Sons of God
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)
“Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli…the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (Luke 3:23, 38, ESV)
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26, ESV)
“God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.” (Answer to Shorter Catechism Q/A # 10)
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In fact, it describes Jesus as the “only begotten” or “one and only” Son of God (for example, John 1:18), indicating that He is unique, one-of-a-kind. Yet Scripture also speaks of Adam as a “son of God,” and of believers as “sons of God.” If the Bible says that we as believers are “sons” or children of God, then how can it also describe Jesus as the “only” Son of God? As some would ask, “Aren’t we all sons of God?” In what sense is Jesus being the “Son of God” different from our being “sons of God”? Furthermore, the Bible says that mankind (male and female) was created in the “image of God.” Yet it also teaches that Jesus Christ is “the image of God” (“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” – Colossians 1:15, ESV). In the Bible sonship and image are closely related concepts. In what sense is Jesus’ sonship and image-bearing of God different from our being sons and image-bearers of God? The great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explains the difference in a quote from his classic work Reformed Dogmatics:
“Like the Son, so also man as such is altogether the image of God. He does not just bear but is the image of God. There is this difference, of course, that what the Son is in an absolute sense, man is in only a relative sense. The former is the eternal only begotten Son; the latter is the created son of God. The former is the image of God within the divine being, the latter outside of it. The one is the image of God in a divine manner, the other is that in a creaturely manner.” (p. 533; quoted on p. 53 in Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology, Mentor / Christian Focus Publications, 2007)
Jesus Christ is the eternal Divine Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity Incarnate; man is the creaturely son or image of God. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures (Shorter Catechism # 10). In their original state of integrity they not only reflected God in the sense of possessing reason and a spiritual nature (what theologians sometimes call the “natural” image of God); they also originally possessed ethical righteousness and integrity (the “spiritual” or ethical image of God). When man fell into sin the image of God in man, although not entirely destroyed, was radically corrupted, twisted and distorted, and every part of man’s nature was radically corrupted and defiled by sin (which is what is meant by “total depravity”). Man, who had been a “son of God” in the creaturely sense, became a spiritual son of the devil (John 8:44). Only in Christ, the Incarnate Divine Image of God, the “last Adam,” the eschatological Son, is fallen man redeemed and restored to spiritual and ethical integrity as the creaturely son and image of God. In fact, the very goal of our redemption in Christ as decreed in the eternal counsel of God is that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV). “Glorification” (Romans 8:30) means perfect, consummate conformity, in both body and soul, to the image of the glorified Christ (though on a creaturely level), which will ultimately be accomplished at the final resurrection.
Some practical implications of these truths:
1. All people are God’s image-bearers, and thus should be treated with dignity and respect.
2. While we are all God’s image-bearers, man’s fall into sin has severely distorted and twisted the image of God in man. Therefore, the present state of the human race as fallen in Adam does not represent a “normal” state of affairs. We live in a Genesis 3 world which groans in travail until Christ returns. Therefore, while we should do our part in seeking to make this world a better place, let us not set our hopes on this present world. In this present world we believers are pilgrims and strangers who are just passing through on our journey to our homeland, the new heavens and new earth wherein righteousness dwells!
3. In this fallen world not all people are children of God. Only believers are spiritual sons and daughters of God. The wicked and unbelieving are spiritual children of the devil, and can only become children of God through repentance from sin and faith in Christ as He is offered to sinners in the gospel.
4. The ultimate goal of our redemption in Christ is perfect ethical conformity to the image of Christ. The proximate goal of our sanctification is ever-increasing growth in holiness through mortification (daily dying unto sin) and vivification (daily living unto righteousness). God alone will accomplish our ultimate glorification, but in the process of sanctification and growth in grace we must cooperate through the diligent use of the means of grace.
5. While all believers are “sons of God” in a creaturely and redemptive sense, only Christ is the Divine Son of God; and thus we must not worship any creature, but only the Triune Creator. Worship Jesus, but don’t worship any man, no matter how saintly or gifted.
6. Let us be grateful that by His redeeming work Christ has adopted us as His blood-bought children, so that we are even now restored, redeemed sons and daughters of God!
7. Mankind as male and female is the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Gender distinctions are a part of what it means for humanity to possess the image of God, for the unity and plurality of God’s Triune Being are reflected in the unity and plurality of male and female. Therefore current cultural attempts to androgynize humanity or to make “gender” a mere cultural construct (rather than a biological reality) are direct attacks upon the very image of God in man, and indirectly attacks upon the Triune God Himself. Confessing orthodox Christian Faith in today’s world includes affirming the created reality of maleness and femaleness, and rejecting androgynous-pagan redefinitions of human gender. In other words, it involves confessing the biblical doctrine of the “imago dei” (the “image of God”) as inclusive of man and woman, and rejecting androgyny as anti-Christian paganism.