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A Biblical Identity for Adoptees

Adopted children struggle with their identity. How can we help them to cultivate a biblical identity?

Aug 17, 2022

Common among adopted children is their struggle with identity. Adoptees can struggle to form a proper view of self because of the split they feel between their biological past and their adoptive family. They may not know what part of their DNA, biology or inherited traits make them who they are or whether they are more influenced by the family they have been adopted into and are living day in and day out with. The question of nurture or nature is relevant for many as they seek to better understand who they are and what has made them that way. The adoptee can grow up believing that these insecurities and questions are of the utmost importance to their sense of self and identity and when left unresolved they live feeling insecure, confused, and fractured. 

Importance of a Biblical Identity

Because identity precipitates behavior it is imperative to help adoptees to properly shape an accurate understanding of their identity (Romans 6; Ephesians 5:1; Romans 8:14-15). Understanding one’s true identity affects behavior, and behavior over a period of time shapes one’s character. When an adoptee seeks to define who they are by what God says about them and their circumstances instead of what they feel, experience or the world tells them, then they will be anchored and secure. For the adoptee who questions their identity and wants to make sense of who they are they must look to what the Bible says about being spiritually adopted (Ephesians 1; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7) as a chosen and permanent child of God. In doing so, they will be less defined by their earthly adoption experience or status and will instead be transformed by the beautiful reality of who they are as children of God. When they are rooted in being a child of God, their biblical identity will drive how they behave and respond to life’s circumstances (Ephesians 3:14-21; 1 John 2:3-6, 3:1-3). 

A Theological Declaration

Apart from God the adoptee may wrongly perceive themselves, coming to misguided conclusions and pursuing deficient methods to find worth and value in things that never satisfy. In contrast to these hollow pursuits, the adoptee’s identity must be a theological identity. This is an identity that is based solely on the character of God and what He reveals about people in His inerrant and all-sufficient Word. It ought not be compromised or distorted due to a messy past or complicated family history. The believer’s identity is an objective, theological declaration made manifest through the foreordained work of God, redemptive work of Christ, and indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. 

United to Christ

The believing adoptee can find further significance, value, and purpose in knowing that when they are saved they are united to Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1; 1 John 4:13). This union with Christ describes the relationship between a reconciled and regenerated child and the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ lives in every believer, and every believer lives in Him (Galatians 2:20). This union was planned by God in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4) and begins at the point of salvation, continues throughout life, and then transforms into an eternal resurrection in the presence of Christ (Romans 8:37-39; 1 Corinthians 15:12-58; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 3:18). It is supernatural, spiritual in nature, and complete. One’s self-perception is shaped by his union with Christ, for the believer’s identity is inescapably interwoven in Christ. This supernatural mutual indwelling of the believer is captured beautifully by Paul’s use of the adoption metaphor, especially as it poignantly speaks to the initiation of God to willfully and joyfully adopt his children and renew His image in them. 

A Change in Identity

Being united to Christ denotes a change in status or better yet, a change in identity. This new identity ushers in a new calling on the life of the adopted child to not live for self but for God. It gives their life purpose and significance, defining who they are and what they are to live for. They no longer live seeking after their own appetites or personal pleasures. But, rather their identity and purpose has been radically changed. The child of God is no longer dead in their trespasses and sins and they are no longer slaves to sin. Their new identity naturally affects the way the child of God is to live his life. Essentially, being adopted into God’s family shapes a child’s theological identity so as to affect his perception of life and responses to life’s circumstances as a natural outgrowth of their new identity. The child of God therefore lives out their new identity as one who obeys the Father, trusts Him and serves Him with their life. 

Human Flourishing

Adoptees are not different from all of humanity in that they seek to find significance and happiness in the things of earth. They can become focused on their adoption experience or their biology and ancestry as a means to define their identity. Certainly, understanding where they come from is formative in shaping their identity and can bring some comfort and insight. However, they have more value than is found in biology alone. They are created in God’s image as a whole person with a body and soul that are never separated from the other. As their Creator, God’s knowledge of them, their nature, purpose, and what would amount to them flourishing in life is perfect, without error, and sufficient. Thus, God authoritatively informs the adopted child’s identity. It is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is made manifest in the adopted child’s life by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:14-16). He assures the adopted child of the legitimate, permanent, and intimate filial relationship with God as father. 

The doctrine of adoption links one’s identity as united with Christ as the primary cause for human flourishing. The child will thrive in the mysteries of their life, especially when they know who they are as revealed by their creator through God’s sufficient and authoritative Word. They will know that as adopted children of God they are loved (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:1-3), they are forgiven and reconciled sinners (Acts 10:43; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14), are born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 5:1), have access to God (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18; 3:11-12; Hebrews 10:19-22), are members of God’s family (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2), and are permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit and guaranteed entrance into Heaven (Romans 11:29; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). With the privileges of adoption they will understand the responsibilities associated with their filial relationship with God. As joint heirs with Christ they will now grow into the likeness of Christ (Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3-11), loving and caring for his family (John 15:17; Romans 12:10), depending on the truth, wisdom, authority and sufficiency of God’s Word for life (Proverbs 3:5-8; 16:20; Psalm 19:7-11; 84:12; Ephesians 5:15-17), and their meaning and purpose in life will be living for the glory and pleasure of their father (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).