Are We All God’s Children?

Are we all God’s children? In this case by “we” I don’t mean specifically Christians, but all people in all of the world. Is it true as some say that all people are children of God? The more pop-theology answer tends to be “yes,” whereas more theologically astute Christians usually tend to answer “no, only Christians are” though there are exceptions. But the best answers have never been quite so simplistic. We should recognize that there are multiple dimensions to the Fatherhood of God, and in fact I would present it as having three aspects in particular. Depending on what you mean, it can be right or wrong to call God “Father” of all people. So what are these three “fatherhoods?”

  • Creational fatherhood: In one sense, because God is the Creator all things He is also their Father. Paul says this while preaching to Greek thinkers in Acts, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring…” As a human father creates a child, so God created the world. (The fact that God creates the world as apart from Himself, rather than enclosing it within Himself like in panentheism, also makes it more true to speak of God’s role as Creator in terms of fatherhood than motherhood.) In this sense, God is Father of everyone and everything He has created. We should not make light of this. God is every bit as much love and every bit as generous in His creational fatherhood as in anything else.
  • Covenantal fatherhood: In another sense, God is specially regarded as Father in His covenant relationships. When God elects and establishes a covenant, He sets Himself up as Father to the newly elect. Of Israel God said, “Israel is my firstborn son,” (Exod. 4:22), and He later says when He makes a covenant with David, “You are my son: today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). Likewise, He now calls those in the new covenant His children (Rom. 9:8). This is a more intimate use of the term “Father,” for in this case God is highlighting a special relationship of love, care, and obedience between God and His covenant partner.
  • New creational fatherhood: As God is Father to all He has created, He is also Father to all that He creates anew. There is a special sense in which those who are born again into the new creation are God’s children. Their new birth involves a change of parentage. They were once, by their sin, children of Satan, but now they are reborn into God’s family. John basically says everything we need to know about this sense of God’s fatherhood in 1 John 3:1-2.

    See what love the Father has given 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. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

    We should also understand, though, that in Christ this new creation is already accomplished for all people (John 5:29, 2 Cor. 5:19), even though not all have yet received it by faith in Him (Gal. 3:26). Not all will ever receive this new status as new creation children personally, but it objectively exists in Christ.

So from these three we can see that it can both be appropriate to speak of all people as God’s children and to speak specially of believers as God’s children. The one God is the one Father of all (Eph. 4:6), but it is also true that many are children of Satan rather than children of God (1 Jn. 3:8-10).

What we should see underlying all of this, however, is the eternal Father-Son relation of the Trinity. If anyone else is to be God’s child, it is first grounded in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It is is because Christ is the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15b) and the image in whom we were made (Col. 1:15a, cf. Gen. 1:27) that God is our Father creationally. Israel became God’s son, but their destiny was always defined by the coming of the only-begotten Son (Matt. 2:15). Of David and Solomon it was said that God became their Father, but Israel’s kings were only ever types of the one true Son and King (Heb. 1:5). And we are God’s children now, but only by union with Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26, Eph. 1:5). Thus it all comes back to Jesus. He is the Son of God, and no one else can claim any such honor except through Him. And in that way it is true both that all are God’s children in Christ, and yet we who believe alone are God’s children in Christ. May we live our lives with the goal of seeing these two groups become one!

Are We All God’s Children?

A Taste of Karl Barth as His Best

Karl Barth (pronounced “Bart”) was, without question, one of the most interesting theologians of the 20th century. Certainly he wrote more than many of the rest combined. Originally trained in German liberal theology and higher criticism, he eventually reacted and made a sharp break back towards orthodox Christianity, reasserting the transcendent reality of God over and against the liberals who saw everything as being about human experience and personal “faith.” He didn’t come all the way back to what we modern evangelicals believe (e.g. he never came back to question the results of higher criticism much, resulting in a unique but nonetheless problematic doctrine of Scripture), but he made several excellent contributions even so.

