What does it mean to be a child of God?
The great mystery, indeed, the great miracle, is that we can call ourselves children of God. John expresses this sense of wonderment and joy when he exclaims: “And that is what we are!” The fact is that we did not choose God, rather, he chose us to be his children. The greatest sign of God’s fatherly love for us was his magnanimous, self-giving gift to us in his Son, Jesus. It is this that has made us true children of God. This is not just a gift that belongs to the past. It is a present reality for us as Christians that God relates to us as our Father, our Savior, and our Guide every day. But we must choose personally to recognize the truth of this relationship every day too. “Never, therefore, may I think that the Lord gave himself only for the world in general, for he did it for every single one, and so for me.” (Adrienne von Speyr, The Word Made Flesh)
God’s adoption of each one of us is unique, individual, personal, and intimate. He knows us by name. In every moment of every day, he has each one of us in his thoughts. He acts on our behalf like a father, defending us, encouraging us, and when necessary, admonishing us. He is our Prodigal Father, the one who allows us our freedom, even when we misuse it. He is the One who, when we rebel, waits patiently, who longs for our return to the family circle. He is the One who recognizes us off in the distance, even though we are dressed in dirty rags and are broken and bent under the weary weight of our sins. When we come to realize the error of our ways and turn back toward home again, it is this Father who runs toward us, filled with the joy of our return, who throws his arms around us, paying no attention to our rags, or to the smell and the dirt we still bear, who tenderly and lovingly washes us clean, puts the family ring back on our fingers, and welcomes us back home with a joyful celebration.
To be a child of God is, indeed, a great blessing. And because it is such, we have a great duty, out of love, to respond to it and “to share it forward,” as the current phrase suggests. John keeps it real here though when he tells us that, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him (Jesus).” This is still true today, of course. As children of God, though, members of his household (the Church), we are called upon to live in accord with the traditions of that household. In doing so, we are honoring the Father, keeping his commandments of love in our daily actions. This is what we call religion. Our religion is not a dead thing. Our traditions are alive, vibrant, and effective in the world today. As Fr. M. Raymond, a Trappist monk, writes: “Religion is life, or it is not religion; and life is religious, or it is a mere sham.” As adopted children of God through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, we are to live our faith publicly, openly, confidently in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. How else will others come to know God, but through our loving actions, our willing acceptance of personal sacrifices on behalf of him who has set us free. Our living in his name is our religion. Our compassionate actions done on behalf of one another, and especially toward those who are forgotten in the world, those who suffer injustices, those who are ill and unable to care for themselves, reveal Christ to those around us. It is when they see us living our religion that they will come to know God in the here and now. They will know us (and our God by) our love. This is what it means to be a child of God.
Lord, help us to live religious lives in honor of you each day. Let our service be rooted in love so deeply that the flower of our actions will draw others to your Garden. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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