What does it mean to be a Christian? It means many things. It means we follow Christ. It means our faith is in the Triune God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. It means our sins have been forgiven.
But perhaps most incredibly and importantly, it means we have been adopted into God’s family — we are officially sons and daughters of God! We are also heirs with Christ!
2 Corinthians 6:18 is one of many verses that state this explicitly. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.
Illustrating the nature of this relationship, the Bible sometimes uses the term “Abba” Father in relation to God. Abba was the affectionate Aramaic term for father, perhaps akin to “daddy” in modern English.
Theologian J.I. Packer, in his best-selling book Knowing God, describes the revelation that Christians are sons and daughters of God as the “climax” of the entire Bible and the “highest privilege that the Gospel offers.”
That may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not. In fact, adoption is at the heart of what it means to be saved. Yes, we are saved from sin and the punishment we deserve. But also, we are adopted into God’s family.
Smashing through the confusion that is so prevalent today about what the “Gospel” actually is, Packer sums up the Gospel beautifully in just three words: Adoption Through Propitiation.
Adoption, of course, is the taking of a child as a son or daughter. In every respect that child becomes part of the family.
This actually addressed a question I wrestled with as a young child: How can Jesus be God’s only begotten son, and yet we are also God’s Children? The answer is that God adopted us into the family.
Propitiation is a much less-known term. Newer dictionaries do include it, but perhaps the most beautiful and full definition comes from the original 1828 Webster’s dictionary:
- The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person.
- In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage His wrath and render Him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men.
That leads to the obvious question of what is “propitious.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it as 1) “favorable, kind,” as applied to men, or 2) “Disposed to be gracious or merciful; ready to forgive sins and bestow blessings, as applied to God.”
In short, Christians have been adopted into God’s family through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: That is the Gospel message.
It is clear that only by faith in Christ can we become children of God. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus,” explains the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:26.
It is a common misconception— one that is even spread by some well-meaning Christians — that every person is a child of God. In fact, Bergolio, more commonly known as Pope Francis, has made this claim repeatedly.
But it’s wrong.
In fact, the Word of God and Jesus Christ himself refers to unregenerate men as “children of wrath” and even children of Satan. Yes, really.
Our Lord puts it this way in John 8:44 when speaking to those who reject the Gospel: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”
Let’s look at the passage in context, starting in verse 31
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”
Again, our Lord and Savior himself condemns those who reject the Gospel as children of Satan.
One of the reasons for emphasizing this is because Christians must be understood that being a child of God is an incredible honor and privilege. It is not something that just applies to everyone: It is a treasure beyond imagination.
The people who can truly call God their Father, then, are those who know they are sinners and place all their hope, faith and trust in God.
Before salvation and adoption, even those who are now Christian were children of wrath. But God predestined to save certain people because of His love. It is crucial to understand that this adoption was not the result of anything the Christian did — lest anyone should boast.
The great hymn writer (and brother of John Wesley) Charles Wesley put it beautifully in a hymn quoted by Packer.
Oh how shall I the goodness tell
Father, which thou hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven!
Of course, there are no words to adequately express the joy and thankfulness that the Christian experiences as a result of understanding that he or she has been adopted by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Praise God!
According to the Scriptures, adoption into God’s family means we are led by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit dwelling within us testifies to us of our adoption.
As Paul explains in Romans 8:14-17, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons 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 by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ 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.”
In addition to being led by the Spirit, adoption requires being born again — a mysterious process that God’s Word alludes to on multiple occasions.
“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the desire or will of man, but born of God.” John 1:12-13
Being adopted means Christians are more than merely servants or slaves of Yahweh — and what an honor it is to be a servant of the Most High God!
But in His goodness and mercy and love, God has made His children fellow heirs with Christ, too. In fact, adopting us as children and making us into heirs is one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world in the first place.
Now, just because we are heirs does not mean we have free reign or total dominion right now. God knows we are not yet ready to handle such an enormous amount of responsibility and power. But we are being prepared.
Galatians 4:1-7 expands on this: “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
In the Old Testament, while there are some references to God as Father, emphasis is much more strenuous on God’s holiness and our absolute inadequacy in every respect. None of this changes in the New Testament, of course. But we get additional revelation about the character of God and the relationship He has with us.
In the Old Testament, before Christ came down in the flesh, God is portrayed as so Holy that to even consider approaching Him is fraught with danger. Entering the Holy of Holies was an incredible ordeal requiring much preparation. But now, thanks to Christ and our adoption, the Christian can approach the Father boldly as a son.
Hebrews 10:19-22 emphasizes this: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
What a joy to know that our Father in Heaven hears us and cares for us in a way even human fathers can never come close to matching.
Still, there are lessons to be learned about being a son or daughter from human fathers. Consider some attributes and actions typically associated with good fathers: strength, unconditional love, protection, caring, authority, discipline, guidance, affection, mercy, understanding, and so much more.
Obviously, there are no perfect human fathers. Some of us were blessed with wonderful dads. And some people have no good reference point at all. But even if we had terrible fathers or no fathers, we all have an image of what an ideal father is.
And like the good and perfect Father that He is, God promises He will take care of us and listen to us. Matthew 7:11 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Now, that does not mean God will give us anything at all that we desire or ask for. After all, what sort of father would let his child eat ice cream and candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all his life? God knows what is good for us — we must trust Him.
Again, like a good father, God will also lovingly discipline His children when it is appropriate, for their own benefit, as He explains in the New Testament and the Old. In Hebrews 12:5-6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, God’s Word says: “and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
As God’s adopted children, we have obligations, too. What do good children do? They obey their father and they honor their father. Those are our responsibilities to God: we must obey, we must honor, and we must love.
In Matthew 5:48, God admonishes us: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Right before that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us that we are to love our enemies “that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.”
In Matthew 5:16, God reveals to us that our behavior should reflect well on Him: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Again, obedience is emphasized, as well as the fact that Jesus becomes our brother when we come into the family. In Matthew 12:50, Christ is quoted as saying: “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
This is declared again in Mark 3:35: “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Obedience is a constant theme. In Hebrews 12:9, the Apostle Paul writes: “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?”
Think on the implications of that statement. Pray about it.
Because God is our Father now, we are to be holy like Him. Writing in Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul explains: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
We must love our brothers and sisters. This is one of the ways God says the world will know we belong to Him. And we must even pray for and bless those who hate us and persecute us.
There are major implications to adoption, both in this world and in eternity. God’s Word makes clear that being His children means the world will not like us. In fact, Jesus warns that they will hate us. In 1 John 3:1, we learn: “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.”
However, that is a small price to pay. Know that if God is your Father, Heaven is your true home, so what does it matter if the world knows you not? Know also that your Father loves you more perfectly than any person ever could, and that He will keep you until you go home and will love you forever more.