Children of God
A. E. Long, Nutley
THE NEW TESTAMENT distinguishes between the expressions 'children of God' and 'sons of God'. Unfortunately, in the Authorized Version this distinction has been confused, because the translators have sometimes used 'children of God' where 'sons of God' would be more correct, and vice versa. The Revised Version, from which quotations are taken, gives the correct rendering. We may say that by 'children of God', relationship is intended, and by 'sons of God', status. We shall consider the various Scriptures dealing with these two aspects in two articles. The present article is devoted to the subject 'Children of God'.
The Ground of Relationship
'But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God . . . which were born ... of God', John 1. 12, 13. These verses must be considered in the context of the previous verse: 'He came unto his own things, and they that were his own received him not'. 'They that were his own' were the Jews who rejected Him and yet claimed to be 'children of God'. They presumed, from a long religious tradition, but without regard to its moral obligations, that thereby they were His children. But the Lord, judging by their murderous hatred of Him, said the devil was their father.
The contrast 'But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God' indicates a relation¬ship, not based on religious privilege or tradition, but upon new birth - 'which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God'. Only such have the right, privilege, or authority to become children of God. It can be called the 'birthright' of new birth. The word translated 'children' (Greek, teknon, meaning one born, a child) confirms the thought of birth. New birth is not natural, but divine - 'not ... of man, but of God'. The Lord had need to disabuse Nicodemas on this very point when, confused by His words 'Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God', he had asked 'can (a man) enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?'. To this the Lord replied 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit', in which He made clear that natural birth was one thing and spiritual birth was another. They belonged to different kingdoms.
The Confirmation of Relationship
'The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God', Rom. 8. 16. New birth is the quickening of the human spirit, formerly 'dead in trespasses and sins', by which the subject is 'passed out of death into life'. Such a person becomes 'spiritual' instead of 'natural' and as such is amenable to the Holy Spirit, who indwells him, thus forming a vital link between God and himself. Every blessing received by the Christian is mediated by the Holy Spirit, who, among other things indwells, seals, sanctifies, instructs and anoints. Not least among these blessings, the Holy Spirit confirms the fact of relationship with God, in that He 'beareth witness with our spirit'. He does so by reference to the Word of God. It follows that the believer should have an assurance of relationship with God as His child, as a normal experience.
The Charter of Relationship
'Creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God', Rom. 8. 21. The charter of the children of God is one of liberty and glory. The Lord Jesus said 'ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ... if therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed'. This was a charter of liberty from the domination of sin - 'every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin'. Sin brings into bondage, from which only the Son can deliver. The ultimate expression of sin's bondage is death. Hence the Lord said to the unbelieving Jews 'except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins'. 'The wages of sin is death' in the sense that they are paid by a tyrant master for services rendered. In principle, the children of God are already delivered 'from the bondage of corruption (Conybeare, 'slavery of death'), into . . . liberty'. Sin has no necessary dominion over the Christian any more than it had over Christ (cf. Rom. 6. 9, 14). By His cross and defeat of Satan, Christ has extracted 'the sting of death' and delivered 'all them who through fear of death were . . . subject to bondage'. For the believer, death is a defeated 'enemy' and, even where the believer's body has seen corruption in death, at the Lord's coming 'it shall put on incorruption' and join its already emancipated spirit. Instead of 'the slavery of death' will be 'the liberty of . . . glory'. What is already true of the Christian in a spiritual sense and will be more fully true of him at 'the revealing of the sons of God', will then be extended to the 'creation itself, at present in 'the bondage of corruption', from which it cannot escape until God breaks its thrall (cf. Rom. 8. 18, 30).
The Mark of Relationship
'Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children', Eph. 5. 1. Not infrequently children bear a striking resemblance to their parents, whether of feature, carriage, gesture, speech or temperament. The children of God are expected to exhibit the moral features of their Father. If the devil's offspring reflect his character, in such traits as lying and hatred (cf. John 8. 44), God's children should be marked, among other things, by truth and love. Hence, Paul's exhortation continues 'walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for you'. The 'therefore' of v. 1 connects with the last verses of chapter 4. Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, railing and malice are all incompatible with God's character and, hence, inconsistent in His children. Contrari¬wise, God's character has been expressed in kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness and these traits should be seen in His 'beloved children'. Had there been more faithful 'imitators of God', church history would have read vastly differently. Our combative instinct should be fully engaged. in 'wrestling' with the enemy, Eph. 6. 12. When we cease from this, we shall surely fall into disputing with one another. When the Israelites left off fighting the Canaanites, they engaged in civil war.
The Certainty of Relationship
'Children of God: and such we are . . . now are we children of God', 1 John 3. 1, 2. It would have been presumptuous on the prodigal's part had he protested, after his re-instatement in the family circle, that he were not a child, for his father's acts had given the fullest sanction to the fact. The robe, the ring, the shoes, the feast, all attested the fact. John dogmatically asserts that 'such we are . . . now are we children of God'. It would be presumption to doubt it as even now a fact, or to think of it as a privilege only reserved for the future. According to John, the present fact of being 'children of God' postulates an even more glorious future. What we now are argues what we shall presently be. Hence he writes, 'now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is'. The words 'It is not yet made manifest' mean that 'what we shall be' has not yet passed into history, not that the destiny of the children of God has not yet been revealed. That destiny is 'we shall be like him'. This 'hope', like all hope in God, does not suggest uncertainty, but assurance.
The Evidence of Relationship
'Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God', 1 John 3. 9, 10. The difference between the children of God and the children of the devil is that the former have a new nature from God - 'begotten of God' -which 'cannot sin', and the latter have an old nature, derived from Adam, which is ever prone to sin. It cannot be said of the believer, however, that the possession of a new nature from God exempts from the possibility of sinning - 'if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us ... If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar'. The child of God will not practise sin, but if he fail, God has graciously made provision in the advocacy of 'Jesus Christ the righteous'.
To be followed by SONS OF GOD.