I have here a little envelope – an envelope which is over 120 years old. My grandmother was a little girl when this was put into the Canadian mail system. It is a bit stained and has a few smudges of dirt, but it is a nice little cover. It is addressed to a Mr. Harris who was the Sheriff of Pictou County, Nova Scotia. It has a 3¢ “Small Queen” stamp – one of perhaps a hundred million – there were a lot printed over thirty years. The value of the stamp is 30¢, but on cover its catalogue value is $5.00. However, if I tried to sell it, I probably wouldn’t get a dollar. Now here is another envelope which was mailed a year later – from Montreal to New Haven, Conn. It is a bit nicer, because it has a printed picture of the hotel from which it was sent. But it has been torn at the top, and some fool put scotch tape on the inside to hold it together. Over time the glue from that tape will probably seep through and greatly deface the front. Generally speaking the value of both these envelopes should be just about the same. But there is a major difference – not in the identical stamps or the envelopes, but in a connection. The second is addressed to William H. Taft, soon to become the 27th President of the United States. Taft, at the time, was in New Haven, receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Yale University. He was staying at the home of his friend James Pigott, who is mentioned in the address. The value of this second cover is at least four times as much as the first. And the reason? It is not due to any intrinsic value to the stamp or the envelope. Its value is due to its relationship to someone important. And if I found the right buyer/historian, it might be worth $100.00.
We are in the midst of a study of Biblical titles which are applied to God’s people. We have looked at “disciples,” “saints,” “brethren,” “the elect,” “vessels of mercy” and “believers.” Among other things, each title suggests some sort of relationship or connection. “Disciple” and “believer” speak of the Master and His student – but more than just students. The titles “saint” and “the elect” tie us to God the Father – the first Person of the God Head – first to His holiness but then to His love and grace. “Brethren” is a more horizontal title, joining believers together within the family of God.
It is to this family of God that we return this evening. But this time it is not the horizontal relationship to which we referred – brother to brother and sister. This time our reference is vertical – “God’s people are children of Jehovah.”
If not to you, at least to me, this title is the most well-known, and therefore the most difficult to teach. Every preacher wants to keep his hearers’ interest with new things or ideas not often considered. But with “the children of God” that becomes a little difficult, because we are so familiar with the term. So let me just remind you, exhibit #1 is worth less than a dollar, while exhibit #2 may be worth a hundred times as much. In that I am a child of Antony Leslie Oldfield there is no eternal value whatsoever. But in that I am a now child of God, my value has been increased myriads of times.
How do people become children of God?
Don’t listen to the religious gossip – the whispers which have no Biblical foundation. No one becomes a child of God by baptism – whether by immersion or affusion – child or adult. No one becomes a child of God through church membership, church ceremonies or through the labors of any churchman. As Paul declared to his friends in Galatia – people who were being inundated with false doctrines similar to what I have just mentioned, “ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:26.
Every human being is complex interconnection of parts and aspects. Our bodies are more complex than the solar system, and nearly every part contributes to the whole. Our brains are more complex than the most advanced computers. And then added to the physical aspects, we have a spiritual nature of soul and spirit. Some people’s bodies function better than other peoples, and some people’s minds are better as well. And some people’s spirits are alive by the grace of God, while millions of people are spiritually dead. There are dozens of scriptures which emphatically declare this spiritual mortality. To the Ephesians Paul said, “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses ans sins.” And to the Colossians, “You, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”
There was once a day when I did not exist – when I was dead, so to speak, to my father and mother. But then on September 28, 1949 I was born having been conceived around January 1, 1949. I was given earthly life, by my parent’s choice, and I have been physically alive for the last sixty-six years. But on another plain, I physically lived into my teenage years while spiritually dead. But then by the grace of God was I was born again, and this time into another family – Jehovah’s. The Son of God came into the world to save the lost, and “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We who have repented before God, receiving His grace, “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:26. There is much more which could be said about this new birth – regeneration – but we must move on.
Not only are God’s people His children by way of the new birth, but also by way of adoption. This is spiritually essential because as Christ once told a group of Jews – we are all spiritual children of Satan – John 8:44. That was not a purely metaphorical or allegorical statement. Along with being dead in trespasses and sins – without God’s adoption we are all children of the Devil. Furthermore, Jesus called the Jews, and ultimately us all, “children of hell” – Matthew 23:15.
A part of saving grace is God’s adoption of the children of the Devil and Hell into His family. I hope that a few scriptures be sufficient to prove the point. Along with references to “sons of God,” “children of God” and “heirs of God,” our opening scripture in Romans 8 speaks of adoption. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” – verse 15. Galatians teaches us that it was the purpose of Christ to adopt a few unworthy sinners. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father.” When did this divine family planning begin? In eternity past. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have reception through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” – Ephesians 1.
