This article is about what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means that you are a son, with God as your Father and Jesus as your brother. It is the seventh in a series entitled "What Is a Christian?"

2011. 5 pages. Transcribed by Ineke van der Linden. Transcription stopped at 31:27.

The Christian: A Son Seventh in Series: What Is a Christian?

We are going to continue in this series that has been our consideration this fall as to What is a Christian? And we have looked at various answers to that. The Christian is a "Christian" – actually the least used term in the New Testament; it is only used on two or three occasions in the New Testament. We have considered such things as that a Christian is a servant, or perhaps more apropos to the New Testament itself, a slave – someone whose life is yielded entirely, without reserve, to a master; namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, today our answer to the question “What is a Christian?” is that a Christian is a son. Now, perhaps in 2011 we need to add "a daughter," but you understand that this is a perfectly correct translation of the world of the New Testament, because the reason why the apostle Paul (as we shall see in a moment) refers to a Christian as a son rather than a daughter is because only sons inherited in New Testament times. It would have made no sense to him or to his readers whatsoever to say, “and daughters” to sound sort of politically correct, because that would not mean anything in the New Testament age. Because the point that Paul wants to make is that we are inheritors. We inherit. And the only way that he could say that was to say that we are sons.

A Son -1

Now, let me draw attention to one text of Scripture. I am going to read the text that is before us in our bulletin from Romans 8. Many passages in the New Testament are relating to Christians as sons, or the concept of Christians as being adopted into the family of God. And the text that I have before us today is in the very heart, the very centre of Romans 8.

Reading of Romans 8:14-16.

(Transcription of audio file from 02:44 to 03:40.)

The apostle John says, “How great is the love of the Father toward us, that we should be called sons of God; and such is what we are” (1 John 3:1). “How great is the love of the Father toward us, that we should be called sons of God; and such is what we are.” When John says, “How great is the love of the Father towards us,” he uses a Greek word, "potapos," which actually means "from another country." This love of the Father towards us is in a category all of its own. We might say something like, “It’s out of this world.” The Father has bestowed on us – sinners, who have fallen short of God’s glory, who are sons of Adam by nature – this out of this world love. He has called us “sons of God.” He has adopted us into His family. Now, I want to say seven things, and that means I have a couple of minutes for each point. Seven things I want to say about the fact that the Bible, the New Testament, calls us sons who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A New Covenant Blessing🔗

The first thing I want to say is that this is a distinctively new covenant, New Testament blessing. I am not suggesting that you won’t find the idea of believers as children of God in the Old Testament. I am not suggesting that, but it is very rare; it is only hinted at and alluded to tangentially. But one of the distinctive things that happens when you cross from the old covenant into the new covenant, from the Old Testament into the New Testament, is that all of a sudden believers, those who put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, are called sons. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”… What way had believers in the old covenant prayed? What words, what terms, what language, did Old Testament believers – like Moses, like David, like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Daniel – what language would they have used? They would have referred to God as the Creator. On special occasions they would have alluded to the divine name of God – the name that is given to us in Exodus 3 and explained to us in Exodus 6; the name that is explained as, “I Am that I Am.” In the incident of the burning bush, the bush that is on fire but it is not consumed, God gave to Moses His name, His special name, His covenant name. It was a name so holy, so special, the Jews throughout the Old Testament never pronounced it. They were fearful of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and they therefore never actually pronounced this name. We know this name as "Jehovah," or these days "Yahweh." We think that is how the name ought to be pronounced, "Yahweh."

A Son -2

But when the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he does not say, “Well, pray like this: ‘Our Yahweh, our Jehovah, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.’” He says to them, “Pray like this: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’” Now, we are so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer here at First Presbyterian Church. We say it I think every single Sunday morning. It is part of what we have come to expect. If it was not there we would be all out of place. It is like wearing a comfortable pair of shoes or clothes that we like to wear because they fit us. We have grown into the clothes, or the clothes have grown into us, perhaps. Well, the Lord’s Prayer – it is like that, but you have to understand that when Jesus first gave the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples, it was one of those shocking, almost amazing, moments. Because in the coming of Jesus, in the transition from the old covenant into the new covenant, it is as though a window, a giant window, has been opened and light is suddenly beginning to shine and there is access into the presence of God with such familiarity and closeness that Jesus says, “Call Him ‘Father.'” Now, that is the first thing. The first thing is it introduces us to something that is distinctive about the new covenant.

