MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 11,2001

Sixth in a series of messages on Christ’s church

 

This morning, we explore another facet of this beautiful jewel called the Church of Christ. The reason the church of Christ, as the New Testament presents her, is so glorious and beautiful is because the church reflects (and indeed was placed on earth to reflect) the glories of Christ. When we looked at the church as the temple of God, we noted that this designation for the church as the temple communicates the holiness God intends for the church. The reason the church is holy is because God is holy—“Be holy as I am holy.” Two weeks ago, when we saw the church is the New Covenant People of God, we saw this New Covenant reflected God’s grace seen in His desire to be in relationship with his people. It also reflects His power to transform His people that they might live as those on whose minds and hearts he has written his law. Each designation used for the church in the New Testament communicates something powerful not only about the church, but also Christ.

This week, we want to spend some time thinking about the church as “the children of God.” Those who are born again into the kingdom of God are born into a family—the family of God and each follower of Christ is a child of God. What does that designation as a child of God reflect about God? The answer is in First John 3:1 where the apostle says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!…” You can almost hear the excitement and thrill in John’s voice. The attribute of God on display in the church as we exist as God’s children is this great, lavish love of God. Whenever we think of ourselves as God’s children, the pre-eminent quality of God reflected in our being His children is his great, lavish love.

This morning, we want to feast on the biblical truth of this love of God for his children and we’ll do that by asking two questions. The first question is; How does God express his Fatherly love to his children? The second is; how do we, his children honor Him as our Father?  First, let’s take up the question, How does God express His fatherly love to his children? Before we dig into the biblical texts, we first need to blow away any cultural fog that may influence our ideas about what fatherhood is, as it is seen in the bible. When we think about God being our father, its crucial that we understand his fatherhood the same way he conveys it in the bible and the biblical understanding of “father” is quite different than what the popular culture and even much of the church understands it to be.

When God speaks of himself as Father he is certainly speaking of the intimacy that relationship points to and we’ll see a bit of the wonder of that in a moment. But we must not confuse God as father with Robert Young or Bill Cosby as father or even worse, some of the other cultural expressions of fatherhood who are regularly portrayed as bungling buffoons who “just don’t get it” where their wives or children are concerned. Fatherhood has taken some significant knocks the past few decades and we must not put any of that cultural baggage into our understanding of God as Father as that is seen in the Scriptures. In addition to the intimacy of the Father/child relationship, fatherhood in the bible also conveys the idea of immense authority.

In the Old Testament, which gives the backdrop for the New Testament teaching on Fatherhood, the father had authority that, by today’s standards, seems tyrannical. We know from several texts that the father had authority to marry off his children to anyone he chose within Judaism. I daresay there are no fathers here today who would dare to seriously suggest such an arrangement to their sons and daughters. The father, according to Exodus 21 was free to sell his children as slaves as long as it was to other Hebrews. In the same text we read that if a child struck or cursed his or her father or mother, the child was to be put to death. In Deuteronomy 21, we see that if a son is rebellious and stubborn, refusing to respond to their parent’s discipline, the parents are told to take him to the elders, bring charges against him and after that, he was to be stoned by the men of his town. We cite these texts to make sure that we look at the concept of fatherhood through the lens of the Bible, not 21st century Western culture. Even human fatherhood in the Scriptures conveys the idea of authority in ways that we simply do not conceive of today and we must factor that understanding into our concept of what it is for God to be our Father—intimacy yes, but also much authority.

Now, with that as backdrop, how does God express his love to his children? The first answer to that question is by adopting us into His family. The New Testament teaches that God has one “natural” Son (if you will) in the Person of Jesus Christ and the every other child he has is his by adoption. We see this in places like Ephesians 1:5-6 where Paul says of God, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” All those

who have been brought into God’s family have been adopted in. Notice here that adoption is unbreakably linked to predestination and election. The whole concept of adoption implies that God chooses us or elects us beforehand. Whoever heard of an adopted child say, “Yeah I decided so and so would be my parents—I’m so glad I chose them?” It’s not the adopted child who chooses his/her Father; it’s the adoptive parent’s choice. It’s the parent’s decision, not the child’s.

What a glorious picture of the love of God! We see this best when we contrast it with human adoption. In a human adoption, the adoptive parents know only what they have been told about that child, his or her background. They have no idea what the future holds for them and the future—what strengths and weaknesses the child will have, what pain and pleasure the child will bring to their hearts. But they choose to adopt with hearts filled with hope that this will be a life-long blessing to the child and to them. That is a noble and beautiful thing to do, but not even close to what God does in the adoption of his children.

