How is the believer's sonship to God different from Christ's Sonship to God?

[Draft: Oct 31, 2010]

My Muslim correspondent carefully worked through the material I had written and had translated for him on "How can Jesus be the Son of God, and there still only be ONE God?" (In English at and in Punjabi/Urdu at ).

He wrote me back with a couple of obvious questions--which showed that he was approaching the issue correctly, and that he was not just looking for a debate. Here is part of his letter, with one of the questions:

My Dear Glenn,

Thank you very much for you authentic work on my question.

I have listen it so many times and have read it again and again. And every time when I do this I feel pleasure increasing in me. Thank you, you made it possible on my request.

Thanks now I know that there are a lot of things prove that Christ is the son of God. I have never been taught like this before. Really it is a deep study of this topic for a Muslim specially. Friend I am impressed and At least I am convinced that the Jesus Christ is son of God. But it generated some more questions in my mind (please don’t mind I just want to know more…like:

1) I need some clearance (help/guidance) about Jesus is the son of God and in the same way a believer is also called son of God. [I believe that it is not the sonship like on earth]

………. ……..

We saw in the original article that Jesus was called "Son of God" in several different senses.

He was the Messiah, offspring of David, and as king over Israel He was accorded the title "Son of God" -- meaning basically 'king, appointed by God and ruling under the authority of God'. When David or one of his descendants (e.g, Solomon, Hezekiah, Jesus) was anointed and crowned king, God referred to that coronation as 'begetting' which meant that God had accepted the ruler as his governmental representative on earth. Earthly Israelite kings would often install their sons as rulers over cities within their larger realm, and the Psalms/Zabur portray the Davidic king in such terms (Psalm 2):

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. (2 Sa 7:8–17).

Jesus--as Messiah--was thus this type of "son of God" as well, and indeed will be the only true descendant of David to fulfill this promise of an eternal throne.

He also was called 'Son of God' in the sense that people can be called 'son of thunder' or 'son of peace'--describing the character of one's life.

But we saw that His claims to being the unique Son of God went beyond these normal uses of the term. His claims to uniqueness and intimacy and unity with God the Father were so extreme and so unambiguous that he would have been deemed insane--if He had not manifested the very power and presence of God in and through His life.

In this article we will build upon the first article, but only point out the ways in which our sonship (and daughter-ship) differs from the unique one of Jesus.

In some sense, we might conceptualize the quality of the difference in three simple images:

As we move from the conceptual images to theological themes, we could state some of the differences in this way:

Of course, we are unlike Jesus in many, many ways other than sonship:

All of the above attributes (and more) are ascribed to Christ in the New Testament. His exalted nature and status is in every paragraph of the New Testament. Any honest reader of the New Testament Scripture will be confronted with the true 'more than just man' Person of Christ.

He was somehow the exact 'imprint' of God the Father on a historical person:

"The exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3). The word translated “representation” (charaktēr), used only here in the New Testament, originally was used for an engraving tool or an engraver, a stamp, or even a branding iron. It also came to be used of the image, impress, or mark made, for example on coins or seals. Metaphorically the word developed the meaning of a distinguishing mark on a person or thing by which it is distinguished from other persons or things. Thus, the term denotes features of an object or person by which one is able to identify it. … as William Lane points out, our author employs the word to make his point for Christian theology. The idea that the Son is the “exact representation of [God’s] being” means that he gives a clear picture of the nature of God. This echoes other New Testament texts that speak of Jesus as the “form,” “likeness,” or “image” of the Father." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 4: Hebrews to Revelation. (12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


Jesus' sonship is not earthly, physical, genetic, or sexually-based -- as legitimately condemned in the Qur'an -- but rather is a relationship that is somehow 'inside God'. The Son of God is identical to God the Father in both essence/nature and in character/morals. The Son is NOT the Father, and the Father is NOT the Son, but they share the same essence (something like two persons being inside the same body and being able to control the arms and legs together in unison--we do not have this type of thing in nature, but God is beyond our limitations so this could be the case, from our limited perspective).

Our sonship, however--even though also not earthly, physical, genetic, or sexually-based--is not 'inside God' at all. Instead, we are adopted children, made to be legal heirs of the benefits and responsibilities of the future Kingdom of God. Jesus--as the only essential and only ultimate Son--is the primary heir of the Kingdom, but He has stated that He will share those benefits and responsibilities with His disciples.