Introduced to the Father🔗

The second thing I want us to think about is that it introduces us to our heavenly Father. We are sons, which means, He is our Father. Some of us, perhaps, did not have such a great relationship with their earthly fathers. In a room of this size, in a group of people of this size, I am sure there are some whose relationship with their earthly fathers may not have been especially great. There are others of you who think of your fathers with deep affection and love and gratitude and thanksgiving. Either way – either in contrast or in a way that is superlative – let me introduce you to our heavenly Father, from whom good, great, loving earthly fathers are but a shadow. Jesus says, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’” We are by nature children of Adam. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). What happens when you believe in the Lord Jesus? When you come to the Lord Jesus and you say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling”? What happens? God adopts you. He brings you out of your relationship with Adam and now into a relationship with Himself. He adopts you. He not only justifies you – puts you in a right standing, in a right relationship with God – but he adopts you in such a way that you may now call Him, “Abba, Father.” And Paul refers to that in Galatians 4 and again in Romans 8.

A Son -3

(Transcription of audio file from 13:02 to 14:24 omitted.)

I remember walking down the streets of Jerusalem and seeing a Jewish man. It was just at the onset of the Jewish Sabbath, the Shabbat, and he has a little son with him. They are dressed in very distinctive Hasidim Jewish clothes – black, the black hat, the strings from the waist, the whole thing. And because they were late – they are heading towards the Wailing Wall – he is almost carrying this little boy, because the boy is only touching the ground every third or fourth step, and the whole time he is saying, “Abba, Abba, Abba, Abba.” And then the man stopped, got down to eyelevel, hugged him, grabbed him in his arms, lifted him to his side and carried him, and off they went. And I thought, “What a wonderful description of what it means to be a believer.” I don’t know whether these two were believers – perhaps they weren’t, perhaps they were still locked under an old covenant understanding – but one of the great joys of coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ and coming to know the assurance of salvation is that I may call God, this holy righteous sovereign God, “Abba, Father.”

Jesus as Elder Brother🔗

The third thing is that it tells us that Jesus is my elder brother. We are sons of God, and Hebrews 2:11 tell us of Jesus He is not ashamed to call us brothers. We have a great High Priest who is not ashamed to call us brothers. In the final prayer of Jesus in this earthly life, in John 17 – we sometimes refer to it as the great high priestly prayer – six times in that prayer He calls upon God and He calls Him "Father." And He teaches His disciples to pray saying, “Our Father.” We have the same Father as Jesus has. We are in the same family as Jesus. If Jesus calls God "Father" and we call God "Father," Jesus is our brother. He is our elder brother. When you become a Christian you are introduced into this new relationship with Jesus – a relationship that is so close that He is like a brother to you. An older brother!

Now, I have an older brother. I love my older brother. I am somewhat in awe of my older brother. I’m somewhat fearful of my older brother. He is a military guy; he has been in the army for 25 years or so and now retired. He is very precise. If he says, “I will meet you at 0800 hours,” he means 0800 hours – not a minute later than that. But it’s a different kind of relationship than the relationship I have with Jesus. Jesus is my older brother in the sense that He knows me, He knows my needs, I commune with Him, I talk to Him. He shares with me the human body; He knows my frame. I can talk to Him about my aches and pains (and yes, at 58 I have some aches and pains; nothing in comparison to what some of you have). But we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to have a relationship with Jesus that we may think of as our elder brother. As close a relationship as that.

Introduced to the Holy Spirit🔗

Fourthly, it introduces us to the Holy Spirit, because in the passage that we read together, the text from Romans 8, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” He is called – the third person of the Trinity is called – the Spirit of adoption. The “Spirit of sonship” would be a way of translating that. That is who the Holy Spirit is. He is the one who effects, who brings about, our adoption. He regenerates us. He quickens us. You see this title "sonship." It is a relationship with the first person (we call Him Father). It is a relationship with the second person (we call Him our elder brother). It is a relationship with the third person (He is the Spirit of sonship). He is the one who brings about this relationship. Being called a son means fellowshipping with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Introduced to a New Family🔗

