How many believers live like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), “He answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command…’”? While acknowledging God as father, many see their relationship as more servant-to-master than child-to-parent. Most are certain of a general love for them as part of “the world” (John 3:16) or perhaps even a more intimate love as part of “the bride” (Rev. 19), but less, it would seem, are able to settle in their hearts and minds, a particular love and affection that God the Father has for them, a love that is specific and with intent as it fixes it’s gaze on each individual believe.
That God would rejoice over us, personally, with gladness, quieting us with his love, and exalting over us with loud singing (Zephaniah 3), is more than we are willing to claim for ourselves, especially as we attempt to square such lavish love with what we know of ourselves and our fallen, sinful natures. We know only too well what is at our core. It’s hard to even imagine, let alone embrace, the idea that our Father could take a distinct pleasure in us as we still await our final perfection (1 John 3b).
While fully recognizing and embracing God’s unfathomable love in calling me out of darkness and into life and in placing his Spirit within me as a guarantee of present and future blessing, I admit I often find it hard to believe that God’s primary thoughts toward me could be anything more than a general sense of disappointment, especially as I continue to battle my old nature and as I await my future perfection in his kingdom to come. Is it only me who finds it hard to live at rest and feel that God cherishes me as I am, knowing what I know of myself? Rather than a child (and my own relationship with my dear children comes to mind here), I live more as an orphan, an orphan who has been told she will be going to a loving family in the future, but as of yet still lives without the security of a parent’s unconditional love. Yet John would have us marvel, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3) and the psalmist leaves no room for doubt, “the Lord takes pleasure in his people” (Psalm 149).
In that vein, our dear exiting pastor, David Monreal, in his final sermon to his flock before stepping down as our senior pastor, recently shared from his heart Jack Miller’s material on Sonship. I don’t know all about Miller’s theology, but the comparison between living in our state of grace as orphans vs. living as children strikes a chord with me. R.C. Sproul, Jr., has summarized Miller’s Sonship teaching as follows: The central theme, as evidenced in the title, is that we must come to understand that we are not only justified, but that we are adopted. It begins with an assumption that while our lips may affirm we are justified by faith alone, our Pelagian hearts are given to thinking that God is happy with us when we do well in our walk, unhappy with us when we do not do as well. It encourages us to enter fully into our union with Christ.
“We are not only justified, but… we are adopted.” God has not only redeemed us to be part of his great Church, but has, amazingly, done even more for us – He has adopted us, personally, into his family. We already live under the banner and security of his steadfast love and pleasure.
Pastor Monreal shared the comparisons (below) from Jack Miller’s material. It is meant to highlight the attitudes held by those who would see themselves as either the older son of Luke 15, ignoring the Father’s present love toward them, or as orphans, knowing we will one day experience the pleasure of a Father, but for now, waiting, removed as orphans without a Father.
In the sermon notes that accompanied Pastor Monreal’s message, we were challenged with two thought-provoking questions and an assignment meant to reveal our heart attitudes on the matter. The first question was, “What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?” We are reminded that no one escapes deep struggle in our fallen condition, [and] we will often find our hearts in the Orphan column, but the question posed to us was, “How do you fight daily to believe the gospel that you are a child and not an orphan?” The assignment was to lay before God in humble frankness our true heart struggles in these matters and to ask Him to shepherd us to refreshment in Christ. This I heartily recommend, even as I grapple with my own attitudes and insecurities.
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Orphans: Feel alone; lack a vital daily intimacy with God; are full of self-concern.
Children: Have a growing assurance that “God is really my loving heavenly Father.”
Orphans: Are anxious over felt needs – relationships, money, health. “I’m all alone and nobody cares.”
Children: Trust the Father and have a growing confidence in his loving care; are being freed up from worry.
Ophans: Live on a succeed/fail basis; need to “look good” and “be right”; are performance-oriented.
Children: Are learning to live consciously in daily partnership with God; are not fearful.
Ophans: Feel condemned, guilty, and unworthy before God and others.
Children: Feel loved, forgiven, and totally accepted because Christ’s merit really clothes him.
Ophans: Labor under a sense of unlimited obligation; tries too hard to please; prone to burn-out.
Children: Prayer is a first resort: “I’m going to ask my ‘Daddy’ first”; cries, “Abba, Father!”
Ophans: Are defensive; can’t listen well; bristle at the charge of being self-righteous (thus proving the point).
Children: Are open to criticism since they consciously stand in Christ’s perfection, not their own; are able to examine their unbelief.
Ophans: Need to be right, safe, secure; unwilling to fail; unable to tolerate criticism; can only “handle” praise.
Children: Are able to take risks and even fail, since their righteousness is in Christ; need no “record” to boast in, protect, or defend.
Ophans: Have an excessive self-confidence or self-loathing; are discouraged, defeated; lack spiritual power.
Children: Are confident in Christ and encouraged because of the Holy Spirit’s work in them.
Ophans: Exert unbelieving effort; rely only on their gifts to get by in ministry; relatively prayer-less; prayer is a last resort; pray sometimes in public, seldom in private.
Children: Trust less in self and more in the Holy Spirit – a daily, conscious, reliance; prayer is a vital part of the day, not confined to a quiet time.
Ophans: Tend to be ungrateful, complaining, bitter; have a critical spirit; tear others down.
Children: Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide the tongue; praises, edifies, gives thanks, encourages.
Ophans: Gossip (confessing other people’s sins); need to criticize others to feel right; claim the “gift of discernment.”
Children: Are able to freely confess their faults to others, finding that they are often wrong; are eager to grow.
Ophans: Tend to compare themselves to others – leading either to pride or depression.
Children: Stand confident in Christ; self-worth comes from Jesus’ righteousness, not their own.
Ophans: Feel powerless to defeat the flesh; have no heart-victory over pet sins, yet have lost their sense of being a big sinner.
Children: Rest in Christ and see more and more victory over the flesh; they see themselves a big sinner.
Ophans: Wish people would see things their way and need to be in control of situations and other people.
Children: Are becoming Christ-controlled; love others in the power of the Spirit, not in the strength of their own sinful natures.
Ophans: Look for satisfaction in positions, possessions, or pacifiers (idols); something other than Jesus make them feel worthy, worthwhile, or justified.
Children: Christ is their meat and drink; God truly satisfies their souls; “Having him, I desire nothing on earth.”