In my last article I quoted Pope Francis’s belief that the devotees of any religion can be considered “children of God.” However, I focused mainly on the ramifications of that belief, which says it doesn’t matter what name we call God, or how we serve Him. And I tried to show how the Bible utterly rejects that understanding.
Nevertheless, it is true God created everyone on earth. So in the broadest sense of the term it could be said we are all “children of God.” But when we look in the Bible we find the term defined in far narrower terms. Paul writes: “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise who are regarded as descendants” (Rom. 9:8).
Clearly, the term “children of God” cannot be applied to everyone in the world. Or to all the followers of the world’s religions. But is limited to a certain group of people known as “the children of promise.”
Well, who are these blessed people? If we keep reading in Romans 9 we find out. It is those who by their divinely ordained birth are the fulfillment of a promise made specifically to one man – Abraham. “For this is a word of promise: At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son” (v. 9). That promised son, of course, arrived right on time and was named Isaac. He became the first miraculous child of promise. And from then on, only his descendants would be reckoned “children of God”.
However, Paul then goes on to show that not even all of Isaac’s descendants would automatically qualify as children of God! But only some. For when Isaac became the father of twin boys, Jacob and Esau, God immediately rejected Esau, but blessed Jacob. And this determination was made while both boys were still in the womb – “before either had done anything good or bad.”
What’s that all about? Paul tells us. “[It was] so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand” (Rom. 9:11). In other words, God wanted to show that He alone would determine who of Abraham’s seed would be counted as God’s children. So it was said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (v. 13). The “children of promise” might only come forth through the line of Isaac, but they would not include every descendant. Some would be known as “children of the flesh.”
But there is more. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians we suddenly discover the category dramatically narrowed even further! Paul reveals there is actually only one pre-chosen physical descendant of Abraham who officially can be called a “child of promise.” It is Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ). “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one. ‘And to your seed,’ that is Messiah” (Gal. 3:16).
So Yeshua then is the true fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. He alone is qualified to be “a child of God.” He alone can be called God’s son. Yet, as every true disciple knows, Yeshua has a corporate body. So that all who believe in him are included in him by God’s Spirit – and they too may be called “children of God.”
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1). And, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Messiah” (Rom. 8:16,17).
So we finally know who the “children of God” are. They are all those, both Jew and non-Jew, who believe Yeshua is the Messiah and follow him in faith. By the mercy of God all of us have been reckoned heirs to Abraham’s promise. “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).
What is that inheritance? Nothing less than eternal life with rulership over the whole planet. “He said to me, ‘You are My son, today I have begotten you. Ask of Me, and I will give the nations as your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as your possession” (Ps. 2:7,8). It is what Yeshua calledthe kingdom of God, with Jerusalem at its center!
But it gets even better! It seems when Yeshua comes into his kingdom we will experience a heavenly bar mitzvah, so that we will no longer be called God’s children. We will have come of age. “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he [Yeshua] appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2).
We will have graduated to become God’s adopted sons. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). Glory!
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples