ONCE A SON OF GOD, ALWAYS A SON?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my life I have heard the argument that if a person were ever a child of God, he is always a child. Usually the one making the argument was advocating the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy. Most of my brethren in answering that argument would admit that it was true that one who became a child of God could not cease, but that it did not matter because he could lose his inheritance even if a child. The conclusion is true, and the doctrine that when one is saved he cannot be lost is false in any case.
However, it is my judgment that we have missed a significant point in admitting that once a child of God one is always a child of God. We look quickly at the Prodigal Son and admit that he was a son, even in a far country, then assume that since the story illustrates an important spiritual truth, all aspects of it apply.
Let us raise some questions and come to some conclusions. When the father said, “This thy brother was dead, and is alive again” (Lk.15:32) he was speaking figuratively. We may be physically alive and spiritually dead at the same time (1 Tim. 5:6).
Every gospel preacher recognizes that coming into the family of God is a spiritual birth. A child of God is one who is born from above. What we have not so readily recognized is that the expression, “son of God” does not relate to a one-time past experience, but to a present relationship. That is, one is a “son of God” because he has the attributes of God, not merely because of a one-time act that was performed. This is why Jesus could say of those who thought that because they were Israelites, and therefore God was their father, that “Ye are of your father, the Devil” (John8:44).
Why were James and John called “sons of thunder” (Mark3:17)? Why was Barnabas called a “son of consolation” (Acts4:36)? Why was Elymas called a “son of the devil” (Acts13:10)? It was because they evidenced the characteristics of the father. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-45, “I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” He is talking about having a certain nature. We have become partakers of the diving nature (2 Peter 1:4) by being generated from above (John 3:3). This does not mean that we always evidence that nature. When we reject God’s will and stop striving to do that which He approves, we cease to partake of His nature, and cease to be sons of God as the Bible uses the term.
Our problem has then been, “If a man ceases to be a child of God, and he became a child by being born of water and the spirit then does he have to be baptized again in order to become a child of God again?” We have found it easier to answer, “No. For once he is a child, he is always a child. So he has to do what the Prodigal Son did. He has to repent and come home, but as the Prodigal did not have to be born again the second time, neither do we have to be born again the second time.” It is true that the law of pardon for the alien sinner is to repent and be baptized (be born of water and the Spirit) and the law of pardon for an erring child of God is to repent and pray. What I am saying now is that an erring child is still a child. He did not cease to be a son of God just because he sins. That does not answer the question, “May a person so sin as to cease to be a son of God?” My present answer to the question is, “When a person sins deliberately, and persists in such, since he does not now have the qualities that would cause him to be classified by the Holy Spirit as “a son of God” he then would cease to be that in the Biblical sense. However, since this is merely a semantic or theological question, and has nothing whatever to do with practical matters such as whether he is saved or lost, or what will happen to him if he dies in that condition, the “bottom line” is that it does not make any difference how we classify him, for we can be striving about words to no profit and cause more damage than if we said nothing.