Children of God
The questions often posed are, "Is it presumptuous of Christians to call themselves children of God?" and "Are Christians truly children of God or just forgiven sinners?" Since our natural intellect does not have the ability to receive spiritual realities, let's turn to the scriptures for our answers.
We'll first consider the meaning of the term, "children of God". Our natural birth brought us into death, for without Christ we were dead in our transgressions and sins. We were children of wrath - not children of God. In order to be taken out of this death we have to receive Him who is life. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)
Entry into the spiritual realm of life takes place through a birth that has nothing to do with the physical body. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless we are born of water and the Spirit we cannot enter the kingdom of God. We know that water judged the world in Noah's time, so water symbolizes judgment. We cannot become children of God unless we judge our world of carnal thinking to be in darkness and death. Without that judgment we cannot repent of it and be born of the Spirit. Yet how can a dead man make that judgment? Since that is impossible, this judgment has to be received in Christ who raises the dead. Christ awakens us out of our sleep of death so His light can shine on us. (Eph. 5:14) He is the truth, and truth judges the mind of the flesh, for our natural, carnal mind is full of lies and deception, and is unable to please God.
Those who believe, "were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." What a surprising statement! We thought we had decided to follow God, and here we see that our new birth has nothing to do with our will - the will of the flesh. In other words, it has nothing to do with our will! Our natural mind tells us that we made a decision to put our faith in Christ, but the scriptures tell us that it is not by man's will; it is all of God! "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:8-9) God gives us the faith to believe! "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44) The last day refers to the last day of our old life.
Our new birth by the Spirit takes place through faith in Christ Jesus. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26) Our new birth makes us a new creation, a spiritual being.. (2 Cor. 5:17) It takes us out of the Adam man and puts us into Christ, the Son of Man. It does not change or remodel the Adamic nature; it gives us a new nature - the nature of Christ! Therefore we do not examine our human nature to determine who we are; instead, we look to the Christ who indwells us. "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you - unless indeed you fail the test?" (2 Cor. 13:5)
Everyone in past, present and future generations, is either in Adam or in Christ. In Adam all die, and in Christ all are made alive! We can only get out of the death that resides in Adam through Jesus Christ, for He is the resurrection! He raises us out of our death in Adam and puts us into His life. His life gives us a new nature. We have been born of an incorruptible seed - a seed that cannot be corrupted! (1 Peter 1:23) Everything that grows out of this seed is in life; it can never die, so it is impossible to corrupt God's life in us!
Our natural mind tells us a different story because the flesh is always against the Spirit. It tells us that we are still sinners because we still sin, and that the death of our physical body will change our status. Some Christians even go as far as to say that there will be sinners in heaven. But wouldn't that bring corruption into heaven? In Romans 7 Paul explains that it is not the new creation man who sins; it is the flesh, the Adam nature that sins. It is so important that we see the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man! If we don't receive God's testimony of who we are in Christ, we'll believe the deception and lies that are fed to us by the natural mind.
Believing the natural mind makes us think and feel like the 10 spies when they saw the giants occupying the land that God had promised them. They saw themselves in the eyes of the enemy instead of in the eyes of God and His promise to them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers instead of overcomers; they saw themselves as weaklings in comparison with the strength of the enemy. They were not looking at God's ability to drive out the enemy. When we see ourselves in separation from the power of God, we see Him as being weak together with us. If we still see ourselves as being separated from God after we have been born again, we will not recognize the power of God in us, and therefore we will not avail ourselves of His power. This brings us into the captivity of our carnal thinking - without having the ability to overcome the enemy, and believing that we are still sinners.
Believing God causes us to recognize our union with Christ. Believing God also causes us to realize that we are a new creation, and that His power is working so mightily in us that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us! (Eph. 3:20: Rom. 8:37) His power is greater than death, for it raises the dead - it is resurrection power! Our dependence on Christ brings us into victory over all the allurements and temptations of the enemy.
It is God's love and grace that brings us into the high honor of being called sons of God. In 1 John 3:1-2 we read, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." John so clearly declares that we are already children of God, even at this present time! Since we have been born of God, born of the Spirit, born from above, we now have God as our Father. Those who are fathered by God are His children. How can God's children be sinners? If they are still sinners, their new birth is meaningless, for it has not made them a new creation. But the scriptures declare that we are a new creation! This is present tense! It does not say that we will become a new creation after our physical death. “The old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
The scriptures differentiate between children (Greek: TEKNON) and sons (Greek: HUIOS). Sons are children who have matured to the point that they are no longer under the law; instead of being governed by the law, they are led of the Spirit, and are now above the law. In those days, this change in status was called adoption. (Gal. 4:1-5) In modern usage, adoption has a different meaning. It means to receive someone into one's own family by legal process and raise it as one's own child. But these children do not have the nature of their new parents, whereas children born into the family have the father's nature. We are born into God's family and have the Father's nature!
