Of Birth or Adoption?
Yeshua (Jesus) was of course GOD's only begotten Son. Being the only begotten, it stands to reason then that all other children must therefore be by adoption, or some other mode. This is therefore the crux of this study, to examine what the scriptures say about whether believers are somehow sons of GOD by birth, or are they sons of GOD by adoption? What exactly does it mean for us to be sons of GOD?
One often thinks of an adopted child as somehow lower or inferior to a child which was born to its parents, but actually the reverse can be the case. On some occasions a child born into a family is unplanned and unexpected. Sometimes it can even be an inconvenience or an intrusion. That or else the child grows up to become an irresponsible jerk, costing his parents continual anguish and heartache.
But with an adopted child much can be different. Parents usually adopt a child because they truly want the child. They have readied themselves for the child and therefore are better able to make the child happy and successful. If the child to be adopted was already grown, as was often the case in biblical culture, then the adoptive parent would look for a desirable temperament in the proposed adoptee. It was not unusual to look for an heir from among the slaves or servants; in this way the master knew the character of the individual and elevating him to the status of son was very natural. We should consider if this is not so different from how it all works with GOD's servants and HIS sons.
Scripture tells us on several occasions that Yeshua was indeed the only begotten Son of GOD; but then elsewhere it also tells us that He was the first born. As being the first born indicates that others were to follow, how then are we to understand this conflicting terminology? How can a child be the one and only but then also be the first born?
Whenever scripture speaks of Yeshua being the first born, it is always referring to Him being the first one ever born from the dead, the first person who had ever been resurrected (though others had been resuscitated). Thus, Yeshua was both only begotten and first born, referring to two entirely different things. We must be sure that we always differentiate between being born of GOD and being born from the dead, for both phrases are used in scripture.
When it is mentioned that Yeshua was GOD's only child, the Greek word is monogenes, which simply means that this is the parent's only child. Here are a few references of the word's use.
LXE JUDGES 11:34 And Jephthae came to Massepha to his house; and behold, his daughter came forth to meet him with timbrels and dances; and she was his only child, he had not another son or daughter.
LUKE 7:12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow....
LUKE 8:42 For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying....
LUKE 9:38 And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child.
JOHN 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (for Yeshua, see also JOHN 1:14, 18: 3:18 & 1 JOHN 4:9)
But in addition to Yeshua being the only begotten Son, mention is also made concerning Him being begotten or born from the dead.
ACTS 13:30-35 But God raised him from the dead....God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm,
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee [2:7].
And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption....Wherefore he saith also in another psalm,
Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption [16:10].
In quoting the passage from the second psalm, the apostle Paul was in the process of setting before his listeners the fact and the consequences of Yeshua being raised from the dead, which was proof in itself that He was indeed GOD's Son.
The psalm was not written as a prophecy foretelling the birth of Yeshua, but rather it was concerning a king, no doubt David, who had been christened by GOD as HIS king and son. In that culture, any king believed to be enthroned by GOD was considered also to be HIS son. The purpose of the psalm itself was to caution the other rulers against conspiring against this newly anointed king (verse 2), for if they heeded not the warning, then David would surely dash them to pieces as a potter's vessel (verse 9).
Paul's use of the psalm, as well as the later quotations of it in the Christian Scriptures (see also HEBREWS 1:5; 5:5), suggested that Yeshua having been raised from the dead, proved Him also to be GOD's King and Son, only in a different light than Him being GOD's only begotten Son. He was also the first born Son of GOD; the first born from the dead.
Thus, Yeshua was the only literal child of GOD, but He was also the first born from the dead, suggesting that others were to follow and likewise be resurrected.
A different Greek word, also translated as the first begotten (prototokos) was used by John in REVELATION and again makes this point about Yeshua being the first born from the dead, the first to be resurrected.
REVELATION 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of [ek, out from] the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth....
It is stated here that initially Yeshua was faithful; then later He was resurrected, the first begotten out from the dead; all which resulted in Him becoming King of kings and Lord of lords.
