As a child of the 80s there were a few films it was impossible to escape. One such film was Annie, the story of a street-smart New York orphan who is hand-picked to become part of rich Oliver Warbuck’s household. There is a scene when she first arrives at his humungous mansion and is greeted by the servants. ‘Well, Annie,’ asks Miss Farrell, Mr W’s secretary, ‘What do you want to do first?’
Annie looks about her. ‘First the windows, then the floors…’ she responds. Bless her – Annie has misunderstood that she hasn’t come as Mr Warbuck’s servant but as his guest, free to enjoy everything he has. And by the end of the film she assumes an even happier identity, becoming (spoiler alert) ‘Daddy’ Warbuck’s adopted daughter.
This extreme change in fortunes lies at the heart of the gospel message. We’re not slaves, but sons. But what does this mean in practice? And how can this identity impact our day-to-day lives as Christians?
Words for the Week
1 John 3:1
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
I write this whilst the approximate size of a whale. By which I mean I am about to embrace again a life of dirty nappies, five-times-a-night wake ups and small victories over day-time naps. Becoming a parent for me has been the single biggest change for me and my life. When the first diddy crash-landed into our lives I finally understood what it meant to live selflessly, to love entirely and to give everything I am for the sake of small people who may or may not return or even notice what I do for them. And do you know what? I love it. Sure, it’s tough. But I would not change it for the world.
The event of becoming a parent has also been the biggest challenge to my view of God. ‘Father’ is a term I would talk about but I’m not sure I ever really embraced what it meant. After all, what should any of us really hope for from God? Consider His awesomeness. Consider our sinfulness. What seems reasonable? Like Little Orphan Annie, perhaps a kind of master / servant relationship where we keep our head down and hope to earn God’s favour in time seems the best we can expect.
But Scripture says otherwise and Paul writes about this in great length in Romans. Once we were slaves to sin, he says, living in fear and alienated from God. But God’s great love changed this. His Spirit is with us, securing our ‘adoption to sonship’. The word used here is a legal term for a process familiar to Paul’s Roman readers. Adoption then was a common and efficient means of securing an heir for rich families. A male would be chosen to assume the family name and identity, with the promise of a vast inheritance to come.
What this means for us is this: that, incredibly, the all-powerful transcendent God of the universe initiated, chose, a special, intimate relationship with us – that of a Father to a child. We have done nothing to earn it; it is rather an expression of his unconditional love for us. And now, no matter who we have been, or what we have done, or what we think of ourselves, we have a new status and identity which nothing can take away: child of God. The inheritance we receive is God’s own Spirit living with us, helping us to know God – His love, peace and power – in this world and the next.
But our identity as God’s children is multifaceted. My children have my love, time, devotion, protection (and, as I write this, most of my Christmas presents) at their disposal. In turn they carry my name and my likeness. As God’s children we are invited into the fullness of His love and grace; but being God’s child fundamentally changes what we’re about. In Roman times, adoption was about securing the family’s legacy, continuing its business. Jesus, God’s true Son, showed what doing the Father’s will looked like in practice. Paul writes that the whole created order is literally crying out to see its salvation, brought through God’s children at work doing their Father’s will. That’s us. It’s our business now.
And, Paul warns, this identity sets us on a collision course with the world. It sets us up for attack. Jesus, God’s true Son, suffered; and we should expect the same. In fact, our identity as children of God may invite suffering that otherwise we may not have had, as we seek to live by God’s kingdom values rather than those of our culture or sinful selves. There is no easy answer to this – it is part and parcel of living in the ‘now and not yet’, waiting for God to finish the work He has begun. But, as Paul goes on to conclude in Romans 8:39, through everything we can be assured that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s paternal love – from the embrace of our Dad.
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only Son
To make a wretch his treasure
Own it personally…
- Write down your idea of perfect parent. What kind of attributes do they possess? Now consider this as a pattern for God’s perfect parenthood. Take the time to reflect on what this means for your relationship with God.
- Think about what the idea of ‘father’ means to you from your experience. Hold these before God and listen to what He may say to you.
- Paul suggests that sonship and suffering go hand in hand. In what ways do kingdom values conflict with the values of our culture? What might this mean within your day-to-day life? Are there any things God may be prompting you to put down or take up for him?
- Take some time to pray for brothers and sisters across the world who are facing persecution for their beliefs. (Open Doors UK is a great resource for this: http://www.opendoorsuk.org.) Pray that they will know God’s peace and power as they hold on to their identity as God’s children.
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
Take out a copy of your birth certificate and read it. Think about your hometown and your parentage. Think about what this means to you.
Read this passage from John 1 aloud:
The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.
Pray that you will grasp something of God’s Fatherly love for you this week, and what it means to live as His child.