When do you become a child of God?

One of the readers of this blog sent this question:
Ephesians 1:13 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”  How then can we say that the whole world is already included in Christ, when not everyone has yet heard the gospel?
To answer, we need to note the larger passage in Ephesians chapter one (vv3-14, with v13 bold-faced):
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-- to the praise of his glory.
Note that the primary subject here is what God predetermined to do, and now has done, in order to make us his children through adoption (v5) - an act that makes us "holy and blameless in his sight" (v4). God predestined us for this "before creation" (v4), thus the choosing for adoption has nothing to do with our action (including our personal belief). Moreover, the steps taken to make us his children were taken by God at no cost to us - God grants us this status "freely" (v6).

Also note (and this is critical), that this status is granted to us "in Christ." For Paul, the phrase, "in Christ" sums up a large and glorious truth about what happened to humanity through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. By joining our humanity to his divinity, then living, dying, rising to new life and taking that life to heaven, Jesus re-created our humanity; as Paul says in v7, he accomplished humanity's "redemption."

But when did that redemption through adoption occur? Paul answers: "When the times..reached their fulfillment" (v10a) - a time that Paul pinpoints here as occurring when Jesus gave his life for us ("through his blood," v7). And that event occurred nearly 2,000 years ago! Thus, for us (and all humanity), it is an accomplished fact.

However, not all people know of this accomplished fact. And thus not all have come to believe in, and thereby embrace their true status as dearly loved, adopted children of God, in Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit on this side of Jesus' ascension to heaven is to make this adoption/redemption known to humanity. That is why Paul here addresses these first-century Ephesian believers as among "the first to hope in Christ" (v12). And speaking of these believers (those who know of their adoption/inclusion), he says in v13 that they came to know of it (and subsequently believe in it) when they heard "the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation" (v13b).

Given this flow of Paul's logic, we are not justified in reading v13 as though it says that it is our belief that causes (or leads to) our inclusion/adoption in Christ. Unfortunately, the way the NIV translates this verse might lead to this misunderstanding. The more literal NASB translation is to be preferred:
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
It is not our belief that makes us God's adopted children. However when the Holy Spirit leads us to personal belief, he begins a special/new work in our lives by which we are "sealed." Through this sealing (the sealing of this knowledge in our minds and hearts), our adoption becomes "real" to us - it becomes our new, defining identity. Through the Spirit's work in our lives we come to understand and embrace who we actually are in Christ (God's adopted children). For us, this realization changes everything. It is one thing to be a child of God and not know it. It is quite another to be a child and know and embrace it - thus allowing that knowledge to redefine and thus transform our lives. As Jesus told Nicodemus, it is tantamount to being born again!

Part of what this gift of knowledge from the Holy Spirit brings to us is the great and abiding hope of our coming "inheritance" as God's children (v14). We are God's children already, however, there is a glory as his children that is our inheritance coming in the future. And only those sealed by the Spirit have this hope. And with that hope, this assurance, comes a sacred calling from the Father to join with Jesus who, through the Holy Spirit, is helping more and more of God's children come to know who they truly are.



I appreciate you (and Kruger) attempting to help some us read familiar passages of Scripture (like this one) from a different perspective--that of a general work of Christ on behalf of all people, not just the "elect". But it is still difficult to reconcile this idea with the fact that Paul is writing to the specific "body" of Christ and not to those outside of the church. His message seems to be directed specifically to those who have been sealed, without reference to those who have not been so sealed. Hence, it seems that it is illegitimate to exegete this passage as relating to all people.

Similarly, and we have conversed somewhat about this as well, Romans 8:9 seems to specifically contradict what you are suggesting above. I am not arguing the truth of what you (and Kruger and others) are saying (because it resonates so powerfully within me and I believe TFT is correct), but I still do not think these passages support your position. I have yet to read an exegesis of either of these passages that support the "inclusion" of every person in Christ prior to the work of the Spirit in producing repentance and faith.

I believe what you all are teaching...but if I am to be able to re-read the Scripture with this understanding I need to be shown how from the passage itself. I really have come a long way in my understanding, but certain passages are a problem. I believe...help my unbelief! :-(

Ted Johnston said…
Hi Jason,

Yes, you are certainly correct that Ephesians is written to believers, not non-believers. However, it does not then follow that what is said of believers regarding their preconversion state, is not also true of non-believers before their conversion (which is yet to come).

