What Does the Bible Really Say about Spiritual Sonship?
Yet to all who did receive Him,
to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God.
~ John 1:12 (niv)
My mother has a wonderful old heirloom Bible that I have always admired. Inside its front cover, a stately oak diagrams our family tree, reaching back to the sturdy roots of my great-great grandparents and stretching forward to the tender branches formed by my own dear sons.
It occurs to me that all our Bibles have a family tree, outlined in the very first chapter of the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing 42 generations from Jesus back to Abraham, His ancestor and the father of our faith (Romans 4:11, 16).
Interestingly, Luke’s gospel account traces Jesus’ bloodline beyond Abraham, all the way back to Adam. Why would one writer stop at the ancestor Abraham and another continue on to the very first man? Simple…
Matthew was a Jew writing to Jewish readers; Luke, a Gentile writing to a Gentile man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3). Different audiences, different purposes for writing.
The Genealogy of Jesus Fulfills Messianic Prophecies
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.
~ Matthew 1:1 (nkjv)
Matthew opens his gospel account by drawing a line to Jesus straight from “David the king” (Matthew 1:6, nkjv), making a clear connection to Old Testament prophecies that Messiah would be a “descendant from King David’s line”—prophecies his Jewish audience were certain to recognize.
“‘For the time is coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when I will raise up
a righteous descendant from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
He will do what is just and right throughout the land.’”
~ Jeremiah 23:5 (nlt)
Jesus Is the Messiah for All Mankind
Writing for a non-Jewish audience, our Gentile author, Luke, continued his “orderly account” of Jesus’ family line beyond King David all the way back to the first man, “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38, nkjv). In doing so, Luke demonstrated that although the Jews had been chosen as God’s special people, Jesus was descended from Adam like the rest of us and, therefore, physically related to all mankind.
Lest anyone dismiss His claim of royal descent since He was born of the Holy Spirit and not an earthly father, Christ’s claim to the throne of David is equally legitimized through His mother’s line. Luke actually traces the lineage of Jesus’ mother Mary down from King David. Heli, who is listed as Joseph’s father in Luke 3:23 is truly Joseph’s father-in-law. The lines diverge with two of King David’s sons, Solomon (Matthew 1:6) and Nathan (Luke 3:31), both of whom were born to David’s wife Bathsheba.
Tracing Our Own Ancestry
If we were to trace our own ancestry back as far as possible, all the way back to its beginning, we, too, would arrive at Adam. But,…
Would we arrive at God?
My family tree goes something like this: Michelle, daughter of Richard, son of Russell, and so on. Sadly, that’s about as far as I can go in my own family tree without conducting some serious genealogical research.
I might get a little further tracing my mother’s side: Michelle, daughter of Linda, daughter of Anna Elizabeth, daughter of Mattie Elizabeth, daughter of Dora Louisa.
But, even if I were able to track every branch across the centuries and millennia, back to the first man, Adam, my natural bloodline would not connect me to God.
Our physical ancestry does not–indeed, cannot–
qualify us as God’s children.
Paul’s Appeal to the Athenians
Wait, wait, wait… Didn’t Paul say, “We are the offspring of God”? Well, yes. Paul did utter those words, but his purpose probably wasn’t what you think.
In defense of the erroneous “all God’s children” conjecture, one may point to the speech Paul delivered to the Athenian philosophers at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill:
“‘…for in Him we live and move and have our being,’
as also some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are also his offspring.’”
~ Acts 17:28 (nkjv)
I dare say that while this particular passage may be fairly well known among Christians today, far fewer realize that Paul was quoting a secular source.
Look again at this verse and notice Paul credits “some of your own poets” with this saying. He was quoting a line from the Phoenomena by the Greek poet Aratus: “…always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring;…” This quote actually refers to offspring of the false deity, Zeus, of Greek mythology.
Knowing this, it becomes clear that Paul could not have been expressing a theological truth but was rather attempting to make a cultural connection with his Greek audience. Not surprisingly, Paul’s tack here wasn’t terribly effective at winning souls for Christ.
Compare such pagan imaginings as those in the Phoenomena with Peter’s fiery, Holy Spirit-fueled sermon on the Day of Pentecost—
“Repent, and let every one of you
be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ
for the remission of sins…”
~ Acts 2:38 (nkjv)
Peter’s listeners “were cut to the heart,” and 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:37, 42). Conversely, Paul’s appeal was met with mockery, mild curiosity, and only a handful who “joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32, nkjv).
A pagan poet’s words can never match
the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mankind’s Two Fathers
God’s word does not teach that we are all God’s children. In fact, the Bible and Christ Himself make a clear distinction between the children of God and those that have a different father entirely.
Pointing out that God disciplines only His own sons and daughters, the writer of Hebrews says:
If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children,
it means that you are illegitimate and
are not really His children at all.
