God's Own Literal Children
That family relationship—our becoming children of God the Father—is the heart and core of God's incredible plan for humanity!
Scripture reveals that all people have descended from the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. We are their extended family. Through direct creation in God's likeness, Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38; compare Genesis 5:1-3). Therefore, since we are descended from Adam, we are also children of God. God is our Father because He fathered our first human father. As Acts 17:28-29 tells us, "We are the offspring of God."
But God's purpose goes far beyond the creation of mortal, perishable human beings. He is in the process of fashioning and forming "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), fathering His own spiritual children—immortal and incorruptible children imbued with His very nature and character.
The more we understand just what that means, the more awestruck we will become—at not only the majesty of God's purpose but at what this entails for each of us personally.
A family in God's image
Paul explains this new creation by contrasting the "old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires," with the "new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV).
Paul is describing a much-needed spiritual transformation in people. It first involves a change in a person's nature and character. This is followed by the
God is accomplishing this transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. A biblical term for this spiritual transformation is salvation. Paul describes those who will receive salvation as the children of God: "The Spirit itself [that is, God's Holy Spirit] beareth witness with our spirit [our individual human spirit], that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:16-17, King James Version).
Can we start to grasp the significance of Paul's inspired statement? It explains why we are here, the very reason for our existence, why we were born.It gives meaning to life itself. It explains why God wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth. God, the Scriptures tell us, is creating a family— His own family. We have the priceless opportunity to be a part of that family, the family of God!
That family relationship—our becoming children of God the Father—is the heart and core of God's incredible plan for humanity!
From the beginning this purpose has been clearly stated by God. Note again the words of Genesis 1: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . So God created man in His own image;. . . male and female He created them" (verses 26-27). Men and women are created in God's image and likeness, to be like Him.
This language concerns family. Consider that it was after creating plants and animals to reproduce each "according to its kind" that God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (verse 26). This shows that man was created according to the "God kind." Indeed, to help us understand the parallel with God creating man in His image and likeness, Genesis 5:3 says that the first man Adam later "begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth." So God was essentially reproducing Himself through humanity. We'll see more about this shortly.
God makes it clear that His family includes people who are now physical men and women, both sons and daughters: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28).
The Bible often collectively refers to physical children of both genders as "sons" because that was the custom at the time the Bible was written. That custom has continued in many languages over the centuries. In the Hebrew and Greek languages, in which the Bible was originally written, "sons" was used to refer to "descendants" generally. We similarly use the words mankind and brethren in a collective sense to include both sexes.
God also tells us, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18). Just as both men and women are God's children through physical creation, so both can be God's children through spiritual means.
Truly God's children?
But when God calls us His children and instructs us to call Him our Father, is this meant in a real sense? Is God actually engendering a family of others like Himself through a process of reproduction? Or is this meant in the same sense as God being a Father to the human race through creation?
By act of creation God is also a Father to the angels, calling them "sons of God" in Job 38:7. But there is a more important sense in which He desires to be a Father to human beings—a privilege not bestowed on the angels.
We can start to see this in the book of Hebrews: "For to which of the angels did He ever say, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You'? And again: 'I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son'?" (1:5). In this passage, a comparison is being drawn between the status of the angels and that of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God. Yet there is an application to human beings here as well.
Jesus, we must recognize, stands in a unique position as God's "only begotten Son" (John 1:18; 3:16; 1 John 4:9). As the divine Word, He was God with the Father before His human conception (John 1:1-3, 14). Then, through God the Father exercising the power of the Holy Spirit, He was supernaturally conceived as the human being Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary while she was yet a virgin (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20).
Jesus had no immediate human father. Rather, God the Father was directly His Father in even a physical sense through the Holy Spirit. Simultaneously, Jesus was also begotten of the Father to spiritual life through the same Spirit (compare John 5:26; 6:63). And at His resurrection, following His death, Christ returned to His former glory with the Father, having prayed just before He died, "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).
