A very common – but mistaken – claim made all the time is that we are all God’s children. Whether a person is a Christian or non-Christian, it is asserted that everyone is a child of God. While this may sound nice and inclusive, and appeal to many, it is of course profoundly unbiblical.
Sure, we are all created by God, and without God none of us would even exist. So only in that sense at best can we speak of all being children of God. And Scripture does affirm that much. But most people making this claim mean far more than this. They claim that God is our father, and we are all his spiritual children, regardless of what we believe or how we live.
This is simply the stuff of theological liberalism, not biblical Christianity. The idea of the fatherhood of God is not to be found in the plain teachings of Scripture, but in the deceptive teachings of liberal Christians. As was said last century about the religious scene in America’s northeast, this liberal theology comprised three elements: the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighbourhood of Boston.
Unitarians and others were keen to stress how we are all God’s children, and that God would turn away no one. When they make such claims however they come up against a mountain of biblical data which tells us otherwise. Indeed, a simple perusal of Scripture would easily dispel this false notion.
This is so clearly spelled out in the Bible that it seems unnecessary to pen a whole article on this. Simply affirming basic biblical doctrine about the fallen, sinful nature of mankind, and how only those who come to Christ in faith and repentance can be reconciled to God the Father, should make this apparent.
But given what a widespread error this is, let me just offer some of the many passages from the New Testament which speak to this issue of God and his true children. What we read in John 1:12-13 for example should end all doubt here: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
It is not a question of simply being born into this world that makes us a child of God, but of being born again, as Jesus explained in John 3. We are not children of God at birth, but we can become children of God as we receive and put our faith in Christ.
Paul makes a similar point in Romans 9:8: “In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” He elaborates upon this in Romans 8:14-17:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Or as he puts it more simply and directly in Galatians 3:26: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Philippians 2:14-15 puts it this way: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation’.”
John discusses this theme quite often, and he is rather precise as to who are in fact God’s children. In 1 John 3:1-3 for example we read:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Those who are in and of the world do not know God, and they are clearly to be distinguished from God’s children. The next seven verses of this chapter make this even more obvious:
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
As he explains further in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Once again we see two clear classes of humanity: those who belong to God through Christ, and those who belong to the devil.
In John 8:31-47 this is made 100 per cent clear as Jesus disputes the Pharisees as to his identity. Let me offer verses 39-44:
“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.
This exchange alone should prove once and for all that not all people are children of God. The truth is, we are all actually children of the devil until we come in faith and repentance to Christ. This core doctrinal teaching is made all throughout the New Testament.
For example, Paul says plainly in Ephesians 2:3 that non-Christians are “children of wrath”. And in Eph. 5:5-7 we read this: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
Some translations speak about “the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” in verse 6. We find the same in Colossians 3:6. The sinner who is not reconciled to God through Christ is not a child of God. Instead of being God’s child, the unsaved, unregenerate person is called many quite different things in the New Testament. As sinners we are:
-spiritually sick (Luke 5:31-32)
-rebellious children (Luke 15:11-32)
-lost (Luke 19:10)
-slaves to sin (Romans 6:22)
-spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
-God’s enemies (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
-objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
-dead (Ephesians 2:5)
-in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
-alienated from God and his enemies (Colossians 1:21)
-idol worshippers (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
and so on.
So please, no more of this humanistic and theological liberal nonsense about all mankind being children of God. It is only through Christ that we can be restored to God and called his sons and daughters. While we may be his children by creation, we are only part of his spiritual family through redemption – and that comes only through Jesus Christ.