he not “written eternity upon our hearts” (Ecc. 3:11), so that we know and return to him who has made us, the One “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)?
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:8-14).
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:3-7).
Paul uses this Chaldean vocative “Abba,” which means “Father,” both in Gal 4:6 and in Rom. 8:15. It relates in both places to adoption, saying in essence “Father, Father.” People talk of the universal fatherhood of God for all mankind, especially in rationalizing a supposed universal salvation; and a case can be made, as Paul acknowledges in Acts 17:29, for the “offspring of God.” But as we have seen in this catechism lesson, that offspring is in rebellion. Its cries of “Father” mean nothing in comparison to the joyful, Spirit-filled, triumphal cry of the reconciled and adopted heirs in Christ: “Abba, Father!” To be adopted in Christ is to be an heir indeed.
See how the Larger Catechism states this, and how the Confession defines the expanse of blessing upon the adopted in the harmony that follows for further study:
Q74. What is adoption?
A.  Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read 1John 3:1-2. Many things are implied in this text. But taken as a clear statement of a believer’s new status in Christ, what is a believer’s relationship to God now, that didn’t exist before he or she came to faith? What is a believer’s relationship to the world now? What is a believer’s future, that hope which wasn’t a reality before coming to Christ in faith? And what is a believer called?
2.     Read Rom. 8:15. “Abba” can be translated simply as “Daddy.” What does this verse tell us about our relationship with God as his children?
3.     When we become the children of God, our sins are forgiven, and there is no more fear of eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1). However, does that mean that from now on we can sin without fear, that God will overlook the wrong that we do? How does God deal with our sins now that we belong to him? See Heb. 12: 5-10.
4.     We are given many titles and possessions as God’s children. Rom. 8:16-17 describes one such thing. What possession does Rom. 8:16-17 describe? What should we understand about it?
5.     Being a child of God has its privileges and its responsibilities. Rom. 8:28-29, (especially verse 29,) describes a central purpose within our privileges and responsibilities. Rom. 8:29 says that we are to become more and more _______________.
6.     Consider our Heavenly Father’s commands regarding our relationship with each other. What does 1John 3:10, 23-24 say about this?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q34, WLC Q74 & WCF XII.
WSC Q34. What is adoption?
A.  Adoption is an act of God's free grace[a], whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God[b].
[a]. 1John 3:1
[b].            John 1:12; Rom. 8:17
WLC Q74. What is adoption?
A.  Adoption is an act of the free grace of God[a], in and for his only Son Jesus Christ[b], whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children[c], have his name put upon them[d], the Spirit of his Son given to them[e], are under his fatherly care and dispensations[f], admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory[g].
[a]   1John 3:1
[b]   Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:4-5
[c]   John 1:12
[d]   2Cor. 6:18; Rev. 3;12
[e]   Gal. 4:6
[f]   Ps. 103:13; Prov. 14:26; Mat. 6:32
[g]   Heb. 6:12; Rom. 8:17
Of Adoption.
I.    All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption[a], by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God[b], have his name put upon them[c], receive the spirit of adoption,[d] have access to the throne of grace with boldness[e], are enabled to cry, Abba, Father[f], are pitied[g], protected[h], provided for[i], and chastened by him as by a Father[k]: yet never cast off[l], but sealed to the day of redemption[m]; and inherit the promises[n], as heirs of everlasting salvation[o].
      [a]  Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:4-5
      [b]  Rom. 8:17; John 1:12
      [c]  Num. 6:24-26; Jer. 14:9; Amos 9:12; Acts 15:17; II Cor. 6:18; Rev. 3:12
      [d]  Rom. 8:15
      [e]  Eph. 3:12; see Heb. 4:16
      [f]  Rom. 8:15; see Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:16
      [g]  Ps. 103:13
      [h] Prov. 14:26
      [i]  Matt. 6:30, 32, I Pet. 5:7
      [k] Heb. 12:6
      [l]  Lam. 3:31-32; see Ps. 89:30-35
      [m]            Eph. 4:30
      [n] Heb. 6:12
      [o] I Pet. 1:3-4; Heb. 1:14
Questions for further study:
There’s an interesting word our father’s used in the Confession that lends to further study: vouchsafeth.  It is fair to say it is little used today, but how might its definition assist us in understanding the precious truth of Adoption?  What implications might it garner in our thoughts?

Also note and list for grateful and praiseworthy consideration the twelve points that follow and flow from Adoption categorized in the Confession in harmony to WSC Q34.

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