So let's look at Romans 8:14-17 with this in mind. "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons (HUIOS) of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons (you are no longer governed by the law) by which we cry out, `Abba! (denoting the faith and adoration of a little child) Father!’ (the voice of maturity in recognition of the Father's character). The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
Notice that the Spirit testifies that we are children of God - and we can believe His testimony! It does not say that we will become children of God. God does not give unbelievers His Spirit. They have to be born of the Spirit before they can have His Spirit residing in them.
Those who are governed by the Law are in slavery to their laws, rituals and man-made traditions, and filled with fear, guilt, and condemnation whenever they fail to keep them. Christ came "So that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:5,6) Christ came, not only to free us from our self-effort to keep the law, but to give us the power to reign over the law! Obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit takes us out of the Law.
Jesus came to bring a division between the flesh and the spirit, and He wants us to maintain this division. Jesus demonstrated the meaning of this. He spoke to sinners, loved them and ate with them, but He never made an unholy alliance with them. We have received His nature, "`Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord. `And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17-18)
Being separate from the world does not mean that we live in isolation from the world. If we claim to be Christians yet live like the world, we are taking His name in vain. We are to live above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. God wants His children to live in agreement with who they are. "So that you will prove yourselves blameless, and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world."(Phil. 2:15) We are to be lights in this world of darkness. The degree of darkness that is taken away by light depends upon the brightness of the light. The light of the sun takes away more darkness than the light of the moon. Cursing and condemning the darkness have no effect on the darkness. Light is needed to do away with darkness, and Paul tells us that we are to be that light!
In ages past, people used oil lamps to give them light at night. To keep the lamps burning brightly, the wicks needed trimming and the lamp chimneys needed cleaning. In like manner we need to be trimmed and cleansed of all that keeps us from being the light we are purposed to be. This cleansing process occurs when the Lord disciplines us. It feels painful, but it is for our good. God loves us so much that He is willing to travel this rough route together with us, keeping us and guarding the process.
"For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb. 12:6-8) We are to understand that God's discipline is a proof of His love for us. Discipline does not have the same meaning as punishment. Discipline is always redemptive - its purpose being to change us so we will desire what is right. Punishment, on the other hand, does not necessarily bring about an inward change in the person being punished; it only satisfies the righteous indignation of the one against whom the offence is committed. What a comfort to know that God's discipline is not punishment, but the process he uses to rid us of our fleshly lusts and desires!
Even as Jesus learned obedience though the things He suffered, so we can only learn obedience through enduring hardships and sufferings. "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." (Heb. 2:10) Christ remained obedient during all the trials and sufferings the evil mind of the devil through the carnal mind of man could inflict on Him. For this reason He was crowned with glory, and given a name that is above every other name,. This is the glory that He wants for us!
God wants His children to mature and to be transformed into His image! What a lofty goal He has for us! To us this may seem impossible, but God has promised that He is able to complete that which He has begun. He is the author and finisher of our faith! We don't look to our own strength and ability to bring about this transformation. That would indeed be useless! We look to Him for whom nothing is impossible!
Although we may find it easier to think that we are just forgiven sinners, we need to know this thought comes from our carnal mind, and that it is contrary to the word of God. It is so important for us to know that we are God's children! We need to know who we are, and that we are rooted and grounded in Christ! We are united with Him, and He is our life! Our new nature will become evident to the world when we live in the knowledge of who we truly are, and Christ’s attitude of love and forgiveness will be mirrored in our actions. Our identification as His children comes in calling God our Father.
We are God's children because we have been born of God; we mature into sons as we walk in obedience to the Spirit. Without obedience to God's directives we remain immature. But God wants sons, so He increases His disciplinary measures to help us to become overcomers, "He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son." (Rev. 21:7) What a wonderful promise is given to those who overcome! The highest honor in God's kingdom is to be a son of the Most High God! Sonship involves relationship. In God's kingdom sonship is foundational to being given authority. All rule and authority flows out of relationship with the Father. This intimate Father-son relationship is worth every tear, every heartache, every difficulty, every trial, and every suffering we are called upon to endure!
How thankful we are for the grace that is ours in Christ! We are thankful that our salvation is not by works that we have done, but by His mighty grace! We thank God that He forgives us and makes us a new creation. We marvel at God's ability to cause us to be born of His Spirit and thus to become His children! We stand in awe at the high calling of sonship that is ours in Christ! What a mighty God we have!