What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God? The phrase “sons of God” is something we find many times in scripture, for example:
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 (NKJV)
This is just one of the many passages in the New Testament that talks about us being sons of God. I’m starting here specifically so that you can see that when the Bible talks about being a “son” of God, it really means “son or daughter” the way we would communicate it today.
We know this is true because verse 28 in that passage says “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
That’s not a statement about biology. Paul is not denying that humans come in both male and female form. Instead, it’s an emphatic statement that there are no class considerations when it comes to believers. Where the Kingdom of God is concerned, there is no longer any distinction between Jews and non-Jews, between slaves or free people, between Americans, Africans, Asians, and Europeans, nor between men and women. Once we are in Christ, each of us now has the exact same direct access to God through Jesus as every other believer.
We also all have the same potential for authority in the body of Christ, regardless of whether we are male or female. So those who think that women cannot be leaders in the Kingdom of God are completely off base.
I know it’s counterintuitive. But really Paul was elevating the status of women considerably by calling us all “sons of God”. In the culture at the time, women were effectively second class citizens. For example, in Paul’s day women were not allowed to be taught by rabbis.
Jesus thoroughly upended that cultural restriction because we see numerous times where women such as Mary learned at the feet of Jesus just like men did.
Also, inheritance passed down through the male heirs. So, if Paul had said, “sons and daughters” in that culture and that time, it would have meant he was talking about two different classes of people.
By inspiring Paul to say we, “are all sons of God,” the Holy Spirit elevated women in the Kingdom of God to a co-equal status with men.
I could an entire book and then some on the whole topic of how Jesus and the New Testament views women. But my point is this.
When we see “sons of God” in the New Testament, it means “sons and daughters of God” the way we understand it today in our culture.
So, if you’re a woman know this. Jesus values you every bit as much as us men. You are every bit as capable of being a leader in the Kingdom of God as men are.
Family, Not Slaves
And as sons, we are indeed now part of God’s very own family. Unfortunately, far too many believers today still approach God as slaves instead of as sons and daughters. This lack of understanding of our new position in God’s family affects everything a person tries to do.
What are some characteristics of slaves?
Slaves Have Masters — Slaves have no autonomy. They are property so they have no freedom to choose what they do. They must do what their masters tell them, or they will suffer the consequences.
Slaves Have No Rights — Because they are property, slaves don’t have the rights that citizens have. They are a lower class and completely subject to the will of their master.
Slaves Do Only What Are Told — Slaves don’t take initiative because they don’t know their masters’ business. Therefore they can’t anticipate their master’s wishes. Slaves stop and wait for the next instruction when they finish a task. For the slave, doing nothing is far better than doing the wrong thing. Slaves also don’t ask “why?” It doesn’t matter if what they are told to do makes no sense to them. They don’t get to question it.
Slaves Fear Punishment — Because slaves are property and considered lower class people, they live in fear of punishment for their mistakes. This is their primary motivation for doing good work.
Slaves Are Poor — Slaves are given just enough by their masters to complete their assignments and survive. Because a slave is the property of their master, they cannot really own anything. Their master owns everything a slave has anyway.
Now let me ask you. Does that not sound like how a great many Christians view their relationship with God?
I’ve never been enslaved to someone working on their plantation. But I was in the military, which is some ways is sort of the same thing.
I went to a military college after high school. There we had a two week indoctrination. It was a bit like a boot camp. The idea is to take young men and women from all sorts of backgrounds and quickly teach them the ways of the military.
It so happened that our college campus bordered right up against a US Marine Corps reserve base. So we had actual Marine Corps drill sergeants involved with our indoctrination, just to make it fun.
The way they go about transitioning people into the military is to “break them down so they can build them back up.” What it means is they take away every single option and control absolutely everything they can. When you eat, when you sleep, when you can use the toilet, what physical activity you do, the clothes you wear — someone else controls pretty much everything and anything you can think of. You can choose to either cooperate, or suffer the consequences.
I experienced a fair amount of consequences.
But it wasn’t for the reasons you might expect. I wasn’t rebellious or defiant. I was amused.
There are a lot of things the military does and things that happen in the military that are really kind of ridiculous.
“Are you looking down at me?!”
Here’s one example of what I mean. As we arrived for our initial indoctrination, we were told to gather by the list where our name was on the papers taped to the pillars supporting the second story mess hall.
The upper class indoctrination officers marched in from opposite sides of the central quadrangle, turned to face us incoming freshmen, and then at the Chief Indoctrination Officer’s command they all turned and ran at us screaming instructions.
I found myself being instructed by Beth Christman. Keep in mind, I’m about 6″2″ tall and Beth Christman was barely five feet tall. (Later, I found out she was the coxswain for the crew team, which explained why she was so good at “loud.”)
Anyway, I was concentrating pretty hard because all that military stuff was totally new to me when suddenly she looks me square in the face and yelled, “Are you looking down at me?!”
I did some mental math and quickly figured out there was no way I could give a right answer to that simple yes-or-no question. Physically, yeah, I was looking down at her simply because of the difference in our height. But I promise, positionally I was not looking down at her, because in that moment I very much respected her authority.
I burst out laughing the moment I realized the trick question trap I was in. This prompted a significantly louder, “ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME?!!!”
This second trick question, that I again knew was impossible for me to answer correctly, only made me laugh harder. This immediately resulted in, “Down and give me 20!”
