LORD WILLING, THIS ARTICLE WILL BECOME AN APPENDUM TO THE NEXT REVISION OF HOPE BEYONE HELL (p. 54) It is critical to understand that all humanity, in a very important sense, are God’s children!
Is God the Father of all human beings? Absolutely. Yet, many Christians don’t think He is because of the Bible’s teaching on adoption. But this is a serious error. Adoption, in the New Testament, does not carry the same meaning that it has in our modern American culture – making one a legal member of the family. Instead, it points to a position of status and authority – as one who has come of age. Regarding this word,” Greek scholar, William Barclay writes: “Paul is introducing us to another of the great metaphors.”¹ The Oxford American Desk Dictionary defines metaphor as “application of a name or descriptive term or phrase to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable (e.g., killing him with kindness). Synonyms include figure (of speech), analogy, image, figurative and symbolic.
W. E. Vine writes: “Adoption” is a term involving the dignity of the relationship of believers as sons; it is not a putting into the family by spiritual birth, but a putting into the position of sons… In Rom 9:4 “adoption” is spoken of as belonging to Israel, in accordance with the statement in Exod. 4:12, “Israel is My Son.” Cf. Hos. 11:1. Israel was brought into a special relation with God, a collective relationship, not enjoyed by other nations, Deut. 14:1; Jer. 31:9, etc.” ²
Dr. Marvin Vincent’s description is similar: ‘”Adoption” is a setting or placing: the placing of one in the position of a son. Mr. Merivale, illustrating Paul’s acquaintance with Roman law, says: ‘The process of legal adoption by which the chosen heir became entitled not only to the reversion of the property but to the civil status, to the burdens as well as the rights of the adopter – became, as it were, his other self, one with him… We have but a faint conception of the force with which such an illustration would speak to one familiar with the Roman practice; how it would serve to impress upon him the assurance that the adopted son of God becomes, in a peculiar and intimate sense, one with the heavenly Father'” (“Conversion of the Roman Empire”).³ Adoption then is the placing of one in the position of a son, i.e., to a particular status to the point where one becomes “his other self.” It is, in essence, becoming one with the heavenly Father.
Though all people are children of God in a paternal sense, only faithful believers are called “sons of God.” They are led by the Spirit of God. They put to death the misdeeds of the body and willingly suffer with Christ. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Ro. 8: 13-14). The word “if” clearly indicates that being a “son of God” is a conditional relationship.
“You received the “Spirit of” adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeedwe suffer with Him…” (Ro. 8: 15-17). Our sonship identity is conditioned on “if” we suffer with Him. Carrying one’s cross is not optional for disciples (Mt. 16:24). The phrase, “children of God,” is likely meant in a pre-sonship sense as it looks forward towards our full sonship status – attained through suffering.
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Ro. 8:18-19). The life that reveals us as “sons of God” (faithful disciples) is marked by suffering.
“For to you it has been granted… not only to believe…but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).
Jesus said to his disciples, “You will indeed drink from my cup” (Mt. 20:23).
“As you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:7).
“Share with me in the sufferings for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8).
“You endured a great struggle with sufferings” (Heb. 10:32).
“Since Christ suffered…arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1).
“… knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Pet. 5:9).
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons” (He. 12:7). Note the conditional nature expressed by the word “if.” And note the metaphorical use of the word “sons” in this phrase – “as with sons.” The words “if” and “as” are very significant.
Our “adoption” status is not bestowed on us automatically simply because we believe in Jesus. Adoption represents a status that results from faithful obedience. It symbolizes an intimate union or relationship with God. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). Note again the word “if.” There is a conditional element in our relationship (abiding) with God. The Apostle John confirms this:
“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming…[abide that we may not be ashamed]. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: [i.e. who is in relationship with God (abiding) and who is in relationship with evil – all metaphoric phrases]: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God [i.e. cannot be identified “as” a child of God]; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” 1 Jn. 2:28; 3:10. This is all conditional. As much as some try to deny it, our Lord, Paul and John all taught that certain spiritual benefits (such as being called a “son of God”) are conditional – they depend on how we live our lives.
