The Reasons to Believe (RTB) Voices blog has been publishing well-researched and dynamic articles from our Scholar Community for the past five years. We would like to honor one of our excellent Scholar Community members, Krista Bontrager, by highlighting her article that impacted both our team and the greater RTB community. Enjoy!
—The scholar department team at RTB
I frequently see comments on social media claiming, “We are all God’s children.” Generally, people intend this sentiment to mean that God has the same relationship with every human equally. The implication is that God relates to each person directly as heavenly Father. Sometimes this phrase is even used to affirm universal salvation (i.e., that everyone will ultimately be saved).
The question, however, is does the Bible actually teach that everyone is a child of God? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key Scriptures that address this question.
God as Creator
All humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). Even after the fall of Adam into sin, Scripture describes how God made humans “a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). In fact, after Noah’s Flood God declares that the warrant for capital punishment stems from humans being God’s image bearers (Genesis 9:4–6). The apostle James warns Christians not to verbally disparage someone else: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9–10).
When we put these Scriptures together, two important truths emerge. First, humans are fallen. Second, humans maintain the image of God, inherent dignity, value, and worth amid their fallenness. Both of these descriptions are universally applied to all humans in all times and all places.
There is one reference in the New Testament where humans are universally described as being the “offspring of God,” and that is in the apostle Paul’s sermon to the philosophers in Athens. God is described as the Creator of everything, including all of humanity.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. . . . As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring” (Acts 17:24–28).
Paul’s description, however, doesn’t connote a direct father-child relationship between the Creator and all humans. Rather, it is more of a generic description about the origin of humanity, like referring to George Washington as the “father of our country.” In this way, God acts as the source or progenitor of all humanity.
God as Father
God the Father has only one begotten Son (John 3:16). However, humans have the potential to become one of God’s children through adoption. The work of Jesus on the cross opens up the possibility for us to become co-heirs with Jesus as a child of God. Christ, and Christ alone, is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
We get further insight into Paul’s theology on this matter when we observe how he opens many of his epistles with phrases like, “God our Father” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3). In context, it’s clear that he is referring to Christians, not all of humanity. There are many places where Paul explicitly uses the analogy of adoption to describe the Christian’s relationship with the Father:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4–5)
He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1:5)
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26–28, emphasis added)
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:14–17).
God has knit together a new people, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor, slave and free. These are the people who have become the children of God.
The apostle John explains that we become God’s children through grace rather than birthright. Even though Jesus was rejected by many, “yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, emphasis added). In other words, not everyone wears the title “child of God.”
Interestingly, Jesus even goes so far as to call some who are outside of his family as belonging to their “father, the devil” who carry out their “father’s desires,” including lying and murder (John 8:44). Paul makes similar statements in Ephesians, warning the church about the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (2:2) and again “Let no one deceive you with empty words . . . the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (5:6). Who are these “sons of disobedience”? They are those who are not in a covenant relationship with the Father through Jesus.
That brings us to a critical point. While not everyone is a child of God, Jesus extends the invitation to become one to all. I pray for everyone to know what it is like to be a child of God, to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to experience the forgiveness and love of the Father.
This framework raises a provocative question about a popular church strategy. It is expressed in the phrase: belong, believe, behave. There are a number of videos and articles available on the Internet summarizing the view, but here is a short one. An increasing number of churches advocate this idea of inviting non-Christians on a journey to explore who Jesus is, and even to feel a sense of belonging to a church community prior to believing in Jesus as Savior.
While I’m sympathetic to the idea of creating a warm and welcoming environment for non-Christians, I have concerns about the long-term impact of this strategy. Merely hanging out with Christians doesn’t make someone a Christian. Being part of church culture doesn’t make someone a Christian. Yet, it’s not uncommon for some churches to allow people to serve in order to promote a sense of belonging. Without a clear call to believe in the gospel, this approach can lead to confusion for the seeker.
From a biblical perspective, we don’t “belong” to the church until we belong to Christ. To be a child of God is to be part of the body of Christ. The gateway to that position of belonging is grounded in belief. Without belief, there is no true belonging.
“Are We All God’s Children?” YouTube, Theology Mom, February 27, 2023, youtube.com/watch?v=LU0CFJTgfNI.