Friday, December 08, 2006

who is a child of God?

I was unable to blog yesterday due to the fact that our home computer is nearly dead. We're trying to figure out burial/replacement plans. So for a few days (at least) I'll only be able to blog from the church office.

One thing I've been thinking about for the past couple of years is how we use the phrase "child of God." I seem to often run into a liturgy where it is implied that every created human being is a child of God.

I know that this is a nice-sounding thing to say about someone, but I don't see it supported in the Bible. From what I can tell a child of God is one who is adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. This more limited view of who is a child of God and who is not seems to be what is suggested by John 1:10-13:

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

From what I can tell, this passage seems to suggest that being named as a child of God is a "right" that is actually withheld from anyone who does not believe in/receive Jesus, and graciously granted to those who do receive him.

I know that someone of a different theological persuasion may argue that it is unkind, arrogant, or uncharitable to say that only those who have received Jesus are children of God and in the family of God.

I have a friend who says that we are all morally obligated to yearn for universalism to be true. I think we should yearn for everyone to become a child of God and be saved. But in the meantime I cannot buy into a Christian faith that is not built upon the truth that is laid out in the Bible, which seems to me to clearly say that a "child of God" is someone who has believed in/received Jesus.

Other Scriptures that seem to support this view would be Romans 8, Galatians 3:26; 4:6.


Dana said...

I think the story of the prodigal son illustrates this pretty well. The idea of all humans as "children of God" may not be directly biblical, but I think it fits in with the message of "reconciliation." There is this idea that we are being brought BACK to God through faith in Christ, that it is not just union but re-union.

I hope that Christians who speak of all people as "children of God" understand that most of those children are willfully estranged - abdicators of their inheritance, so to speak. And I think that idea is supported by scripture.

Larry B said...

Jason - I agree with your thoughts on this one.

Dana - nicely put.

bill mccracken said...

I think it is helpful to see "child of God" in two aspects.

The first aspect is that God is our Creator. All life comes from him. All of humanity still bears the "image of God", even if it is residual (the Bible does support this notion). So all are his children because he fathered the human race through creation.

The second aspect is that not all his children are yet completely, fully conformed to his image, that of Christ. That is a process.

I think the Bible balances this two aspects -- that God is the Father of all and yet not everyone looks or acts like the Father. Obviously, those who are trusting in Christ have begun the purposeful part of joining with God in "new creation".

But I think alot of damage is done to our fellow humans when we start to believe that mankind no longer bears the image of God and that life is no longer sacred.

Any thoughts on this?

Jason Woolever said...

hey bill,
thanks for the conversation.

as far as the first aspect, i would agree with this much: All life comes from him. All of humanity still bears the "image of God", even if it is residual (the Bible does support this notion).

But I wouldn't say this:
So all are his children because he fathered the human race through creation.

I would say that the Father fathered the only begotten Son, and he becomes our Father when we are born of the Spirit through faith in Christ.

I would agree with your second aspect: The second aspect is that not all his children are yet completely, fully conformed to his image, that of Christ. That is a process., but I would say that they are not yet his children who have not been adopted into his family through faith in his only begotten Son.

bill mccracken said...

It's an interesting subject, isn't it, Jason? How far can we take the Father/offspring analogy? In human terms, what child chooses to become a child? What child chooses who their father will be?

Again, if we see the father as the ultimate source of life, then, as the apostle Paul says, there is one Father of all. But if we interpret father as an integral, conscious part of a nuturing family, then relationship with children is implied.

So, honestly, I don't know how far we can go with the "father analogy". Are we talking source or relationship? When Jesus told the Pharisees that their father was the devil, what did he mean? When Paul says that there is only one Father, what does he mean? In the spiritual realm, do the children choose their father?

Any more thoughts? (And thanks to you for the conversation!)

Jason Woolever said...

i can tell that you're wrestling with some of the questions that the more emergent theologians are wrestling with.

personally, i'm not burdened by the same questions they are. in my opinion, God as Father is not an analogy but an actuality. And it doesn't really make any difference whether a human child can choose his own father or not. That doesn't change the way that God is the Father of those who are adopted into his family through faith in Christ.

bill mccracken said...

Jason, whether it is analogy or actuality, children aren't born into a family by the child's personal beliefs. Nor do adopted children become part of a family by exercising some kind of personal faith in the parents.

I’d be among the first to say that we, as children of God, need to be more and more conformed into God’s image, especially as seen in the person of Jesus Christ. If there is one major complaint that I have heard from the world about Christians, it is that they don’t act very much like Jesus.

Which brings up an interesting question. Do you recall the incident where Jesus is teaching in someone’s house and somebody says, “Hey, Jesus, your mother and brothers are here!” His reply was that the people gathered around him were his mother, brothers, and sisters, i.e. his “family.” All well and good EXCEPT for that fact that Jesus’ new “family” all deserted him at his trial and crucifixion. These, according to Jesus, “children of God” abandoned him in his hour of need. So why did Jesus call them his family if they lost their faith and confidence in him as the Messiah?

As soon as we draw a line that determines who are God’s children and who are not based upon some kind of profession of faith, we immediately eliminate from God’s family infants, small children, the mentally handicapped, and everyone born before Jesus (because he wasn’t around to profess faith in). Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that kind of hard-line exclusivism.

I’m not at all saying that everyone, even Christians, always “look like” their Father in heaven in their own character and “family resemblance.” Follow me around long enough and you’ll see that I don’t always act like a child of God. But as soon as we draw hard, firm lines about who’s in the family of God and who’s not, the next step for religion is to make war against “other families” and even to commit genocide against those who are “not part of us.” I just don’t think it is safe to go down that road with our theology.

Jesus seemed to have an “open door policy” where people were welcomed to be part of his family FIRST and professions of faith came later, sometimes much later. He welcomed those whom the religious of his day said would never enter God's kingdom. So I try to be careful about rendering judgments as to who is a child of God and who isn’t based upon one doctrinal set of criteria or even one verse of scripture. I’d prefer, at the very least, to see people as becoming children of God (even, of all people, myself) instead of trying to delineate who’s in and who’s out.

Well, I've probably said more than I should, being a newcomer here, but I don't see Jesus in the scriptures being criticized for being too exclusive, but, rather, for being too inclusive.

Blessings to ya.

Jason Woolever said...

Hey Bill,
You definitely haven't said more than you should. I appreciate you taking the time to articulate your opinion. You're helping me understand why other folks understand who is and isn't a child a God differently than I do.

Thanks for your comments. I welcome your thoughts and input on theological issues. Hope to hear from you more!

Your brother in Christ,