Putting On The New: Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 4

In Ephesians 4.22-4, Paul says to the Ephesians: "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Of course, this comes at the beginning of the more ethically-oriented section of the epistle. Paul is exhorting the Gentile Christians, here, to abstain from indulging in sinfulness and to be holy. What may not be as clear to the untrained eye is that Paul's statement here is cloaked in baptismal language. In antiquity, baptism was commonly done in the nude, especially for symbolic purposes. The person would take off their old clothes, go into the water and upon coming up out of the water, exit the other side of the pool and put on new clothes. Crossing to the other side of the pool and putting on new clothes represented making the cross or journey into a new life and taking on a new identity.

Interestingly, in international adoptions, the cross into a new life and taking on some type of new identity is symbolized by a very similar act. The institutionalized child, when leaving the orphanage, will take off the old clothes and put on new ones. This moment is a monumental one; it is truly life-chaning for the child, the orphanage, the adoptive fammily and the new community that the child will be part of. I don't think it is accidental that these parallels exist. Indeed, in Eph. 1.5--one of 5 places where it is found in the NT--Paul uses the word adoption (huiothesia). In that verse, Paul says that it was in God's mind all along, that His children, were to be adopted into His family--the Church. Physical adoption is rooted in the spiritual.

The realization that we are part of the community of God, is manifest in the communal act of baptism. This is the event whereby we shed the old self and become "new creations" in Christ Jesus. The truth is, for the child who is adopted and for all those touched by adoption, it is a powerful and life-changing event, just like baptism. I would submit that it is such, because at its core, it speaks of love and sacrifice and perhaps most importantly, community.

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