What does Our Father mean? Are we God's Family?

Does God our Father beget us as god-level beings?

"Born to Win"
Daily Radio Program
by Ronald L. Dart
Ronald L Dart
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Ronald L. Dart: Of all the doctrines I ever learned from the Church of God, one stands out above the rest. Ironically it is not a doctrine unique to the Church of God, but has been held in one form or another by many Christian churches down through the ages. But for some reason, I never encountered the doctrine in my former church and didn't even know the doctrine was believed elsewhere until I read it in C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity."

"The command `Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good his words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."
C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity," Macmillan, 1952, p. 174.
"Real Christianity is sharing each other's pain."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What is this remarkable doctrine? It is the teaching that it is possible for man to become God. The first time I heard it, I thought it was blasphemy, and many people are still very uncomfortable with the idea. They are uncomfortable because of a simple misconception. When they hear the word "God" they think immediately of the Father of Jesus who is above all, supreme, all powerful, and without equal. And if that were all that the word "god" ever meant, then man could never become God. Not only that, but even Jesus is stopped short of being God.

But the word "god" is used in many ways in the Bible. It is indeed used of the one Supreme Being who is above all. But the very same Hebrew and Greek words that are translated "god" are the same words used for false gods. It is also clear in the Bible that the word "god" is used to describe a kind of being. And when C.S. Lewis and others say that God is turning man into god, what they mean is that man can become the same kind of being as the Father.

And to this the Bible is entirely in agreement: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2).

What is fascinating about this is the plain statement that we are already, now, the sons of God. We are already family. But when He appears finally on earth, we will be like Him - the same kind of being that God is. One early preacher in the Church of God tradition looked back to the first chapter of Genesis and noted that God made each of the animals, "after his kind." He went on to note that God is creating man "after His own kind." It fits perfectly what God was saying in the very beginning about man: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness .... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:26, 27)

Traditionally, we have gone beyond this to say that God is a family. And it is hard to argue with the family image that is projected again and again. The relationship between Jesus and God is that of Son to Father. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, they were to address God, not by His name, but by their relationship to Him: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name."

John characterizes the disciples of Jesus as already sons (and daughters) of God. Then, having made that point, he goes on to say: "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." (I John 3:3)

If we are in a family relationship with God, then that implies family style obligations. One of the best deterrents to bad behavior is a strong family tradition which creates a desire to hold up the family, to not let down our sisters, brothers, mother, father - to not disappoint them. There is also an awareness that in trashing your own reputation, you bring down the other members of the family. There is a degree of family pride that is fit and proper. It helps us to be our better selves.

We have obligations to the family of God that far transcend those of our physical family. Jesus accepted a kind of family obligation for His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. He made a promise to His disciples and then He required of them an obligation: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:12-15).

Too often, I hear quoted the promise, "whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do," without the corresponding obligation "If ye love me, keep my commandments." This is not a unilateral promise, but a statement of a relationship - a family relationship - and of mutual obligation.

At the last supper, when Jesus gave the cup to His disciples, He told them, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." A testament, in the sense of a last will and testament, defines relationships and inheritances. This blood established the disciples as heirs of the Father, joint heirs with Christ - as family.

Paul adds a new element when he says, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:16,17). The word "glorified" is a reference to that moment in time when we become like God, and able to see Him and enter His presence.

Later, Paul outlines a kind of sequence of events in the salvation process: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:29,30).

The final step into the kingdom of God is the change from flesh and blood to spirit - to be like God - glorified, a full-fledged son of God, born into His family with all the privileges and responsibilities that go with it.

I believe this truth has serious implications for the way we live our lives here and now. God has seen fit to teach man about family by giving him a family of his own. It is wrong to take your family for granted. Members of a family have obligations to one another. We have a right to expect love, support, encouragement, protection and even preference from our family. And we have an equal obligation to give those things as well. God's family will not be dysfunctional. Spend a little time learning how to make your own family work.

This weekend [July, 1997] in Chicago, I plan to make a presentation on this theme entitled, "Is God Really a Family?" It will be a Christian Renewal Conference on the family, and we will be offering most of the presentations on tape soon. But I wanted to make it a special offer to all of you. I still believe it is one of the most important of the core doctrines of the church. To get a cassette tape of the presentation, www.cemnetwork.com

With love, in Christ's service,
Ronald L. Dart


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