The Bible clearly teaches that all believers are God’s children — that we are His sons and daughters. We see this in Scripture such as in: John 1:12, Romans 8:14, Galatians 3:26, and 1 John 3:1-2.
The Bible is quite clear that Jesus is uniquely the Son of God in a way which is different from anyone else. So, in the Gospels we hear that phrase from God speaking, “You’re my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Now that’s spoken uniquely to Jesus, and it does not apply initially to anyone else.
The good news that the New Testament then unpacks is that as we believe in Christ, as we have faith in him, we are brought into exactly the same relationship with God as Father that, in a sense, Jesus enjoys. We come to enjoy something of that same relationship. The New Testament word for this is “adoption.” So, we are not naturally children of God. In fact we are naturally children of the evil one. But, we are brought in from there, to a place of adopted grace and it’s not by nature, it is by grace.
Jesus’ sonship is similar to ours in some ways, but it’s also unique in other ways. It’s unique in the sense that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. Eternally with the Father, always present. Both our sonship and Jesus’ sonship are really metaphors and we have to recognise that. A metaphor is a picture of something, of a reality. And both refer to a special relationship. But of course Jesus’ relationship to the Father as the second person of the Trinity is unique and unprecedented. Our sonship is also an adopted sonship, whereas Jesus’ sonship is what we could call “ontological” or essential to his nature. We are adopted as God’s children on the basis of Jesus’ sonship. Because Jesus has accomplished our salvation, we are adopted into a relationship with God as children of God. So we could say that our sonship is dependent on Jesus’ sonship to the Father.
Sonship sometimes carries with it the notion of likeness; a son is like his father. Sometimes it carries with it a notion of inheritance. Sometimes it carries with it the notion of obedience. Sometimes it carries with it the notion of discipline, as it does, for example, in Hebrews 12. And there are others as well, other aspects of sonship imagery that are used in various passages of the Bible. In most of these there is application both to Jesus as Son of God and to us as son of God, but with some difference.
In the Synoptic Gospels — the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke — Jesus’ divine sonship is for the most part understood primarily, not exclusively, but primarily in terms of his perfect obedience to the will of the Father. And clearly when the New Testament talks about us being sons of God the notion is — often and in a number of passages — that we are sons of God as those who obey the will of our Father. It was assumed in ancient times that a son would obey his father and the like. But Jesus’ obedience clearly goes beyond our own because the New Testament teaches that he was perfectly obedient to the will of his Father from beginning to end, and obviously none of us measure up in that way.
Jesus was perfectly obedient to the will of his Father, his life is a perfect sacrifice to God. He is able to give his life over to God. He was able to, and did, surrender his life to God in a way that God requires of us, of all of us human beings, in a way that is required really for the God-human relationship. We don’t do that. We haven’t done that, and therefore, our sonship to God means that we participate in Christ’s sacrifice of himself. So, by being, as Paul puts it, in Christ, or as Jesus puts it, following Christ, being with Christ, joining in Christ in a profound spiritual union with Christ we actually participate in Christ’s obedience as Son, and almost by proxy, satisfy the demands of the God-human relationship of obedience through Jesus’ perfect sonship to God.
The notion of likeness is of course another aspect of sonship. When Christians become disciples, become sons of God in that sense there is, of course, a kind of transformation a kind of likeness with God that happens to us, but that of course is true with Christ in his capacity as Son in ways that go far beyond what any disciple of Christ can claim. So that Jesus can say in John’s gospel — and this of course, this aspect of sonship is emphasised especially in John’s gospel — “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” This emphasises this notion of likeness there.
Sonship also involves inheritance, and Jesus, of course, is seen as Son of God, presented Son of God, as one who inherits from God. Actually drawing upon the notion of Davidic kings from Psalm 2, Jesus is presented in the New Testament, in his capacity as Son of God, as one who is inheritor of all things. We also are presented in our capacity as sons of God, as those who inherit from God, but he inherits the cosmos, the whole universe from God, so that, in a sense, God gives the whole of reality, God the Father gives the whole of reality over to his Son as an inheritance. And of course that goes far beyond what is the case with us. So, each one of these cases of sonship there are aspects of Jesus’ sonship that pertain to us, but only so far. There are some aspects of sonship that don’t have anything to do with us really, and that has to do especially with Jesus being Son of God as one whose origin is in God, who has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. That also is part of the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus as Son, and obviously we are not “son of God” in that aspect at all.