Of course, in some sense, all creation is a 'child' of God-since He is the Maker. But among the various senses of sonship, the New Testament teaches that the sonship of believers in Christ is distinctive:

"In broad terms all humankind are children of God in that God is their Maker (Isa. 45:11–12). More particularly, Israel has God as its Father (Deut. 32:6ff.; Isa. 43:6–7). But Christians are children of God in a still fuller sense: Christ has given to those who believe in him “the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12–13)" [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 4: Hebrews to Revelation. (195). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]

Of course, all believers enter the kingdom of God and have a place there--it is a simple matter of trusting Jesus, as we showed from the Bible in part 5 of the series on Why Did Jesus Let Him Kill Him?. But God will give greater inheritance gifts, blessings, rewards, and responsibilities to those who obey Him, follow His teachings, and serve Him in this life--even in the face of suffering.

The theological and biblical term for how we become children of God is 'adoption':

"Adoption: Theologically, the act of God by which believers become members of “God’s family” with all the privileges and obligations of family membership. “Sons of God,” a common King James Version (English translation) expression, includes individuals of both sexes numbered among God’s children (Is 43:6; 2 Cor 6:18)." [Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible]

The Scripture teaches us that we become legal, adopted children of God through the work of the eternal, essential Son of God:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Ga 4:4–6).

In this passage, the Apostle Paul uses the image of adoption under Roman law. Roman adoption was an experience of dying to the past life and being 'born again' into a new family (legally):

"…the profound truth of Roman adoption was that the adoptee was taken out of his previous state and placed in a new relationship of son to his new father, his new paterfamilias. All his old debts were cancelled, and in effect the adoptee started a new life as part of his new family." [Francis Lyall, cited in Paul: Jew, Greek and Roman, Stanley Porter (ed), Brill:2008, page 266]

One commentator explains:

"Paul continued his discussion of the privileges that believers receive as full heirs of Abraham through Christ. Paul used the familial metaphor “adoption” of our salvation while John and Peter used the familial metaphor “born again.” The adoption metaphor was used primarily in two contexts in Roman culture. In Roman law, adoption was very difficult. A long, involved and expensive legal procedure, once enacted adoption afforded several special rights and privileges: (1) all debts were cancelled; (2) all criminal charges were dropped; (3) they could not be legally put to death by their new father; and (4) they could not be disinherited by their new father. In legal terms, they were a completely new person. Paul was alluding to the believers’ security in Christ by using this Roman legal procedure (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23). When a father publicly adopted a son, he officially and permanently became his heir. Also, the metaphor was used in the official ceremony of a boy becoming a man, held on the 17th of March each year. [Utley, R. J. D. (1997). Vol. Volume 11: Paul's First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians. Study Guide Commentary Series (45–46). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.]

The apostle John connects the ministry of the incarnate Word (Jesus) with our right to become children of God:

He (Jesus) came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (Jn 1:10–13).

Our legal standing as adopted children of God is thus dependent upon the work of Christ on the Cross. This new legal standing with God--not only as forgiven criminals but now as adopted members of God's family!--is an expression of His love.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:1–2).

This verse points out that our sonship has two aspects: a present aspect and a future aspect. The present aspect is that we are NOW adopted children of God even in our mortal bodies and with our moral failures, and the future aspect is that we will IN THE FUTURE be transformed beyond our mortal state into something greater.

"Although we already have fellowship with Christ through his indwelling Spirit, a time is coming when we will see him face to face, in all his glory (3:2). Just as he could be seen, heard, and touched in his first manifestation, so it will be true at his second appearing. John’s statement implies that Christ may come at any time, so we must always be ready. Though guaranteed eternal life (5:11–12), true believers will nonetheless give account to God (Heb 13:17) and be judged by their works (Matt 16:27; 2 Cor 5:10).

"At this time in our lives, the world may not fully recognize us as the children of God, but it will when we are fully glorified with Christ. Nonetheless, our lives should display the fact that we are God’s children now. Contrary to the belief of the Pelagians, we do not become children of God by doing right. Rather, doing right is a sign that we have already become God’s children—because we cannot do right on our own.

