1 John 3:1
Sometimes you can hear a truth so much that it becomes a truism, something that you accept as true apart from any serious consideration or experience. The danger of an uncritically accepted or unexperienced truth is that we can become inoculated against the effects of that very truth, choking out the fruit of joy it naturally should produce. For example, as a child, I grew up hearing over and over that God loved me. While the blessing of hearing the message of God's love throughout your childhood is invaluable, the fact that "Jesus loves me" was, for many years, just that: a fact that I learned, much like I learned that 2 + 2 = 4. It wasn't until my sixteenth year (still graciously early in my life) that I truly experienced in my heart the love of God that I had previously known only in my head. By God's grace, the love of Jesus made that long and crucial journey from the head to the heart, and it changed my life.
The miracle of becoming an adopted child of God is another truth that perhaps many have come to accept mentally without a full realization of what being a son or daughter of God (of God!) means experientially. However, adoption doesn't change an orphan's life by merely creating a mental category for family. The orphan's life is beautifully and joyfully changed through the relational and emotional experiences of belonging to a family. In the same way, how should our own adoption by God change our lives? As sons and daughters of God, how can we not only understand what it took to secure our adoption (see part 1), but also begin to live more intentionally and more joyfully as the very children of God?
Far from taking his sonship for granted, the apostle John wrote with exclamatory language when he spoke of our new relationship to God as His sons and daughters. "How great," John wrote, "is the love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!" John compels us: Don't lose your wonder at what we are! Reawaken your awe at the great love of God! Later, the apostle Paul would pray that the believers would know how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of God in Christ (Eph. 3:18). John describes this all-encompassing love of God as lavish. God not only has given us His great love, He has lavished it upon us! The Biblical writers, being led by the Holy Spirit, could not have been more emphatic about the love of God toward His children, those He has redeemed in Christ and adopted into His family.
I wish I could say that my each of my days are marked by this kind of exclamatory wonder at my adoption as a child of God through Christ. Instead, many days I let the truth of what I deserve to be cloud the truth of what I am by grace now made to be. I forget that God is a much more patient and gracious Father than I am an obedient and faithful son. But here in my lack of perspective is where the orphan stands to remind me of my ever-present cause for joy. Tell the orphan who blows out her first set of birthday candles as a daughter not to have joy. Tell the orphan who is now kissed goodnight and tucked into his own bed rather than in an over-crowded orphanage not to have joy. Tell the orphan who had no emotional category for being wanted not to have joy when his new family uses the word forever.
Joy is not an act of the will or a decision to be made; joy is the natural response to being loved and accepted by someone greater than yourself. We cannot produce our own joy; we can only receive joy in response to a great love and a great Lover. The love of God is lavish indeed, His acceptance irreversibly complete, and His greatness beyond infinite. We can only recall that we were orphans once, orphans whom now have been rescued and redeemed by the fierce and unfailing love of God the Father. In response to such love, we ourselves can find ways to joyfully care for orphans, and, perhaps in doing so, we may find the trail of the truth of the greatness of God's love stretching the expanse between our head and our heart.
Coming Soon - Part 3 of 3 - Children of God: What We Will Be