Paul here seems to be making the point that these Ephesian believers were chosen and thus predetestined for inclusion/adoption in Christ before their conversion (indeed, "before the creation," 1:4). The sense of the passage is that these believers, like all humans, were included apart from any merit of their own (including their personal response of faith). I believe that this all-inclusive sense is clearly emphasized here by the use of universal terminology (e.g. "all things" in v10) and an implied universal continuance of response to the Spirit's illumination (the Ephesian believers are "the first [not the only] to hope" - the implication being that there are more to come.

It is true that the Ephesian believers were "in him [Christ]...chosen" - but this is not due to their belief, and as stated above, this is asserted in the context of a universal choosing, not a choosing exclusive to those who have become believers.

Here again we have the issue of universal inclusion and personal response. All are included, but not all know of it and, therefore, not all have experienced a personal conversion to Christ.

This is also, I believe, Paul's point in Romans 8:9 where, again, he writes to believers. In that context, he notes that non-believers (which they once were) continue to operate as though they are not included - living in the dark of this lie and thus controlled not by the Spirit of Light and Truth, but by "the sinful nature" (v8). In contrast, those who have come to believe; who have come to know of their inclusion in Christ, embrace their true identity, and live into it - a life that is progressively "controlled by the Spirit" (v9). Anyone not in this way controlled by the Spirit does not, in that sense, "have the Spirit" (v9). Paul makes a similar point, though using a different metaphor, in Ephesians 1 , where ht notes that believers, in believing, are "marked" with a "seal," which is the work of the Holy Spirit himself in their lives - a particular work that he does in the lives of believers who, by definition, are walking in the Spirit.

Again, it is critical that we carefully distinguish the inclusive, universal/objective work that Jesus has done on behalf of all humanity through his vicarious (substitutionary, representative) humanity, from how that work is experienced and submitted to in a personal, subjective sense.

Paul often encourages believers to remember this universal work in order that they be exhorted to live into it personally. His ethics can be summed up in this way: "Be who you truly are in Christ (and stop being who you used to be before you came to know it!)." Coming to know it did not create the new reality. But to not know it (or to forget it) has devastating personal consequences.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said…
Hi there!

Thank you both for your comments on this particular blog posting. And I want to add an observation about God that might prove helpful as to where God, the Bible, and the Bible's writers are coming from in this matter. It is:

When God told Abram in Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV) “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” did He really mean it?

Well, from what is commonly taught these days about many, if not most, people going to hell, it would seem that He really did not mean it.

But when we turn to the Bible's story about how God set His mind to save us all through Jesus Christ, we find that indeed God really does mean to save us all. In fact, He demonstrated this intention after Abraham offered Isaac by having the angel tell Abraham:

Genesis 22:16-18--…“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (NIV)

This is indeed huge in showing God's desire to save us all. This also should bring us great encouragement as the writer of Hebrews expresses:

Hebrews 6:13-18--When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (NIV)

Yes! God not only made a promise; He swore by Himself that He would accomplish this promise. What this means is that God really meant what He said and that He put His whole being "on the line" to show He did and still does mean it.

The best to you both!

J. Richard Parker
Anonymous said…
I agree with Jason and truly appreciate the great work done here, and I hope that someone can help me understand passages such as the parrable about the virgins who fell asleep before the wedding started and then the bridegroom told them that he did not know them and closed the door. Had this parable anything to do with most of Jesus' other conversations about entering the kingdom.


Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for the posts Richard and Stephan.

Stephan, you asked about the parable of the ten virgins. As you note, Jesus says concerning the five that are foolish, "I don't know you" (Mat 25:12b). I assume that your question is this: How can Jesus include everyone in his life and love, and yet say to some, "I don't know you"?

First, it's important to note the immediate context of this parable. In Mat. 24 Jesus is talking about the signs of the end of the age. It is clear from that chapter that what he has in mind is the end of the Jewish nation that is coming with the destruction of Jerusalem (an event that occurred in A.D. 70). Indeed, Jesus says that "this generation" (the one he is speaking with here) "will not pass away until all these things [which he has just enumerated] have happened" (24:34).

Thus when Jesus goes on to speak about the day and the hour (v36ff), and about keeping watch (v42ff), he is referring to people's response at that time as the nation of Israel (the Jews) to his presence. Of course, as you know, most of the Jews in Palestine at that time rejected Jesus.