When God adopts a child when as are born again into his family by the Holy Spirit, he knows well in advance that this child is utterly incapable of pleasing him in even the smallest way unless He himself works in him or her. God knows this one He has adopted has a heart filled with rebellion and unbelief directed against Him, the Father. He knows this one will grieve His heart 10,000 times 10,000 times and yet, He adopts him or her anyway. And we know from the Ephesians text the reason he does this is because this is, “to the praise of the glory of his grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God expresses this indescribable love to us in adopting us because it manifests and brings praise to his glorious grace that he has given us through his beloved Son, Jesus. Only God would adopt a family of dirty, rebellious street urchins and only God can take these monsters of iniquity and make them into holy saints who, by His grace are worthy to be called his children.

A second way God expresses his fatherly love for his children is: He protects us. In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew six, God teaches the disciples to ask our heavenly Father “to deliver us from the evil one.” Christ wants us to pray for protection from the evil one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy us. We see the fulfillment of the prayer in Second Thessalonians 3:3 where Paul assures God’s children, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Though Satan, according to 1 Peter 5:8, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, our heavenly Father will keep the lion away from us as we are sober and alert. We see this back in Job chapter one and two, where God draws very clear parameters for Satan that he will not and does not cross. God will allow suffering and hurt and temptation to come into our lives, but never more than we are able to bear according to 1 Corinthians 10:13 and never anything that He does not intend to use to conform us to the image of Christ. Every blow He allows Satan to land on us is intended only to make us more like Christ.  Our wounds are redeemed—we become stronger in Him where we have been broken.

Again, the contrast with human fathers is worth noting. Even the most conscientious human father can never give this kind of utterly comprehensive protection. He will do what He can when he is nearby, but is helpless to defend his children from so many evils. The best thing he can do to protect his children is to pray to His heavenly father for their protection. There is no way a human father can take a catastrophe in the life of their child and make it into something good.  Only our heavenly Father can do that and protect us from anything that does us eternal harm.

A third way God expresses his love for His children is He provides for us. Jesus tells us of the Father’s provision in Matthew 7:11. He says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Jesus uses a lesser to greater argument here. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children.” There Jesus acknowledges that even evil people like us know how to give good gifts to our children. We do so in spite of the fact that we are in some sense evil. If evil people know how to bless and provide for their children then how much more will God, who is an absolute alien to evil—who is infinitely good and infinitely gracious and infinitely benevolent—how much more will this Father give good to his children when they ask Him?

We see another lesser to greater argument teaching on God’s provision in Matthew 6:26. Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” If God takes care of birds—birds who don’t plan ahead, who live claw to beak, who are dependent on God for every worm they’ve ever slurped down—and these birds whose flesh we use for food, whose feathers we use to stuff pillows, whose utilitarian value  doesn’t go beyond that—God is faithful to give them three times their body weight in food every day. He’s a generous provider for these comparatively useless, worthless birds. If he does that for them, how much more will he provide for his children who bear His name, in whom His Spirit dwells and for whom he sent His beloved Son to death on the cross? The clear teaching is, if he will provide

for the birds of the air, he will certainly provide for his beloved children.

A fourth way God expresses his love for his children is He disciplines us. This aspect of God’s fatherhood is little understood. We seldom hear someone say, “God is really disciplining me now” and not many people understand how God disciplines and what it feels like and how we are supposed to respond to it.  Hebrews 12 speaks specifically to this issue. The author says, beginning with verse five, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Here are three truths from this text about the discipline the heavenly Father gives his children. First, his discipline is a product of his love. God never gets frustrated and flies off the handle—that is fallen and human—it is not the way God disciplines. God’s discipline is an expression of love. Second, God’s discipline can be very severe. The NIV loses this in their translation, but the King James and the NASB preserve the meaning in verse six. The text literally says, “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he scourges everyone he accepts as a son.” The word “scourge” is precisely the same word used for what they did to Jesus before his crucifixion. This is an intensely strong word used here and it teaches that God’s fatherly discipline, though given out of love, can be very severe. We see this in First Corinthians 11 where some of those who had been in sin had become “weak and sick and a number …have fallen asleep.” The following verses clearly indicate these people were believers whom the Lord had disciplined by making them weak and sick and even killing their bodies.  This is God-sized discipline.

This is a Father who, out of love for us, can discipline us very severely. This truth must be recovered today because those who accept it find it easier to live with a healthy fear of God. This is a reverent fear appropriate to a Father who loves us but who will not hesitate to scourge us to bring about what Hebrews 12 calls “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  This does not mean that any time we are sick, God is disciplining us, but we must live with a biblical understanding of the nature of God’s discipline.  Third, if God does not discipline us, we are not his children. When we experience the loving discipline of God, we should bless Him because through His discipline, he is treating us like his children. If God doesn’t discipline us, He is simply not our Father.

Now let’s move to the second question we will ask of God’s fatherly love. That is: How does God’s fatherly love impact us?  In light of the fifth commandment in its call to honor our father and mother, another way to ask the question would be, how do we honor God as our Father?  This is an apt question because in Malachi 1:6 God asks, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? God expects His children to honor him.  Do we understand that?  If we honor our earthly fathers who are evil, then how much more should we honor our holy, infinite heavenly Father?  How do we honor our heavenly Father?  The answer is simply: We grow more and more to resemble our Father. The concept of resembling your Father is not simply a genetic one, but also a spiritual one.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we are the children of God, we, of all people should more and more be growing to think and act and speak like our Father. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children”   There is a clear relationship drawn between being children of God and imitating God—acting and living like God on a moral and spiritual level.

