Becoming Sons of God – How and When?
The Scriptures tell us that Adam was a son of God and that he communicated with God. This is understandable, for he was a member of God’s family. He was part of God’s household. Obviously, then, heaven was open to him and, undoubtedly, heaven would have also been opened to his offspring had he remained faithful. Unfortunately, however, his relationship with God ceased because of his disobedience. Consequently, his yet unborn offspring suffered the same fate and heaven became closed to them as well. The apostle Paul goes into great detail in explaining this historic event. We find it recorded in the book of Romans chapter five.
However, this condition of alienation was broken by God himself. Indeed, a reversal of matters began when God passed judgment on the disobedient couple in the garden of Eden and promised a “seed” to deal with this issue. In Galatians 3:16, Paul identifies that seed specifically as Christ Jesus. He next explains that the seed of Abraham, is expanded to include those who show faith in Christ Jesus. Of course, God had told Abraham that his seed would bless the families of the earth.
In order for us to understand more fully what had taken place, it would be helpful at this point in our discussion to consider something Jesus said to the Jews, some of whom had believed in him. His words are found at John 8:31-36. It reads: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. They replied to him: “We are Abraham’s offspring and never have we been slaves to anybody. How is it you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them: “Most truly I say to you, every doer of sin is a slave of sin. Moreover, the slave does not remain in the household forever; the son remains forever. Therefore if the Son sets you free, you will be actually free.” In this encounter with the Jews, Jesus shows quite clearly that being a descendant of Abraham does not assure one a place in the family of God. In order to be a part of God’s family, a person must be freed from sin and only Christ Jesus can do that. Therefore, faith in Christ, the Son of God, is what prepares one for adoption as a son of God. Nevertheless, all who exercise faith in Christ are already considered sons of God.
“The slave does not remain in the household forever; the son remains forever.” This remark by Jesus forms the entire framework of our discussion. What Jesus said is really quite simple, i.e., a slave of sin cannot remain in the household of God forever. It’s as simple as that. And as Paul shows, it is for that very reason that Adam died. It is for that same reason that Adam’s descendants are dying. It follows then, that a slave of sin would have to be released from that condition in order to remain in God’s household forever. And this is precisely what Christ Jesus does for the believer, freeing such one from sin and, by so doing, Jesus opens the way for that one to enter God’s household and remain there forever. In other words, Jesus is telling us that life everlasting (or eonian life) is possible only if we become sons of God. Therefore, if one is not a son of God, it is because that one is still a slave of sin, that is, such one has not yet been freed from sin by Christ.
At this juncture, it is important to bear in mind that the Scriptures often use the term death in a metaphorical sense. For example, while Romans chapter five deals with death as the cessation of life, even as God told Adam that he would “positively die” and that he would return to the dust from which he was taken, the following chapter, i.e., Romans 6 deals with death as a metaphor. It is most critical that we appreciate this concept if we are to understand death from God’s perspective, as used in Scripture. I repeat, death is the cessation of life. That is a fundamental truth found throughout the Scriptures. The idea that, at death, we pass on to another life, whether that be in heaven in the presence of God, or elsewhere, is absolutely contrary to what the Scriptures teach. It was Satan himself who gave such an idea to Eve, by means of the serpent, and she fell for it. In doing so, Paul tells us that the woman was “thoroughly deceived”.
Now then, because death, as used in the Scriptures, means the exact opposite of life, it fittingly represents complete change. It is for this reason that when used metaphorically, it makes the point of complete change most emphatically. While I do not wish to belabor this point, it behooves us to understand such metaphorical use clearly, for it will lead us to appreciate some of the things Peter referred to in Paul’s writings as “hard to understand”.
With such background discussion, then, let’s consider Romans chapter six. Verse 3 states: “Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? And verse 4: “therefore, we were buried with him through our baptism into his death..”. Paul also tells us that “we have died with reference to sin” and that “we also should walk in a newness of life and that our “old personality was impaled with him”. Now then, “death with reference to sin” is a concept that’s quite easy to grasp. Likewise, that “our old personality was impaled with him” is also easy to understand. But how are we “baptized” into Christ’s death? And how are we “buried with him through our baptism into his death”? Obviously, all of such expressions make sense only if understood metaphorically. But what do they mean?
