Are only Christians children of God or is everyone??—Part A

I’m doing a series on everyone being a child of God. My first post contains most of the biblical reasons for believing everyone is a child of God. My second post highlights some significant implications. My third post looked at what happens when our Father in Heaven is disowned. Now I’ll look at a common objection:

Doesn’t the NT talk about adoption, about Christians becoming children of God? Does that mean non-Christians aren’t God’s children?

I used to respond by saying that everyone is a child of God but only in some very limited sense—perhaps that everyone has an earthly/old nature but only Christians have a spiritual/new nature. While Paul does use the old vs new language, I was uncomfortable as I didn’t think the response did justice to the passages in my first post. So I was excited to discover two alternatives for addressing the conundrum. The first one I found in Spencer Boersma’s discussion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and I’ll explain and build on it here.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

Luke 15:18-19 (cf v21), ESV

While the son knows his father is still his father, and addresses him as such, he rightly sees that he hasn’t acted as a son should—that he doesn’t deserve to be called a son, nor treated as one. From his perspective, he feels he has forfeited his place in the family and can now only hope to be a hired servant. So when the father exuberantly welcomed him back into the family, the son understandably felt that he was being adopted.

To apply this to our question, everyone has walked away from God and hasn’t acted as children of God should—we haven’t been living in a healthy relationship with Him. However, given it’s impossible to lose our biological connection to our parents and siblings, I think it’s logical to believe it’s impossible to lose our supernatural connection to our Father and Brother. Therefore, each and every person remains a child of God.

But, like the prodigal son, we can only truly enjoy the benefits of being in His family when we come to our senses; when we realise our need for Him; when we return home. Our “adoption” is our home coming—when we act as His children (with the Spirit’s help), and can therefore be acknowledged and treated as such.

Lost Found
Dead Alive
Distant land Home
Anonymous stranger Heralded/introduced as the father’s son
No privileges/position Privileges/position of a son = “adoption” 1
Focused on self Focused on the father
Rebellious Obedient

In part B, I’ll look at related approach, which I think really reinforces the one above.

The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Harold Copping
The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Harold Copping

1. or huiothesia (see part B).

What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?

I’m doing a series on everyone being a child of God:

  1. Why Everyone is a Child of God
  2. Implications of Everyone Being a Child of God
  3. What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?
  4. Doesn’t the NT also talk about becoming children of God??

My first post contains most of the biblical reasons for believing everyone is a child of God, and to show that this can’t be dismissed as liberalism, I also cited some conservative theologians who seem to hold this view. My second post unpacks some of the significant implications of this view. In this post and the following, I’ll look at common objections.

What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?

Indeed, I think this could be stated even stronger—everyone has turned away from God at times:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…

Isaiah 53:6a, NIV

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3:23, NLT

Thankfully our Father is patient and not fickle. We see this throughout the Bible.

When Israel Disobeyed

Even when the Israelites disobeyed, they continued to be God’s children. For example:

Is this how you repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Isn’t He your Father and Creator? Didn’t He make you and sustain you?

Deuteronomy 32:6, HCSB

And again, despite Israel’s disobedience, and the severe consequences thereof, Isaiah says:

But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Isaiah 63:16, NIV

Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.

Isaiah 64:7-8, NLT

Any parent is faced with a difficult decision when a son/daughter disowns them and runs away: do they give them space or do they pursue them? The problem is even greater if the son/daughter gets involved in something nasty, say drug dealing or terrorism. A parent can’t support or fund these things, nor can they simply pretend they aren’t happening as it risks the well being of both the son/daughter, their siblings, and others. The child is still their beloved child but it puts great pressure on the relationship and complicates interactions. We see this conundrum for our Father in Jeremiah:

How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation. I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.

Jeremiah 3:19, NIV

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Jeremiah 31:9, NIV

We see God’s parental care again in Hosea:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them…. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.

Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9, NIV

Boersma astutely notes that in Hosea we also see that even God’s holiness doesn’t stop Him from being a father among His sinful children.

Here in Hosea, the tender mercy of God is the true display of his holiness… God is holy because God is merciful in ways completely separate from our notions of divinity.

Spencer Boersma, All People are God’s Children

This seems a good segue to the NT, where Jesus embraced His sick and sinful siblings. Not only that, but we find parables directly engaging our topic!

Jesus’ “Lost & Found” Parables

In the first two parables (Luke 15:4-7 & 15:8-10), the person (representing God) actively seeks and finds that which is lost (the sheep and the coin), whereas in the third parable (Luke 15:11-32), that which is lost, realises they are lost, and finds their way home. Further linking all three parables is that there is forgiveness and great celebration when the lost repents.

I think Jesus is showing that when we walk away from God, God will give us the space for our delusions to be shattered—which is inevitable as all idols are unsatisfactory. Additionally, He helps us come to our senses and seeks us until we are found. Either way, the lost doesn’t cease to have significance because it is lost—the sheep stays a sheep, the coin stays a coin, and the son stays a son. Indeed according to these parables the lost becomes the focus.

For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 19:10, NIV

The Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd