A Catholic Monthly Magazine

We Are Adopted, Yet Truly God’s Children

Fr Tony King SM

As long as God has been God – eternally – God has desired that his human creatures should also be genuinely his children. And Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, came for that very reason: "I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

That fullness of life, as children of God, in John's Gospel is called "eternal life", and is bestowed through a new kind of birth, a spiritual "birth" from "above", as Jesus said when Nicodemus came to see him, a birth through water and the Spirit -- "In all truth, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit" (John 3:5).

"God gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may . . . have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Water was Jesus' symbol for our fullness of life, when he spoke to the woman by the well in Samaria, and asked her for a drink:

The Samaritan Woman at the Well, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1872

"If you only knew what God was offering, and who it is that is saying, give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water . . . the water that I shall give will become within you a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:10, 14).

After the miraculous feeding of the people in John's Gospel, Jesus speaks to the crowd and refers to himself as the "bread of life", the true bread that came down from heaven. He went on to say:

"It is my Father's will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person up on the last day" (John 6:40).

It is through Jesus, by him and in him that we receive the gift of being God's own children.

In his letters, St Paul expresses this many times:

"Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a slave looking after us, for all of you are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ . . . you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26).

"God decided beforehand the ones destined to be moulded to the pattern of his Son so that he should be the eldest of many brothers" (Romans 8:29).

St Paul also expresses the gift that God grants to us in being God's adopted children. So are we REALLY children of God? Yes, of course. God's adopting us really bestows a sharing in God's own life. The term 'adoption' conveys simply that we 'participate' -- we are not additional divine persons to the Trinity.

"All who are guided by the Spirit of God are children of God . . . You received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out 'Abba, Father'. The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God" (Romans 8:14-17).

'Abba' is a very personal word, a term of familiarity, within a family. The Israelites would have been astonished at any idea of calling God 'Abba'. Some have difficulty in praying to God as Father and choose in public prayers to replace such titles with others, even omitting the Lord's Prayer. The practice necessarily implies a lessening of the intimate relationship that God has desired for his children to have with him.

It is true that in God, since God is pure Spirit, there is no sex as such – no maleness, no femaleness. However, there is in God the utmost perfection of fatherliness and motherliness. It is God, the three Divine Persons who adopt us as children, who really participate in the life of the Trinity.

And it is our "eldest brother" (Romans 8:29), through whom and by whom we are children of God who told us how to address God:

"When he had finished praying, one of his disciples said: teach us to pray. He said to them: when you pray, this is what to say: Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come" (Luke 11:2-4, Matthew 6:7-13).

That "eldest brother", Jesus, was to give his life for his 'sheep', those who truly believed in him, so that they, with him, would be entirely at home with God, what joy must have filled his heart when he finished his mission. And what a message the Risen Lord gave to Mary Magdalen for the Apostles and us.

In John's Gospel, Jesus' first appearance after rising was to Mary Magdalen. He gives her this marvellous message:

"Go and find my brothers and tell them: 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' So, Mary Magdalene told the disciples" (John 20:17).

Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, Alexander Ivanov, 1835

I am ascending to my Father and your Father! How come our Father too? He has made it possible for us human creatures to be indeed God's children, and so for Him to be the eldest brother of many brothers and sisters. Thus, he now refers to the disciples as his brothers, and his Father as their Father too, and, of course, our Father also. "You are all one in Christ Jesus".

"You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God's children – which is what we are . . . My dear friends, we are already God's children, but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed. We are well aware that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is" (1 John 3:1-2).


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