Austin is not my adopted child. He is my son – no different than if my wife had carried him in her womb and given birth herself. Strictly legally speaking, my son has not always been my son. But, in reality, from before he was born, Austin has been our child, our beautiful great gift from God. It just took an 18 month gestation period to get him home.
There is no difference in Jennie and I’s minds between his being adopted vs. shared DNA. Austin is, in the truest sense, our child. We were strangers at first in Guangzhou, but grew close quickly. We had pursued the legal hoops adoption hard. (If you thought a mortgage required a lot of paperwork to sign, talk to someone who’s gone down the adoption path.) Austin drew close to us and, by the time we left China, he trusted us. He knew we were his parents and he was safe and secure in our embrace.
The most amazing thing has been witnessing his growth. He has studied us, learned from us, watched us closely and imitated what we’ve said and done. (And still does. Especially the “what we said” part, which in this case isn’t always great, but, we’re human, and sometimes he picks up words like “booger” from his dear old dad.)
Austin’s identity is not what it was during his first year-and-a-half. Back then he was an abandoned Chinese boy, stuck in an orphanage with no real hope for life, destined to be stigmatized by circumstances not of his choosing. Indeed, in China, orphaned children carry a last name that indicates the province where they’re orphanage is located. Their very names – their identities – brand them with a social stigma that is very hard to overcome.
But, on June 23, 2008, all that changed. Guan Xin Rai became Austin Courtney. Today he is a happy, healthy, extremely active American boy – well-fed and greatly loved (and equally loving). He has a smile that would melt an iceberg. His happiness comes from a deep inner place, the peace of knowing he is loved and safe and of great worth. He eats Happy Meals, not congee. He sleeps in a comfy bed with a blankey, a pile of dolls and (most nights) a cat at his feet, not a crib with a plywood bottom – no mattress, no pillow.
That’s not to say the change was always easy for Austin. He had his challenges. For one, when he first walked outside in our postage-stamp yard, he didn’t like it. At all. He had never felt grass beneath his feet and the experience freaked him out a bit. The transition from congee and rice to American food was somewhat difficult. (To this day he is not a big fan of ice cream or other frozen foods, or certain textures.) I can’t imagine how he must have felt, going from nearly 18 months of never seeing anything beyond an orphanage to staying at a hotel in big, noisy Guanzhou and then… halfway around the world to America! From subtropical southeast China to Minnesota. Big blonde people. Round eyes. Odd language. Weird smells. Foreign sights. Nothing at all familiar. He just trusted Mommy and Daddy (and, for the first couple of weeks, he had grandparents helping a lot as well!)
So… why am I sharing all this about Austin with you? Because, whether you realize it or not, you are an adopted child as well. Take a look at this:
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:12-17, ESV).
The Greek word translated as “adoption” – υἱοθεσία (or huiothesia) – refers to being positioned in a family as a son. In Roman society, an adopted child actually had greater rights than a birth child, because adoptees had legal rights as part of the adoption agreement, not mere social birth rights. To the Romans, they would read Paul’s words in Romans 8:15 in legal terms – we are adopted into the family of God. We are His children. We always have been. But, as Wayne Grudem points out in his classic Systematic Theology, we receive “new spiritual life” through regeneration, “legal standing before” God through justification, and membership in His family through adoption.
What does all this mean? You are God’s child. You always have been. Perhaps it just took a while for Him to bring you home. God pursued you. And, at first, perhaps you didn’t know Him. He was a stranger to you. But, you learn to trust Him. You study Jesus, learn from Him, watch Him closely and try to imitate what He says and does. At first, the relationship may seem awkward – new languages, little that looks familiar to you, being uncomfortable with the grass beneath your feet. And, the nearer you draw to the Lord, the nearer He draws to you.
Soon, you begin to look like your Heavenly Father. You pick up His mannerisms, His Words. The transformation won’t be perfect. You’ll still be an imperfect human. But, your identity has changed. Just like Simon when Jesus changed his name to Cephas, or the Christian-hating Saul who was changed to Paul after his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, or my little boy becoming Austin after we signed the papers in China, you are now a new person when you truly accept Christ. Austin still looks Chinese, but he is legally an American. When you look in the mirror, you still look like the person you were before Christ, but you are not. Your identity is found in Jesus Christ. Your eternal future is secure. You are safe in your Father’s hands. You don’t have to choke down congee any longer.
Strictly legally speaking, you have not always been God’s child. But, in reality, from before you were born, He has been your Heavenly Father. God loves you with a depth you cannot fathom. He wants you to continue growing closer to Him, bonding with Him, seeking His kingdom – your inheritance. You are God’s child, just as real as Austin is my beloved son. It doesn’t matter what you have done, where you’ve run, who you think you are… What matters is the Lord. What matters is letting our Father transform our very selves, and recognizing just what it means to be His child – and all the blessings and joy that come with it!
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, ESV).