Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Are We ALL God's Children?

The children of the flesh, not these are the children of God, but the children of the promise is He 
reckoning for the seed.                 -Romans 9:8

One of Christendom's most popular phrases is "we are all the children of God." Christians habitually use this phrase in an effort to demonstrate God's love while at the same time hypocritically believing He delights in tormenting nearly all of His children without end. Popes have frequently used the phrase when addressing large crowds from around the world in an effort to promote unity and ecumenism, and church billboards bear the phrase along highways at every turn. 

The claim that all people are God's children appears to promote God's loving nature and providence. It seems on its surface to be harmless and immune to speculation. Yet, as is the case with most of Christendom's most popular idioms, the notion that all people are God's children is unbiblical and misleading. 

In the passage above, Paul plainly informs the Romans that only the children of the promise bear the right to be called "God's children." In Colossians 1:16, though, Paul points out that everyone is created by God, which seems to indicate that we are all, by nature, His children. In order to understand Paul, we must recognize what, exactly, is meant by the term "child of God." 

The term "child" is just that - a term. It is a title which, like all titles, takes on a particular meaning in relation to the context in which it is used. This fact is true of all titles in all languages. A good example of this fact can be seen with the title "god." In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Satan is referred to as the "god of this eon." This seems shocking until we recognize that "god" is a title which derives its meaning from context. A "god," by definition, is a subjector - one who, by authority, subjects others beneath himself. It is fitting, then, that Satan be labeled a god, but not in the same sense as the Almighty God (with a capital "G"). 

Deciphering titles is extremely important as we attempt to uncover truth. By referring to Christ as "God," we may mean that He is in every way coequal with the Father, or that He is a subjector. If we mean the former, we make a grave error and ultimately deny the literal death of Christ; if we mean the latter, we recognize the truth. It is crucial to always narrowly define titles.

When we apply this rule to the term "children," it becomes clear that we must distinguish between the various meanings of the title "child" in the Scriptures. We are all God's children in the sense that we are all His creation and under His sovereign control, but we are not all His children in terms of our sonship

We tend to define what it means to be a child in biological terms. I refer to myself as the child of my parents because I am their biological offspring. In relation to God, though, no one except Christ has ever been biologically fathered by God. To be God's child, then, is not defined in biological terms, but in spiritual terms. How is one, according to Scripture then, a child of God?

In John 1:12-13, we read, "Yet whoever obtained Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God, to those who are believing in His name, who were begotten, not of bloods, neither of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of a man, but of God." Likewise, 1 John 3:1 states, "Perceive what manner of love the Father has given us, that we may be called children of God! And we are! Therefore the world does not know us, for it did not know Him."

Writing to Israel, John, like Paul, makes it clear that believers bear the unique right to be called the children of God. He makes the distinction between believers and those of the world who "did not know" God. In John 8:42-44, we witness Jesus rebuking the Pharisees, saying, "If God were your Father, you would have loved Me" and, "You are of your father, the Adversary."

Were the Pharisees created by God and in His image? Yes. Did Jesus refer to them as the children of God? No. He did the complete opposite by calling them children of the Adversary! 

As believers, we have been given the glorious privilege to be called the children of God! Through faith, we have been adopted as sons (Rom. 8:14-16, Gal. 3:26 & 4:5-6, Eph. 1:5). As God's adopted children, we are "especially saved" (1 Tim. 4:10) and graciously granted eonian life.

Yet, as the Creator of all, God will eventually show Himself to be the Father of all! Though unbelievers do not recognize God's fatherhood now, they one day will when He draws all men to Himself (John 12:32, 1 Cor. 15:28). They will be separated from their present father, the Adversary, and adopted by their loving Father Who, through His only begotten Son, has redeemed them. For now, believers alone bear the right to be called God's children, but in due time everyone will learn to cry "Abba, Father!"

© 2013 by Stephen Hill 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Servant or a Slave?

I recently watched a short video of a Bible translation committee debating how to translate a particular Greek word. In an effort to be consistent, the committee members agreed from the outset that once they determined how to translate the word, they would translate it the same way in every passage it appears. The word they debated was the Greek word doulos.

The KJV translates doulos consistently as "servant" (as do most versions), and a handful of versions (including the Concordant Version) translate it as "slave." The committee in the video debated over which of these two English words would most appropriately communicate the meaning of the original Greek. Nearly every member of the committee agreed that "slave" is, in fact, the accurate transliteration of the Greek doulos. However, the majority felt that "slave" possesses too negative a connotation and that modern readers would be misled by the true translation or too disgusted to appreciate the text. In the end, the committee concluded, by majority vote, to translate doulos as "servant" in spite of its inaccuracy.

