Children of God

Posted 5/27/2018

Scripture: Romans 8:12-17

When I was a child in Sunday School I remember singing “I’m a Child of the King.” Singing that song I sensed that somehow, we who followed Jesus, were different from others, even in a certain way “special.” Our epistle lesson for today makes this point. 

Yet there is a way in which Christians today at times seem to have lost this fact. We worry that any claim to being “special” as a Christian smacks of superiority. In today’s world it is common to hear people, and especially Christians, talking about how we are ALL children of God. 

Beyond a concern about not sounding superior, the assumption in stating we are all God’s children seems to be that unless we are all called “children of God” there is no real basis for our treating one another with respect, compassion and grace. However, as we’ve seen in our stewardship series, we are stewards of all God has created. That means our relationships with one another are a part of our stewardship. We respect others, not because they are God’s children, but simply because they are God’s creation. 

As I’ve indicated, in a world focused on equality, for us to claim a special status seems somehow “wrong.” It seems, as I’ve said, to smack of superiority and to be exclusive. But if this is true, why does Scripture repeatedly indicate that God’s people enjoy a special status with God? What does that special status mean? And what are we to make of all this today?

I think the first thing we need to understand is that any claims to a “special status” with God isn’t a claim that we are somehow better than others. The fact is, our status as “children of God” has come about not by our own efforts, goodness or anything we are or may have done. Our being “children of God” comes about only because we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to brag about for what we are is a gift of God, pure and simple. With that in mind, let’s turn to what our epistle lesson for today has to say about what it means to be “children of God.”

The first thing that this passage our being children of God means is that we aren’t fearful. We know God as our “Father.” Once again, in today’s world that may not seem like much. After all, we think of Jesus as our best buddy and tend to view God as a tolerant, kindly being. If we were to consider our mental image of God it would probably bear more similarity to that of an indulgent grandfather than being even vaguely close to that of a demanding father. For modern people the Scriptural notion of “fear of the Lord” seems outdated. God is a God of love — there is no reason to “fear” God.

All of this makes it very difficult for us to recognize just how radical — even blasphemous — it was for Jesus and his disciples to address God as “Father.” Such familiarity with God was to ignore God’s holiness, glory and majesty. It was sacrilegious. It was treating God as if God were just like any other human being. It was a blatant affront to God’s honor. God was in heaven and humans were on earth….

Now there is a certain “goodness” about our modern easy familiarity with God. It IS in certain ways a true reflection of the good news of the gospel. Jesus IS God come among us in as a human being. God no longer is simply “in heaven” but has actually lived among us as one of us. And, Jesus did teach his disciples to approach God without fear, with the same intimacy with which he himself approached God.

Yet the thing we miss in this is the reality of God’s holiness. The reality that we aren’t simply children of God because God created everyone and loves everyone (true as those statements may be). Rather we have become children of God by virtue of being in Christ. We are not children of God by right, but by adoption. 

As I’ve indicated, I suspect one of the reasons that this biblical idea of only Christians being children of God has fallen into disfavor is the fact we have too often used this as an excuse to say (in our actions if not in our words) we are somehow superior to everyone else. And certainly, this passage indicates we do have blessings from God as God’s children that are not promised to everyone. The passage indicates we are not only children of God, we are told, but we are also heirs of God — that we are receiving all the blessings Christ has received. 

However, all too often we want to stop reading at that point. We don’t want to hear or acknowledge the passage goes on to say “if, in fact, we suffer with him.” That is, we want to claim the blessings of being God’s children without claiming the responsibilities of being God’s children. 

To be a child of God means to live as a child of God. It means to live in a way that is different from the ways of the world. It means to live as Jesus lived. 

Yet we are also told that to live this way is to live in conflict with the world. It is to live “by the Spirit, …put[ting] to death the deeds of the body.” To live in this way is to be at much at odds with the world around us just as Jesus was at odds with the world of his day. 

Suddenly our “specialness” doesn’t seem quite as appealing! After all, who wants to suffer as Christ suffered? Who wants to be rejected as Christ was rejected? Who wants to take up a cross (even if it is only a metaphorical cross) just as  Christ took up his cross?

Yet this is the witness of Scripture. To be a child of God is to live as Jesus lived. It is to love as Jesus loved. It is to offer mercy and grace to everyone, just as Jesus did. It is to be a servant to others, just as Jesus was a servant. It is to suffer, just as Jesus suffered. It is to know, as the song says, “if you don’t wear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.”

Such a life certainly isn’t one in which we live with an attitude of superiority. In fact, it is the life of a servant. It is a life of service, not one of privilege. It is a humble life, not one of a prideful sense of being “first” and “best.”

And notice how this passage connects this life of service, this humble life, to our being heirs. It says the blessings we receive are dependent upon our first being willing to live as Christ lived. The one gift we receive in this life is simply that of not being afraid. It is the gift of knowing God’s holiness, majesty and power and yet also knowing God’s grace, love and mercy. It is the gift of approaching God as those who truly are God’s children — knowing God intimately as both Lord and Father. 

Yes, we are all God’s creation. But we who are Christians have been adopted into God’s family in a special way. We have been called to live a life of humble service. We have been called to show mercy, grace and love to all. We have been made stewards of God’s gifts. We have been given the privilege of suffering with Christ in this life. And it is as we live into that privilege that we also live into the privilege of inheriting with the risen Christ when our life is over.