IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE, various aspects of the subject ‘Children of God’ were discussed. In this, it was seen that the underlying idea in that expression is relationship. ‘Sons of God’ is a different expression, however, in which stains, with its attendant responsibility, is in view.
In the epistles to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, Paul uses the word ‘adoption’, which, literally, means ‘son-placing’. In Romans 8. 15 and 23, he writes ‘For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father … and not only so, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body’. In Galatians 4. 5, ‘but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son … that we might receive the adoption of sons’. And in Ephesians 1. 5, ‘having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself. In the fullest acceptance of the word, adoption is yet future, some¬thing for which we wail ‘in hope’. But we have already received the ‘spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father’ (cf. Mark 14. 36; Rom. 8. 15; Gal. 4. 6). In this sense, the Holy Spirit is the ‘firstfruits’ anticipating the full harvest of sonship. In a more limited sense, we are already ‘sons of God’. Hence, to the Galatians, Paul writes ‘And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father’. We may say, in general, that God already views us as ‘children’, in prospect of being manifested as ‘sons’. John writes ‘now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be’. When it is made manifest, it will be ‘the revealing of the sons of God’ (cf. 1 John 3. 2 and Rom. 8. 19). Scripture exhorts us, with such a prospect, even now to behave as God’s sons.
The Proof of Sonship
‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God … Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven’, Matt. 5. 9, 43-45. These words, in the Sermon on the Mount, were addressed, not to the multitudes from which the Lord had sought retreat, but to His disciples, v. 1. The proof of sonship is in responsible behaviour. The ‘sons of God’ will be known by the way they reflect God’s own attitude towards men. Jesus said ‘Blessed arc the peacemakers’. How valuable is their contribution in a strife-ridden world! Even the Church is not free from strife-makers, as Paul’s letters show (cf. Phil. 1. 15; 2. 3). Strife is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Peace-making is a sign of spiritual maturity. The anonymous ‘true yokefellow’ of Phil. 4. 3 was exhorted to the ‘blessed’ work of peace-making between Euodia and Syntyche, two women in the church at Philippi who had quarrelled and whose quarrel had remained uncomposed, to the detriment of the work. ‘Help these women, for they laboured with me in the gospel’ Paul writes, for often a third party is necessary to the healing of a breach. In Matt. 5. 43-45, the Lord contrasts permissible action under law with the action expected, in similar circumstances, of ‘sons of God’, in relation to ‘thine enemy’. What the law countenanced would have been immature conduct in ‘sons of God’. Love and prayer must supplant hate. God does not withhold sun or rain from His enemies. He gives impartially, making no distinction between evil and good, or just and unjust. In the same kind of mature behaviour, said the Lord in effect, ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'
The Ground of Sonship
‘But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus’, Gal 3. 25, 26. In Gal. 3. 23 to 4. 7, Paul contrasts the position of God’s people under law and under grace. The Galatians confused the two, to the hurt of their position under grace. Under law, God treated His people as children in the nursery stage of spiritual experience. Hence, there was an elaborate ritual and a specialized priesthood, all of which appealed to the emotions rather than to the mind. It was part of man’s spiritual upbringing and belonged to his religious nonage. In his book ‘New Order’, the late Guy H. King writes ‘the ceremonial law … belongs to the childhood of religious practice: and it seems to me that the ritualistic ceremonial and the specialized priesthood, and the elaborate garments, of some churches are just a reversion to that childhood …’. Paul writes ‘So that the law hath been our tutor unto Christ’. A ‘tutor’ was a slave-guardian responsible for accompanying his young master to and from school, to see that he arrived safely at school for his lessons and reached home safely afterwards. It was a measure of his young master’s immaturity that the slave was in attendance. Under grace, the position is completely different - ‘We are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God …’. Under grace, God can trust His sons to act responsibly. They can be treated as adults and not hedged about by irksome restrictions designed to thwart youthful escapades.
The Evidence of Sonship
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God’, Rom. 8. 14. In Romans 8, Paul clearly distinguishes between ‘children of God’ and ‘sons of God’. In vv. 16 and 21 he writes of ‘children’ and in w. 14 and 19, of ‘sons’. The evidence of sonship is in submissiveness to God. The Christian has not inherited a state of vassalage under grace, instead of a state of tutelage under law. Being ‘led’ is by his free and willing co-operation. The context of Rom. 8. 14 suggests how such guidance is made possible and seen. Paul remarks a dual process at work in the believer; a process of death and a concurrent process of life. He writes ‘But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you … if by the Spirit ye mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’, vv. 11, 13. Being ‘led of the Spirit’ will both depend upon and result from this dual experience.
The Manifestation of Sonship
‘For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God’, Rom. 8. 19. In the context, Paul shows that the creation is out of sorts with God’s purpose. It groans and travails in pain because Adam’s wilful disobedience had repercussions throughout creation. Man is at issue with God, with his fellows and also with the lower creation. Everything is out of harmony with divine purpose and needs to be reconciled. God has begun to do this in His people - ‘And you … hath he reconciled’. The remedying of the disorder brought about by sin, which God has begun in His people, will presently be extended throughout creation - ‘through him (Christ) to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace by the blood of his cross; through him … whether things upon earth, or things in the heavens’. The extension of the work of reconciliation hinges upon ‘the revealing of the sons of God’.
The Pattern of Sonship
‘For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be firstborn among many brethren’, Rom. 8. 29. God’s purpose is that the objects of His choice shall be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’, the Lord Jesus ever retaining His prior position as ‘firstborn among many brethren’. Conformity ‘to the image of his Son’ will not merely be physical, but chiefly moral, in status and maturity, as ‘sons of God’. ‘We shall be like him’ writes John, i.e., in sonship. This is the objective towards which everything in the Christian’s life, in the outworking of God’s purpose, conforms. God is even now educating His sons, through the disciplinary processes of life, for the high destiny to which He has called them, teaching them now to act maturely, as responsible sons, against that time of their ‘revealing’ to creation, as such.