~ Hebrews 12:8 (nlt)
I chose the milder New Living Translation here, but the King James puts it bluntly: “If you’re not chastised, you’re not a son but a bastard.” That’s clear, isn’t it?
Jesus, too, got straight to the point, letting His earthly detractors know in no uncertain terms that God was not their father. Moreover, He declared exactly who their father was: the devil.
…Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication;
we have one Father—God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, You would love Me…
‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.”
~ John 8:41, 42, 44 (nkjv)
Our Spiritual Lineage Severed by Sin
You may be thinking, “How can this be? God created us! He formed us with His own hands and breathed His breath of life into our nostrils! We’re all descended from Adam, and Adam was called a ‘son of God.’ So, how can we not all be God’s children?!”
It all boils down to one bad decision one man made to disobey God.
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,
for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
~ Genesis 2:17 (nkjv)
In an event we call The Fall, Adam forfeited his right of sonship through disobedience to God. The Creator had warned Adam that he would die if he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But, when Eve ate the fruit and didn’t drop dead, Adam must have figured it was safe, and he also ate (Genesis 3:6).
What Adam didn’t understand was that the forewarned death would initially and primarily be a spiritual one. Though he would continue to live in a physical body on the physical earth for a time, the spiritual connection he’d once shared with the Creator was instantly severed–Adam’s spiritual lifeline to his Father was dead.
Regrettably, it is this spiritually dead nature mankind now inherits from our first father, rather than the spiritually vibrant life God originally intended for us.
Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone.
~ Romans 5:12 (nlt)
Thankfully, God had a plan from the beginning to redeem us and bring us back to Himself.
“You Must Be Born Again”
Though the Pharisees and Saducees were hostile to Christ’s ministry and message, some of the Jewish leaders saw through the religious rhetoric. One such man was Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, a man whom John calls “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1, nkjv) and whom Jesus calls a “teacher of Israel” (John 3:10, nkjv). Speaking to Nicodemus, the Lord says:
“I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God
without being born of water and the Spirit.
Humans can reproduce only human life,
but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”
~ John 3:5-6 (nlt)
Just like many of us would have been, Nicodemus was confused, asking, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4, nkjv).
So, let’s have a look at that last line Jesus spoke: “…the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”
When Jesus came as a man, He was born of Mary and the Holy Spirit, not an earthly father (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:35). With no earthly father to pass on Adam’s sin, Jesus’ having been begotten by the Holy Spirit broke the curse of spiritual death and re-established a spiritual link to the Heavenly Father.
That’s all fine and good for Christ who was literally born of the Holy Spirit. But, what about the rest of us who have human dads? How are we to be born again into spiritual life?
Let’s start with how the first-ever Christians became born again.
God Breathed Again
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”
~ John 20:22 (nkjv)
When mankind was first created, Adam received physical and spiritual life when “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, nkjv).
Then, on the very same day that He was resurrected to new life, the Son of God and God Himself, Jesus breathed on the disciples the breath of new life!
The days following Christ’s crucifixion were filled with trepidation for His followers. On the third day, they were huddled behind locked doors fearing the Jews would haul them off to a similar fate as their Teacher. This is where the resurrected Jesus found them, miraculously appearing in their midst and speaking peace to them. (John 20:19)
As it always does, everything changed when Jesus arrived on the scene.
The risen Jesus had no need of an earthly key to enter the Upper Room, as He held even “the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:18, nlt). After greeting His followers with peace, showing them where His body had been pierced and declaring that He was now sending them out into the world, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them, giving them new life in Him.
In the very moment when the disciples breathed the sweet fragrance of the breath of God deeply into their lungs, they received new life. How? Because as we read in John 3:6, “the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” And, with this second birth, they were born as children of God.
Just as in the beginning God created man in His image,
in the Upper Room He re-created him.
Jesus Is the Key to New Life
You can be reborn as a child of God, too. Just as Jesus breathed new life into the disciples in the Upper Room, He can breathe new life into you right now, wherever you are.
Hear again the words of Peter’s impassioned sermon:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart
and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Because we’re blessed to live on this side of the cross and Christ’s resurrection, we don’t have to be confused like Nicodemus was. The Bible gives us clear, simple instructions on how to be saved. Every one of them points directly and exclusively to Jesus Christ:
- Believe in your heart God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9; Acts 8:37)
- Receive Jesus as your personal Savior and believe in His name (John 1:12)
- Declare aloud, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9)
- Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38)
Make no mistake, there are not many ways to God.
There is One way to God, and He is Jesus.
We are not all God’s children… But, we all can be. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is patient for our sakes, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (niv).
God deeply desires to adopt you as His own dear child–so much so that He was willing to sacrifice His only begotten Son, Jesus, in order to save you from your sins and reconcile you to Himself.
Don’t wait another day… another minute… another moment. Surrender your heart to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and be born again as a child of God!
May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bless you abundantly,
For more on Jesus as the only way to be saved, read One and Only next.