Then, continuing this thought, Jesus speaks of the parable of the ten virgins in chapter 25. He is the bridegroom who has now come to his people, the Jews. But many were not awake - not watching for their Messiah, and as a result, when he came, they did not enter into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Those standing outside faced the consequences.

As we know, Jesus, despite the rejection of most of his people (who represent all humanity) went out and died for them all in order to include them all in his love and life despite their rejection of him. That's grace (undeserved pardon)!

We can then fast-forward to the time on this side of the cross and the empty tomb to think of how this warning from Jesus to the Jews of his day might apply to all humanity in our day. God the Father has reconciled all humanity to himself through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son. And now the Holy Spirit is calling these reconciled children of God to his Son. But some are deaf to that call, or in hearing the call turn away. This has to do with their personal response to the work Jesus has done and is doing, in grace, for all humanity. Certainly, we do not want to be like the five foolish virgins and ignore our husband's arrival, but respond with open hearts and willing minds.

What's important to note here is that the ten virgins represent to us all humanity - all have been included - all are invited to the banquet. The question remaining is this: Will they come in? That remains to be seen, but we trust in the bridegroom to woo his bride, so there is reason for hope!

This is what I take from this parable, and I hope it helps you.


Thanks for your thoughtful response to both me and Stephan. As you know from our previous correspondence, I embrace the universal nature of Christ's Person and Work. Before I began investigating Trinitarian Theology I understood the scope of Christ's work to be Cosmic in that all of creation was to enter into this redemption but not all human beings. I've since learned how it is that all of humanity exists in the realm of reconciliation to God in Christ because of the nature of who Jesus is and the implication of the Incarnation. So...I've now included all of humanity in the scope of Christ's cosmic work.

My problem now, however, is how to re-read certain passages (and there are many) from a salvation-historical perspective to include all of humanity; and that is not an easy task.

I appreciate you (and others) trying to help me from an exegetical/biblical theological standpoint. I will continue to go over this and our previous emails as I seek to justify TT exegesis.


I also appreciate your input, though what you have shared does not necessarily refute an exclusivist understanding of the role of Abraham. While Paul does declares that Abraham's "seed" ultimately refers to Christ, he also states that only those who are of the faith of Abraham are his legitimate offspring (not national heritage) and heirs of the promise. I agree with you that Abraham's story has "universal" application; but only specifically in the fact that people from all nations will be found in him (by a shared faith) and thus be joined to Christ. It doesn't suggest that all of humanity necessarily is Abraham's offspring. All nations will be blessed because there will be people from "every tribe, tongue and nation" in the Kingdom of God.

I do appreciate your input and your encouragement, Richard. You've encouraged me many times in the past as well.
Anonymous said…
Hi all!

I must say that I am benefiting a great deal from this discussion. As such, I want to add an observation that I feel is germane to the subject at hand. It is that much of the strength for the idea that some (many) will not make it with God and thus end up in hell forever is found in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in particular the parables found in those Gospels.

However, it is of note that the books (starting with the Gospel of John and running through to the Book of Revelation) of the New Testament that I feel are there for us to read and study so that we can understand authentic Christianity seem rather tentative when it comes to quoting the Synoptic Gospels. In fact, the writers of these "this is what the faith is all about" books completely ignore the parables found in the Synoptic Gospels. What this means is that John, Paul, the writer of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude don't cite these parables for support of their arguments for the faith. Even Luke, of all people, who wrote a Synoptic Gospels--parables and all--does not cite even one of these parables in his writing of the Books of Acts.

It is as if these writers are seeing a faith different from that represented in the Synoptic Gospels. My own opinion is that they were seeing a different faith--one based on belief in the name of Jesus--not one based on the law and its ramifications. In other words, at the cross, a brand new faith came forth in which indeed the promise to Abraham that in his seed all peoples will be blessed is now at hand. As Peter preached:

Acts 3:17-26--“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (NIV)

And what was Jesus telling folks when He walked this earth? Could it be that, "You are not getting from here to there through your silly law notions. But soon I am going to open up a way that will make it possible for everyone to make it."? In my opinion, this new way is what John, Paul, the writer of Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude, and Luke in Acts are reporting to us. Any thoughts on what I write here?

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
Unknown said…
I think from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God and Mankind were always Father and Son right from the beginning. Man became separated and went his way. He is now reconciled to the Father through Christ, whose blood atoned for all trangressions.
Hence the Father-Son relationship was right there from the beginning and was restored through Christ.