While other human beings are not physically conceived the supernatural way Christ was, they can follow Him in being spiritually fathered by God—though later in their physical existence. Converted Christians are also referred to as "begotten" of God (1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1, 18, KJV), as children of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:16, 21; 1 John 3:1-2), as sons of God (Matthew 5:9; Romans 8:14, 19; Galatians 3:26) and, as earlier stated, as God's "sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Indeed, they are described in 1 Peter 1:23 as "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed [Greek sperma—that is, not of a male sperm cell fertilizing a female egg to produce only mortal, perishable life], but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth" (American Standard Version).
This incorruptible, imperishable life to which they are led by Scripture comes by God implanting His Spirit within them, for "the Spirit alone gives eternal life" (John 6:63, New Living Translation). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the agency of spiritual conception. Note again Paul's words in Romans 8:16: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (KJV). And through that Spirit it becomes possible for us to be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), the very nature of God.
Returning to the book of Hebrews, we should understand that the language of being begotten by God, while not applicable to the angels, is applicable not just to Jesus Christ but also to His followers. "Angels," we are told, "are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation" (1:14, NLT).
These converted human beings are God's children, Christ's brothers who, like Him, are begotten of God. Christ, we are further told, is "bringing many sons to glory . . . For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one [that is, of the same Father or the same family, other translations note], for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (2:10-11).
Jesus is to be the "firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). These must be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:6) to become like Him, who now, as a "life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45), sits "at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12).
Indeed, they will yet join Him in glory as fellow "sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36)—Christ being the "firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5).
Thus it should be plain that Spirit-converted Christians truly and literally become God's children through spiritual regeneration—being begotten again through the Holy Spirit to new life. So God really is producing us according to His "kind," as Genesis 1 implies—not just as physical models in the flesh but as spiritual entities like Himself (John 4:24). A few verses have been read to say that Christians are adopted sons of God rather than His actual begotten sons, but this is based on a misunderstanding (see "Adoption or Sonship?").
We will be like Jesus Christ
Recognizing that we're made in God's image and to follow in Christ's footsteps into future glory, let's give further thought to what this entails. How completely can we be like God when all is said and done?
God's purpose is to make us fully like Jesus Christ! In Ephesians 4 Paul makes this clear. He explains that members of God's Church are to "come . . . to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (verse 13). Paul's comment in Galatians 4:19, "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you," expresses the same concept in different words.
Do you glimpse the significance of what Paul is saying in explaining that we will have the fullness of Christ? We can become fully and completely like Jesus Christ, with His character formed in us. But that's not all!
As we've seen, Jesus, the Son of God, is also God the Son. He is God along with God the Father—two divine Beings united in profound oneness (for more on this, see "The God Family".)
As Jesus is God's Son, our destiny is also to be the immortal children of God. Of course, Jesus is God's Son in a unique way, as we've seen. Unlike us, He was the divine Word of God from eternity with the Father (John 1:1). Nevertheless, the New Testament declares that Jesus is, as we've also seen, "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29) and makes clear that His followers are also the sons of God.
The apostle John explains what this ultimately means: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! . . . Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1-3).
Human beings inducted into the family God is creating will ultimately be glorified spirit beings like the resurrected Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20-21), who reigns over the universe in His glorified state at the right hand of God the Father. This is what is meant by Daniel's description of righteous people in the future "shin[ing] . . . like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3, NRSV). Human beings resurrected to eternal life will be like the glorified Jesus Christ!
But what does this really mean? Consider that human children are like their parents and like their brothers and sisters. They are all the same kind of beings—human beings. In the same way, ultimately God's children will be like Him and like Jesus Christ their divine Brother.
Jesus Christ, God the Son, is like God the Father—with the same kind of glory and power. These passages of Scripture tell us that God's other children, glorified when resurrected, will be like the Father and Christ! They will be the same kind of beings the Father and Christ are—divine beings, as hard as that may be to believe!
The awesome potential of any person, as it is presented to us in God's Word, seems so incredible that most people cannot grasp this biblical truth when they first read it. Although it is plainly stated in the Bible, people usually read right over it. In fact, this awesome future is the whole purpose and reason that God made mankind. It is why we were born, why we exist!
You are gods?
Let's get to the heart of this matter. The Jews of Jesus' day accused Him of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God: "Because You, being a Man, make Yourself God" (John 10:33).
