Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

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The Difference Between a Child of God and a Son of God

Published on: Feb 27, 2008

For a long time I was very concerned about so many Christians that I knew who are considered baby Christians, even though they had the new birth decades before. When I read Paul’s statement in Romans 8:14 that as many are led by the Spirit they are the sons of God, I would grieve that these believers rarely show a leading of the Spirit in their lives as they relied on natural and conventional wisdom. I was concerned that they would not have salvation for this seeming lack of intimacy with Christ. However, I am currently reading DeVern Fromke’s, “Ultimate Intention,” and he brought up a historical and cultural point that relieves my concern.

In the ancient world a son, though born by the father, was adopted at maturity. The child was tutored by an educated slave until the child understood and demonstrated maturity gleaned from that education. At that time the father would “adopt” his son, which meant that the son was now in a position to participate in the responsibilities of the father.

An example of this would be Alexander the Great. As a child, even though he was the prince of King Philip of Macedonia, he was tutored by Aristotle and Leonidas. Philip would then adopt him, which meant that he was fit to co-rule with his father, and to take over after his resignation as king.

In the Jewish culture there are two words for son: ben and bar. Ben means a child born into a family, but bar means “the son of inheritance,” which refers to the maturation of the son in understanding the Torah, and to be a participant in the family of God. From this word we have the Bar Mitzvah (and Bat Mitzvah for girls) for Jewish boys as the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

So, with this understanding we see the significance to the word, “adoption,” in the Bible. When I read that in the past, I understood it only in the theological sense that Jesus alone was born of God, whereas the rest of us were adopted. That never sat right in my spirit. There are too many other verses that indicate that we are born from God, as well. But now I realize that it is a statement of maturing in Christ. Consider these examples.

Rom 8:13-17
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 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. (KJV)

In this passage we understand the point is in overcoming the flesh which is a mark of maturity. The Spirit of adoption refers to the discipling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. With maturity we becomes joint heirs with Christ in both his glory and his sufferings, another mark of maturity when we bear sufferings graciously.

Incidentally we see two sets of tutors just as Alexander the Great had two tutors. In Galatians we read:

Gal 3:24
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (KJV)

The law brings us to Christ, and the Spirit matures us in Christ.

Rom 8:23
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (KJV)

This is ultimate maturity since we will no longer have the sinful flesh but the glorified bodies.

Gal 4:5
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (KJV)

Again, maturity is shown as we leave the rudiments of living by the law for living by the Spirit through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Eph 1:4-6
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (KJV)

Predestined us to be mature in Christ, holy and without blame – maturity – by the grace of God, not the works of the law or the flesh.

In another post I mentioned an encounter with an elderly lady (I am elderly, too) who was upset that I said that I wanted nothing more to do with church organizations. She said that she had been in the same church for 30 years and was quite happy, then sat down in an indignant huff. I was quite surprised at her lack of the fruit of the Spirit. Instead of loving me anyway, I was rejected by her because I no longer was in her camp.

Jesus said,

John 3:8
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (NIV)

This describes people on the move as the Spirit leads them, not camped in for 30 years in one congregation. Knowing how much so many congregations are taught to live legalistically – tithing, faithful attendance, being a servant, and so on – they are stuck in the first phase of coming to Christ – which is the law – instead of maturing in Christ. As in another post I wrote, the study by Willowcreek Church shows that only baby Christians stay in church, whereas those who mature – they defined maturity as being close to Christ or centered in Christ – left the institutions.

Incidentally, we are not called to be God’s servants, He has angels for that, we are called to be His sons. As sons we bear the characteristic of a servant which Jesus demonstrated, and we do so gladly. But we should be careful of seeing our selves as servants, which is greatly encouraged by professional clergy seeking free labor for their businesses, for that puts on a works mentality with God. We serve in whatever God leads us, but we are first and foremost His children.

So what does this mean to me? It means that there will be a multitude of baby Christians in heaven and the kingdom who not share in the rule of Christ because they never came to the point of adoption, which means marked as mature. This is an encouragement on the one hand, for I supposed the baby Christians would lose their salvation. On the other hand, it is a point of sorrow, as I realize so many are missing out on the freedom and rest that comes from following His Spirit, and submitting to his tutelage.

What do you think? Is my understanding mistaken? Or does this make sense?

Comments to Original Post

Submitted on 07/31/2008
This makes perfect sense to me. Honestly, I think you are right on.

Additionally, I’m grateful Spirit showed you what adoption truly means in terms of our relationship to Father. It underscores how Papa LOVES family and our importance to Him. Such Love draws me even closer to loving Him, AND loving all my brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, where they are at in their journey.

~Amy 🙂

Submitted on 07/31/2008

Amen, Amy. And the really cool thing about His adopted love, which is His choice to love us, and is greater than His natural love for His Son, is that we can participate in His love towards Him and others by our choice to love Him. True love is a choice freely given, and is the real basis of love in a marriage. Because in marriage their are times when your spouse becomes your enemy, but we choose to continue loving each other nonetheless. And that is the true mark of maturity in sonship.

Submitted on 06/03/2009

Halleluyah, i found this really interesting. However i would like to say i prefer the word” the difference between baby and matured christians to the difference between a child and son of God” because the whole discourse still comes down to baby christians and matured christians. this is open to discussions please!

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 06/03/2009

To say “baby” and “matured” are common expressions that are acceptable, but leave out important distinctions. “Sons” as I have described are statements of responsibility regarding inheritance. In the parable of the talents, Jesus spoke of those stewards that were faithful as gaining more cities to govern. This was also the distinction I was referring to in regards to Alexander the Great. He was the natural offspring to Philip of Macedonia, but he did not inherit the throne until he was responsible enough to be “adopted” as his son. I believe that there will be many Christians who never inherit the throne of Christ, because they never learned to be responsive to the leading of the Spirit, which are those who are called the “sons of God.”

bill mcdonald
Submitted on 03/10/2010

i have been drawn to this subject recently, and really have been excited by it. i read an article online that referenced 3 ancient celebrations among the jews. circumcision, bar mitzvah and adoption at or around the age of 30. however, i have been unable to find any source cited to verify the fact.

have you come across such information?

Submitted on 03/11/2010

Ceremonies were not the point of my article. Catholic confirmation and Jewish Bar Mitzvah’s are two ceremonies that intend to display this concept of sonship. However, my point is not any human ceremony but genuine maturity in our relationship with God Himself. Those who have the new birth are children of God, but not necessarily sons of God. Sons of God are children of God who have matured in their walk with Christ. This maturity is not observed by ceremony but by the responsibility that God gives His sons. Children are not given any responsibility. And of course, I do not mean responsibility that we try to take for our selves, but that which has been truly given to us by God. This responsibility comes from the leading of the Spirit.

Submitted on 05/04/2010

This is so true. I’m in a perfected growth class and we’re on the subject of where we are spiritually. Not seeking God I blurted out godly for myself. Then later found out that I’m way off. Later Romans 8 came to mind of being a son(because we’re joint heirs to the throne) Alot of people were saying spiritual adult, but I believe they really are not thinking about what they’re saying.

It’s not about How long you’ve been saved or how much you know. It’s about a level of sensitivity to the Holy spirit in all I do. Not operating out of personal gain but allowing the spirit to lead you into dying for God’s kingdom and his word daily. So therefore a tree is judged by its fruit.

Submitted on 06/25/2010

Thanks for the blog. i was doing some studying on this this morning for a sermon I’m preparing when I Googled bar mitzvah/son of God/child of god this came up. Here another great resource I found in my search

Submitted on 06/25/2010

I am delighted to hear that my post is helpful to you. Recently a friend of mine wondered how a missionary we both know could claim to have 3 generations of disciples in a short time. She was mistaking maturity for the new birth. Teenagers are children, yet can reproduce. We only deposit the seed into the egg, but it is the Holy Spirit that knits the child in the womb. And just as the Holy Spirit came upon Mary for Christ to be formed in her womb, we only deposit the seed of His Word into the hearts of the hearers, but it is the Holy Spirit that forms Christ in their hearts. So it is not necessary for a child of God to be mature to reproduce. But sonship bears a completely different set of responsibilities. The sons lay their lives down for the Father.

Submitted on 07/31/2010

comme je suis ravie et en joie de vous lire tous et à toi particulièrement Alex.
j’ai eu dernièrement une exhortation sur ce sujet, sujet que, pousse par l’Esprit,j’ai cherché à approfondir. votre enseignement m’a beaucoup aidé et édifié en même temps.

Que la grace de Dieu vous accompagne.

Submitted on 07/31/2010

I used the Babylon text translator to read your comment. This is what it gave me.

“As I am delighted and joyful read to you and to you all particularly Alex. I have had recently a exhortation on this subject, about that, grows by the Spirit,i have sought to deepen. your teaching has helped a lot and built at the same time. That the grace of God accompanies you.”

I hope this is correct. Thank you for your kind compliment. I hope I can encourage you in the future.

12 to “The Difference Between a Child of God and a Son of God”

  1. Barbara Briggs says:

    Alexander, Thank you so much. My son had a new friend over and his name was Alexander. I told him that I would remember his name by Alexander the great. Then Alexander the great came into my reality again. I was sitting here thinking about why it was bothering me to be called a child of God. Then I thought of the difference between a child and a son. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper “type it in” and I ended up here. you confirmed what I had already perceived to be true! Thank you! Praise the Lord and God Bless! <3

  2. Alexander says:

    I do not write to gain a following. I write what I believe the Lord tells me to write. Getting a response like yours encourages me greatly. Thank you for letting me know that the post helped you to understand your walk with Christ.


  3. Collins Madu says:

    Wow! This is simply wonderful. I bless God for your wisdom.

  4. Alexander says:

    Thank you for your kind words.

  5. Eve says:

    Thank you for Listening to the Holy spirit to write this for me. Awesome write up sir.

  6. Alexander says:

    Thank you. I hope it helps.

  7. Martin says:

    This post was really edifying to me. Our men’s group at my church has been studying this exact subject for the last few weeks, and I couldn’t agree more with all your points. I have bookmarked this and re-read several times and it ministers to me every time. As an aside, a message was brought by our youth pastor recently, and he preached about being called as servants of God. It was well organized and delivered, but didn’t ring true with me, for the exact reason you stated. Basically our senior pastor asked him to preach on it, and instead of an altar call at the end, there was a call to ‘serve’ in cleaning the church, landscaping, and answering phones. And he even admitted the invitation was being made so it saves the church the cost of having to hire those services. Wow.
    Thanks again for sharing and posting!

  8. Alexander says:

    Thank you for your response. It encourages me to know that this post is still helping others.

  9. James says:

    Thank you Alexander for this explaination. Now I know the difference between the children and sons fo God. It really make sense to me. Thank you again. May Almighty God blessed more with wisdom and knowledge and revelation concerning his word.

  10. Alexander says:

    You are welcome. I am glad it helps.

  11. Rick says:

    My Brother, thank you! You just helped me make sense out of my life. I have not been able to figure out why I don’t fit in anymore, and why I am on the move for God – here and there. I don’t have a problem with it but the others persecute me to no end and leave me depressed.

  12. Alexander says:


    Persecution always begins in thee church. As John said in his first epistle:

    I Jn 2:18-19
    18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
    19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

    Blessings to you brother.

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