Some months ago I saw a birth announcement that caught my eye. I didn’t know the parents or the baby. I don’t even remember their names. But I won’t forget what it said on the card. It said ‘I am a Child of God.” The parents believed that their new baby was a child of God. This was
not the first time I had come across someone referring to their child as a “child of God.” Is this a proper biblical use of this title? This is what compelled me to study the biblical use of the expressions, ‘children of God,’ ‘adoption,’ and ‘sons of God.’ What I found shows that some people are very confused about who are the Children of God.
The Bible teaches that there are two families. Every single person belongs to one of the two families. There are no other families that we can belong to. There is no such thing as the universal fatherhood of God. Humans are not all part of one big family. There is the family of God. To this family belong all the redeemed. Then, there is the family of Adam or the family of the Devil. 1 John 3:10 makes
this very clear. “By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Or consider the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:36-43. There Jesus explains there are two types of people; sons of the kingdom and sons of the evil one. Each person will find
themselves in one of these two families.
The family of the devil is not hard to enter. We simply have to be born in this world by sinful parents. We have received a sinful nature like our parents which causes us to act like the devil. This is clearly taught in Ephesians 2:1-3. There, Paul describes our natural condition. We are the “sons
of disobedience” and “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah thought that they were children of God. But Jesus told them because they rejected Him that they were of their father, the Devil. See John 8. We give evidence that we are sons of the devil by our sinful lives. We are selfish, proud, disobedient, haters of God,
self-righteous, idolaters and lovers of sinful pleasure. These are those who gratify the desires of the flesh as seen in Galatians 5:19-21.Every person has at one time in his life been in this family. It is not a wonderful family to belong to. In it are only sin, misery and condemnation. On our own we cannot
get out of this family. But thanks be to God who is full of love and mercy for He can rescue us.
The family of God is not entered on our own or by the help of someone else. We do not enter this family by being good enough. We are not God’s children because we are so kind and wonderful. God doesn’t look down and see some people trying really hard to be good and then thinks, "Oh what wonderful people, I would love for such good humans to be in my family.” No, we are never good enough for God to adopt us as His children. Being born a certain color, nationality, or ethnic
group will not make us children of God. Being white is not our ticket into God’s family. Being a Jew or Dutch or Russian will not give the right to be in God’s family. Being born to Christian parents does not make you a child of God. Parents cannot give to their children a place in this family. Going to a certain church, being baptized, eating the Lord’s Supper, and being in ministry will never make you a child of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 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. The last part of this text reveals to us how we cannot get into the family of God. But it also reveals how we can become children of God. This is what we want to
look more closely at now.
Adoption begins with God. Parents are the ones who begin the process of adopting a child. They choose the child and pay the adoption fee. So it is the same with adoption into God’s family. As it says in Ephesians 1:5, ‘In love He predestined us for adoption as sons though Jesus
Christ.” So God the Father begins the adoption process by choosing us before the foundation of the world. God the Son was “born of women, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Gal 4:4,5. Jesus came to earth to accomplish salvation so we could be reconciled to the Father and receive adoption. God then regenerates us
by causing us to be born again. We are born again by the will of God. So, God does everything needed to adopt us. Even when we are called to respond to the gospel message in faith and repentance, God supplies the faith we need. Salvation and adoption are all “to the praise to His glory.” Ephesians 1:14
When we are regenerated, we respond to the gospel message in faith and repentance. Faith in Christ is the means by which adoption happens. “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12. To receive and to believe is the same thing. It is to trust and yield allegiance to Jesus Christ. “For in Christ, you are all sons of God,
though faith.” Gal 3:26. Without faith there is no adoption. This text is very clear. You cannot call anyone who has no faith in Christ a child of God. Thomas Watson says this in his “Body of Divinity”, “Before faith is wrought, we are spiritually illegitimate; we have no relation to God as a father. An unbeliever may call God judge, but not father. Faith is the affiliating grace; it confers
upon us the title of sonship, and gives us right to inherit.” P 163
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ is the proverbial expression used to say that someone’s children act just like their parents. This is true with regard to relationship to our heavenly Father. We cannot see the heavenly adoption papers, but we can see the evidence that we are children of God. Since we are God’s children, we will want to act just as our heavenly Father acts. Ephesians 5:1
