“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: …. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
—I John 3:1-3
What does it mean to be a “son” of God? Who qualifies for this term? Surely the Scriptures could hardly be plainer than when they speak concerning this subject. In the New Testament, it is clear that this term—“sons of God”—is reserved for a special class of people, namely those who have become partakers of the divine nature by virtue of a unique endowment from Deity.
It is also clear from its usage in Scripture that the term “son” conveys the concept of “personification.” Thus, those who are designated as the “sons of God” will be found to personify God—or give an accurate representation of the character and nature of God to others.
Also, the term “son” implies a familial relationship. Those who are “sons of God” have been begotten by Him and born of Him. When a person is “born again” of the water and of the spirit, through repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the Holy Ghost, he receives “the spirit of adoption.” In this manner, a totally unrelated individual receives the full status of a natural-born son.
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:”
“As many as received him to them gave he power (authority) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Furthermore, the term “sons of God” is shown by the Scripture to belong only to that group of people who are “led by the spirit of God.”
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
This implies a willful submission to the laws of God, and a subjection to his chastening. It is not enough to have received the Holy Ghost at the New Birth experience; to retain the right of a “son” you must receive all the chastening of the Lord, which is variously administered. And you must be separated or set apart from those who are not sons:
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
—II Corinthians 6:17-18
Those who have been born again, but who refuse the disciplinary measures of the Word of God are considered by him to be illegitimate—or bastards, if you please.
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Our Acts 2:38 experience alone does not unequivocally and irrevocably qualify us as the “sons of God.” Rather, it initiates us in the process of adoption. The scripture points to a time when the adoption process will be finalized, and we will have completed the necessary period of chastisement. Only then will we be able to see Him as He is, for we will truly be “like him.”
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
In the interim, we must receive training, discipline and correction. Those who reject these refining elements are unfit to be (or remain) the “sons of God.” We see then that the children of God (“sons and daughters”) are those who have been sanctified by the spirit of Truth (separated from the world unto God back to the original created state).
Any “body” that does not cleanse itself will ultimately die from its own poison. The Body of Christ is cleansed by the chastening of the Lord that is administered to the children of God through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God—the “perfecting” of the saints. We must be purged or pruned by anointed, relevant preaching and teaching if we are to remain fruitful; if we are not fruitful we will be cut off from the vine—or, in other words, we are no longer qualified to be “sons of God.” Whether it be an individual, a local assembly, or a corporate body of believers, if it is not submitted to the chastening of the Apostolic ministry it is doomed.
Notice carefully the correlation between II Corinthians 7:1 and I John 3:3:
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
—II Corinthians 7:1
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
—I John 3:3
If we are to remain the “sons of God,” we must accept the fact that we will have to administer correction and discipline to ourselves in order to cleanse and purify the Body. It comes as no surprise that most folks are a lot more eager to point out the faults of others then they are to accept the fact that they have faults of their own. It is much more convenient to drive around the neighborhood pointing out the trash in others’ yards than to go home and clean the junk out of your own yard.
It is time for the people of God everywhere to accept the responsibility that comes with being identified as “sons of God.” Surely it is nothing less than hypocritical to claim to be God’s children while rejecting and denouncing those who are attempting by the Grace of God to point out qualities and traits that do not befit the “sons of God.”
We are no less accountable to the words of the Apostle Paul than were the Phillipians in the early days of the Church:
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.”
Are we truly the “sons of God?” May God help us lest we drift into a realm of spiritual illegitimacy, where we cannot receive nor tolerate the corrective and disciplinary measures of the Word of God.
Rev. Tim D. Cormier
Reprinted from the May, 2000 issue of the Apostolic Standard.