As part of the Easter Sunday sermon this year, I mentioned how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides us with an opportunity to become children of God. I then pointed out how in spite of the popular sentiment often espoused that “all people in the world are children of God,” the Bible draws an important distinction about this issue. While we are all created in God’s image and all loved by God, and while God desires all people become His children, only those who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are actually declared to be children of God.
This distinction often raises some concerns that I think are understandable and fair. Many people assume that all people are God’s children and that saying not everyone is a child of God somehow makes Christianity seem very exclusive. I thought I would address these issues in today’s blog.
First the question, “Aren’t we all God’s children?” The biblical answer to this question is really, “No.” The witness of the Bible is that all people are created by God, in the image of God, and loved by God. The witness of the Bible is that God wants all to come to know Him and become His children. That is why Jesus came and died on the cross and rose from the dead. But the term “Children of God” is a descriptive term reserved for those who put their faith and trust in Jesus (see John 1:12-13, Galatians 3:26, Romans 9:8). The clear teaching of scripture is that our identity as “Children of God” comes to us by virtue of receiving Jesus Christ as savior, not simply by virtue of being born into this world.
Now to the concern: “Doesn’t this make Christianity sound unwelcoming and exclusive?” I don’t think it is unwelcoming, because all are invited to receive the gift Jesus offers us. The invitation is not exclusive, but totally inclusive. God desires all become His children. A major goal of Christianity is to reach all people with the good news that we can become God’s children. We believe Jesus died for all, and God’s grace and forgiveness is offered to all and freely available to all.
At Ebenezer Church, we work very hard to let people know that they are welcome to come and join us on this spiritual journey, and even if they have not yet received Jesus as Savior and Lord, we will accept them, love them, and strive to help them get to a place where they are ready to accept the invitation God has offered. This seems like a very welcoming approach to me.
But there is a sense in which Christianity has a bit of exclusivity to it. All religions do. Religious beliefs are not speculative opinions, religious beliefs are truth claims, and every truth claim has some level of exclusivity connected to it. If I claim that Jesus is the Savior who died and then rose from the dead, then that is a truth claim which would exclude other claims such as the claim that Jesus never existed, or that he died but was not resurrected.
We live in a day and age where many are taught and many believe that all religions are equally valid and true, and that no religious group has the right to declare that their religion is more “true” than others. But a quick survey of any of the major world religions reveals this idea to be false. While some religions share certain similarities, they all have significant differences in some very important areas. Thus, all religions claim some level of exclusivity to spiritual truth.
I think we need to be clear that all of the major religions of the world deserve to be respected (except certain deviant sects of any religion that become hateful and violent). But it is not disrespectful for me as a Christian to claim that Christianity is more true than Islam or Hinduism or Judaism, and it is not disrespectful to for a Jew, or Hindu or Muslim to claim that their particular religious faith is more true than Christianity. Mutual respect is important, but sincere disagreement is going to happen when exclusive truth claims are compared.
Am I, as a Christian Pastor, therefore, claiming that God doesn’t love people of other religions or that a devout follower of some other religion will be condemned to eternal destruction because he or she does not embrace the Christian faith? No, I am not saying that. I believe God loves all people (John 3:16) and I have been called to share that Good news so that people can become children of God. As we like to say at Ebenezer Church, “Christians are on the invitation committee, not the selection committee.”
My hope, my prayer, my life’s calling, is to invite all people to discover Jesus as Savior and Lord and become “Children of God” in the biblical sense of that phrase. That is not meant to sound unwelcoming or elitist or condescending, it is simply meant to be good news that is reflective of a loving God who wants to offer us forgiveness and new life.