Fifthly, it introduces us to a new family, and therefore to new obligations. We are part of the family of God. If you are a Christian, if you are a believer, if you are trusting in the Lord Jesus for your salvation, you are part of the family of God. I vividly remember it: 1971, I was 18 years of age. I had never been in a church, except maybe on two occasions in my entire life. I was an unbeliever. I was probably an atheist. I had never read the Bible. And I was converted. I was converted through reading John Stott’s Basic Christianity. I remember the first time I went into a Bible-believing, gospel-centred, Christ-exalting church. I remember it very, very vividly. And what I remember about it is, “These are my brothers and sisters. This is my new family.” Now, I have a genetic family; I have an earthly family. I have parents and brothers and a sister and cousins and nephews and nieces, like you do. But I also have a spiritual family. I have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children, and they are the church. And being called a son introduces me to this new family. I am a son in a family in which the first person is my Father, the second person is the older brother, the third person is the Spirit of adoption, and I have these brothers and sisters.

A Son -4

And it introduces obligations. I am obligated to my brothers and sisters. When I was fifteen, I did something very bad in school. (Transcription of audio file from 23:09 to 23:35, 23:38 to 23:53 omitted.) I was brought to see the headmaster, and when I had been sorely chastised by the headmaster and I was thoroughly ashamed, that was not anything in comparison to the fact that my older brother, during the break time, caught me in the corridor in the school, took me outside and literally took me behind the sports woodshed, pinned me against the wall (he was four years older than I was; I was fifteen, he was at that point eighteen and almost turning nineteen) and he said, “You have let the family down.” It was like a Sicilian Mafia moment. Whatever it was I had done, I had let the Thomas clan down. I was obligated to my brothers and sisters, and especially to him. My behaviour had an impact on him. What is a Christian? A Christian is somebody who understands: “I have obligations to my brothers and sisters. I don’t just live for myself anymore. I live to glorify Christ, but I live with obligations to my brothers and sisters."

Assurance of Provision and Safety🔗

Six: it comes with an assurance of provision and safety. Let me remind you of a text in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:7, 8: And Jesus says, “When you pray, do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do…Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” What kind of relationship is being called a son, where God is our Father? It is a relationship in which the “Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” It means I am in a relationship where God provides everything that I need. I never go without. We teach our children the difference between what I want and what I need – you understand that. You have taught your children or your grandchildren the difference between what I want and what I need, but have we learnt that lesson ourselves? The promise here is not that God will give us whatever we want; the promise is that God will give us whatever we need.

A Son -4

What a blessing that is. I am in a family, I am in a relationship where everything that I need will be provided. Whatever you may think of what it means to belong to the United States, to be a citizen of the United States, whatever you think the role of government might be, here is something about which you may be absolutely certain and confident: in the family of God we get everything that we need. Actually, we get a whole lot more than that, because we belong in a relationship in which the Father loves us. He loves us so much that He gave His own Son for us. So that Paul can say, “If He did not spare His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not along with Him freely give us all things?” All things that we need in order to reach the eternal city. What a great assurance that is. Your Father knows what you need before you even ask Him. That is the kind of relationship that you have in Christ.

A Test🔗

Number seven: this is a test. Yes, this is a test. How well do I really understand the gospel? Do you remember, Jesus tells a parable of two sons? One is a prodigal – we all understand the prodigal – and then there is the older brother. The older brother is all upset because of the lavish provision God gives to the prodigal. He does not get the fatted calf; he does not get the golden ring; he does not get the great provision. At least, that is what he says. And do you remember what the Father says to him? “You have always been my son; all things are yours.” Do you understand that as a son or a daughter you are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, so that all things are yours? You don’t have to earn it; you cannot earn it. That it’s not on the basis of what you do or what you aspire; it is the grace of God. It is the lavish extravagant grace of God.

Here is a test: am I a child of God? And if I am a child of God, I don’t have to earn God’s favour. I don’t have to earn His love. He already loves me. He has loved me from all eternity. He accepts me just as I am in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone. You know, it’s a test. Being called a son is a test. Do I really understand the gospel? Can it possibly be true that God’s love is so great, is so wonderful, is so extraordinary, that He says to the likes of you and me, even though by nature we are the sons of Adam, “If you believe in Jesus, I will call you my son. I will adopt you into my family. I will provide for you all that you need. And I will never let you go.” And the child of a King. The child of a King! With Jesus my Saviour, I am the child of a King.

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