Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | November 18, 2008

Adoption and Forgiveness

I believe we have to see the gospel as the good news of humanity’s adoption into the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

The Father did not create us in the Son so that he would have some sinners to forgive. He created us in the Son so that he could adopt as his children (Eph. 1:5) and share with us the Divine Life of joy that he shares with the Son and the Spirit. Seeing the gospel as primarily a message about sin and forgiveness misses the big picture of why we exist.

In Adam all humanity fell into sin, and therefore in Christ all humanity has been made righteous (Rom. 5:18). But the forgiveness of sin is a component of the plan, not the plan itself. The plan is Adoption and forgiveness is one part of that plan.

I’ve recently been reading Deification in Christ by Panayiotis Nellas. I’m not done with it yet, but I’m liking what I’m reading so far. Here’s a passage where Nellas discusses the problems that arise from seeing the incarnation of the Son as merely an issue of providing forgiveness for sin:

. . . [negative] consequences followed also from Augustine’s axiom that “if many had not perished, the Son of Man would not have come.” [Enchiridion viii, 27-ix, 29.] This trapped Christ, and by extension the Christian life and the realities of the Church, the sacraments, faith and the rest, within the bounds defined by sin. Christ in this perspective is not so much the creator and recapitulator of all things, the Alpha and Omega as Scripture says, but simply the redeemer from sin. The Christian life is regarded not so much as the realization of Adam’s original destiny, as a dynamic transformation of man and the world and as union with God, but as a simple escape from sin. . . The Church forgets her ontological bond with the world. And the world, seeing that its positive aspects are not appreciated within the Church, feels a sense of alienation and breaks off relations with it. ~ Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person, Panayiotis Nellas, p. 95. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

Do you see what Nellas is saying? The Church seems irrelevant to the world because we have nothing to say about humanity’s destiny as adopted children of the Father in Christ. We have nothing to say about the Jesus who fills the whole universe (Eph. 4:10) – art, music, movies, politics, families, and all humanity.

As long as our “good news” is merely the story of a God with rules to be followed, and a price to be paid for breaking the rules, we are failing to share the fullness of who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only when we speak of the Plan of Adoption will we at last be truly announcing the good news of the Father’s plan to make us his own.



  1. There is a helpful article on the idea of the deification of man in Christ (also referred to as theosis or divinization) at

  2. Thanks, Ted, that’s an excellent article. Thanks for drawing our attention to it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: