Sonship by Nature
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).- John 1:12–14
Christians are identified by their belief in the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 24:14), which is nothing less than the gospel of God about His Son, Jesus Christ. But although the gospel is simple enough that even young children can understand it, this does not mean that the gospel content we must know and believe to be saved is simplistic. The Apostles’ Creed is one summary of what we must affirm, as it focuses on the gospel truth of God’s initiative in redeeming His people.
The second major section of the Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus is God’s “only Son,” and His sonship is addressed in question and answer 33 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The catechism examines how Jesus can be God’s “only Son” if we are also God’s “children,” using today’s passage as a basis. Fundamentally, the difference between our sonship and Christ’s is a difference in nature. Our Savior is in Himself the Son of God; we are the Father’s children only by adoption. All people are in some sense God’s offspring because He is their Creator (Acts 17:28). In biblical categories, however, there is more to being God’s children than creatureliness.
Inherent sonship entails sharing in the Father’s moral perfection, partaking of His majestic holiness, doing only what the Father does, and possessing the fullness of His deity (John 5:19, 21; Heb. 1:1–4). Obviously, no one who is a mere creature can be, inherently, a child of God; only He who is fully divine can be the Father’s Son. Accordingly, God has but one Son, eternally begotten of the Father before creation. Thus, we have the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son: from eternity past God the Father has generated God the Son in a filial relationship. There never was a time when the Son was not (Micah 5:2; John 1:1–5; 8:58).
Relational parallels exist between the Father’s generation of the Son and a human father’s generation of his son. Still, God the Father’s generation of His Son is unique. Divine generation had no beginning in time but is eternal. Physical procreation is not involved in the Father’s begetting of the Son. The great church father Athanasius writes, God “is in being, not as we are, and yet [He is] in being as God, and creates not as man creates, but yet creates as God, [so] it is plain that He begets also not as men beget, but begets as God” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 4, p. 320).
Even though we are not children of God by nature, we become His sons and daughters when we are united by faith to Christ Jesus. As such, we enjoy the immense privilege of calling God “Father” and understanding the special, providential care He has for each of us. Knowing that the Father has eternally begotten the Son assures us that we are united to One who is God’s Son by nature and, thus, that it is possible to become God’s children in Christ.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chronicles 17:1–15
1 John 4:15