says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Children of God will desire to please their Heavenly Father by living godly lives. Children of God will produce the fruit of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit indwells them, in fact He is called in Romans 8:17 “the Spirit of Adoption.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies His Children though the truth of God’s word and gives them the power to walk in
obedience. This is what it says in Romans 8:14,” For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” Walking in obedience to the Scriptures through the power of the Spirit is the real evidence of our adoption. So if a person is without the indwelling of the Spirit and a godly life, then that person cannot claim to be a child of God
It is also true that anyone who is not a child of God cannot claim to be an heir to the inheritance. Before we are born again, we are a slave to sin. Since we are a slave we have no right to the inheritance. We will be shut out of the kingdom of God. But since we are sons, then we are heirs of God. This is stated in Galatians 4:7, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an
heir through God.” And in Romans 8:17, “and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Our inheritance is not a possibility or a potential, but a for sure guarantee. It
is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:4. This inheritance is far more glorious than we can understand. We will dwell in a Kingdom ruled by a Perfect King without pain, sin, tears, sadness and suffering. We will dwell in perfect fellowship with God Himself. We will enjoy the company of all the family of God. We will have
perfect joy. This is what the children of God will inherit though the grace of God.
There is presented in Scripture another adoption. This adoption is different from the one we have been looking at. In Romans 9:4, Paul said his kinsmen according to the flesh, Israel, has an adoption. We can see this in the Old Testament. There are a number of times where Israel is called God’s son or firstborn son. “You are the sons of the Lord your God.” Deut 14:1. The Lord is called Israel’s father a few times as well. David in 1 Chron 29:10 says “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.” Isaiah says “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” Isa 63:16. But, these concepts in the Old Testament refer to a national adoption not an
individual adoption of salvation. This is clearly shown in John 8: 37-47. There the Jews insist that God is their Father. But Jesus says “If God were your father you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” verse 42 and then in verse 44 He says, “ you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” These Jews had the adoption Paul talks about in Rom 9:4, but they were still children of the devil. There are then clearly two different types of adoptions presented in the Bible. James M. Boice says in his commentary of Romans, “When it (adoption) is used of believers it refers to their new status before God as His spiritual sons and daughters resulting from
redemption and the new birth. When it is used of Israel, as here, (in Rom9:4) it refers to God’s selection of the Jews as an elect nation through which He would bring salvation to the world.”Vol.3 p.1026. It is vitally important to understand this distinction found in God’s word. Failing to do so will only bring confusion and error. There is a progression found as the Lord unfolds His redemptive plan. One example is the doctrine of individual adoption unto salvation. Nowhere in the Old Testament does any individual Jew refer to God as his father. There is no Psalm where the psalmist addresses God as Father. When Old Testament Saints address God as Father, it is in a corporate sense. It
isn’t until Jesus came to earth that we see God addressed as Father by an individual. This is how Jesus addresses God in His prayers. This is the example He gave us to follow. The doctrine of adoption as children of God isn’t really addressed in the Old Covenant. It is something hidden till Christ should appear and the Spirit poured out. Then, the full benefits and the full understanding of
adoption is revealed to us in the New Covenant. But Israel’s adoption was a national adoption of the Jews, which did not give to individual Jews the right to be God’s children.
So why is it important that we understand who the children of God are? First, if we are confused on this, we will confuse the gospel. To be a child of God is to have salvation. Calling someone a child of
God when they are not suggests there is another way to be saved. Faith in Jesus is not the only way then. Second, it will give false assurance. If we call our unsaved children ‘children of God’ and as they grow up they read in the Bible about all the benefits that a child of God has, they may begin to think that since they have been called a child of God that they possess all these benefits without placing their faith in Christ. False assurance is no small matter for it leads to the pit of hell. We must understand from scripture who are the children of God. Failing to do so will begin to undercut the gospel and may lead to sinners who think they are saints. Let me leave you with a quote from
JC Ryle, “Remember what I have said, and never let it go. No inheritance of glory without sonship to God. No sonship to God without an interest in Christ. No interest in Christ without your own personal faith. This is God’s truth. Never forsake it.”