Imagine for a moment that you’re adopting a child. As you meet with the social worker in the last stage of the process, you’re told that this twelve-year old has been in and out of psychotherapy since he was three. He persists in burning things, and attempting repeatedly to skin kittens alive. He “acts out sexually,” the social worker says, although she doesn’t really fill you in on what that means. She continues with a little family history. This boy’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather all had histories of violence, ranging from spousal abuse to serial murder. Each of them ended life the same way, dead by suicide–each found hanging from a rope of blankets in his respective prison cell.
Think for a minute. Would you want this child? If you did adopt him, wouldn’t you watch nervously as he played with your other children? Would you watch him nervously as he looks at the butcher knife on the kitchen table? Would you leave the room as he watched a movie on television with your daughter, with the lights out?
Well he’s you. And he’s me.
That’s what the gospel is telling us. Our birth father has fangs. And left to ourselves, we’ll show ourselves to be as serpentine as he is.
That’s why our sin ought to disturb us. The “works of the flesh,” jealousy, envy, wrath, lust, hatred, and on and on, ought to alarm us the way a tightness in the chest would alarm a man whose father and grandfather dropped dead at the age of forty of heart disease. It ought to scare us like forgetting the next-door neighbor’s name would scare a woman whose mother was institutionalized on her thirty-fifth birthday for dementia.
It’s easy to deceive ourselves though. The chest pains? They’re just indigestion. The forgetfulness? It’s just a hectic schedule. Even this self-deceit shows us our similarity to our reptilian birthfather. He, after all, “knows his time is short” but rages away against God and his Christ anyway (Rev 12:12).
The New Testament addresses these former Satan-imagers with good news. It’s not just that we have a stay of execution, a suspension of doom. It’s not simply that those who trust in Christ have found a refuge, a safe place, or a foster home. All those in Christ, Paul argues, have received sonship. We are now the “offspring of Abraham” (Gal 3:29). Within this household–the tribal family of Abraham–all those who are in Christ have found a home through the adopting power of God.
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