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What is a "child of God" from a scholarly perspective?

According to Dr. Donald Fairbairn's book Grace and Christology in the Early Church, it describes "To be a child of God is to remain a finite, mortal creature by nature but to share by grace in that very fellowship and life that characterize God himself."

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is an academic scholar and professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His expertise is in patristics, historical theology, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

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That sums it up quite nicely. –  Daи Sep 3 '13 at 20:46
    
Which scholarly perspective? Richard Dawkins is a scholar, and he has a perspective on this question... –  Flimzy Nov 8 '13 at 17:53
    
Richard Dawkins is a scholar in evolutionary biology. When I say "scholar", I am really asking for an academic who studies theology, not a dilettante in the field of theology. –  Anonymous Nov 8 '13 at 21:13
    
It seems that most of your question is your own answer to the question. –  Bruce Alderman Nov 8 '13 at 21:54
    
@BruceAlderman That's the point. It's a question that needs no answer, because I've already answered it. XD –  Anonymous Nov 8 '13 at 23:09
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2 Answers 2

Our Condition

The scholar will first go to Romans 3, and other scriptures, to realize all have sinned and live in a cursed state. God considers us unrighteous and has placed us under wrath due to our sin. Though we have been created in the image of God, we have no way of living with God. Further, there is absolutely nothing possible for us to think, say, or do that can change that fact. We are hopelessly lost to live out all our days basking in different levels and types of sin. Not only that, there is no legal way for us to absolve ourselves of sin. Our sin has convicted us and we stand guilty as charged before the Holy and Righteous Judge. This has to be the staring point to answer your question. It is a point we would do well to dwell upon from time to time but not with a goal of depression or hopelessness. We should have an attitude of praise because God has given us the way out.

Our Justification

In this condition, we could never be adopted and considered a child of God. Justice demands we be condemned. But of his own free will, Christ has freely offered His life for ours. Then too, it is of our own free will where we have freely accepted this offer. There has been no coercion or deception on behalf of either party so God is just when declaring us no longer guilty. “Now the act of condemning is not a matter of changing someone’s spiritual condition, of somehow infusing sin or evil. It is simply a matter of charging a person with wrong and establishing guilt. Correspondingly, the act of justifying is not a matter of infusing holiness into believers but of declaring them righteous” (Christian Theology - Millard J. Erickson). So our legal standing before God has been justly dealt with.

Our Adoption

Now with the legal restrictions between us and God removed through justification, we can cry out, Abba, Father, because before that time we never had a spiritual father. John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Paul notes that our adoption is a fulfillment of part of the plan of God: he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Eph 1:5). And in Galatians 4:4-5 Paul links adoption with justification: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

Our Benefits

What are the benefits of this adoption? In light of the fact that God has forgiven us, Paul urges us to forgive others. We are to be kind and tenderhearted, since God our Father has not been grudging in forgiving us. In law one is not convicted or acquitted before the act in question takes place. Only after the act itself can the penalty be paid and the justification made. In stark contrast, we need not fear that God’s grace will cease and that we will be treated severely if we slip once.

Not only has God forgiven us, but we have been reconciled to him. God has shown his love for us by taking the initiative in restoring the fellowship damaged by our sin. There is also liberty for the children of God. The child of God is not a slave who obeys out of a sense of bondage or compulsion. We did not receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear, but we receive the Spirit of sonship. But do not use this freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love.

Adoption means that the Christian is the recipient of God’s fatherly care. Paul noted that “we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom 8:16-17).

And finally, it should not be thought that God is indulgent or permissive. He is our heavenly Father, not our heavenly Grandfather. Thus, discipline is one of the features of our adoption. The letter to the Hebrews has a rather extended discussion of this subject (12:5-11). Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, the writer comments: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” Discipline may not be present at the moment of application, but it is beneficial in the long term. Love is concern and action for the ultimate welfare of another.

Our Praise

The child of God has been endowed with a great number of inalienable rights straight from the Almighty God of the universe. Further, we have been recipients while yet a sinner and in rebellion to such wonderful blessings. As such, what is it we are to be found doing? Living like God’s only non-adopted Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Answer?

Being a child of God is wrapped up in all of the above. Our condemnation, our justification, our adoption, our benefits, and our praise. All of these have made possible our life with God.

References

If you can find it, the second edition of Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson is filled with though provoking scholarly information and I have used parts of it in the above answer. Later editions are also good but the second edition has 1253 pages and the others have less.

Also, visit www.bible.org and simply search for “child of God”. There will be some good reading there.

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Fine answer. Kudos to you. One additional thought: reconciliation is not so much a matter of our being reconciled to God but of His being reconciled to us. God, as it were, turned His back on us because of our sin, and rightly so. In other words, it is we who have offended Him with our sin, not vice versa! Jesus, however, chose to become the atonement for our sins, and in doing so He made it possible for God to turn toward us and look upon us with favor, but only because of what Jesus did on our behalf. As believers IN CHRIST, we can then be described as being "reconciled to God." –  rhetorician Nov 8 '13 at 22:14
    
I agree with the spirit of your comment but have reservations about the term “Reconcile” regarding God toward us. I take your comment to mean that without God being willing, there would be no way any could be united with God as his child. To that I agree. However, for “reconcile” my Random House Thesaurus also states: “2. A pacifist cannot be reconciled to war; conciliate, win over, persuade, resign. 3. We had better reconcile accounts; settle, set straight, make up, fix up, patch up, rectify, adjust, correct.” This, then, begs the question, what is it that God needs to make up with us for?! –  Warren Nov 10 '13 at 3:39
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According to Dr. Donald Fairbairn's book Grace and Christology in the Early Church, it describes "To be a child of God is to remain a finite, mortal creature by nature but to share by grace in that very fellowship and life that characterize God himself."

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is an academic scholar and professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His expertise is in patristics, historical theology, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

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