This tragic and all too common occurrence serves as an example of how poorly most Bible translations are produced. Rather than trusting in God's ability to communicate His truth in the most effective way, translators feel the need to help God by making His message more palatable. In doing so, countless readers are misled.

In this article, I will attempt to demonstrate just how detrimental the error of this translation committee is and why we who seek truth should care. Rather than attempt to "help" God and make this subject easier to swallow, I will present His Word, just as it is, and trust in its ability to communicate truth to the reader.

Strong's defines doulos as "a slave... in a qualified sense of subjection or subservience." The word is derived from the Greek deo, meaning "to bind... in bonds, knit, tie, etc." A doulos, then, is a slave or bondsman, literally bound in service.

To most, the distinction between a slave and a servant is not a matter of vital importance. The two terms seem to be more or less interchangeable. A slave certainly serves, and many servants may feel like slaves. Yet there is, in fact, a significant difference between these two terms - namely, that a servant acts voluntarily and is hired by his master, whereas a slave's action is often involuntary and he is owned by his master. In addition, a slave is bound while a servant is unbound. 

The committee members I discussed were certainly correct in their assessment that slavery bears an intensely negative connotation in our modern age. As Americans, we recall the brutal treatment of many slaves leading up to the Civil War, and this imagery is so imbedded in our minds that we can hardly escape associating the term with tragedy. To fully appreciate Paul's meaning when he uses the term, we must attempt to view slavery in light of what our apostle meant and not what our minds conjure up.

Understanding that we are slaves of God and Christ and not mere servants causes us to see our sonship in a new light. It causes us to recognize that we are owned by our Maker as Christ has paid a price for us. We are bound to God as sons, not commissioned as strangers.

Paul confidently identified himself as a "slave of Christ Jesus" (Rom. 1:1, Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1) and a "slave of God" (Tit. 1:1). This title is not something to be ashamed of in Paul's view, but is rather a glorious position to hold! As imitators of our apostle, we should strive to view our slavery to God and Christ in the same way. Yet how is this possible when slavery seems to possess no benefits? How is it that we are "free in Christ" (Rom. 8:2, Gal. 5:1) but also His slaves?

Paul explains this paradox in 1 Corinthians 7 where he states, "In the Lord, he who is being called a slave, is the Lord's freedman. Likewise, he who is being called, being free, is a slave of Christ. With a price are you bought" (1 Cor. 7:22).

So, according to Paul, our slavery to Christ makes us free. Free from what, though? Fortunately, Paul also answers this question. In Romans 8:2, we read that "the spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus frees you from the law of sin and death" and in verse 21 that we "shall be freed from the slavery of corruption."

As we are no longer slaves to sin and death, we are now sons; and as sons, enjoyers of an "allotment from God, through Christ" (Gal. 4:7). We are bound as slaves to God - not in the worldly sense as loathsome, despised creatures - but as cherished sons. Unlike worldly slave masters who were cruel and abusive, our Father - the perfect "Slave Master" - is perfect and loving. Our slavery to God and Christ is, in every sense, the opposite of our previous slavery to sin and death!

In conclusion, Paul's depiction of our dual slavery and freedom in God and Christ is this: We are slaves, bought and owned by our Master, Who is the perfect and loving Caregiver. Our slavery, which we cannot voluntarily enter or leave, provides us with freedom from the bondage of sin and death and binds us, instead, to life and glory. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, but are slaves now to God and Christ, making us sons and enjoyers of the allotment.

Thank God that we are His slaves, not merely His servants!

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Irony of Spiritual Maturity

When we hear the term "maturity," we tend to equate it with good behavior and adulthood. To the world - and, in fact, most believers - maturity is best defined in terms of age and conduct. We may refer to a teenager as "mature" because he is going through puberty. In this sense, maturity bears a physical definition. Then again, we may refer to a much younger child as "mature" because she acts much older than her age. In this case, maturity is defined in terms of conduct rather than age or physical characteristics. To the world, maturity, in every sense, revolves around adulthood. To be mature in the world's eyes, we must be an adult, act like an adult, or both.