Notice His intriguing response: "Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law [in Psalm 82:6], "I said, 'You are gods'"? If He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"?'" (John 10:34-36).
In other words, said Christ, "if Scripture outright called human beings gods, why are you upset when I merely state that I am God's Son?"
Yet are human beings actually gods? What did He mean?
In Psalm 82:6, from which Jesus quoted, God says to human beings, "I said, 'You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.'" The key here is the word children, just as we've seen in other verses. We must understand that God is a family—a divine family of more than one person. There is one God (the God family) comprising more than one God Being. (Again, see "The God Family".)
As noted earlier, the God family from the beginning comprised two divine Beings—God and the Word, the latter becoming flesh 2,000 years ago as the Son of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14). After Jesus' human life and death, He was resurrected to divine spirit existence as the "firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18) and "firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). Thus Jesus was spiritually born in the resurrection as the first of many "brethren" or children to follow later.
Again, as pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, Acts 17:28-29 states that human beings are God's "offspring" (the Greek word genos here meaning "kindred," "race, "kind," "stock" or "family"). And as we saw from Genesis 1, God's purpose in creating man in His own image and likeness was to make him according to the "God kind"—to thus reproduce Himself through mankind.
Psalm 82 is much easier to understand in this light. In verse 6 the word gods is equated with "children of the Most High." That makes perfect sense. When any entity bears offspring, its offspring are the same kind of entity. The offspring of cats are cats. The offspring of dogs are dogs. The offspring of human beings are human beings. The offspring of God are, in Christ's own words, "gods."
But we must be careful here. Human beings are not literally gods—not yet, at any rate. Indeed, people initially are not literally even God's children, except in the sense that He created humanity and did so in His image and likeness.
God is eternal spirit. Human beings are mortal flesh, albeit with a spiritual component, as noted earlier—the human spirit that gives us understanding. This is an important distinction.
In Psalm 82, when human beings are referred to as gods—in the sense of being God's offspring intended to represent Him in authority and judgment throughout the earth—they are still declared imperfect and subject to corruption and death. So they are of the divine family in only a restricted sense.
One aspect of this is that man has been created in God's image and likeness on a physical, mortal level with limited dominion, resembling God but without His divine character and glory. Another aspect of this is that man has the ultimate potential of becoming the same kind of beings the Father and Christ now are.
In fact, God often "calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Romans 4:17, KJV)—looking on His purpose as already accomplished. Amazingly, God's purpose is to exalt human beings from this fleshly existence to the same level of divine spirit existence that He has, as we will see.
Toward the ultimate outcome—divine glory
This involves the process mentioned earlier of spiritual reproduction in which God fathers us as His children. Indeed, with a fuller picture now of what God is doing, let's revisit that for a moment. The spiritual reproductive process starts with God's Spirit joining with our human spirit. Again: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16, KJV). Through this miraculous union, we become "partakers of the divine nature"
Thus the Spirit-begotten Christian is a child of God, an actual member of the God family—but not yet in an ultimate sense. As children, we must still go through a development process in this life—a period of building godly character, becoming more and more like God in the way we think and behave. And at the end of this life, in the resurrection at Christ's return, true Christians will be changed into divine spirit beings like the Father and Christ.
Look once again at this amazing truth recorded by the apostle John: "Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
In fact, to expand on this, we are told in numerous passages of Scripture that we will receive the divine glory of the Father and Christ: "In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus" (1 Peter 5:10, NLT; see also Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 2:10).
Moreover, as coinheritors with Christ, we will receive dominion over all things, including the entire vast universe—dominion just as Christ has (compare Romans 8:17; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:5-9; Revelation 21:7). To truly exercise dominion over all things—including the raging thermonuclear furnaces of 50 billion trillion suns and every subatomic particle of every atom of every molecule in the cosmic expanse—requires the omnipotent power of God.
And what about our minds? As human beings, we couldn't count all the individual stars of the universe, at one per second, in a trillion lifetimes. But God, in
Consider this: Converted human beings are to one day possess divine nature, divine glory and total power over the creation, sharing God's infinite knowledge. All of this requires nothing less than divinity!
