CHAPTER 7 // CHILD ≠ SON

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A CHILD AND A SON OF GOD?

 

In the previous chapter, we contrasted the difference between having a relationship with God and having fellowship with God. In this chapter, we will discover the difference between being a child of God and a son of God. Although you saw it in the last chapter, here is the establishing verse that shows us how to be children of God from John 1:12.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:⁠1

This verse teaches that to be a child of God is equivalent to having salvation⁠2. Anyone who believes in Jesus for everlasting life is a child of God. They will be saved from Hell. Although childhood constitutes a basic relationship, it is not necessarily a promise of a privileged position before God. So, being a child of God is a salvation issue, while being a son of God is a discipleship issue. Let’s take a look at how Paul defined someone who is a son of God in Romans 8:14.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.⁠3

Being led by the Spirit is a requirement for being a son of God. This brings up an important question. Is being led by the Spirit a requirement for being saved? Obviously not, since salvation comes by believing in Jesus for everlasting life.⁠4 Therefore being a child of God and being a son of God are two different things. We already know that being a child of God is equivalent to having salvation, so being a son of God has to do with discipleship.

Another great description of being a son of God comes from the Sermon on the Mount. If we don’t pay attention to its context, it would be easy to misunderstand what is being taught. Before we look at the second use of the term ‘sons,’ let’s find out a little about the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus taught an important set of lessons from the side of a large hill, which is why it’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Before Jesus begins to teach, Matthew tells us about the audience. He says,

…and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying⁠5

Jesus is teaching His disciples. This is important because the Sermon on the Mount is packed with instructions, but they are not instructions on how to get saved.  They are instructions on how to be the ideal disciple. In fact, by this point, many of His disciples were already believers. They were already saved, minus Judas. Jesus was talking to believers, who had decided to do the hard work of discipleship. The fact that He’s talking about being a disciple is not only indicated by the audience but by phrases like this one, found in the midst of His lesson.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.⁠6

Did you catch the phrase, ‘good works?’ From the very first chapters of this book, we’ve established that good works are the domain of disciples. We are not saved by ‘good works,’ but ‘good works’ make us disciples. By this, we know that Jesus is giving instructions on how to be an ideal disciple in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Anyone who thinks or teaches that the Sermon on the Mount is showing the way of salvation is muddling the gospel and confusing it with the discipleship instruction manual.

Now that we know that Jesus is talking about discipleship let’s take a look at Matthew 5:43-45, 48 where the term ‘sons’ is utilized.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven … Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.⁠7

Instructions, instructions, instructions! Jesus is teaching His students how to be ‘perfect⁠8‘ disciples. He gives a list of instructions that will be difficult to follow. He then makes a promise for the ones who will follow them.

that you may be sons of your Father in heaven⁠9

So, as we contrast the difference between being a child of God (saved) and sons of God (disciples) we need to explain why being a son is better. Our modern mindset might not pick up on the distinction because we live in a much more gender equal society. However, in the ancient world, no one questioned the primacy of sons over daughters. This was especially true for first born sons. Obviously, parents loved their daughters, but their estate was inherited by sons. Sons would share in the leadership of the household and business holdings. Sons were trusted with many duties that daughters were not.

We probably prefer our modern world where there is at least an expectation of equal rights and opportunities for both sexes. However, in the world that Jesus lived in, sonship was a place of honor above and beyond childhood. The original readers would have picked up on this immediately.

Now let’s apply this to what we know so far. Being a child of God means a person has salvation. However, being a son of God means the person has also chosen a life of discipleship. The sons of God are those who do the hard work and get honor and reward accordingly. A father had the right to reward his children unequally, and in the ancient world, as in today’s, an obedient and faithful son stood to gain all that his father had to give.

Being sons of the Father in heaven is certainly an expression of discipleship. Those who want to be sons chase after the perfection that Jesus talked about when he said,

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.⁠10

No one is perfect enough to gain everlasting life, which is one more indication that we are talking about discipleship. However, a saved person who also does the work of a disciple will be what we might call, a “perfect son.” If I were to say that my kid is a perfect son, I don’t mean that he never messes up, but that he strives for perfection. He wants to be the best he can be. In the same way, disciples who seek after sonship are those who work to be as perfect as they can. This is what truly pleases a father.

We are saved by being children of God, but we are honored when we work to be sons of God. All saved people are children of God, but the title of sons is reserved for disciples.

___

1 John 1:12.

2 For more on this see the previous chapter, Relationship with God and Fellowship with God.

3 Romans 8:14.

4 John 1:12, 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 6:47.

5 Matthew 5:1–2.

6 Matthew 5:16.

7 Matthew 5:43-45, 48.

8 Matthew 5:48

9 Matthew 5:45

10 Matthew 5:43-45, 48.

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About Lucas

Lucas is a staff writer with simply belief, and sci-fi/fantasy novelist. He has a B.S. in Bible, Psychology, and History/Political Science. He lives and writes from his home office in East Texas with his wife, daughter, and cat.