God Fostered To Adopt You
“I could see myself adopting, but fostering isn’t for me.”
“I couldn’t handle the fear of losing the child.”
“I wouldn’t want to get entangled with the system.”
“I’d get too emotionally attached.”
As foster parents, my wife and I regularly hear these sorts of comments from friends, family, and even strangers.
Although in recent years there has been a resurgence in the adoption movement, fostering is viewed differently. Perhaps this is because the gospel symbolism in adoption is obvious. God elected children out of a race of spiritual orphans and sent Christ to purchase their legal right of adoption into the family of God (see Ephesians 1:3-10). Or, as the 1689 London Baptist Confession phrases it, “All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption” (ch. 12). Adoption mirrors the Father’s own radical love.
But by contrast, foster parenting is fraught with legal uncertainty, awkward interactions with biological relatives, and the nagging knowledge that the whole arrangement could be temporary. It lacks the romantic appeal of adoption.
Is there a gospel parallel in foster parenthood? I believe there is — beyond the straightforward command to care for orphans (James 1:27). The whole Bible tells the story of God initiating the greatest foster-to-adopt plan ever conceived.
Our Old Covenant Guardian
Theologians have long grappled with the degree of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. As Reformed Baptists, we’re accustomed to grappling with the tension between gospel promises and the conditional language of law.
Initially, God promises a serpent-crushing seed (Genesis 3:15) who would bless all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). But after these fatherly promises are given, crushing conditions are introduced. Laws are imposed. “If a person does them, he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5b). “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).
As the story of God’s “son” Israel unfolds, the nation’s sin appears to eclipse the original paternal promises. “You are not my people, and I am not your God,” they’re told (Hosea 1:9c). God’s “son” Israel is exiled out of his home, and cycles of pagan domination culminate in 400 years of divine silence. Certainly, were justice done, the divine legal system would remove this unworthy child from the household of God.
But in Galatians, Paul uncovers a glorious truth. The law was a temporary legal guardian — yet God’s plan was always to assume permanent custody of his people.
Some translations render the word “guardian” with “tutor,” evoking imagery of schoolteachers instructing children in grammar school until they graduate to higher studies. While the law does have this teaching effect, the Greek paidagógos (from which we derive pedagogue) signifies more than education only; most translators recognize a paidagógos as a legally-appointed caretaker responsible for the holistic development of a youth. The similarity to modern, court-appointed custodians is striking.
The implication for us is this: under the old covenant, God fostered his children. The relationship between God and his people appeared (outwardly) to be based on conditions while the people were still learning from the Mosaic covenant the nature of sin, law, and judgment. These truths were critical for the people of God to learn. In time, the law fulfilled its job tutoring the people on their need for a Savior, and a better arrangement arrived in Christ. The good news of the gospel is that his plan was always to foster-to-adopt.
Gone from us is the spirit of anxiety about our Parent, replaced by the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5-6). Once aliens and orphans, now we receive a sure pledge of the Father’s love. “I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God’” (Hosea 2:23b).
Permanence in God’s family arrived in the person of Christ. In him, perfect, legal adoption is ours at last, through faith.
Living it Out
Court hearings, check-ins with caseworkers, visits with biological family — fostering is messier than adoption. Is it worth it? Yes. Both adoption and fostering are stages on which our family can act out the drama of redemption.
If fostering was futile, God himself would not have “fostered” his covenant people before sending Christ, subjecting them to centuries of uneasiness before finally unleashing his adopting love upon them in the new covenant. Just as those dealings between God and Israel served a purpose, for us, every ounce of gospel-driven love we show to our foster child has eternal value, regardless of whether we adopt. Our labor for the Lord is not in vain. We are nurturing a child in need, planting gospel seeds, and incarnating the Father’s love.
Moreover, the foster relationship can do in your family exactly what it did for God’s people — readying hearts to greet adoption through Christ.
The love of a foster parent is never wasted because we serve the fostering God. Don’t be afraid to foster.
Alex is the Director of Long-Term Missionary Mobilization for Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), shepherding new career missionaries and their churches through the sending process. He often writes for Message Magazine and cohosts The Missions Podcast. After earning his M.A. in Communication and B.S. in Biblical Studies, he served as an online apologetics instructor with Liberty University Online and a youth pastor in Pennsylvania, where he now resides with his wife, foster son, baby daughter on-the- way, and noisy dog Jake.