What does it mean to be a child of God?

Christians call Jesus “Son of God” and his disciples “children of God.” These phrases have become so common in the Christian lexicon that it is easy to forget what they mean. Some might look around at their fellow Christians and find little that confirms such exalted claims. Others only know the words as signs of the promises God made in Christ: As children of God, Christians can hope for blessings in this life and eternal fellowship with God in the next.


‘Your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.’ (Lk 6:35)

Liturgical day
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
1 Sm 26:2-23, Ps 103, 1 Cor 15:45-49, Lk 6:27-38

In what ways do you already resemble God?

Where in Scripture or in nature have you learned the lessons of God?

In what ways must you still strive to live out those lessons?

These promises are true, but they tell only half the story. Fellowship with God actually begins in this life, and it requires a disciple to live according to the instructions of the Gospel. Jesus did not craft these commandments arbitrarily; he drew them from the Father’s own words and example. As Christians continue to study and live out the Gospel, they can learn, as Jesus did, how to conform their life to the example of the Father. Disciples who do so are truly children of God.

This is Luke’s message. Luke understands Jesus to be a prophet, and in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, he relates some of Jesus’ most challenging and difficult teachings. Jesus’ words are easy to dismiss as impossible, or to disparage as ideals that no one was ever meant to achieve. This would be a mistake. Jesus intended his disciples to strive to fulfill these commandments. He drew these lessons from careful study of the Father’s ways, and he expected his disciples to pattern their lives after the things the Father had taught him.

His first lesson was the Father’s gift of eternal love. At every moment in his life, Jesus knew the Father’s love, followed the Father’s command to love and sought to fulfill the Father’s dream of a world built on love.

Another lesson came from study of the Father’s ways in Israel’s history. Although the people of Israel strayed from the covenant, again and again the Father sought them out and forgave them. Scripture even records times that God took Israel back when it did not seem sensible (Is 43:19-28; Ez 20:40-44). Divine love always overcame judgment, and God’s fidelity to the covenant remained strong regardless of human transgression.

A final lesson came from nature; the sun rises on both sinners and saints, and God’s rain falls equally on the righteous and the wicked. Jesus built his own life around these lessons, and he expected his disciples to do the same.

Children resemble their parents. It might be astonishing at first to realize that living the Gospel makes us like the Father, but this is what it means to be a child of God. There is no hubris in finding the loving thing to do in any given situation, or forgiving those who wrong us, or sharing our gifts even with those who do not deserve them. God is always ready to love, give and forgive; just so, those who call themselves “children of God” must follow God’s example in all ways.

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