Before working with International Child Care Ministries, I was not a particularly child-focused person. Oh, my own two kids were my pride and joy, the sheer delight of my heart as a mother. Nate and Carrie amused and amazed me from the time they burst onto the scene for my husband, John, and me. I still remember gazing into our tiny son’s eyes when he was minutes old and marveling at the wonder of procreation. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of bringing a life into this world and couldn’t hold back the question — “What have we done?
This firstborn son was ours, yet not ours. He was his own person, yet ultimately God’s. That humbling realization struck me again when Carrie was born — she is precious, she is ours; yet not fully ours. She is an individual, her very own self, yet belongs to her Maker. Within weeks of their births, John and I presented our babies in dedication to the Lord, formalizing a covenant that recognizes His ultimate place as their Source and Destiny.
Now that my focus has expanded from two children to 20,000, I’ve spent six years drawn into the mystery of childhood and our identity as children of God. I’ve had the awesome privilege of friendship with children and their parents on four continents. I get a front row seat to watch the global church as it embraces and protects the most vulnerable children — orphans, street kids, remote tribal children, victims of neglect and abuse, and those whose childhood energies are sapped by hunger and disease. I’m continually reminded of the world’s children and their plight.
Children in the Bible
My vantage point on Scripture has changed, too. Where children were once invisible to me, I now discover them peeking out from the pages of both testaments. And I consistently hear the call of their Savior and Advocate to become more like them, and in so doing, to find Him in a new way.
Matthew 18:1–14 has become a core curriculum for me. In this manifesto, Jesus challenges His followers to become like children (v.3), to humble ourselves like them (v.4), to receive one child in Jesus’ name (v.5), to avoid at all costs causing them to stumble (v.6–9), never to despise them (v. 10), and to search for and find the lost among them (v.12–14). In one passage, I’ve got a lifetime of lessons to practice.
But the gospel goes even further on the subject of childhood — inviting us all to become children of God through faith in Christ. John says it this way: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12–13). Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be “born again” “from above” to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3–7). Beyond the common understanding that “we’re all God’s children,” we are summoned to become God’s children.
What is the essence of this new birth as a child of God? What does this central metaphor teach us about our identity? One obvious starting point is that as babies, we are “bundles of potential” — we will grow, dramatically and rapidly. Beginning as helpless and utterly dependent beings, we will progress to greater and greater levels of competence and self-sufficiency, as God has designed. Yet by virtue of being created in God’s image, we are made for interdependence, relationship and love. We journey from being primarily receivers to becoming loving givers, gaining knowledge and skills as we go, but never leaving behind our dependence on God and interdependence with others. If we retain childlikeness, as Jesus calls us to do, we will never stagnate, but will revel in the joy of discovery and retain a capacity for wonder as humble and eager learners throughout our lives.
Heirs of God
But it gets even better. Our identity as God’s children carries with it the amazing privilege of belonging to God as family members. We’re not just any children, “generic children” if such existed, but beloved sons and daughters who experience the full benefits of family membership and inheritance. In Romans 8, Paul writes about this privilege of those who are led by the Spirit:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit 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 sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (v.14–17)
In this passage, entrance into the family relationship is gained through adoption — and the result of this new identity is the status of heir. In Paul’s day and culture, only adult males could legally inherit property, so adoption to “sonship” brought with it this privilege. I had a seminary professor who tried to convince me I should thank God that I’m actually a son and not a daughter of God, but I maintained that I should thank God that in Christ, not only males but females have inheritance rights (Galatians 3:26–29).
Linda Adams, a Free Methodist elder, is the director of International Child Care Ministries (childcareministries.org).
The beauty of this reality is that the Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. We can know it — not just as theological reality, but as lived experience, internalized truth. This identity brings security, closeness, and the perception in the core of our being that we are deeply loved and valued. We truly belong to this God who has chosen us and remade us in the divine image.
This identity doesn’t stand alone, however; it is tied in with the sufferings and glory of Christ. As we identify with Jesus in His sufferings, as we take on His identity and bear the consequences, we become ever more deeply identified as children of God. Living as peacemakers in the midst of hostility and violence, for instance, identifies us as God’s children
(Matthew 5:9). People can see the family resemblance; it becomes obvious whose child we are.
Of all the ways God chooses to describe our relationship with Him, none is more basic and enduring than our role as His beloved daughters and sons. As my own children have become adults, they’ve not outgrown their essence as my son and daughter. This relationship evolves with growth and the passage of time, but never ends. How wonderful to know that this is eternally true in my relationship with God — I’m His child! And no matter how old I get, I will always be! Yippee!1