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What Does the Bible Mean by Children of God?

When Jesus said his followers were "children of God," he meant something far more than just the fact they needed to be obedient. What does it truly mean to be children of God?

What Does the Bible Mean by Children of God?

One of the signs of Jesus’ divinity is that he welcomed children to his side, telling the disciples, “Let the children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus also said for his followers to be childlike, even to the extent of being born again. Jesus was God’s son, and the Father extends the same special relationship of a parent and His children to all believers. Jesus told us in the gospels that we are called children of God.  

Where Does the Bible Say 'Children of God'?

1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” The third chapter of I John discusses our pure, childlike spirits after being “born of God” (1 John 3:9). We are brothers and sisters in Christ, with the same Father, helping Him serve our family’s needs.

In the gospel of Matthew, the disciples ask Jesus who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus calls a child in the crowd to His side. Then Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:3, 5).

Becoming like a child suggests being simple, trusting, loving, and accepting. It also conjures in my mind the ability to act impulsively with a small but growing sense of consideration for other people. Children do not spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think of them or the consequences of their actions. 

Jesus wanted spontaneity from his first followers and true, unabashed love in their dedication to Him. This zealousness motivated the disciples to spread Jesus’ message of salvation. He asked His disciples to make a quick decision when He invited them to follow. The disciples joined Christ with faith and little else, much like how children follow their parents and imitate their parents’ behavior. 

Early Christians acted in a way that reminded non-believers of Christ. The apostles of Jesus acted like faithful, innocent children, the children of God. The (mostly Greek) status quo in Antioch called followers of Jesus “Christians” (Acts 11:20-21). The term was originally used to make fun of the strange, new, radical apostles, in much the same way the word Martians is a humorous reflection on people from Mars. The word Christian means “little Christ” or “little anointed one.” 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructs new, maturing Christians, saying, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Early Christians’ childlike exuberance became more disciplined behavior as the church flourished and history passed. Christians became a threat to the Roman government. After Jesus was condemned and crucified, the disciples “grew up” and took on the mantle of leading His church. These challenging rites of passage took the early church through difficult times, much like the passage from childhood to adulthood.  

What Does 'Children of God' Mean in Context?

Paul wrote to encourage new Christians to hold fast to what they knew was true—despite temptation and persecution. In 1 John 5:1-3, Paul wrote: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his Child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.”

The greatest commandment is to love one another (1 Corinthians 13:13). As Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Jesus was referring to caring for other people and tending the flock. The love of God, the ultimate Father, was passed down through His Son to all of God’s adopted sons and daughters. Christian love is a continuous flow of serving others.

How Do We Become Children of God?

A person can become part of a family in many ways. They can be born, adopted, or marry into a family. The Bible emphasizes being adopted into God’s family. We have a spiritual rebirth as children of God (John 3:5). It is much like an adoption ceremony—which I had the pleasure of attending for my nephew, adopted into my sister’s family when he was 17 years old. Family court judges and parents cried as children they had cared for in foster arrangements became part of a permanent family. 

Adopted children have all the personal and legal rights of natural-born children. In fact, at the time Paul was writing the New Testament letters, a natural-born child could lose their inheritance, while an adopted child could not. Adoption was a more secure legal position in New Testament times than being born into a family. 

There were many aspects of adoption in ancient Greco-Roman life. The Codex Justinianeus, a document outlining sixth-century Rome law, states that a family patriarch could obtain a legal heir from another family through adoption. Since about 25 percent of babies in the first-century A.D. didn’t survive their first year, and almost half of all children died before age 10, adoption was a popular alternative to a family raising its own children. Sons of large, noble families were often adopted out to connect with royal families (and avoid splitting an inheritance too much). (Daughters were usually not part of ancient Rome’s adoption process since money and power passed through male offspring.) The adopted son was taken legally into his new family and assumed all of the rights and responsibilities associated with that new family.

Our security today as children of God grows in the fertile soil of our relationship with our Father. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Paul also used the word “adoption” in his letter to the Romans. Paul writes, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” This passage continues with the heartfelt words for everyone who feels like an orphan in this world: 

“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 8:15-17). 

We grow spiritually and physically as children of God into mature Christians, “transformed by the renewing of your mind  . . . able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). He raises us and rewards our loyalty to the family of God.

Quotes about Children and God’s Love

1. “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” ― 1 Timothy 4:12

2. “Think of what you are, you Christians. You are God's children; you are joint heirs with Christ. The 'many mansions' are for you; the palms and harps of the glorified are for you. You have a share in all that Christ has and is and shall be.” ― Charles Spurgeon

3. “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” ― Psalm 8:2

4. “Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong;

They are weak, but He is strong.” ― Anna Bartlett Warner

5. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” ― Matthew 10:29-31

6. “We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ― Brennan Manning

7. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” ―   Isaiah 49:15-16

8. “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.” ― C.S. Lewis

9. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” ― Matthew 18:10

10. ““There will always be someone willing to hurt you, put you down, gossip about you, belittle your accomplishments and judge your soul. It is a fact that we all must face. However, if you realize that God is a best friend that stands beside you when others cast stones you will never be afraid, never feel worthless and never feel alone.” ― Shannon Alder

(Excerpted “30 Inspirational Quotes for the Kids in Your Life” by Cally Logan and “40 Beautifully Inspiring Quotes about God’s Love”)

Further Reading:

Why Is the Identity of Children So Important?

Adoption – Smith’s Bible Dictionary

What Jesus Taught Us When He Said “Let the Little Children Come to Me”

What Does the Bible Say about Kids?

What Does It Mean that God Loves the Little Children?

Photo Credit: Getty Images/PeopleImages

Betty DunnBetty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published memoir Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com


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