Now, one might ask: “Why did Jesus say to the Jews that their father was the devil (John 8:44)? My reply: Metaphor! This is simply a figure of speech. But what did He mean by it? “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed…I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father… You do the deeds of your father (the devil – verse 44)” John 8:30-31, 38, 41). Incidentally, note the conditional word “if” once again. Do you truly think Jesus meant that these Jews, whom John says “believed Him,” were actually paternal sons of the devil – as though the devil himself fathered them physiologically? Of course not. He only meant that the deeds they did were those the devil would do and thus makes them “as” his children. William Barclay wrote: “When Israel forsook God, she was said to go whoring after strange gods; her infidelity was spiritual adultery. When the nation was thus faithless, the apostate people were said to be ‘children of harlotry'” (Hosea 2:4).4 Does this mean their Israelite ancestors were having sexual relations with idols? Of course not. This is all metaphorical. Jesus regularly used metaphor and hyperbole. “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them“(Mt. 13: 34). “And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?.., Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given'” (Mt. 13:10-11).
Some metaphors are more obvious than others. For example: Did Christ build His Church on Peter, or on a rock, or on Satan? “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church….But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan!'” (Mt. 16:18, 23) Was Peter a rock or was He Satan? He was neither. He was “as” a rock in one context and acted “as” Satan in another. This is metaphorical language and no one denies it. However, some metaphors are a little less obvious, but metaphors nonetheless. We must be careful to recognize and understand them or we will misinterpret the Scriptures.
“You received the “Spirit of” adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father'” (Ro. 8:15). Observe the metaphoric nature of this statement: “we are given a “Spirit of” adoption.” This supports what Barclay, Vine, and Vincent said above.
Note carefully! There is nothing in this metaphoric language that negates or contradicts the paternal nature of God as “Father” of all humanity. Every single person on earth (believer or non-believer) is a child of God in Adam – “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Our heavenly Father never stops being a Father. And as the Good Shepherd of all lost humanity, He will seek His lost sheep (children) “until” He finds them. (Luke 15:4 infers it). The idea that our Father would disown His own children forever (Ezekiel 18:4) is preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus revealed our Father’s true character in Luke 15:20: “But when he (the wayward son) was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” What a glimpse of our Father! He patiently awaits His wayward children “until” they come home. “The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15).
Paul says that we, “when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:1-5). Note that prior to being redeemed and adopted as sons, Paul nonetheless referred to us as children, not as mere creatures. Our Creator is also our loving Father. All human beings, Christian or not, are children of their heavenly Father – the Creator of all. No one is a mere product of a detached, unfeeling, impersonal, and unrelated Creator who’s only link to them is the raw power of creation. This is not the image the Scriptures portray of the Father of all.
Paul described God as “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph.4:6 NAS). I do not think he was referring only to believers in this passage, for in chapter one, he writes “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things [“things” is not in the Greek] in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). In chapter two Paul shows the metaphorical nature of the phrases “children of …” and “sons of …” He links our past identity to the phrase “sons of disobedience”(verse 2) and “children of wrath just as the others” (verse 3). Not the words “just as the others.” What does “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” mean? Do these mean that inanimate concepts give birth to animate objects (people)? Of course note. The metaphorical nature of these phrases are plain. In chapter three, Paul says grace was given him to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:8). And since Gentiles share fully in God’s grace, I am entirely justified in seeing a greater “all” in chapter four and verse six than our tradition admits. Consider chapter three again: “…the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles [the sons of men] should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel. (Eph. 3:4-6). “I bow to the Father…from whom the whole family in…earth is named (Ep. 3:14-15). God is always and always will be the Father of all people. There is but one God and Father of all.
As a result of understanding this truth, Peter’s statement in Acts 10:34-35 is no longer an enigma to me: He writes, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (NIV). Of course God accepts all men since they are His children as Paul so eloquently stated in chapter 17 (28-29).
Please, if you still do not accept that God is the Father of all in a paternal sense, then at least realize this one thing: If God cares even for the sparrows of the earth (Mt. 10:31), how much more will He care for every lost person for whom Christ died – of whom He wills to lose none (2 Pet. 3:9)? What human being has Christ not died for? (1John 2:2).
Finally, I urge you to walk humbly before all unbelievers as you have been given a great treasure in Christ. Take heed: “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Lu.12:48). Do not consider yourself superior in any way to any unbeliever since you too were an unbeliever once. But God has blessed you with faith and has begun transforming you into the image of Christ. There is nothing to boast of. To God alone be all the glory and praise. Ephesians 2:1-3, 8-9; 3:21.
1 Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans. Revised Ed. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975. 105.
2 Vine, W. E. An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1985. 13-14 Section II.
³ Vincent, Marvin. Word Studies of the New Testament. 1887. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973. 91
4 Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. Revised Ed. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975. 28.