Let us now consider what it means for believers themselves to become sons of GOD. One of the most familiar passages concerning this topic is in the Prologue of John's Gospel; howbeit, these verses are usually misread and therefore misinterpreted, no doubt saying something which was quite different than that which John meant to put forth.
JOHN 1:11-13 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which [the believers] were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
or, did John intend?
To his own he came, and his own received him not; but as many as received him he gave to them authority, children of God to be, to those that believe on his [Yeshua's] name, who [Yeshua], not of bloods nor of the will of the flesh nor of will of man but of God was born.
In the first instance, John is made to say that the believers are the ones who are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of man but instead of GOD". In the second instance, we have simply given the text as we have it from the earliest Greek translation, which suggests that it was not believers but Yeshua who was "born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of GOD". Which is it?
Of course each reader must decide for himself, but we would perhaps be on the right track if we considered and pondered the general intent and purpose of John's entire Gospel. What was the thrust of his account, which he was setting forth and unfolding even in this first chapter?
At the very close of his Gospel (chapter 21 no doubt being added later, probably by John himself, but according to another witness, most likely Lazarus, see The Last Supper), John clearly states his reason for writing.
JOHN 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Two things emerge here as reasons for John writing his Gospel; first he wanted to establish that Yeshua is indeed the Son of GOD and second, that if someone believed this to be the case, then that reader might go on to have life through His name. And were not these the same exact themes which John was attempting to establish in his first chapter, that Yeshua was indeed the Son of GOD; and further, that those who believe on His name, that to these are given authority to become children of GOD?
It seems as if he would be going off point in his line of reasoning if he then digressed to suggest that these believers were also the ones who were born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God". Rather, in the natural flow of his argument he would most likely claim this special pedigree only for the Lord Himself. It was Yeshua of whom John was declaring to be GOD's Son, not those who come to believe in Him.
Besides this questionable occurrence in 1:12, only one other time in his Gospel did John write of believers being children of GOD (11:52). Hence, it stands to reason that the real focus of his account was to promote the idea that Yeshua was the Son of GOD (see 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 9:35; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7; 20:31). Having accomplished that, John further proclaimed that whosoever believes this, can himself have life and then become a child of GOD. But first he must establish the undeniable fact of the credentials of Yeshua; that it is He who is the Son of GOD, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
What all of this tells us is that John was not stating here in his prologue that believers were to be born as sons of GOD, but rather that it was Yeshua who was born as the Son of GOD. Believing that, his readers could then go on to become children of GOD, but evidently children in a different light than being born as Yeshua was. One must therefore consider and ponder the likelihood that John is referring to his readers becoming children by adoption.
Another un-agreed upon (but further enlightening) section of John's Gospel, was his account of Yeshua's discourse with Nicodemus, where He was telling him that a man must be born of the spirit. We question, was Yeshua telling him that a man must be born again [as is rendered in some versions], or was He telling him that a man must be born from above [as is rendered in other versions]?
The difference is an important one. Yeshua was either telling Nicodemus that one must be born again in some manner similar to the first time he was born; that or else He was declaring that a man had to be born from above, which would no doubt have been a very different birth than how he was born the first time. In the first instance, Yeshua would have been declaring, "Nicodemus, you were born the first time from your mother's womb and now you must be born again, similar to the first time only somehow different". Or, Yeshua was declaring, "You were born the first time from your mother's womb but now you must be born in an entirely different fashion, from above, born of the spirit".
JOHN 3:3-8 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again [anothen], he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again [anothen]. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Yeshua further unfolds to Nicodemus that it is being born of the spirit to which He is alluding. This Greek word anothen, translated here as again, is used thirteen times in the Christina Scriptures (the New Testament), and in every other occasion it has obvious reference to something above (GALATIANS 4:9 being a possible exception). It is used in reference to the Temple curtain being ripped from the top to the bottom; James used it in reference to wisdom which is from above, not from below; and Yeshua told Pilate that he had power over Him only because it had been given him from above.
It only stands to reason then, that when Yeshua was conversing with Nicodemus about access into the kingdom of GOD, that He used the word anothen in reference to being born from above and not to being born again. Yeshua's emphasis is evidently upon an entirely different kind of birth than was the first one. He is not likening the second birth to the first one, but He is evidently pointing out their dissimilarities; the first of the flesh but the second is of the spirit.
We had been taught that the second birth is much like the first one. As we were physically born of our earthly parents, now we must be spiritually born of GOD. We were reminded that when we were born the first time, that we carried the traits and characteristics of our parents; and therefore when we are then born of GOD and have HIS seed implanted within us, by design we will naturally become like HIM. We have also been told that just as we were once born to our earthly parents, how that there is no changing that reality and we will forever be their son or daughter; so also if we are born of GOD, we will forever be HIS son or daughter, regardless how we behave.
But if on the other hand we are children of GOD by adoption and not be birth, then these assumptions are no longer correct. In that case, as adopted children, we would not automatically become godlike; and if we were indeed adopted, then we would not necessarily be guaranteed a ticket into heaven regardless of how we later behaved. Under the rules of adoption, we might be required to then earn our right to be children of GOD; we might need to demonstrate our worthiness to be adopted as HIS sons and daughters.
1 JOHN 2:29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is [has been] born of him [GOD].
According here to John, if a person is acting in a righteous manner, then that is proof positive that he has been born of GOD. Yet it is commonly observed that many who claim to be Christians often act in an entirely unrighteous manner. We must therefore consider what exactly are the requirements for one to become a son of GOD. If I answer an altar call or am water baptized in some Church service, does that necessarily mean that I am now a son of GOD, implanted with HIS seed and promised a seat in heaven when I die?
We should further consider whether or not being a child of someone necessarily means that the individual was actually born of him paternally? Is it not possible that I could become a son of someone without them literally being my birth parent?
Yeshua states in the following passage that if those in His audience would simply do the works of Abraham, that would be evidence enough that they were indeed children of Abraham.
JOHN 8:38-40 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham....
Then, as we shall read below, Yeshua further tells them that their father is the one whose deeds they imitate. If one therefore follows in the steps of Abraham, then Abraham is evidently their father. These in Yeshua's audience may very well have literally been Abraham's descendants, but not his children in the true sense in which Yeshua was speaking. Thus, it follows that if one obeys the words of GOD, then HE is likened unto their Father.
Our deeds, like our fruit, reveals who our true father is. Not necessarily that we are literally born of either one, but because we act as they would act, then that is a good indication that we are of their kind, their kin, their progeny. If we continue following in their footsteps, then they are becoming our teacher, our instructor, our educator, even our parent; and we in turn are becoming their children. They are becoming the source of our strength and wisdom. Thus, they are becoming our parents in a completely different light than were our birth parents.
JOHN 8:41-44 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
Thus, because these in His audience followed after and were doing the deeds of the devil, by lusting and murdering, the devil would then be considered their father; not necessarily literally but rather figuratively. On the other side of the coin, whosoever follows after or does the deeds of GOD, is demonstrating that he is a child of GOD; again not necessarily literally but rather figuratively.
To digress a moment; if one was able to be born of the devil literally, as seed, which some teach, then it stands to reason that he could never repent and then be born of GOD. These seed boys, as they have been called, would be forever damned with no chance of redemption. But what of the apostle Paul before his conversion? How was he so different than the ones Yeshua was referring to above? Did he not have many of the saints tortured and murdered? Sure, but he changed, he converted; he quit the ways of his old religion and then followed after the ways of Christ.
Again, being a son or child of someone doesn't necessarily mean that one was literally born of them; but at times it can be taken as only symbolic, as is evidenced by these two passages from the apostle Paul.
PHILEMON 1:10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
1 CORINTHIANS 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
As such, being born of someone does not necessarily mean that the individual has literally received someone's seed, but perhaps no more than that the individual has been converted and now follows in his footsteps. Paul considered himself their father because he had taught them the gospel.
This entire concept concerning how one becomes an adopted son of GOD is set forth most explicitly by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.
ASV GALATIANS 3:23-26 But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all [becoming, the present tense with the indicative mood suggests a progressive or continuous action] sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus.
According here to Paul, prior to Christians developing a true and vital relationship with GOD through faith, they were kept in ward, held under the rules and regulations of the scriptures. But afterwards, after they finally learned to desire HIS will over their own, or rather after they made their own will to track with HIS; then living and being ruled by faith became a daily routine and reality for them. Having finally achieved control over their own carnal desires, they then had no further need for a tutor. Only after thus maturing, were they ready to be declared as sons, adopted into the family of GOD.
Paul then reiterates and further expands upon this revelation for them.
ASV GALATIANS 4:1-5 But I say that so long as the heir is a child [nepios, minor], he differeth nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father. So we also, when we were children [nepios, minors], were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world: but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
The word nepios, which Paul used here to describe the heir before he became an adult, is important enough for us to pause and consider. Paul was not saying that a child (teknion, see 4:19) of GOD is under guardians and tutors until he matures and assumes his rightful place as son and heir, but rather he was stating that a minor differs in no way from a bondservant until the time comes for him to be elevated to the status of a son. Consider nepios in MATTHEW 11:25 & 21:16 ROMANS 2:20 1st CORINTHIANS 3:1 & 13:11 EPHESIANS 4:14 HEBREWS 5:13.
That day of his elevation may never come, and the nepios may throughout his life remain a bondservant. But, if and when the Father determines that the bondservant has proved himself worthy of becoming a son, then he is redeemed from his servitude and elevated to the high honor of becoming GOD's adopted son.
ASV GALATIANS 4:6-7 And because ye are [becoming] sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Once adopted, they cried the freedom song, the victory shout, Abba Father! Now, no longer a slave of sin, no longer only a servant of GOD, but now an heir, an heir of GOD and a joint-heir with Christ.
In summation; we remain and continue as servants of sin until we are made free. This release happens when we "continue in His word" (JOHN 8:31-32) and obey "from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered" us (ROMANS 6:17). Following this, we then become servants of GOD, no longer slaves of sin. Then, under the schoolmaster (GALATIANS 3:24-25) we continue to discipline our lives so as to live faithfully according to HIS word. Eventually, when the fullness of time has come in each of our lives, when after we have been found worthy to be redeemed and released from the care of the schoolmaster, we are then declared adopted, as sons and daughters of GOD. So, first we are servants, then we become disciples, and finally we are adopted as sons, joint heirs with Christ.
When Yeshua was addressing His disciple's question about the last times of that era, He warned them to take care that they be found worthy to escape the apocalypse which was soon to descend upon their nation.
LUKE 21:36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Despite being His disciples, they were not automatically guaranteed access into His kingdom. Rather, they needed to be found worthy to thus enter. Likewise, we can surmise that being raised from the status of a servant unto that of a son evidently requires some sort of accomplishment on our part. We must do something, or become something in order to be found worthy of adoption (see EPHESIANS 4:1 1st THESSALONIANS 2:12 2nd THESSALONIANS 1:5, 11). That something is no doubt righteousness, and godliness, and holiness. We must evidence the fruit of the spirit if we are to be found worthy of the status of sons and daughters of Almighty GOD.
JOHN 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power [exousia, permission or privilege] to become the sons [children] of God, even to them that believe on his name.
John declares here that they were given exousia (the right to choose) to become children of GOD. This does not automatically or instantly make them sons; it only makes son-ship available. What exactly is necessary to fulfill the requirement to become sons, Paul well describes in his letter to the Romans.
ROMANS 8:14-17 For as many as are [presently being] led by the Spirit of God, they are [presently becoming] the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry [or, presently are crying], Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth [or, continues to bear] witness with our spirit, that we are [presently becoming] the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we [continue to] suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
Those currently being led by GOD's spirit are demonstrating that they are currently becoming GOD's children. It's not an altar call, nor is it some physical immersion into a pool of water. We become worthy to be elevated to the status of GOD's children by being in lockstep with HIS spirit. It's all in faithfully continuing to obey HIS word; to be in harmony with HIS will.
