In the Bible, there are various ways in which the idea of sonship is used. Angels are called sons of God in the book of Job, and they could have this title because they are dignified creatures of God. Humans also are termed sons of God by creation, and still retain some features of this relationship because they are made in God’s image. Israel as a nation was regarded as a son of God because they had been brought into a special relationship with him. Rulers are also called sons of God, and they are so named because they hold positions of authority under God’s overall control.
Christians are sons of God because they are members of his family. Even with regard to this relationship the New Testament uses at least two pictures to explain it. One is connected to regeneration and the other is connected to adoption. By regeneration, they are given life and by adoption they are given status.
There is also a third way that the New Testament mentions and that is connected to the idea of transformation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that his disciples should behave in certain ways in order to be recognised by others as the children of God.
Those ways of explaining what it means to be children of God are not contradictory. Instead they are complementary. We need to keep the three of them in mind when we think about what it means to be children of God. One way of doing so is to use three words – life, liberty and likeness.
We have already mentioned that regeneration describes how sinners receive spiritual life that marks God’s children. Adoption points to the liberty they have, because the idea behind adoption in those days was adoption from slavery. A slave was selected by a wealthy patron to be his heir and he moved from bondage to freedom. Transformation points to likeness, and the pattern to which they are being moulded is that of Jesus, the perfect Son.
In succeeding posts, we will consider some aspects of life as the children of God.