Who are the children of God?

Question: Who are the children of God? Is it all who have ever lived, or only those who are “adopted” into His family by being “born again” through their “faith or faithfulness”?

Response: This is an issue that’s been quite divisive between various branches of the church. I’m not a scholar on these matters, but it’s my perception that it became a hot topic with the rise of Calvinism, due to the doctrine of double predestination. How could God predestine his children to endless conscious torment? Their answer: They are not his children. That’s the stream of Christianity in which I was nurtured, so I’m sensitive to the issue. A book, or several, need to be written on the topic, but for now, I’ll just briefly share some ideas and texts that have been most helpful to me:

1. Look at Matthew 5:1 and 7:28, then take a look at 6:9 and the way Jesus talks about “his father” as “our father” and “your father.” In 6:9 he commands these folks—none of whom were “Christians,” and not all of whom appear to have been Jews (4:24-25)—to pray, “our father.” If God is not their father, Jesus (the Truth) is commanding them to lie. I don’t know how folks get around this one. Jesus tells us over and over that his Father is our Father… and he says this to folks that don’t have a clue as to what it is that we mean by “Christian.”

2. There are five New Testament texts where Paul uses the word “adoption.” The Greek is “huiothesia.” It’s a word comprised of two other words translated “son” and “to put.” It’s a word translated as “sonship” by some versions like the RSV. Paul uses the word in Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4; Gal. 4:5, Eph. 1:5. In Romans 8:15 “the spirit of sonship” or “adoption” is the spirit of Christ, and throughout all of Romans, Paul will argue that all are predestined to receive this spirit. In 8:23 he talks as if we are still waiting for it, and yet he clearly believes that we are already children, and sons, and participants in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians, he argues that we become one spirit with this Spirit. He argues that this spirit of adoption belongs to Israel, but all humanity is destined to be grafted into Israel.

3. In Galatians 1:16, Paul claims that at his conversion, God revealed “his son in me” (this is the literal translation). In Galatians 3:21-29 he argues that “until faith” comes, we are all like children under a guardian (paidagogos), but when “faith comes” or “Christ comes,” we are all sons through faith. In 4:5 he talks about receiving “sonship.” Then in 4:6 he writes “because you are sons (notice that they’re already 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…” So, they were sons in the position of slaves (under a guardian) but have become sons in the position of Christ. The word implies a certain legal status as an heir. Paul speaks as if Christ is hidden in each of us behind the curtain in the temple of the soul, until the Word of Christ is preached, and Christ rises from within us through that torn curtain as his Spirit floods the temple of the human soul.

4. In Ephesians this all becomes even more obvious. In 1:5 he writes that “he has predestined us for adoption.” And then he goes on to write the most inclusive texts that I can imagine: “…as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth…Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (2:11-14) … For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (3:14-15) … There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (4:4-10)”

5. Perhaps the best example of what I’m saying is the parable of the prodigal son. Both sons are sons by nature, but when the prodigal returns from the far country, the father gives him a ring, a robe, and some shoes. The ring was most likely a signet ring. It gave the son authority. The robe is righteousness. And the shoes are freedom. He became a son in good standing, but he had always been a son by nature.

6. In Biblical anthropology, every human is “breath of God” and “dust, ‘Adamah.’” Breath of God is also “Spirit of God.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon speaks of this spirit returning to God or the earth, but the point is that in Biblical thought, the breath (Spirit) of God remains in humanity after the fall. So, God, the source of that Spirit, is the father of all, who gives life to all, although not all are in good standing. Malachi 2:10 “Have we not all one Father? Has not God created us?” This is a rhetorical statement. The answer is assumed and sums up the outlook of the Old Testament.

7. Listen to Paul (who is the only one to use the term, “huithesia”) in Acts 17 speaking to pagan philosophers: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:25-28) The word translated “offspring” is “genos.” If any would argue that “offspring” is not the same as “son” or “children,” it’s helpful to be reminded that Jesus referred to himself as “the descendant [genos (singular)] of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)

8. Check out the genealogy in Luke 3:23-38. It reveals that with Christ, we are all sons of Adam “the son of God” (v. 38). In 1 Cor. 15:40-46 and Romans 5:15-21, Paul makes it abundantly clear that we are all somehow “in Adam,” the first Adam. But we are all destined to be in the eschatos Adam, who is Christ. We are all sons by nature but will be, and are, reconciled sons in Christ Jesus for all eternity.

9. Texts like John 8:44 have often tripped people up. In that text Jesus say to “the Jews who had believed in him” (8:31), “you are of your father the devil” (8:44). Did Jesus believe that the devil could make people? NO. All things were made by God through him. In the last half of the very same verse, he says that the devil is “the Father of lies.” In Chapter 10, to the Jews that were preparing to stone him (10:31), he says “is it not written in your law, ‘I said you are gods?’” All the new testament bears witness to the fact that every person has a “old adam” and a “new adam,” “old self” and “new self,” “false self” and “true self,” “offspring of the devil” and “offspring of God,” “chaff” and “kernel of wheat,” “tare” and “wheat,” “goat” and “sheep.” The false self is the self that I think I make—it must be destroyed. The true self is the self that God has made and is making or revealing in time. Salvation is coming to terms with your own creation as a child of God.

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