When Scripture presents the miracle of adoption, one word is almost always present: heir. To be adopted into the family of God is to be an heir of God. Paul reminds the Galatians, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:6-7) When God adopts sinners, all three divine Persons of the Godhead are in joyful, synchronous union, each working for the same end: making heirs. To be adopted into the family of God is to be at the center of the life of the Triune God, who “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Eph. 1:5) Before the foundation of the world, it was God’s will to purchase us with the precious blood of Jesus. To be adopted into the family of God is to be sought and bought.
In Romans 8, Paul again uses the word kleronomoi (heirs) to describe our new relationship to God. It literally means “one who receives what God has promised to His people.” However, in verse 17, he uses a different word. This word is almost the exact same word, but with a small, three-letter prefix: sugkleronomoi. It means “fellow heir,” or “one who shares together.” Paul writes in verse 17, “and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” The Gospel is the good news that we’re heirs, but not just any heir; we are heirs with Christ. We receive His blessings. We inherit His riches. Adoption is an act of the Father to treat orphans with the same benevolence, love, and honor as He would His own obedient Son, Jesus Christ. We are found “in Him.” (Phil. 3:9) Without the all-important prefix of “sug,” our sonship and our inheritance isn’t tied to the sonship and inheritance of Christ. But as those who share “with” Christ in His rightful blessings, we have the hope that our unfading crown of glory will never be taken away. He is a Son forever, and so are we. (Ps. 2:7, Heb. 2:6-12)) This is the essence of the rest of chapter 8 in Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38-39) Adoption love is an inseparable love.
Unfortunately, many Christians betray this precious truth in the way they view earthly adoptions. Rather than treating adopted children as “heirs with” biological children, believers today often relegate adoptees to a separate category in the family, as if their inheritance and their honor is different than that of the child that shares parental DNA. From this worldly mindset stem the two “S’s” in adoption mythology: savior and sitter. Both of these secular versions are to be avoided if we are to uphold a Gospel-driven view of adoption.
(1) First, even the most well-meaning of Christians can sometimes heap praise upon adoptive parents as if they are somehow owed a special honor for adoption. This is the “savior” mentality: the idea that adoptive parents are worthy of praise. In other words, they are “saviors” to a child. While complimenting or commending adoptive parents can simply be a way of encouraging them, the “savior” mindset is distinct in its idea of parenthood as sainthood. It is inherently anti-Gospel because it robs the very concept of adoption from its “sugkleronomoi” principle: the truth that Christ is the exalted Savior who purchases our eternal inheritance, not earthly sinners. An adoptive parent discourages any personal spotlight. The Gospel that prompted and fuels their love for children is the same Gospel that points that love upward, not inward. In light of God’s love for sinners, both adoptive parents and their adopted children are sugkleronomoi.
(2) The second kind of adoption mythology and secular extreme is the “sitter” mentality: the idea that adoptive parents aren’t real parents; they’re simply looking after the child for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this also denies one of the most basic truths of adoption. In reality, adopted children don’t cry “Guardian!” They cry, “Abba!” (Rom. 8:15) To be adopted into the family of God is to have a real Daddy. Just as it is God’s own Spirit that indwells the hearts of His adopted children, an adoptive parent’s love is real, no less than his or her love for any other child. They are sugkleronomoi.
In the Holy Scriptures, every word is inspired by the Holy Spirit. (2 Tim. 3:16) Therefore every letter, every prefix matters. The word “sugkleronomoi” stands as a testament to the beauty of adoption in Christ, that our inheritance comes from a specific place and a specific person. We are heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ.