Children and Sons

In Scripture the words children and sons are not confused, though both are used in regard to Christians. A Christian is a child of God and also a son of God. Child is the word which is always employed in reference to the Christian by the apostle John as in, for example, “Beloved, now are we the children of God” (1 John 3: 2). On the other hand, Paul almost invariably uses the word sons, though he does occasionally say children too. A remarkable instance is in Rom. 8: 9–21, where both terms are employed. Let me show you the distinction between the two.

   You could not speak of the Holy Spirit being the Spirit of childhood. However, He is the Spirit of sonship and for this simple reason: the Holy Spirit has come down to us from Christ glorified, from the Son of God in glory, and is therefore the Spirit of sonship in us. The truth of sonship is this—the calling of the Christian corresponds to what Christ is in glory, not to what Christ was when He was here upon the earth. It relates to what He is now, and therefore the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of sonship.

   However, we are also children of God. Sonship is that we are the companions of Christ in glory, but the idea conveyed in the expression “children of God” (v16) is that we are partners of Christ’s rejection. Both things are perfectly true for the Christian. We have fellowship in the sufferings of Christ and, as in that place, are the special object of the Father’s affections. That is what Christ was when He was here upon earth: He was suffering and rejected, but He was the unfailing object of the Father’s delight and affections. What characterises a child of God is that “we suffer with [him]” (v17). But while we suffer with Him we also see “what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called [the] children of God” (1 John 3: 1). Mark what follows: “For this reason the world knows us not, because it knew him not”. This accords with that well–known expression in John’s Gospel: “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1: 11). But what immediately follows? “But as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God” (v12). That is why the world does not understand Christians—because it knew Him not.

   As sons we are the companions of a glorified Christ—that is what the Holy Spirit would lead you to. The Holy Spirit not only makes us conscious of the Father’s affections as we go about the world and have to do with things down here (what answers to being children), but leads us in spirit to what God has called us to: “predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be [the] firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8: 29). The same is brought out in Hebrews 2—God is “bringing many sons to glory” (v10).