This spirit of adoption is no doubt given to a new believer so as to prepare the disciple for his actual adoption. The spirit says Touch not!, so we refrain from touching. The spirit says Think this!, so we think accordingly. The spirit says Give such and such!, so we give it. Over the course of time, we are endeavoring to become likeminded with the spirit, in harmony or in step with the spirit of GOD (ROMANS 8:4-5).
As we more and more accomplish this task, we become more and more righteous, more and more holy and godly. Adoption is a process. GOD gives HIS spirit to those who obey HIM, so that HE can then teach and train them towards becoming adopted sons (ACTS 5:32). When the process is complete, the adoptee shouts his freedom song, Abba Father!
2 CORINTHIANS 6:14-18 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not [fasten or cling not to] the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Paul carried forth here into the Christian age certain principles from the Hebrew scriptures on how to become children of GOD. GOD was to be a Father unto HIS people, but only after they accomplished several tasks. They were instructed to separate themselves from unbelievers, from the unrighteous, from darkness; and they were not to adhere or cling to something which had been deemed as unclean. Only after following these instruction, could they be accepted as HIS sons and daughters.
Becoming a child therefore must evidently have something to do with being a convert. We do not become children of GOD by simply declaring Yeshua as our Lord. Rather, we become children of GOD by making Him our Lord, and then demonstrating His lordship by our subsequent actions.
Children of GOD are evidently therefore adopted and not children by birth. No doubt GOD calls many to be HIS sons and daughters, but not all are found worthy. Only a portion of those who were called prove themselves ready to be adopted as HIS children.
PHILIPPIANS 2:14-15 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless [free from all guile], the sons [children] of God, without rebuke [blemish], in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [generation], among whom ye shine as lights in the world.
Is it not evident that each of us have a crucial role to perform in becoming GOD's children? We each have a responsibility to live in accordance with HIS will for our lives. Paul had just written in this epistle (1:27) on the necessity of a believer believing. If they were true believers, true obey-ers, then they would prove their purity by good works. They would not be ungodly and overcome by carnal desires, but would be righteous and godly. They would speak evil of no man, but rather they would be gentle and full of meekness.
Paul wrote elsewhere that it was "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his [GOD's] mercy he saved us" (TITUS 3:5), which is certainly true. But to what works was Paul dissuading them from doing? Surely not the works which he had just encouraged them to do (1:16; 2:11-12; 3:1). Rather, he was dissuading them from trusting in the works which they had formerly done, which were not able to save them. These were not the works which Paul had just instructed them to do, but it was their own works, works which they had taken in hand to do apart from that which was GOD's will.
Notice that Paul goes on a couple of verses later (TITUS 3:8), instructing them to "be careful to maintain good works". And further, that those others who are contentious, Paul instructed Titus to reject after he had confronted them twice, for that person is perverted, and sinful and condemned. This cuts right across the twisted view which today's Church teaches that GOD showers down upon the sinner grace and mercy in abundance; they teach that HE doesn't look upon one's sins but sympathizes with the fact that they are weak creatures who can't help themselves. NO! A thousand times NO!
GOD does in fact accept the truly repentant sinner, he who is determined to change his ways and become a righteous servant and then devotes himself to becoming obedient to GOD's will; to this believer GOD does shower down abundant grace and mercy. But not to the unbeliever, not to the disobedient child who is unwilling to change his ways. To him GOD has erected a brick wall, a glass ceiling, a bolted door.
Peter probably wrote it as succinctly as it could be said.
1 PETER 1:14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.
GOD's expects HIS children to be and remain obedient, but there is no guarantee that once adopted, the child won't revert to his old ways, to his former lusts. Once adopted by GOD as HIS child, a son still has freedom of choice to either return to his former folly or to continue in the grace of GOD, continuing to mature and develop the fruit of the spirit.
EPHESIAN 2:2-7 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Though we were formally children of disobedience, therefore children of wrath, we hope to have now become adopted children of GOD. If indeed children of GOD, we have been assigned a place in the heavenly places, along with our Lord and brother, Yeshua.