For Barth, Jesus held a powerful place at the center of all theology. Nothing could be taken for granted if it was not robustly controlled and shaped by the reality of Jesus Himself, which led him to significantly revise certain doctrines he inherited from the Reformers he drew from if he did not see them as Christocentric enough, the most notable example being predestination/election. This tendency also led him to reject the idea of natural theology, that we can learn anything useful about God from the study of anything other than His personal, direct revelation (e.g. creation) unless that revelation was first accepted.

Anyway, I think Barth was at his best in two places in particular: his understanding of the relationship between God and man, and his commitment to restrict all revelation first to and through Jesus. Alas, today I only have time to focus on the first of these. I’ll give a bit of explanation and then let Barth speak for himself.

Unlike the liberal theologians he turned against, Barth was committed to the belief that there was a real God outside of and above us, fully free and sovereign, not dependent upon the world. His opponents did not think this way. For them, there might be a real god, or perhaps “god” is just a way of talking about the human experience of faith. If there was a real god, he certainly wasn’t the utterly free, distinct, holy being Barth (and Scripture!) spoke of. Barth strongly opposed this conception and insisted that, in essence, God is God. Yet he also combined this belief with the firm insistence that, using that absolute creative freedom, God had chosen to be love, and to create and enter into covenant relationship with mankind for Himself. In Barth’s view, God is God, yet He has freely chosen not to be God in any other way except as the loving God of man, and has created man to be nothing other than God’s own. God commits and binds Himself to man for all eternity, swearing off any option to be God by Himself alone, our of sheer grace and sheer freedom. Yet, despite His condescension to forever be man’s God, He remains the free sovereign, worthy of all glory and superior to us in every way.

Here are some quotes from his book The Faith of the Church to illustrate my point:

The New Testament knows three kinds of glorification: a glorification of God by man (this Jesus Christ accomplishes), a glorification of man by God, and a glorification of God by God Himself. But the New Testament does not know of any glorification of man by man himself. Man may glorify only God and not himself, whereas God glorifies Himself and glorifies man…Man’s glory is like making a big noise, like trying to show off himself greater than he is. God does not need to make any fuss about his glory: God is glorious. He simply needs to show Himself as He is, He simply needs to reveal Himself. That is what He does in man, His creature, in whom He wants to be reflected.

pp. 26-27

We must stress—even if it seems “dangerous”—that the glory of God and the glory of man, although different, actually coincide. There is no other glory of God (this is a free decision of His will) than that which comes about in man’s existence. And there is no other glory of man than that which he may and can have in glorifying God. Likewise, God’s beatitude coincides with man’s happiness. Man’s happiness is to make God’s beatitude appear in his life, and God’s beatitude consists in giving Himself to man in the form of human happiness. In this relationship between God’s glory and man’s glory, God’s beatitude and man’s happiness, we must note that God always has precedence: our glory is founded upon His glory; our happiness is founded upon His. God remains ever independent, master and sovereign. Man is only a servant. God gives, man receives…God then is essentially love and grace…God does not exist without this will to encounter us, to make us live and participate in Him. That is His steadfastness.

pg. 31

And finally, a glimpse of the other point I was saying Barth is good about, combined with this one:

Apart from the relation between God and man such as exists in Jesus Christ, all that we said would be equivocal and dangerous and even false. What was said about the relations between divine and beatitude and human happiness, between the glory of God and the glory of man is then an abstract truth: it is the explanation of the basic theses of Christian theology. What we say concerning the relationship of God and man, we say it in Jesus Christ. It is first in Christ that there is a coincidence of divine glory and human glory. It is in him that the encounter between divine beatitude and human happiness takes place. There is no humanity “in relation to God” that was not first realized and prefigured in “Jesus Christ”…In order to fulfill the true humanism, then we must believe in Jesus Christ. There is no humanism without the Gospel.

A Taste of Karl Barth as His Best