Considering how opposite the world's ways are to God's, it will do us well to consult the Scriptures in search of God's definition for what it means to be mature as a believer, and in particular, what it means to be spiritually mature. When we do, we find (not surprisingly) that the world's definition of maturity leaves much to be desired.

The loftiest goal of every believer should be to come into a greater realization of God and His Son. God desires to be known, and the more we understand Who He is, the better we know Him. It stands to reason, then, that knowledge should be one of our primary endeavors. Paul continually confirms this in his epistles. To the Corinthians, Paul upheld knowledge as a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:8). To the Colossians, he shared his prayer that they would be "filled full with the realization of [God's] will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding... growing in the realization of God" (Col. 1:9-10). To the Ephesians, he stressed "the realization of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, that we may by no means still be minors" (Eph. 4:13-14).

Yet in spite of Paul's emphasis on knowledge, we also witness him telling the Corinthians that "knowledge puffs up, yet love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1). Paul's words here may be better understood with the phrasing "knowledge inflates pride, but love edifies." Growing in knowledge, therefore, requires a great deal of humility. We must be careful to always keep our ego at bay as increasing in knowledge has the potential to give us a feeling of superiority.

Paul often preached a different message to the nations than Jesus preached to Israel, but in this case we find what it means to be spiritually mature in Jesus' words as well as Paul's. Contrary to the popular worldview that maturity revolves around adulthood, Jesus informed the Jews that "who, then, will be humbling himself as [a] little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 18:4, Lu. 18:17). What exactly does Jesus' statement mean? If we are to endeavor to increase in our knowledge, how can we also be like little children who are greatly lacking in knowledge?

This is the irony of spiritual maturity. To be mature, we must increase in knowledge while, at the same time, becoming more child-like. As adults, we have experienced the realities and hardships of life and tend to be more skeptical, cynical, and pessimistic. We also tend to be more arrogant because of our increased knowledge. Children, on the other hand are, by their very nature, humble because they rely on their parents and other adults to care for them and to teach them everything. They believe all things, endure all things, and hope for all things. Because of their humility, children are much more apt to live out faith and love. They are more trusting, and that trust is a key to maturity.

To the world, being more "adult" means being independent and untrusting. Behaving like an adult means adhering to societally accepted norms. For the believer, rooted in true knowledge of God and strong faith, we strive for the exact opposite. As we grow in faith, we become increasingly more dependent on our Father, more trusting of Him, and more eager to follow His ways than the world's. In doing so, we experience persecution from others who view us as ignorant and foolish (i.e., more child-like).

It is important to note that when Jesus upheld children as a model He was not promoting a childish lack of knowledge or poor behavior. He was very specific in the child-like quality He praised, which is humility. The Pharisees possessed knowledge coupled with a great deal of pride, and Jesus stressed their need for humility to be mature. In saying "we see" their sin remained.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul refers to the Corinthians as "minors in Christ" to whom he gave milk to drink rather than solid food to eat (spiritually speaking). The reason, according to Paul, is that they were "still fleshly... walking according to man." The issue among the ecclesia at Corinth was not a lack of knowledge; it was their lack of humility which caused them to act inappropriately. They knew the message Paul had preached to them, but they reacted in a worldly (fleshly) way by letting their knowledge inflate their pride, whereas a humble response would have caused them to react in a godly (spiritual) way.

Thus, Paul's use of the term "minors" is not a contradiction of Jesus' words on children. The Corinthians Paul addressed were "minors" in the sense that they possessed knowledge of the truth but had fallen into the trap of putting their knowledge above love for one another. Like the Pharisees, they made the mistake of being too prideful because of their knowledge. Had they been mature, they would have put love above all. In this sense, they would have actually been more child-like.

From the examples of Jesus and Paul, we see that spiritual maturity requires grown-up knowledge coupled with child-like humility. If either is missing, we will remain minors in Christ. The good news is that the more we come into a true knowledge and understanding of our Father, the more child-like we will become! The more we know of God's goodness, the more we will trust Him as a child trusts his parents. The more we recognize His perfection, the more we will believe His promises as a child believes. The more we understand the wonders of grace, the more humble we will become.

In short, spiritual maturity is an ironic equation. Adult-like knowledge, plus child-like humility, equals spiritual maturity. To the world, an increase in knowledge leads to a decrease in faith; but to those who believe, the opposite is true. The more we know our Father, the more we trust Him and yearn to be His faithful children.

© 2013 by Stephen Hill