Children of God

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering sin order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

Every person in the world is loved by God. Every human being is created in God’s image. Because of this, some people think this means that every person is a child of God. We’ve heard people say, “We are all God’s children.” Yet, that isn’t what we read over and over again in scripture.

Every person is invited into the family of God, but not everyone has accepted that invitation. Scripture is clear. We aren’t children of God from birth. We become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.

So while everyone is loved by God, not every person is a child of God. It takes faith in Jesus to be adopted into the family of God. Paul said it this way to the Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

There are some key phrases in that passage. “In Christ Jesus” we are children of God “through faith.” And, “if you belong to Christ” then you are an heir in the family of God. These are important qualifiers. We must belong to Christ, through faith, in order to be considered a child of God. John says something similar in his Gospel:

Yet 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 natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:12-13

According to John’s Gospel, the right to become children of God is a special right. It is not automatic. It is something we become. And the ones who have been given the right to become children of God, born of God, are the ones “who did receive him” and “believed in his hame,” that is, Jesus. The message is clear. We must receive Jesus into our life and believe in Him in order to become children of God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

1 John 3:1-2

Notice that there is a separation between “the world” and the “children of God.” The world has a hard time with children of God because it had a hard time with Jesus. This distinction would make no sense if everyone in the world was automatically a child of God. Yes, everyone is loved by God. Yes, everyone has been created in God’s image. But no, not everyone is a child of God, not until they give their life to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

The old platitude that “we are all God’s children” may sound nice, but it’s just not true. All are invited into the family of God, but not all have accepted the invitation. We are not automatically children of God. We become children, adopted into the family, through faith in Jesus. Through that faith in His name we receive the Holy Spirit, who is our sign and seal that we are in the family of God.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…

Ephesians 1:13-14

Humble Yourself

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:1-4

They ask Jesus about being the greatest in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus answers that just to enter the Kingdom we must become like children. And in order for adults to become like children we must change. The key to becoming like a child is to humble yourself.

It’s as if the doorway into the Kingdom of God is designed only for children. And if a regular-sized adult wants to get through the door, they are going to have to duck their head, drop to their knees, and bow low. Humility is the key–humbling oneself to engage in child-like faith, child-like trust, and child-like joy.

Love, forgiveness, faith and joy seem to flow easily for children. They are not hampered by skepticism, cynicism, bitterness or prideful self-consciousness. For adults to enter the Kingdom, we must return to this child-like heart posture toward God and toward others.

Later, Jesus reiterates this point when He tells His disciples:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

Both Peter and James must have heard this message so much from Jesus that they repeated it in their own writings.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:10

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.” [Proverbs 3:34]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6

The message is clear. Humble yourself. Don’t wait for circumstances, other people, or God Himself to humble you. Humble yourself. Become child-like. Let go of pride. Fast. Pray. Serve. Humble yourself.

It’s as if spiritual attacks are launched at us from a certain angle. And we’ll get hit right between the eyes unless we duck our heads, bend our knees, and bow low. Yet, when we bow low, humbling ourselves, we will find that we are tucked neatly behind the shield of faith and protected from the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

How is God calling you to humble yourself?

The Wise and Learned

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 11:25-26

Pride and arrogance shut down our ability to receive and hear from the Lord. Jesus praises His Father for hiding the secrets of the Kingdom of God from the wise and learned. Access to the deep things of God doesn’t come through theological education or years of bible study. It comes through intimacy with Jesus, the kind of intimacy where we operate in faith like a child.

This is the danger of formal theological and biblical education. I was a biblical studies major in college. I went on to seminary to get my Masters of Divinity. I value theological education and I am so glad that I learned all that I did in those settings. But if one does not maintain faith like a child in those settings, it can become a trap.

I saw so many friends lose their faith in those schools. I saw so many other friends embrace doubt and skepticism. I saw classmates start to reject the very scriptures that they had previously built their lives upon. I saw identities change from “children of God” to “wise and learned.” And then they’d wonder why God felt so “hidden” from them.

In part, this happened to me. I fell for one of the enemy’s oldest tricks. The temptation is to exchange information for intimacy. The more information I got, the less intimacy I thought I needed. And while I didn’t come close to losing my faith, I did lose my confidence in the truth of scripture. By the time I left seminary, my faith was riddled with bullet holes of doubt, skepticism and cynicism. I didn’t understand how toxic it really was until years later.

It took a radical disruption from the Holy Spirit and a process of Jesus renewing my mind in order to set me free from the demonic chains of unbelief. As I had encounter after encounter with the living God through the power of the Spirit, my skeptical mind was washed clean. I had renewed faith in the reality of the Kingdom of God on the earth, the truth of the gospel, and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

A woman spontaneously spoke a prophetic word over my life months before the radical disruption of the Holy Spirit began. She said to me, “You will walk in the power of God like the disciples leaving the upper room, but lean not on your own understanding.” This word over my life has become true, but the chronology of it was reversed. I had to first “lean not on my own understanding” before I ever experienced the power of God.

In order for God to reveal to me His power, He had to strip away what I thought I “knew.” He had to strip away my titles of “wise and learned” and had to return me to child-like faith and trust in the Lord. These deep truths of the Kingdom are hidden from the wise and learned but revealed to little children.

Are there parts of the Bible that you’ve rejected because you are now wise and learned?

Where does God need to return you to child-like faith?

Who is a child of God?

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 3:1-3

There are moments with the Lord when His Presence comes so near, when His love is felt tangibly in quiet moments with Him, that I weep with gratitude for getting to be so close to Him. One day it hit me like a ton of bricks: it is the greatest honor of my life to have the Spirit of God dwelling in me! What an incredible and undeserved honor!

God the Father lavishes His love on us. He doesn’t hold back. If we find we can’t feel His love, we: 1) rely on the truth that we know from scripture that His love never ends, and 2) find out what wound, hurt, or sin in us is separating us from experiencing His love. The problem is never on His end.

It is common to hear people say that all people are children of God. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not what scripture says is true. This passage, among others, makes clear that followers of Jesus alone have the unique privilege of being the children of God. Paul makes this point emphatically in his letter to the Romans:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:14-16

When the New Testament addresses “the children of God” it is talking about those who have given their life to Jesus, have received the Holy Spirit, and have been adopted into the family of God. It’s our second birth, when we are born of the Spirit (see John 3:3-8), that makes us children of God not our first birth.

In the 1 John 3 passage above, John makes a clear distinction between children of God and those of the world. Those in the world will have a hard time with children of God just as they had a hard time with Jesus. Likewise, our adoption into the family of God causes us to want to purify our lives because Jesus Himself is pure. Being a child of God means we long to be like Jesus!