Adoption is not intended to distinguish us from the exalted Son of God, but to express the nature of our privileged solidarity with him. Preserving Christ’s eternal, ontological sonship does not proscribe filial-covenantal progress in the Son of God, nor does it drive a filial wedge between the redeemed sons and the redeeming Son. To the contrary, grounded in Trinitarian ontology and covenantal decree (pactum salutis), redemptive grace depends on divine condescension in the incarnate Son and his concomitant filial development (humiliation) for securing covenant promises at his resurrection (exaltation). Believers are adopted sons of God precisely because Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man, was first adopted himself.
John Calvin, in his last will and testament, asserts, “I have no other defence or refuge for salvation than His gratuitous adoption, on which my salvation depends.” Surely there are many ways that Calvin could have expressed his deathbed gospel convictions. With summary reflection and filial warmth, he chooses to affirm that his salvation depends on God’s gratuitous adoption.
The gospel, acquired for him in the atoning “merits of [Christ’s] death and passion,” propelled Calvin toward confident expectation of his imminent welcome before his heavenly Father: “I trust to no other security for my salvation than this, and this only, viz. that as God is the Father of mercy, He will show Himself a Father to me, who acknowledge myself to be a miserable sinner.”
The Son of God’s merciful work overwhelmed Calvin’s desperate plight and enabled him to “stand at the judgment-seat.” For Calvin, the entire scope of the gospel derived its splendor and hope from adoptive grace bestowed on him in Christ Jesus, which granted him unfettered fellowship with the merciful Father. Adoptive grace took such primacy for Calvin because it did so for the apostle Paul.
Pauline theological and hermeneutical logic operates with a dynamic convergence of Christology, pneumatology, and soteriology: the historico-theological character of scriptural revelation (historia salutis) structures the application of redemptive grace (ordo salutis); the biblico-theological – that is, Christ-centered – thrust of Scripture wholly serves gospel appropriation. Such biblico-theoogical orientation unveils the filio-Christology, the filio-pneumatology, and the filio-soteriology at work in divine grace. These mutually interpreting theological categories vividly profile adoption and its integrative role in the application of redemption. Biblical grace is filial grace.
Relying on the Pauline treatment of adoption as traversed in the previous pages and tapping in to Calvin’s permeating treatment of this filial grace, we find that placing adoption properly within the ordo salutis has required re-recalibration. This re-placement has involved precise tuning of the ordo salutis to the historia salutis, where Paul’s sons-in-the-Son paradigm flourishes exclusively in and through the last Adam, the firstborn, the firstfruits of the Spirit, the adopted Son of God.
By the outpouring of Christ’s Spirit of adoption, the sons possess the Son because, by his efficacious work, the Son possesses the sons. The Son of God does not dispense selected benefits to the redeemed sequentially or atomistically, as if he could divide himself and his work in bits; he gives himself – adopted and resurrected – to them once for all. Correspondingly, the filial grace of adoption envelopes the redeemed precisely because this adopted Son – vindicated, consecrated, and glorified – embraces them in his unrelenting grace.