“Why are there some people who think they are the ‘children of God,’ but that others are not. Isn’t it a fact that all human beings are children of God?”
This is a concern that many express. Is there a legitimate biblical response?
In the first place, it is not man’s prerogative to arbitrarily determine who is or is not a child of God. The Lord himself decides that, and no one can draw any conclusions regarding that issue independent of what the scriptures indicate.
Paul declared that “the Lord knows them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19), and that suggests that some are not his.
No one, remotely familiar with the teaching of the Bible, would contend that all people are “children of God” in the noblest sense of that term, i.e., in the redemptive sense. The scriptures repeatedly contradict this notion.
Notice, for example, that even though the Jewish nation had been chosen by the Lord as a people for his own possession (Deuteronomy 7:6), nonetheless, Jehovah warned that if they rebelliously drifted from his law, he would disinherit them (cf. Numbers 14:12). Eventually the Lord would say to the arrogant, idol-worshiping northern kingdom of Israel, “you are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9).
In addressing certain Jews, who claimed a special relationship to Jehovah simply because they were “of the seed of Abraham” (John 8:33), Christ responded: “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do” (v. 44).
Then consider this. When Paul was opposed by a wicked sorcerer on the island of Cyprus, he, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, addressed the rogue thus:
“O full of all guile and all villainy, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10).
It is clear that the inspired apostle did not consider Elymas a “child of God” in the exalted sense of that expression.
It is important for honest people to recognize that Inspiration makes a marked distinction between those who are in a spiritual relationship with the Father, and those who stand aloof from him. Paul wrote:
“Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has a temple of God with idols? For we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
Children by Creation
In a broader framework of reference, however, all human beings are viewed as belonging to God. Consider the following.
First, God is the “father” of all by virtue of the fact that he is the Creator of the human family. Humanity was fashioned in his very image (Genesis 1:26-27), and he exercises sovereignty over all.
Through his spokesman, the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord declared:
“All souls [people] are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
Jehovah “owns” every person upon this earth, and they are his to bless or punish, depending upon how they respond to his will.
Here’s an interesting verse. In a masterful address to the pseudo-intellectuals of ancient Athens, Paul proclaimed that God made the world and all things therein. He subsequently announced that in him [God] we live, move, and have our very existence.
Then, with a compelling ad hominem argument (appealing to a Greek writer to buttress his point), he says: “we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).
The fact that the Greeks shared with Paul a common “offspring” (genos — “ancestral stock”) that resulted from the Creator, did not nullify the fact that they were in error. They were attempting to worship a God of which they knew nothing, but whom they desperately needed to know and to obey.
The prophet Hosea, speaking on behalf of the Lord, once said: “I will say to them that were not my people, you are my people, and they shall say, you are my God” (2:23).
While the original context has to do with the disfranchised Jews in exile, Paul applies the principle to the conversion of the Gentiles by means of the gospel (Romans 9:25).
The point is this. Those who were not God’s people (in the sense the Jews had been), by anticipation were referred to as his people. This is an important concept to grasp. For an excellent discussion of this matter, see Jack Cottrell, Romans (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1998, Vol. II, pp. 134-135).
There is class of people — those with honest and good hearts — who, though not yet children of God in actuality, are so potentially. That type of person is represented by the man who appeared in Paul’s vision; he plead: “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9).
Consider the Lord’s statement during his personal ministry. Referring to devout Gentiles who eventually would enter into his fold, the Savior said:
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold [the Jews]; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
History demonstrated the accuracy of the Savior’s prophecy.
Or reflect upon the incident that occurred when Paul was in Corinth. As the apostle trembled at the prospect of intense persecution, the Lord spoke words of comfort to his apostle, which concluded with this prophetic proclamation: “I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10).
Christ spoke of those pious souls who yet would be harvested in this great city. They were his people in prospect.
In Revelation 18, a voice from heaven called to those who were captives of “Babylon” (a symbol of a wicked religious force). The plea was,
“Come forth, my people, out of her, that you have no fellowship with her sins, and that you receive not her plagues” (v. 4).
While the reference could be to genuine children of God who had wandered into the captivity of religious apostasy, it seems most likely that potential people of God are in view. It may be an allusion to those who, in time, would see the beauty of pristine Christianity, unencumbered by the innovations of modern Jeroboams (1 Kings 12:25ff), and who would forsake religious sectarianism at the behest of the first-century gospel.
Re-born Children of God
The richest and fullest sense of the “children of God” expression is that which corresponds to the “new birth” formula set forth during the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, and supplemented elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Galatians 3:26-27).
It is not our intention to discuss the components of the conversion process that is figuratively depicted as being “born anew” in John 3:3ff. We would encourage our readers to consult The New Birth: Its Necessity and Composition.
We must point out, however, that the phrase, “you must be born anew” (John 3:7), sets forth a clear obligation to enter a new family relationship. It is by the conditions attached to this symbolic “birth” that one receives pardon, and is admitted into the spiritual family of God (cf. Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). As Paul expressed the matter in one of his later epistles,
“[God] saved us, through the washing of regeneration [i.e., the washing associated with the new birth — baptism] and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Those who are not “children of God” in this regenerative sense, are not children of God in the most crucial manner of all.
It is not enough to be merely an “offspring” of God by creation, nor is there ultimate validity in being just a potential believer. Rather it takes submitting to the will of God, obeying the Savior (Hebrews 5:9) to be a child of God in the redemptive sense.
Every soul should ponder most seriously this matter.