If you are following Jesus and understand what he taught, you will probably already see yourself as set free and adopted as an heir in his kingdom. Paul makes this clear in his letters to the churches. For example, in Galatians 4:7 he writes, ‘You are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.’ But sometimes, although we know we are heirs and inherit life in all its fullness, we forget that there are also duties attached to adoption. This becomes much clearer when we think about adoption as it was practised in the Roman world 2000 years ago.
The kind of adoption that would have been familiar to Paul was unlike adoption today. The Romans didn’t make a habit of adopting orphans. Unwanted babies were often left in the countryside to die, this was regarded as a normal way of disposing of inconvenient infants. It’s a shocking thought today, but 2000 years ago it was normal.
The Wikipedia article Adoption in ancient Rome explains, ‘Adoption of boys was a fairly common procedure, particularly in the upper senatorial class … Adoption served to cement ties between families, thus fostering and reinforcing alliances. In the Imperial period, the system also acted as a mechanism for ensuring a smooth succession, the emperor taking his chosen successor as his adopted son.’ The photo below is part of a statue of Octavius who was adopted by Julius Caesar and became the Emperor Augustus.
This is why we can call the Almighty ‘Father’, or even ‘Daddy’. Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, he told his disciples, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the father’. We have the joy and privilege of becoming the adopted children of the Mighty One, and we have his power and his authority. But we need to understand that as heirs of the kingdom of heaven (co-heirs with Christ), we not only have great privilege but we also have duties to perform. It’s our function to carry on our Father’s work. What is that?
Think about Roman inheritance again for a moment. When the Emperor (or any high ranking official, army officer, wealthy business man etc) wanted to ensure his work would be continued, he would adopt an heir, not an infant, but someone already old enough to show the necessary aptitude and inclination for the work. The heir was adopted expressly to continue his new father’s work.
We know we are adopted, and we know we are heirs to the kingdom, to the power and also to the glory. We share these things in and with Christ. But sometimes we forget that it is our role and purpose as heirs to continue our Father’s work in this world. We are to be redeemers of the lost and broken, lovers of those around us (even our enemies), forgivers of wrongdoers, even justifiers of the guilty, providers of good things. What does it mean for us to redeem, love, forgive, justify and provide? Think about it in terms of things as well as people. If it’s broken, fix it; if it’s missing, replace it; if it’s overgrown with weeds, dig it and plant flowers. If you need permission to do some of these things, have the necessary conversations. If people are lonely, spend time with them; if they’re hungry, feed them. Speak words of life, be motivated by love, bless others abundantly, be the message, speak the truth. Be ‘good news’.