Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)
As Christians, we should find great comfort and joy in these scriptures. I find it unimaginable that I, a sinful man, am a son of God. But if I believe the bible, that is exactly what I am. What wondrous love God has for us. Man has rejected Him throughout history. We rejected and killed His prophets, His kings, His judges, and even His son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. And yet He still desires to adopt us into His family and call us His children.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things for those seeking God to understand. We are conditioned to believe that we are rejected when we do not do those things others request of us. If we are rude, we are not liked. If we turn our back on someone who needs our help, we don’t expect them to help us when we need it. When we lie to others, we are quite certain that they will lie to us as well. This is the way we live in our fallen humanity. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Choose whatever cliché you wish, we don’t expect love and kindness from those we refuse to be loving and kind toward.
God, however, doesn’t return hate for hate, rejection for rejection. He continually gives love and forgiveness. He will certainly admonish us, or punish us. He will try us as gold is tried in fire. But His intent is never to turn us away, only to bring us closer to Him. We are the ones who can, and sometimes do, reject God, not the other way around. If we are condemned to eternal damnation it is of our free choice, not God’s punishment. He desires us to be part of His family, but if we refuse, He won’t force us.
Imagine the hurt and sorrow that is caused by the rejection of a child. I’m sure most of us who are parents have had some experience with that occurrence. Hopefully it was short lived and the child returned to our open, loving arms. But there are those children who never return. Whose rejection is permanent. As much as we want them to come home, they will not. As much as we want to forgive them, take them in our arms and love them, they remain distant. This is an incredible hurt, a hurt that never heals. But in the end, it is the child who must return. We can’t, as parents, force their love or demand their company. We can only hope and pray that they will someday realize the love they are rejecting.
,If we, as parents’ can feel this hurt and understand it, how much more does God know of this pain, this rejection? He has, throughout history, given us blessings, love and friendship. And we, as His children, have rejected His love and caring. We have moved away and refused to be part of His family, just as our children have sometimes done.
Our God is an incredibly forgiving God who loves us entirely and will throughout eternity. Even as we are broken and saddened by the rejection of our children, so God is when we reject Him. Yet He is always there, with His arms open. He would love nothing better than to take us in His arms and hold us in His love forever.
As a family member, we have an obligation to participate in family functions. Whether that be a Thanksgiving dinner, a birthday, wedding, or other special occasion, we are expected to be there. The expectation isn’t one of a requirement, but of a desire. A desire to fully participate in the life of the family. In our world today, our families are sometimes spread all over the country and may not always be able to participate in family events. But the phone calls, the surprise appearance, the regrets for being unable to attend, are evidence that we recognize the importance of the occasion and our desire to be a part of it.
We must also recognize that being a member of God’s family also entails some family responsibilities. Just as being a good family member in our human family, we must also be a good member of God’s family. We must participate in those things that are pleasing to God. This includes attending church as a privilege, not a chore. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to worship God publicly without fear of retribution. In many areas of the world this isn’t possible. We should always be mindful and protective of this blessing.
We need to love one another. Jesus tells us in numerous places throughout the gospels of the importance of this command. The Sadducees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law.” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40) Without this kind of love, we can’t claim to be a member of God’s family.
We must strive to please God in all that we do. We will fail, and fail again, but we must continue to try. God knows that we are weak and will fail in our efforts to please Him. But I believe that God truly is pleased by our efforts to please Him, even when we fail. He is always there to pick us up from our failures and help us get back on the right track even though He knows that we will fail again. If we were to ask for God’s help before we fail, He would provide us with the strength to not fail. But we, as humans, have a very hard time admitting that we can’t do it ourselves.
As our parents forgave our mistakes in childhood, so will God forgive our mistakes in adulthood. That’s part of the definition of family; the willingness to forgive the errors, or sins, of our brethren. Even though human parents sometimes fail at this responsibility to forgive, God never will. Regardless of our sins, He is waiting to forgive them and welcome us back into His family with open arms.
When I confess my sins and seek forgiveness I say an “Act of Contrition”. It is a prayer of remorse for having sinned against God and recognizing that fault. It is also a statement of willingness to try my best to change my life in order to not offend God with my sins. It is quite simple, but very moving. I consider this prayer to be instrumental in my salvation and continued membership in the family of God. I firmly believe that failing to be sincere in my remorse and commitment to try to do better means that I have not honestly sought forgiveness for my sins.
“Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life.”
For me the most meaningful part of this prayer is that I detest my sins because they offend God. Of course I don’t want to suffer the pains of hell, but more importantly, I don’t want to offend and disappoint my loving father in heaven. As a human, full of weakness and failings, I know full well that I will need to say this prayer many times in this life. We all fail in our efforts to avoid sin. We are blessed that we have a God who wants to forgive; who wants us as part of His family.
If you ever doubt the forgiveness of God and His willingness to accept us back into His family I suggest you read the parable of the prodigal son. (see Luke 15:11-32). As a member of a family this son did virtually everything wrong that could be done wrong. He essentially wished his father dead by asking for his inheritance. He then took his inheritance and wasted it on a wanton, wild lifestyle, eventually becoming destitute and starving. When he finally recognized the wrong he had done, he went home to his father offering to serve him not as a son but as a servant. He felt he didn’t deserve to be considered a son after all that he had done. The love of his father, however, was so great that he immediately took the boy back in as a son and celebrated his return.
This is the love God has for us. We can do nothing that God will not forgive if we only ask it of Him. He will accept us back into His family and forget the wrong we have done without question. If only we could live in our earthly families with this kind of love, perhaps we could better understand the incredible gift God has given us by counting us among his children.
“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying. ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)