Whose child are you?
It might seem an inappropriate question to ask, but it’s not meant to be rude or politically incorrect, nor even an invasion of privacy. To ask, ‘Whose child are you?’ merely raises the issue of where we belong in a spiritual sense. Recent years have witnessed a general reawakening to the fact that whatever we are as human beings, we are spiritual beings with spiritual needs. The question is, where and how can those needs be met?
Put it this way: many of us at some time in our life have had to learn off the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer which Jesus taught and which begins with the words, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’ – yet have we ever stopped and asked ourselves, ‘But is He?’. Do the words of that prayer actually mean anything for us, or are they just hypocritical ramblings?
Descended from Abraham
Jesus Himself put a group of people on the spot over this very issue when He was on earth almost two thousand years ago. He turned to a group of people who were very religious and indeed who thought they were His followers. He questioned them about the spiritual family to which they thought they belonged. The answer they gave was quite telling.
They said that they belonged to Abraham’s family. In other words, they thought that their ethnic links to a man who was called ‘the friend of God’ and the nation which descended from him were sufficient to make them God’s children. Jesus told them a different story altogether. Without mincing His words, He said, ‘You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire’ (John 8:44).
Jesus’ blunt words were not intended to be misconstrued as harsh. He knew full well that these people had to make a painful discovery about themselves before their lives could truly be changed and God indeed become their Father. This has been true for people of every generation, regardless of their nationality.
In some ways the false sense of security in these people of Jesus’ day is not unlike that found in people of our own time. Britain is still regarded, at least in some vague sense, as a Christian country. And there are not a few people who equate being British with being Christian. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever our ethnic or religious background, no-one can claim to be born into God’s family as of right. Like those whom Jesus addressed, we are all by nature children of a different, darker family.
The sad reality of this is seen in the fact that we all display the same family traits. There is no one nation which has the monopoly on evil; be it lying, stealing, or whatever. The same evil characteristics are in evidence the world over and they can all be traced to the same source in terms of the genetics of the soul. It is as though the whole human race shares the same spiritual genetic finger-print of evil. Nobody needs to be taught to do wrong, it just comes naturally and all our valiant attempts at self-improvement come to nothing.
Does that mean there is no hope for anyone? Are we all doomed to an endless downward spiral in this world and the next, or is there any possibility of change? Jesus says there is. He told the same group of misguided people that to belong to God’s family, they must love Him (John 8:42). That is, they must recognise Him to be God’s own Son, sent into the world with the purpose of saving people and bringing them back to God; they must trust Him and follow Him.
Children of God
Elsewhere in the Bible it says, ‘To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12). All of these are said to have received ‘the Spirit of Sonship’ – the Spirit of God Himself who gives new life to our soul and actually enables us to call God ‘Father’ and mean it (Romans 8.15). In other words, the good news we find in the Bible is the promise of a new start in life for all who come to trust in Jesus. He alone will blot out their shameful past and give them that new life shared by the members of God’s family that will allow them to be different. He promises hope, not just for the world we now belong to, but also for that world which lies beyond, after death.
Our spiritual parentage is an important issue – even more important than the family or ethnic grouping we happen to belong to on earth. It is an issue with eternal implications and must leave each one of us asking, ‘Whose child am I?’.
Mark Johnston is the minister of Grove Chapel, London.