• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Adoption Is Exclusively For Believers in Christ

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:10 NKJ


Question 74 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is adoption?” It gives the answer, “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.” Last week we considered the wonder of our adoption. This week we consider who it is that God adopts.


After declaring that our adoption is entirely of grace, purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Catechism then sets forth the criteria for who gets adopted. Simply stated, God adopts all those who are justified. Here we see part of the ordo salutis, the order of salvation. God saves sinners. Sinners do not save themselves. Yet the Scripture clearly teaches that God saves sinners based upon an exact order of contingencies, which God successively requires and meets by divine actions, often through divinely appointed means of grace, and according to a certain order of secondary causes. Thus, from all eternity God elects (chooses) who will be saved. Then, at His appointed time, and ordinarily through the preaching of the gospel (see WCF 14.1), which God supernaturally makes effectual unto the regeneration of the elect sinner, the sinner is given faith and repentance, and upon believing he is immediately justified. As soon as he is justified by faith alone, God adopts the sinner as one of His own children. The sinner is then progressively sanctified by the Spirit of God with his own graciously given cooperation until death. On the last day he receives glorification. Thus, the ordo salutis of many Reformed theologians:


1. Election

2. Effectual Calling

3. Regeneration

4. Faith & Repentance

5. Justification

6. Adoption

7. Sanctification

8. Glorification


All of the items on the list are entirely monergistic works of God except for faith and repentance, where God gives living faith but the sinner actively believes and turns from his sins to God; and sanctification where the Spirit of God graciously causes the sinner to seek holiness. For our purposes we notice that all those who are justified are adopted into the family of God. Everyone who believes in Jesus is immediately justified based upon that faith alone. The moment you believe you are justified. To have faith is to have justification. Likewise the moment you are justified you immediately become a child of God and will continue to be such forevermore. To have justification is to have adoption. Everyone who believes is justified, and everyone who is justified is adopted. All three happen at the same moment in time but there is a definite cause and effect order. Even as the sun gives light and heat the moment it exists, and it cannot exist without giving light and heat, yet the sun is the cause of the light and heat and not vice versa. So also justification is the cause of adoption and must logically precede adoption, even though both justification and adoption occur at precisely the same moment in time. God adopts as His children all those who are justified in His sight. Justification is the immediate cause of adoption.


Conversely, no one is a child of God unless or until he believes in Jesus. Even as there is no such thing as a believer in Christ who is not a child of God, so also there is no such thing as a child of God who is not a believer in Christ. The verse at the head of this article shows two families, to one of which every human being belongs. The way we can tell the difference, since we cannot see the heart, is the fruit of good works. The believer in Christ, loves his brother and thereby shows himself to be a child of God, the unbeliever does not love his brother, therefore his evil fruit proves he has no faith and is not a child of God but of the devil. Take some time to today to thank God for adopting you.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)