Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Child of God

January 5, 2012
John 1:1-18 and Ephesians 1:3-14
 Do you ever struggle to accept gifts?  I guess it would have been more appropriate to ask that question two weeks ago.  
 We’d probably answer “no” to that question. It’s easy to accept gifts.  But I’m not so sure that’s always the case.  For example, usually when we receive a gift, we then look for an opportunity to return a gift in kind.  Someone invites us over for dinner, then we look for a chance to invite them over.  Someone sends us a card, and we say, “I’d better send them one!”  And so on.  Is it really receiving a gift if we then look for a chance to “even things out?”  
 Or what if it is an exceptionally large gift?  What if someone tries to give us a car or thousands of dollars?  I mean, it hasn’t happened to me, but it does happen.  Then our response is usually to say something like, “Oh, I can’t take that.  It’s just too much.” So maybe receiving a gift isn’t always so easy.
 But receiving a gift is the only way that we can come to God.  To come to God, we must receive a gift that is “too much,” too extravagant, far more than we ever deserve.  And that gift of course, is Jesus himself.
 We heard quite a bit from John chapter one, but I really just want to focus in on a few verses, 10-13.  These verses begin with a great irony:  The Maker of the universe comes into it in person, among the very people who were supposed to know him and to be looking for him, yet was seldom recognized and received for who he was.  
John 1 begins with a strong contrast:  The contrast of darkness and light.  From there, he moves to a very similar contrast, the contrast of rejection versus acceptance.  Now to accept something or someone means to recognize its reality and its inherent goodness.  But Jesus was rejected by those who did not recognize him to be the Word, the fullest and most complete self-expression of God.  They did not recognize who he truly was or that he was good.
It’s made all the more tragic because of the wonderful blessings that come to those who do recognize and accept him, chief of which is that he gives the right to become children of God.  Only those who accept Jesus can become children of God.
It occurs to me that this might not fit with how many people today see the world.  Many people say, “We are all God’s children.”  And I can’t deny the truth of that.  We are all created by God.  We are all related to him by our birth.  Somehow or another, all of us are Adam and Eve’s great-great-seventy-eight-times-great grandchildren.  
But there is a second and far better understanding of what it means to be a child of God.  And we can only become children of God in the fullest sense of the phrase by accepting Jesus.  And I want you to notice that I’m using two different words here:  We are children of God by birth and we become children of God by faith.  Becoming means there is a change involved.  We are not children of God in the fullest sense by birth.  In fact, we can’t be children of God by our natural birth, in the fullest sense.  It can’t happen by human passion or plan, which are the two most common ways that natural births happen!  
We can only become children of God by a second birth, a new birth; one that is not natural, but spiritual, and only comes from God, from above.  And it only comes as a gift.  We can only become children of God through the relationship God offers.  God is holy and in heaven, and we are sinful and on earth.  We can’t rise up to God; he can only come down graciously as a gift to us.  No amount of human effort could ever span that gulf.  It can only happen by grace.
But when it does happen, we do not simply continue along as we were.  We become new people when we become children of God.  Ephesians 1:5 tells us that God’s eternal plan has always been to adopt us into his own family through Jesus.  And this is one of those cases where understanding the cultural aspects of something in the text opens up a whole new level of meaning.
Under Roman law, a son always lived under the authority of his father, regardless of age.  A 50 year old man was under his father’s authority, as long as his father was alive.  And that authority was absolute, even to the point of life and death.  A father could kill his son with no legal repercussions because that was his right under the law.  
The only exception to this absolute power of the father was that if the son was adopted by another man, then his biological father lost all authority over him.  Under the law, an adopted son was considered to be an entirely new person.  The old person ceased to exist.  A man could commit a crime and borrow $10,000, but if he was adopted the next day, there were no charges and no debt.  The man who did those things no longer existed.  
And the adopted son also gained full rights in his new family.  There were examples in Roman society of slaves being adopted as sons and then receiving a full inheritance along with the natural born sons.  
Judaism did not quite have the same idea of adoption, but they did consider that a baptized convert into Judaism was also a new person, legally.  So in both cultures, the idea existed that a person could become new.
This is a picture of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  He has adopted us as his own children.  We have become full heirs of God, along with the natural son, Jesus.  And our former life has ceased to be held against us in God’s eyes.  
This is God’s wonderful kindness poured out on us because we belong to Christ.  We have been ransomed, as verse 7 says.  To ransom is to buy out of slavery by paying the price of redemption.  The price for us was Jesus’ death on the cross.  And we have been forgiven.  To be forgiven is to be released from the penalty of one’s sins.  Leviticus 17:11 says that it is blood that brings atonement from sin.  The language of blood is used most often in the Old Testament to refer to the sacrificial system, which looked forward to Jesus and his sacrifice.  
But God’s adoption also has a purpose.  Verse 4 tells us that God loved us and chose us in his grace that we might be holy and blameless.  God desires that we would become his children not just legally but also by nature, that we would become like our heavenly Father.  That was very common idea in that culture, the understanding that that a child would become just like their father.  Our Father is holy, so his children should be holy.  
If you’ve never read C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, I highly recommend it to you.  Lewis says that Christianity was never meant to turn bad people into good people.  And unfortunately, that’s often how we think of it.  People should get a little Jesus so they’ll be good people.  Well, the fact of the matter is that some people apart from Jesus are pretty good, by the world’s standards. And some who claim the name of Jesus are not necessarily all that good by the world’s standards.
Christianity was never meant to turn bad people into good people.  It was always meant to turn dead people into living people, to bring us to life from our death in sin.  It was always meant to turn old people into new people, to change our nature, to transform our being through grace.  The test of whether or not we belong to Christ is not whether or not we are good people.  The test is:  Are we new people, holy people?  Are we different from the world?  Do we live by God’s values, God’s ideals, according to God’s purposes?  Are we set apart from the world?  
These are things only God can do.  We can’t change who we are.  But God can.  And it’s only as a gift from God that we can be changed.  So don’t “try to be a good person.”  That’s something you can do on your own.  Instead, ask God to make you a new person, because that’s something only he can do.  

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