Indeed, at that time, like Jesus, we will at last be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19; compare Colossians 1:19; 2:9). How can someone be filled with all the fullness of God and be anything less than what God is? Therefore, at our ultimate change, we too will be divine—though the Father and Christ will forever be greater than us.
The teaching of deification
This biblical truth will surely come as quite a shock to those who have heard only the traditional view of mainstream Christianity regarding the ultimate reward of the righteous. Yet those who might be quick to assail this teaching will perhaps be even more surprised to learn that many early "church fathers" of mainstream tradition—not so far removed from early apostolic teaching—did understand this incredible truth, at least in part. And hints of this are sometimes seen even today.
Notice paragraphs 398 and 460 of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995), footnoted sources in brackets:
"Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully 'divinized' by God in glory [but sinned] . . .
"The Word [Jesus Christ] became flesh to make us 'partakers of the divine nature' [2 Peter 1:4]: 'For this is why the Word [Christ] became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God' [Irenaeus (2nd century), Against Heresies Book 3, chap. 19, sec. 1].
"'For the Son of God became man so that we might become God' [Athanasius (4th century), On the Incarnation of the Word, chap. 54, sec. 3]. 'The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us share in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods' [Thomas Aquinas (13th century), Opusculum 57, lectures 1-4]" (pp. 112, 128-129, emphasis added).
This teaching is even more prevalent in Eastern Orthodox tradition, where it is known by the Greek term theosis, meaning "divinization" or "deification." It is wholly unlike the New Age concept of absorption into universal consciousness or seeing oneself as inherently and presently divine. Notice the remarkable explanation of the early Catholic theologian Tertullian, writing around A.D. 200:
"It would be impossible that another God could be admitted, when it is permitted to no other being to possess anything of God. Well, then, you say, at that rate we ourselves possess nothing of God. But indeed we do, and will continue to do so. Only it is from Him that we receive it, and not from ourselves. For we will be even gods, if we deserve to be among those of whom He declared, 'I have said, "You are gods,"' and 'God stands in the congregation of the gods.' But this comes of His own grace, not from any property in us. For it is He alone who can make gods" (Against Hermogenes, chap. 5, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 480, quoted in "Deification of Man," David Bercot, editor, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 1998, p. 200).
Indeed, this was the standard view during the early Christian centuries (see "Early Theologians on Becoming Divine").
More recent authors have also glimpsed this biblical truth. C.S. Lewis, perhaps the most popular Christian writer of the last century, wrote: "The command Be ye perfect [Matthew 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words.
"If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said" (Mere Christianity,1996, p. 176).
The ultimate family relationship
Of course, this matter requires some important clarification. The Bible's teaching is not that we will somehow mystically become a singular being with God, losing our individual identities. The reality is that God is a family. And just as individual members of a human family are distinct entities with unique identities, so will it be in the God family.
Yet through the Holy Spirit the members of the God family will share a special oneness of mind, purpose and nature that goes far beyond the common identity and union that is possible within the human family.
Indeed, there is only one God, but that God is a family. The term gods in reference to our destiny is really meant to distinguish multiple God beings constituting the one God—the one God meaning the one God family. As mentioned before, there are at present two fully divine members of the God family—two distinct Beings—God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. And, as incredible as it sounds, there will be more to come.
God has declared, as we earlier saw, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18). And He means it. The Father intends to bring us forth as His full children, to transform us into the very kind of beings that He and Christ now are—though, again, forever subject to Their loving authority and leadership.
Indeed, even though saved human beings truly will be elevated to existence at the divine level as real children of God and full members of the God family, they will never challenge, individually or collectively, the preeminence of the Father and Christ as leaders of the family. Truly, all will be subject to Jesus, except the Father, and Christ will Himself be subject to the Father (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The Father and Christ will remain at the top of the family forever, reigning supreme even with the addition of billions of divine children.
This, then, is why you and I were born! It is the ultimate potential destiny of all mankind. It is the awe-inspiring purpose for which we were created. As Jesus quoted, foreseeing our destiny reached, "I said, 'You are gods.'" Our future can't get any higher or better than that!
Next we will see how you can become part of the immortal family of God and examine further details about the wonderful life that lies in store for us.
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