Summary: This article was written and published April 2017. This is the second article of a series discussing Christian discipleship. Christians have become sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). In this new Christian relationship, God is their Father. Jesus came into the world to reveal God as Father of the believer. Christian discipleship involves the responsibilities that are consequent to this relationship – Christians are instructed to imitate their Father, who is in heaven.
This article follows on the heels of the previous article about the relationship that precedes Christian discipleship. In that article we established the biblical principle that all responsibility flows out of whatever the existing relationship happens to be. One important realization which also would be helpful in this discussion is that Christian discipleship is distinct from Jewish discipleship. It may be difficult to clearly see this, so allow me to say it differently: the religion of Judaism is different and distinct from the religion of Christianity, so that their respective discipleship responsibilities will be different. And in reference to my preceding article, one clear reason for these differences is the biblical truth that Christianity is founded and based on a new and decidedly different relationship with God than that of Judaism. This realization is simply critical to any proper teaching or understanding of Christian discipleship – does the true Christian have a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, especially in comparison with what Judaism, the law of Moses, provided the Jews? If the relationship is new and different, then the associated discipleship responsibilities will be new and different (i.e. John 13:34-35) – remembering, responsibility flows out from whatever the existing relationship happens to be.
Is the relationship the Christian believer has with God new and different from what was before? Does true Christianity represent a new work of God, where the individual, through faith in Jesus Christ, has been given an entirely new place and position before God? I do not doubt that any true believer would affirm that this is correct, that he does have a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for the purpose of increasing the confidence of the faith of some, let’s look at the biblical evidence of this Christian reality.
- In II Cor. 5:17, the apostle tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Now this sounds like it is something new, and the apostle confirms this by saying, “…old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Sounds like the individual in Christ, which I would call a Christian, is in a new place, a new position. But is this a new relationship with God? Paul goes on to tell us, “Now all things are of God…” It is, in fact, a new relationship with God, because it is identified as the work of God. A few verses later the apostle says this (II Cor. 5:21), “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In Christ, we become the righteousness of God – again, this sounds like a new place or position, and clearly it is based on Christ’s work on the cross. This same apostle speaks elsewhere of the means of this new relationship with God, saying of the believer, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” This new relationship with God through Jesus Christ is entirely the gift and workmanship of God – only He can create the believer in Christ Jesus.
- In II Pet. 1:2-4, Peter tells us that Christians are partakers of the divine nature. This refers to the moral nature of God, rather than His divine attributes. In Christ, we have been made the righteous of God (II Cor. 5:21), and we are holy and blameless before Him in His love (Eph. 1:4). God gives us this new nature in Christ. Having this new nature is the only way any individual can have a new relationship with God, different from what all mankind has inherited universally from Adam. This new divine nature is what it means to be “born again.” It leads one to be able to see the kingdom of God and to faith in Jesus Christ – just follow the sequence in the narrative in John 3. But all this leads to the new Christian relationship of being a son of God. This sonship is confirmed by Paul in his epistles – the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph. 1:3-5, Rom. 8:15-17, Gal. 4:5-7).
- In John 1:12-13, this apostle tells us that individuals who believe in the name of Jesus Christ, do so because they were born of God – by faith they become a child of God, or as Paul says, a son of God (Gal. 3:26). Being “born of God” indicates that something is new or beginning. Becoming a child of God or a son of God is indicative of the new Christian relationship.
- In John 3:15-16, 36, 6:47, 17:1-3, I John 5:11-12, we understand that the Christian experience begins by God giving life to the unbeliever. This is something new and different from all the other religions of the world, including Judaism.
- In John 14:20, we understand that the Christian relationship involves the believer being in Christ, and Christ being in the believer – a mutual indwelling. This is unique to Christianity and represents something that never existed before Christ’s coming into this world. It is part of the new Christian relationship.
- In I Cor. 12:12-13, Paul teaches that all true individual Christians are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, the church (Eph. 1:22-23). All Christians are members of this one body, members of this corporate group. It is the church which is the body of Jesus Christ, the Man who was raised and glorified to the right hand of God (Eph. 1:18-23). It is the body which is in union with Christ, its Head. There was never before anything like this, not in any man-made religion, nor in Judaism. This special relationship – the Head in union with the body – is unique to Christianity. Although it is not the individual Christian in union with Christ, but still it is union of the corporate body, of which the believer is a member.
All of the above bullet points are evidence from scripture that, in fact, a new relationship exists with God in true genuine Christianity, something entirely different from that which Adam had with God, or even the Jews had with Jehovah. The Christian believer is now a son of God, and God is his Father (John 20:17). In this, we see the importance of Jesus coming into this world to reveal the Father. And we soon should realize that the revelation of God as Father is distinctively associated with Christianity, and that Christians alone have a relationship where God is their Father.
And God spoke to Moses, and said to him, I am Jehovah. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as the Almighty God; but by my name Jehovah I was not made known to them.
Jehovah was the name by which God revealed Himself to Israel. However, to the forefathers He was known by a different name – Almighty God. These two are distinct from each other. They involve a different revelation of God, a different understanding of God in His ways with man (dispensational names). One name for God was associated with His dealings with the forefathers – He was their Almighty Protector and Sustainer though every situation and event. For Israel, He becomes known as Jehovah, the covenant keeping God, who will give them, according to covenant, the Promised Land (Ex. 6:4-8).
But none of this is God being known as Father, in relationship with many sons being born of God through faith in Jesus Christ – this is what we get in the general scope of these various New Testament scriptures (John 1:12-13, Eph. 1:3-6, Gal. 3:26, 4: 5-7, Rom. 8:15-17, Heb. 2:10). So then, when the apostle addresses Christians and various Christian churches in his epistles, we often find him saying by the Spirit of God, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2, Col. 1:2, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:2). God is the Father of every true Christian.
It becomes an important truth to realize that apart from accomplishing the work of redemption, Jesus came into the world in order to reveal God as the Father, to reveal the name of the Father and the new relationship with God in which this name would apply. Don’t misunderstand me – the work of redemption is the basis by which God can institute and establish this new relationship with man, or bring about this new creation of man. So, all that God does is based on the work of the cross being the foundation. But we must ask, what other general understandings are related to Jesus accomplishing this work, and being raised from the dead and glorified to God’s right hand? In the counsels of God, Christianity replaces Judaism, the Christian dispensation replaces the Jewish dispensation, and God acknowledges the heavenly calling of the church instead of the earthly calling of Israel. Further, Christ had to go away to the right hand of God so that the Holy Spirit could be sent down, and He begins to gather into the church all the sons born of God in Jesus Christ. They are gathered, so they may be eventually removed from this world and taken, by resurrection and glorification, conformed into the image of the Son, to the Father’s house in the heavens. The Father had to be revealed as He would be known in this new Christian relationship. The revelation couldn’t take place until Jesus came into the world; further, the relationship couldn’t exist until after His resurrection (John 20:17). The following series of scriptures verify these thoughts:
“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
Jesus said unto him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me…”
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come, Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
“O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
John 20:17 (after the resurrection)
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
The above verses confirm the understanding that Jesus was sent into the world to reveal God as the Father of Christians – having been born of God, they would, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, become sons of God with and in Him. The last verse shows that consequent to His resurrection, the new Christian relationship with our God and our Father is the same relationship Jesus has (as a Man) with His God and His Father – that we are His brethren, and sons together with Him. But certainly, Jesus declared the Father and His name, for everything He said and did came forth from the Father. His life in the flesh was one of absolute dependence and obedience to His Father – He never does His own will, but rather the will of the one who sent Him. In this dependence and obedience, He is the example the Christion is to follow (I John 2:6).
And sons are supposed to act like their Father; they have their Father as an example to emulate. This is Christian discipleship:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
As sons of God, we are to act like our Father. Any father becomes an example to his children, and the children, having their father’s nature, often will exhibit the character of their father. This is a similar thing with Christians and God as their Father – the simple understanding of the above passage from the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew, is the sons imitate their heavenly Father.
“Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. 2And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
“For you were once darkness, but now light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”
“That you may be harmless and simple, irreproachable children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation; among whom you appear as lights in the world.”
God is light (I John 1:5). Christians are children of light because God our Father is light. We are imitators of God because we are children of God. This doesn’t have to be a complicated concept. We act like God because He is our Father. The teacher can say to the Christian disciple, “your Father,” “your heavenly Father,” or “your Father in heaven.” Look how many times Jesus uses these phrases in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew – fifteen times (Matt. 5:16, 45, 48, 6:1, 4, 6, 6, 8, 9-13, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32, 7:11). Then in Matt. 7:21, Jesus uses the phrase “My Father in heaven.” Obviously, the God in heaven is Jesus’ Father, and it is the same God in heaven who is referred to fifteen times in the passages above from Matthew. Only Christians have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, so that His God is our God, and His Father is our Father (John 20:17) – this is the Christian relationship, and the Sermon on the Mount forms much of the practical instruction of responsibilities, duties, and ways of thinking which flow out of this relationship.
I go through this simple explanation because it is amazing how many Christian bible teachers and theologians can’t figure out who Jesus is speaking to and referencing in the practical teaching found in Matt. 5-7 – it is Christian discipleship for those who would eventually become Christians, and have this relationship with God after Christ was raised from the dead.
Could Jesus be instructing a group of people that didn’t exit at the time of His teaching? Certainly, He could. And He does so in other places in Matthew. In chapter ten, His instructions pass from the group of Jewish disciples He had present with Him and their limited Messianic mission (Matt. 10:5-6), to a future group of Jewish disciples who will testify in Israel before His return (Matt. 10:23). This same future group of Jewish disciples is addressed and given instructions from Him in chapter twenty-four – Jesus refers to them here as His elect during the future tribulation (Matt. 24:15-31). In chapter eighteen, He brings a short practical instruction about forgiveness and reconciliation for future members of the church, which didn’t begin to be formed as a body until after the day of Pentecost (Matt. 18:17). Could the practical teaching about duty and responsibility found in the Sermon (Matt. 5-7) be intended for the church, and the individuals who would form, by the baptism of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:12-13), the membership of that body? I admit, there are passages in the Sermon which are transitional for His disciples at that time (i.e. Matt. 5:23-24, 6:12-13) – however, these passages serve the divine purpose of the Spirit of God in writing this gospel – it is the dispensational gospel showing the transition from the Jewish to the Christian dispensation, and indeed showing the transition from Judaism to Christianity as acknowledged by God and the practiced religion for man. So yes, there would be transitional passages throughout the gospel of Matthew (Matt. 8:5-13, 9:14-17, 11:7-15, 25-30, 12:47-50, 13:3, etc.). Overwhelmingly, the Sermon points to future Christians, instructing them as to what their responsibilities would be in a relationship with God as their Father, and they as sons.