What does that mean specifically—to resemble God as our Father? Here are four ways God’s children should grow to resemble Him. First, we must live blameless, morally pure lives. We see this in texts like Philippians 2:14-15, “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. Being blameless and pure means to be radically different than the people around us, not only the profane people, but the “Minnesota nice” people. Are we radically different from these people who are all part of this complaining, arguing, crooked and perverse generation? As children of our heavenly Father, that is our call. 

We also see this in Second Corinthians 6:18-7:1 where God promises, “"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 7:1Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify

ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. The promise of God being our Father is for Paul a motivator for us to keep ourselves from the sinful contaminants of this world. A child of God, out of reverence for their Father, will not easily allow themselves to be contaminated by the filth of this world. Is that a part of our motivation? When we are tempted to allow ourselves to be muddied by the moral filth of this world, does the fact that God is our Father turn our hearts aside from that?  Paul indicates that it should.

A second way God’s children are to resemble their heavenly Father is found in Matthew 5:44-45. Jesus is teaching and says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God loves his enemies and as his children we must love our enemies as well. Do sacrificial, loving acts of service not only for those who love you—even the world does that—but be radically different from the world—be like your Father (!) and do those things for those who hate you. This is perhaps the most radical demand Jesus makes and he connects it to being “sons of your Father in heaven.” It’s clear Jesus intends us to resemble God in this radical way and if we are not, we are simply not living as children of God. Do we see the connection between this first point and the second? First, live blameless, holy lives in the midst of a crooked generation and when this generation sees your life and persecutes you, love them like your Father does. The questions for us, as those who claim to be God’s children are: 1. Are we living such blameless lives that we bring on persecution?  and 2. If we are hated by the world, do we treat those who hate or dislike us like our Father does?

A third way we grow to resemble our heavenly Father is we must seek first His kingdom. Many of us know the command to put God first in Matthew 6:33, but how many of us know the connection between that command and God’s fatherhood over us? Beginning in verse 31 of Matthew 6 Jesus says, “So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat? or ‘What shall we drink?” or `What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Do you hear the progression of these verses?

Verse 31 tells us not to worry about the things of this like, food, drink, clothing. Verse 32 says that children of God, unlike the pagans, have a Father who knows what we need. Verse 33 says; we must therefore, instead of worrying about the things of this life, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness because we are guaranteed that as we do that, God will provide for us. One reason we must seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, as opposed to seeking after the things of this world, is because we have a good, beneficent Father who will provide for our needs.  That free us up to do God’s will rather than do what the children of this world do, spend their energies and time on the things of this world. Because a faithful heavenly Father has promised to provide for us, we must focus on Him, his kingdom and his righteousness. Seeking first the kingdom is an outgrowth of relating to God as our Father because we don’t have to worry about whether or not he will provide for our material needs—He will provide for them as we are faithful to put Him first.  This text tells us that the opposite of putting God first is not putting him second.  It’s worrying…because worrying is simply what we do every time we displace God as our King with ourselves as the one responsible to take care of us.  Jesus says, SEEK after God first, and He, (because your Father happens to be Jehovah Jireh, “the God who provides”) will take care of you as your Father.

A final way we grow to resemble our Father is closely related to the first way we looked at and is found in Romans 8:13-14. Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” If you follow Paul’s thinking there, it couldn’t be clearer. Living by the Spirit or being led by the Spirit involves killing the sins of our flesh. That is, extinguishing through self-denial and spiritual disciplines these sinful impulses in our flesh. And those who do that, who show they are being led by the Spirit by putting to death the misdeeds of the body, show that they are indeed sons of God. Now, the converse must also be true. It is inconsistent to hold, on the one hand, that you are a child of God, while on the other hand, you are not being led by the Spirit by not putting to death the sinful impulses which rage within us. A final mark of a child of God is to be led by the Spirit, putting to death the misdeeds of the body.

We should spend much time thinking about the glorious privilege that is ours to be able to address the Lord of the Universe, the omnipotent King of Kings, the Captain of the heavenly hosts as Father.  We should chew on that for hours—let it soak in, bask in the glory of God’s great and lavish love for His children.  But we must also understand that to have God as your Father is not simply a warm, fuzzy to massage our sentimental glands.  To be a child of God means nothing less than to be a person who is growing to resemble our heavenly Father—to ever increasingly live

blameless, pure lives, to love our enemies, to seek first his kingdom and to mercilessly kill our sinful flesh, living by the Holy Spirit.  If these things cannot be said of us, then what right to we have to call ourselves a child of God?  May God give us the grace to know God as our true Father and to bear an unmistakable family resemblance to Him.

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