Dr Tim Chester is a director of the Porterbrook Institute which provides affordable, Bible-college level training for church leadership and missional church in the context of your ministry (www.porterbrookinstitute.org). He is a leader of The Crowded House, a church planting network (www.thecrowdedhouse.org). He blogs atwww.timchester.co.uk. He has previously been Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK and a part-time lecturer in missiology. He is the author of a number of books and series editor of The Good Book Guides (The Good Book Company). He is married with two daughters.
What I want to do is take you to the beach—the metaphorical beach—and I want us to sunbathe in the sunshine of God’s love… and to use that for our motives in caring for orphans.
I want you to imagine for a moment that God not Trinity, not God in three persons… as such, there is nothing he can love aside from himself. He can’t love, because there’s no one to love. He can’t relate, because there’s no one to relate to—it’s hard to even call this god a person. So why does this god create? To meet his needs. This god is deficient. This god creates to meet his emotional needs…
But I have good news for you. Turn to John 17:1-5, 20-26:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. . . . I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Here we have Jesus speaking to the God who is Father, the God who is one, and speaking to him as God. . . For all eternity, the Trinity has existed in love, not a solitary individual but a community in relationship. And not only is God loving, he is love. It defines his character. He is not on his own loving, he is loving; the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father… The Son communicates to the Father through the Spirit. In Genesis 1, at creation he communicates with another, saying “Let us make man in our image…”
Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus says that he speaks the words his Father has given him. So if there was a time when God was not Trinity, there was a time when he was not loving, he was not Father. But he has always been loving, he has always been Father, Son and Spirit. If he were not Trinity, he would not be knowable, there would have been a time when he didn’t speak. But because he is Trinity, he is knowable, he speaks. He didn’t just drop a book out of the sky as is said with the Quran. But God did not create out of any deficiency in himself. Before the world was created, he existed within himself in community.
If we ask the question “Who is God,” we might think that God is ruler. And he is in a sense. We might think that he’s a ruler who sometimes acts in a fatherly way. But fundamentally he is Father. Salvation is adoption because he IS Father. He is not a frustrated ruler. He is Father.
The Trinity is eternally satisfied in each other. God did not create out of need. And he does not recreate his children out of need.
But think about the implications of this for us:
You can’t claim to be godly if you adopt out of need. Don’t adopt if you’re trying to adopt out of some need in you. If you adopt out of some need in you, you’re going to create all sorts of problems. Your adopted child will not be free, they will feel the pressure to meet your needs. They’ll either be constrained by your expectations or fight against them. God did not create the world out of some need because the Trinity was entirely satisfied in itself. The Father was eternally satisfied in the Son and in the Spirit… You may feel that if you just have a family they you’ll be happy. But it’s not true. You were made to have a relationship with your heavenly Father. What is a fulfilled life? It is not having a child, it is being a child of God. Eternal life is to know God in Christ. If you are adopting a child out of need, you’re making that child a god-substitute, an idol. You’re setting them up to fail. There’s no way they can be all that you need to you. Even a model child cannot fulfill you.
So what was God’s motive for adopting us as his children?
He created us to be his children and recreates us to be his children out of the outflowing of his love. The Father and the Son gloried in one another in all eternity. The light of Father’s glory is perfectly reflected in the Son. The glory of the Father shines on the Son and is reflected back onto the Father through the Son. And it’s like that for us too. We’re mirrors. We reflect back onto God what’s His. We reflect the glory that originated with him.
Look at Ezekiel 1:27-28:
And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Think about Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord—how does God appear? A rainbow. But there’s no word for “rainbow” in Hebrew. It’s just “bow.” God is hanging up his bow, and this bow, this rainbow, this war bow, perfectly reflects God’s glory because it points to his judgment being taken upon himself—it’s pointing at the Son. In John’s gospel, the Son is lifted up in glory when he is lifted on the cross.
The first way we glorify God is by doing nothing. Christ said “it is finished,” there is nothing left to do. We can kick off our shoes and soak in the warmth of God’s love.
The Father radiates love to the Son and the Son to the Father through the Spirit and this is what they share with others. The Father gives words to the Son, who gives words to believers. The Father sends the Son, who sends believers. The Father is one with the Son, who is one with believers. The Father loves the Son, who loves believers.
Why does God adopt? It’s out of love. Why does God love us? It’s all of grace.
God creates out of the overflow of his grace and love. And it’s the same as salvation—Jesus wants people to be where he is. And where is the Son?
Back in John 1, we read that “No one who has ever seen God, but the son… the language is that of a child resting on their Father. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father.
Owen wrote that the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you. Why? Because the whole plan of salvation is you being adopted as his child. God makes us his children, but he wants more than that—he wants us to know we are his children. God sent the Son to make us his children and sent the Spirit to make us experience being his children.
Our job is to go sunbathing—to go swimming in the ocean of God’s love. Imagine the ocean is fresh water and you’re thirsty. You dip a cup into the ocean, drink and you’re satisfied. What do you do the next day when you’re thirsty again? Do you think, “If I keep this up, the ocean is going to run out?”
That’s what we do when we come to God—we think we can drain the ocean of God’s love with our little cups. We need not fear that we can drink it dry. In fact, we can just jump in.