There is so much more which could be said about this, but I am hoping that you are familiar with much of it.
Among other results, being children of God makes us His heirs.
Again from our opening scripture – “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” And again from Galatians where Paul was fighting for the doctrine of salvation by grace – Ye are not children of God through works, self-righteousness and human goodness – “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” – Romans 8.
And what is it to be an “heir”? An “heir” is a person who receives goods or property upon the death of another person. According to the Greek word, an “heir” is “one who has acquired or obtained the portion allotted to him.” But I don’t believe that our minds can begin to grasp what this means in the spiritual and divine sense. In some ways, what Eve wanted so badly that she helped plunge humanity into sin, is bestowed upon the sinners whom Jehovah graciously adopts. Of course, there are some attributes of God which cannot be shared with anyone, but there are others which are bequeathed to His children – His Spiritual heirs. For example, the Lord, while in debate with the Jews, spoke about eternal life. He said “Neither can (the people of God) die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God.” Eternal life is a part of the inheritance of ths saints. And in that delicious passage which Paul shared with Titus, he tells us – “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Eternal life is just one part of the inheritance of the saints in light. Peter speaks of God’s people as being heirs of the grace of life. And James refers to heirs of the kingdom which God has promised. Paul calls us heirs of salvation – the gift of God based upon the death of God’s Son. Paul also ties eternal glory into the inheritance of the saints. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” And who are those who love Jehovah? Those who have become His children. Those who have been born again – born from above. Those who have been received through adoption.
It is impossible for me to say which is the most precious of the great titles God applies to His people. Which is the most glorious? Is it “the elect”? Is it “saints” – those who have been set apart unto God in eternity past? Is it “God’s heir?” It might depend only on our attitude at the moment, or upon the direction from which we are looking.
But remember that with great honor comes great responsibility.
We are not surprised that God ties duty to each of these titles – including “children of God.”
Philippians 2, begins with the words, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies” and of course there are. From there Paul glorifies our Saviour – “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Three verses later he says, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding for the word of life.” The children of God, the heirs of God, should be as blameless as God, and harmless, lights in the world.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of scriptures, often quoted, but not fully noted for their context. How about II Corinthians 6:14-18 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Should we call ourselves “children of God” when we would rather dine at Belial’s house?
Ephesians 5 speaks to those who claim to be God’s children. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” As I have asked several times in the last month, do you walk in love – really? Paul is not talking about love for yourself. He went on in the next verse – “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” God’s children are thankful people – thankful for whatever the Father graciously provides.
Peter exhorted us, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” “All manner of conversation” refers to every area of your life – not just your speech. That is verse 15 just a couple breaths away from the great statement – “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” And do you know what preceded the entire thought? I Peter 1 14 – “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”
Every family has its own rules and regulations, or perhaps none at all. There are rules which apply at your house which I may not consider to be as important as you do. And there are things which my kids were not permitted to do, which may be done by your children. Such things are to be expected, I suppose. But Paul, Peter and James are not talking about their families and their house – they are discussing the characteristics of the children of God. The Lord has His own house rules, and those who don’t follow them should not lawfully call themselves “children of the Lord.”
And you should remember that very often the world knows that you are a member of God’s special family. The world is watching to see if you are living according to your Father’s rules. Here is a case in point: Judy attends a fitness class at the Post Falls Senior Center twice a week. There is a sign-in sheet, so many people know that her last name is “Oldfield.” Friday, one of the ladies asked Judy if her husband was the pastor of the church on Spokane Street. That may not require a lot of deductive reasoning – there aren’t that many Oldfields in Post Falls. But then the lady asked, “Did your husband work at the Silver Lake Mall?” People from ten or fifteen years ago, knew me as both a child of God and an employee of the mall. During the years that I worked there, did I ever do anything to dishonor my Father’s name?
Point number two occurred a day before – last Thursday. I was in the Spokane Valley Mall talking to one of the staff in the mall office – a man I had never met. I mentioned my name, and then a few minutes later also said that I worked in at Silver Lake. The man hesitated and then said, “I thought I recognized your name. Are you the pastor?” Here is a man who is a total stranger, and yet he knew me and my name, and that I profess to be a Christian – a child of God. Brethren, the point is – more people know our testimony than most of us are aware. Are you living like the members of God’s family should live?
Most of you know I John 3:1-3 and can finish the quotation once I get it started. As you do, please note the familial context – the divine family. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
Among the Biblical titles given to God’s people, “children of God” must be among the highest. But with the title comes responsibility – with the adoption comes stewardship of the inheritance. I know that none of us are worthy of any of these titles. This is not a matter of worth; every bit of this is based on the grace of God. Nevertheless, having been blessed, it behooves us to strive towards the meaning of the title. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.”