For Adam and his offspring, death was, and is, real. Indeed, the Scriptures call it our enemy, our last enemy. And yet, Paul uses the term, death, to illustrate a complete change of condition. When Paul says at Romans chapter five that Adam’s disobedience brought sin and death upon him and his offspring, he is really telling us that the condition of being sons of God was lost. It was lost for Adam and it was lost for his offspring. Nevertheless, Paul goes on to show that this condition is reversed completely by the acceptance of God’s provision for life, namely, by exercising faith in the sacrifice of God’s Beloved Son, Christ Jesus. Metaphorically speaking, God puts to death the condition of death that was brought about by Adam. Christ’s ransom metaphorically kills death, even now. Of course, eventually death, the “last enemy” will be “destroyed” in every sense of the word.
In the light of the foregoing we can better understand Paul’s words to the Corinthians at 2 Cor. 5:19: “that God was by means of Christ reconciling a world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses”. From God’s perspective, the condition of sin and death brought about by Adam, ceased to exist when God’s provision of the ransom through his Beloved Son Christ Jesus was put in place. Of course, the world is not even aware of this. For that reason, Paul goes on to say that God has “committed the word of reconciliation to us” and adds: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: “Become reconciled to God.” In other words, while God laid the foundation for reconciliation through Christ, making it possible for Adams descendants to be inducted into God’s household, such reconciliation can only take place for us individually, if we respond in faith.
Christ’s ransom, therefore, is the very basis God uses for restoring sonship and it is on this basis that the call goes out to all who wish to respond in faith. Galatians 3:26 reads: “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus.” How? Paul assures us of two things: 1) we become sons of God through our faith in Christ Jesus and 2) it happens when we exercise such faith in his Son.
Writing to the Romans (8:14) Paul states: “For all who are led by God’s Spirit, these are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba”, Father!” So then, how does it happen, and when does it happen? Paul’s words are quite clear, it happens to us when we exercise faith in Christ Jesus and “are led by God’s spirit”. In verse 23 we are said to have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit. There is the evidence. It is when we cry out, “Abba”, Father”. There is nothing ambiguous about that. Paul continues: (vs 16) “The spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Explaining how even people of the nations become God’s sons, Paul quotes from Hosea at Romans 9:25,26 and says: “It is also as he says in Hosea: “Those not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved’, and in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,” there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’
Paul summarizes the matter of sonship for us in Galatians chapter four. First, he shows that adoption as a son can come to a natural Israelite only if that one is released from law by the purchase of Christ’s ransom, then he adds, “that we, in turn, might receive the adoption as sons.” Verses 6 and 7 read: “Now because you are sons, God has put forth the spirit of his son into our hearts and it cries out: “Abba, Father!” So then, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.”
As I’ve said before, when God reconciled a world to himself by means of Christ’s ransom, in effect, he caused the alienation brought about by Adam, to die. By exercising faith in the ransom, the believer comes to be baptized into the death of Christ Jesus. What could this mean but that the believer now personally experiences that change which God made possible through Christ Jesus. And that change is made complete by a further change. And what is that? It is the change of “sharing in Christ’s resurrection”. How? It is by being raised to a “newness of life”, that is, life in Christ. Paul says that “we are united with him in the likeness of his resurrection”, just as we were united with him in the likeness of his death”. This point should not escape our notice. It is the likeness that Paul is talking about here and the Greek text clearly shows that. Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood and interpreted to mean that Paul is talking about a reward in heaven.
When we have been “baptized into Christ’s death” and when “we are untied with him in the likeness of his resurrection” then we have, as it were, undergone a complete metamorphosis or change. Paul refers to this when he writes his second letter to the Corinthians. He wrote at 2 Cor. 5:16,17: “Consequently from now on we know no man according to the flesh. Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, certainly we now know him so no more. Consequently if anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away, look! new things have come into existence.” In writing these words, Paul is quoting Isaiah’s prophecy as recorded in chapter 43.
