What It Means to Be a Child of God

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Those are the words of the apostle John, found in his first letter (1 John 3:1). It’s as if John is saying, “Do you want to know the real character of God’s love for his people? Do you want to know how astonishing it really is? Well, look no further than the fact that he calls each of you his child, his sons and daughters. Because that’s exactly what you are.”

To really understand why this is such an appropriate way to understand the depth and quality of God’s love, we need to take a step back for a minute to remember what’s involved with being a child of God. 

In a phrase, it’s a stunning reversal. All of us, apart from Christ, weren’t people who merely needed a little help to get “back on track.” No, we were spiritually dead, enslaved to sin, and (whether we knew it or not) followers of Satan (see Eph. 2:1-3). We deserved death (Rom. 6:23). We were without hope (Eph. 2:12).

And yet, God didn’t give us what we deserved. Instead he gave us his beloved Son:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Paul’s words in Galatians make in clear that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection not only saved us from the punishment we deserved, but also saved us to an entirely different life. We’ve gone from rebellious traitors to favored sons and daughters, from slaves to royal heirs.

The blessings of this new life can be found all over the New Testament. A few examples:

1. God now loves you with the same love as he loves Jesus. (John 17:22-23)

2. We can now address God not only as the Creator and Lord of the universe, but also our Father, seeking the guidance, protection, and blessing he delights to give. (See the Lord’s prayer in Mat. 6:9-13.)

3. He’s given us his Holy Spirit as the first experience of our inheritance, which is no other than himself—an eternal, glorious life with the one person that can bring us the joy and satisfaction we long for. (See Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15, Rev. 21:1-5.)

Do you see now why John points his readers to the fact that they are children of God? As J. I. Packer writes in his classic, Knowing God:

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctly Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the Fatherhood of God….Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. (201-2)

One last point. The great truth of the gospel, of what God has done for us in Christ, and specifically all that it means to be adopted as his sons and daughters, allows us to take our focus and concern away from ourselves. Instead of merely looking after our own needs and wants we can see our way to serve and love others.

Why? Because all that we really need, all that will ultimately give us happiness and peace is completely secure. It can’t be lost. It’s an account that can never be drawn down.

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