A Commentary by John Stott
God *destined us in love to be his sons*. This expression seems to be key to our understanding of the present consequences of our election. Election is with a view to adoption. Indeed, when people ask us the speculative question why God went ahead with the creation when he knew that it would be followed by the fall, one answer we can tentatively give is that he destined us for a higher dignity than even creation would bestow on us. He intended to ‘adopt’ us, to make us the sons and daughters of his family. And in Roman law (part of the background to Paul’s writing) adopted children enjoyed the same rights as natural children. The New Testament has much to say about this status of ‘sonship’, its rich privileges and demanding responsibilities. Both are touched upon in these verses.
Take our privilege first. It is only those who have been adopted into God’s family who can say: *In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us* (verses 7-8). For God’s children enjoy a free access to their heavenly Father, and their confidence before him is due to the knowledge that they have been redeemed and forgiven. *Redemption (apolutrosis)* means ‘deliverance by payment of a price’; it was specially applied to the ransoming slaves. Here it is equated with *forgiveness*, for the deliverance in question is a rescue from the just judgment of God upon our sins, and the price paid was the shedding of Christ’s blood when he died for our sins on the cross. So redemption, forgiveness and adoption all go together (cf. Gal.4:5); redemption or forgiveness is a present privilege which *we have* and enjoy now. It makes possible a filial relation with God. It comes from the lavish outpouring of his grace upon us.
But sonship implies responsibility too. For the heavenly Father does not spoil his children. On the contrary, ‘he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness’ (Heb.12:10). So Paul’s two statements are parallel, that ‘he destined us…to be his sons’ (verse 5) and ‘he chose us…that we should be holy’. The apostle will return to this vital theme later: ‘Be imitators of God, as his beloved children’ (5:1). It is inconceivable that we should enjoy a relationship with God as his children without accepting the obligation to imitate our Father and cultivate the family likeness.
So then adoption as God’s sons and daughters brings both a plus and a minus, an immense gain and a necessary loss. We gain access to him as our Father through redemption or forgiveness. But we lose our blemishes, beginning at once by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, until we are finally made perfect in heaven. The words which seem to unite the privilege and the responsibility of our adoption are the expression *before him* (verse 4), meaning ‘in his sight’ or ‘in his presence’. For to live our life in the conscious presence of our Father is both an immeasurable privilege and a constant challenge to please him.