"In this section, John declares that something inconceivably wonderful is waiting for us—even more glorious than what we now have as God’s children. And of this prospect we can be sure: In eternity we will be with Christ and be like Christ. We already have a hint of what this future glory will be like, though the world is completely ignorant of it. Christ will be revealed to us and in us, in all his glory (2 Cor 4:4). In the same way, believers will be revealed to the world as God’s children, sharing in Christ’s glory and honor. This is the hope of every believer, even of all creation itself. As the apostle Paul said, the whole creation is waiting for the day when the children of God will be revealed in all their glory, reflecting the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:18–30).

"But seeing Christ is something that begins in the earthly life of the believer. The idea is not that we see him physically but that by constantly gazing at Christ, we will become like him and reflect his glory (2 Cor 3:17–18). As John said it, “we will see him as he really is” (3:2). This means more than a merely physiological occurrence; it means “perceiving,” “recognizing,” even “appreciating.” In order to know someone—to see them as they really are—you have to pass through similar experiences. Therefore, in order to see Jesus as he really is, we must experience the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. This was Paul’s aspiration, and it should be ours (Phil 3:7–14). Of course, this was also John’s aspiration, as expressed in the following verse: “All who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (3:3). Everyone who has the hope of seeing Christ and being like him realizes that Christ is morally pure and therefore pursues purity now. We can do this only through Christ’s Spirit in us—as Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is an ongoing purification process, which begins at rebirth and continues until the day we see Jesus. The more pure we become, the clearer our view will be of Jesus, who is pure through and through." [Osborne, G., & Philip W. Comfort. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 13: John and 1, 2, and 3 John (347–348). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

So, our sonship as believers has three phases of it:

If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Lk 6:32–36).

They are blessed who work for peace, for they will be called God’s children. (Mt 5:9).

But in addition to imitating God in our interactions with others, we are also urged to interact with God as His children, opening our lives and our hearts to him as our Heavenly Father. God gives His adopted children special help, by sending the Holy Spirit--the same spirit that was active in the lives of the Prophets--into our hearts to help us enjoy this relationship with Him:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Ro 8:15–16).

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Ga 4:6).

We should also note, however, that our present status as adopted children of God is not just a 'legal fiction'. The New Testament teaches in other passages that we were spiritually 'reborn' when we placed our trust in Christ. We were 'born again'--of the spirit and not of the body--by an miracle of God inside our hearts. God gave us a new birth by His powerful Word:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. 4 Now we hope for the blessings God has for his children. These blessings, which cannot be destroyed or be spoiled or lose their beauty, are kept in heaven for you. (1 Pe 1:3–4).

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. (1 Pe 1:23)

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. (Jas 1:17–18).

So, when we trust in Christ as the provision for our sin-debt and as the Father-sent rescuer of our souls, God both gives us new spiritual life inside our hearts and gives us legal standing as His children.

There are many, many blessings that God gives us as we live this life as His children. He is changing us more and more into the likeness of His Son (who is the perfect likeness of the Father's character, remember). He will honor us as His children at the resurrection of the dead. He will walk with us today through our good times and bad times (like a perfect Father would do).

But all of our blessings as His children depended on the death of Christ for us. Without that solution to the problem of human sin and the deserved punishment from God, we would not be able to experience this present relationship of intimacy with the Father, nor would we be able to be honored at the resurrection as children, along with the pre-eminent and unique heavenly Son of God.

Jesus is our perfect example of submission to the Father followed by exaltation by the Father, and our lives are to be a 'smaller version' of that. For example, in Jesus' words:

Rev 3.21: To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (We do not share the throne of the Father--only Jesus does that--but we share the throne of the Son Jesus).

The eternal Son of God came to earth in the body, birth, and life of Jesus of Nazareth. He always was, and always will be the absolutely unique Son of God the Father. He showed us what the Father was like, and showed us how we were supposed to live as newly accepted children in God's family. His voluntary and sacrificial death on the cross cleared all the judicial barriers that could stop us from becoming God's children, and He gives eternal life and eternal honor to those who place their trust and confidence in Him. Once we trust Christ as our Redeemer and Savior, we become children of God and are called upon to live lives that reflect the character and goodness of our Heavenly Father. At the resurrection, we will receive many other blessings of God, as co-heirs with the truly unique, incomparable, and essential Son of God Christ.

Much of this is still a mystery to us--but we believe the Scripture and we trust God that He guides us with truth and love.

I hope this helps, friend-- and may you and your loved ones come to trust this heaven-sent Jesus, and to be --because of this faith-- welcomed into the family of God by God Himself!


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