Despite what has been said about sonship thus far, however, there is an event related to sonship that is still pending. That glorious event will take place at the parousia (i.e., coming and presence) of Christ Jesus and is called, “the revealing of the sons of God”. This is the event Paul refers to at Romans 8:23. He had just finished saying that “all creation keeps on groaning until now and being in pain together until now” then he makes this most revealing comment about those who become sons of God by their faith in Christ Jesus now, in this age. Note what he says in verse 23. “Not only that, but we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves, while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.” NB. The Greek text here reads: “the release by ransom of the body of us.” In other words, Paul is talking about the release of the body not from the body.
Paul says that we are “waiting for adoption as sons.” Therefore, this raises a very important question. How can we reconcile such words, i.e., our “waiting for adoption as sons”, with what he says elsewhere, namely, we become sons of God by exercising faith in Christ Jesus? This may be one of those things difficult to understand that Peter spoke about. Actually, though, the answer is self evident if we look at this matter more closely.
Oftentimes, the Scriptures speak of future events as though they had already taken place. There are many examples of this. One such example is Abraham. Even though he died, from God’s perspective he was living. Another example with which we are all familiar is that God declares righteous those who exercise faith in His Son Christ Jesus. And yet, we know that even a believer is not really righteous, but sinful. For this reason, Paul said that the things he wanted to do he did not do, but the things he hated, he did. That is true of all believers, isn’t it? So when God declares us righteous on the basis of our belief in Christ, from his perspective we are already righteous. But like Abraham who lives in the eyes of God, yet awaits the resurrection, even so with us. From God’s perspective, we become his sons by exercising faith in His Son. Nevertheless, we still await adoption. And what that will mean for us is, as Paul says, “release from (of) our bodies”, that is, from sin. So Paul is talking about, as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:42-54, that our carnal, sinful, corruptible body will be replaced with an incorruptible body and we will be given immortality. When? It will be at the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Also see 1 Thess. 4:14-17).
The revealing of the sons of God will be a glorious event. The writer of Hebrews says that God “subjected all things to him”, that is, Christ, then adds: “we do not yet see all things in subjection to him.” (2:8) Once again, we see an example of things that have not yet happened as though they already had. Hebrews 2:10-13 states: “For it was fitting for the one for whose sake all things are and through whom all things are, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Chief Agent of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he who is sanctifying and those who are being sanctified all stem from one, and for this cause he is not ashamed to call them “brothers,” as he says: “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the middle of the congregation I will praise you with song.” And again, “I will have my trust in him.” And again: “Look! I and the young children, whom Jehovah gave me.”
At the parousia of Christ Jesus, when these many Sons join him as associate Kings and Priests in the Kingdom of God, what will be their purpose? Jesus provides the answer at Revelation 2:26,27: “And to him that conquers and observes my deeds down to the end I will give authority over the nations, and he will shepherd the people with an iron rod so that they will be broken to pieces like clay vessels, the same as I received from my Father…” In saying this, Jesus is actually quoting Psalm chapter two, where it states: (verses10-12) “And now, O kings, exercise insight; Let yourselves be corrected, O judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear and be joyful with trembling.” This activity is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 as “subjecting all things to Christ”.
Those who become sons of God now, in this age, are only the “firstfruits” as they are first in coming to God, through Christ, to become part of God’s household or family. There will be many, many more to come. Speaking of such ones, Revelation 22:14 reads: “Happy are those who wash their robes, that the authority to go to the trees of life may be theirs and that they may gain entrance into the city by its gates.” That city is the congregation of God’s sons now, in this age. At the parousia of Christ, this holy city, also referred to as “New Jerusalem” and “the tent of God” will be with mankind. Revelation 21:24-27 states: “And the nations will walk by means of its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. And its gates will not be closed at all by day, for night will not exist there. And they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.
So then, those who become God’s sons now, in this age, are only first, or “firstfruits” in the order of things. Of course, as such, they will enjoy the unique distinction of being Kings and Priests with Christ and, together with him, will rule over the nations. They will help in bringing, or subjugating, all of obedient mankind under the rule of Christ. It is for this reason that the event Paul speaks of in Romans chapter 8 is so very important. Let’s read it. Romans 8:18-21 states: “Consequently, I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing for the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope, that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Yes, “creation itself” that is, those who allow themselves to be subjected to Christ, these too who exercise faith in Christ, will themselves also become sons of God. In this way, God’s original purpose for mankind and this earth will be realized.