In the church I pastor, there have been countless families adopting children from all over the world in the last decade. Our congregation has been strengthened practically and theologically by the adoption culture that has arisen. Seeing our spiritual adoption in Christ reflected by the rescue of orphans from around the world in our church community provides a constant reminder of the power of the gospel.
I delight in watching as these children are transformed by living as a part of the loving family that has chosen them to be their children. One of our pastors adopted two boys from Ethiopia whose siblings had all died of malnutrition. The day after their plane landed in Lexington with their new sons, they were at church with their beautiful family. As we introduced them to the congregation and the two new Haskins boys stood beside their four new brothers and sisters, they were stiff, awkward, and understandably overwhelmed by the moment.
The boys could not speak the language of their parents or anybody else around them. They were in a new place with new parents, new brothers and sisters, and standing in front of the largest crowd they had ever seen, but they did not know anything about what would become their story. Now, a few years later, when I see those two boys they usually have Atlanta Braves caps on and talk to me about how their favorite team is doing. And now those boys from Ethiopia speak with a little Tennessee twang, just like their dad. Recently, I heard that they had been to the library, and I asked one of them what book they checked out and he said, “Dale Earnhardt, the intimidator, best NASCAR driver of all time.” From an orphanage in Ethiopia, to saying y’all, Braves baseball, and NASCAR—quite a transformation.
How does a transformation like that happen? It does not happen by taking a bullet-point list of information about new things the boys should now do and telling them, “Apply this to your lives, sons.” It happened because they started learning and living a new story. The new story gave them a new identity. They were not two boys who were just being helped by a family named Haskins—they were Haskins. The Haskins family story was now theirs. They went to Lewisburg, Tennessee and heard their great-grandfather, J.T. Hargrove, tell them the same family stories that he told their father and their father’s father. His stories were now their stories. They did not abstract information from the Haskins’ family story and apply that information to their lives; they applied their lives to the Haskins’ family story.
Too often the approach we have modeled in our sermons and teachings for applying biblical truth has been oriented toward isolating truths from the Bible and applying them to our lives. In other words, we take information and principles from the Scripture and add the new information to our story. When, in fact, the Scripture is calling us to apply our lives to the biblical story that centers on Christ and his gospel. There is a world of difference between reading Scripture rummaging for facts to fix self-defined problems and reading Scripture as an adopted child of God who desperately wants to know your history and family story. We must not simply attempt to learn from the Bible but to live within the story of the Bible—the gospel. In Christ, all of the stories in the Scripture are our stories. We should long to develop a gospel accent and to walk in line with our new family gospel story. We are to find our identity in the story of Jesus.
The differing ways of approaching biblical application have profound consequences. Isolated moral facts and life principles wrenched out of the totality of the biblical storyline can easily be assimilated into ones own personal metanarratives, which present little challenge to the “wisdom of the world.” Faithful biblical application involves finding our lives in Jesus and applying our lives to his story so that we are transformed by the gospel. Thus, obedience is never a matter of performance but is “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5, 16:26) as adopted children who have their identity formed by the biblical gospel story.