And that’s how I ended up doing my first pushups within about 90 seconds of the start of our freshmen indoctrination program. I had such a hard time keeping a straight face that I grew shoulders in the first month I was there because of all the pushups I had do to. So there’s that.
I lost 10 pounds going through indoctrination as a freshmen, even with the shoulders.
As an upperclassman I did the whole experience again. Only this time I was on the other side of things as an indoctrination officer. That second time I lost 15 pounds going through it.
Keep in mind I was a lot skinnier back then too. Now I could stand to lose a stone. Then, not so much.
“I missed my watch, sir!”
Here’s another example, but where I was the one yelling. All of the incoming freshmen had to turn in their watches. (This was back before cell phones were a thing.)
We gave one of the freshmen in our section his watch back, and appointed him to be the time keeper for the entire section. As you can imagine, punctuality is a hard requirement in the military. His job was to communicate the correct time to them.
But we ran into a problem.
The women were in a different dorm and therefore had no way of knowing the correct time. As a result, they were chronically late.
Our fix was to give one of the women her watch back and designate her to be the alternate time keeper for our section. For practice, I asked her to tell the section what time it was when I gave her watch back to her.
She stammered and stuttered and couldn’t quite get her mouth to say the time.
Because she was having trouble, I asked, “Have you forgotten how to tell time in the 48 hours you’ve been without your watch?!”
Her response was a clear and loud, “I missed my watch, sir!”
I had to quickly turn my back to the freshmen because I couldn’t keep a straight face then either.
What’s my point?
I’ve experienced first hand what it’s like to have every aspect of my life controlled by someone else. And I’ve also experienced being one of the ones doing the controlling.
I see much of the same behavior in many Christians. They act as if God is in control of their entire lives. And, because they see God as a controlling God, they feel the need to also control others around them.
That behavior is characteristic of slaves, not sons and daughters.
Slaves to Sin
You see, here’s the problem. We were born into slavery. In Adam, we were slaves to sin. Slavery is all we knew.
Because slavery is all they know, many just shift their slavery status from being a slave to sin over to being a slave to God when they believe in Jesus and are born again.
And I get where they are coming from. I struggled with this same thing myself. Honestly, there are scriptures that seem to back up this idea that we are slaves to God.
For example, we see that several of the apostles refer to themselves as servants of God and Jesus.
- Romans 1:1 — “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ”
- Philippians 1:1 — “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ”
- Titus 1:1 — “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ”
- James 1:1 — “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”
- 2 Peter 1:1 — “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ”
- Revelation 1:1 — “And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John”
There is a world of difference, however, between being a bondservant and being a slave. The biggest difference is choice.
In the Old Covenant, a bondservant was one who had completed the required duration of his servitude. Yet instead of going his own way in the freedom that was legally his, the servant chose to commit to serving that same master for the rest of his life (see Deuteronomy 15:12-18).
While these Apostles referring to themselves as bondservants leaves room for confusion, we see elsewhere in scripture that this is totally different from a slave who is owned as the property of another and has no choice in the matter.
Then there’s Romans chapter 6, which is especially challenging in this department.
Look at this heading written at verse 15 in my copy of the NKJV:
From Slaves of Sin to Slaves of God
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.— Romans 6:15-18 (NKJV)
I should note, publishers add the headings, which are not part of the original manuscript. When we read that passage, it seems like that phrase “slaves to righteousness” means we really are slaves to God, especially with that heading added to it.
But this is an example of pulling scripture out of context. When we remove the text from its context, all we’re left with is a con. We see that in this case if we just keep reading.
In the very next verse, Paul writes,
I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.— Romans 6:19 (NKJV)
Here Paul clearly says that he’s using a crude illustration because we’re not getting his point. He does not mean that we are slaves. He’s using slavery as an illustration to highlight the power whatever we choose to subject ourselves to has over us.
In an earlier article we shared God’s perspective on sin. So we certainly don’t want to stay in bondage to that when Jesus has set us free.
Even so, this is not the end of what Paul has to say on the subject by any means.
In fact, if we keep reading down through the book of Romans, we will read through the entirety of Chapter 7. There Paul talks about the futility of the Law to produce righteousness because of our absolute inability to keep it.
Not Slaves, But Sons of God
Yet we need to keep reading even still further, down into Chapter 8 where eventually we come to this:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”— Romans 8:14-15 (NKJV)
We are no longer slaves to sin, praise God! We are set free from that bondage. Unfortunately many, many Christians put themselves back into bondage even after they have been set free.
Paul wrote the book of Galatians to confront this very problem. There he warns us not to go back to that mess and put ourselves under that yoke of bondage anymore
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.— Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)
But as we saw over in Romans 8, we’re in an even better position than that. Not only are we set free, but then God does the unthinkable. He adopts us former slaves into his very own family.
We are no longer in bondage to the spirit of fear. Now we have received the Spirit of adoption. God makes us His sons!
In Romans chapter 11 Paul uses the imagery of branches being grafted into an olive tree to help explain how we have been grafted into God’s family.
Israel was God’s original family. However, many of the Jews rejected Jesus. Therefore Paul says those unbelieving Jews were broken off of the tree.
By faith, we have been grafted into God’s family in their place.
There’s a whole theological study we could dive into about the nature of the relationship between God and Israel and God and the Church. But my point is that you and I have been grafted into God’s family.
In Christ, you are now the very son or daughter of the Most High God. You are not God’s slave. Let the full reality of that truth permeate your heart. It will transform your life!