Sometimes as we go through life we come to a turning point, a decisive change occurs and from that point on, life goes in a new direction.
For me a major turning point occurred the weekend of October 8 through October 11, 1998, twenty-two years ago.
I won’t belabor you with the circumstances but I was desperately seeking something in my life. I was trying to recover from a traumatic circumstance and I had lost my sense of direction. I had asked for help from friends to find my way back to some sense of normality but I just could not understand what my helpers were offering me. I just could not comprehend their advice.
I relied on Christian friends almost exclusively and they were all telling me the same thing: “You need to give your life to Christ.”
What did that mean?
How was that going to help?
I had always gone to church, sporadically at best but I had a long stretch of time where I dropped out of church altogether. “No it is not about church-going” a friend told me; “it is much more than that. Church is good, corporate worship is good, you learn a lot in Sunday school, in worship and it is very nice to have fellowship with other Christians, but giving your life to Christ is more about what you do Monday through Saturday. It is about the choices you make in day-to-day living.”
Leading this post with this personal story is my way of leading up to Chapter Nineteen in Knowing God, entitled “Sons of God.” We are in the third and last part of Packer’s book “If God Be For Us” [“then who can be against us”, from the book of Romans].
We are in the part of his book where he discusses what he refers to as the most important matters.
One of the most important matters that a human can have in life is deciding to become a child of God. Packer writes “the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but through being born again”  John 1: 12-13 says “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Galatians 3: 26-29 says “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “Sonship” is not a universal status that everyone achieves by natural birth; we receive it by being born what Packer calls adopted into God’s family. Galatians 4: 4-5 describes this relationship: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
To be adopted into the family of God is a most important matter, so important that Packer says “you can sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father” . Having God as your Father controls your worship, your prayer and your whole outlook on life. Put another way, if a “Christian” cannot understand that they are a child of God, they don’t understand their faith.
Old Testament faith is about God as being Holy. Isaiah 6: 3 says it best: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD almighty.” Holiness denotes separateness. When God declares Himself Holy, He is talking about His greatness, His purity. The constant emphasis in the Old Testament is the view that man is a weak creature, defiled by sin, who must be humble and reverent before an almighty God. Old Testament teaching focuses on an effort to attain mercy. “Again and again it was stressed that we must keep our place, and our distance, in the presence of a Holy God. That emphasis overshadowed everything else “ .
The idea of sonship is not expressed in the Old Testament.
God however sent His Son to redeem man. This past weekend, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ on Easter, the great sacrifice He made for all of us so we can be connected intimately with God. The brocade curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the less Holy place was torn in two at the death of Jesus. That distance was erased. Jesus came so we could be God’s adoptive children. Did we deserve this act of ultimate sacrifice? No. That’s the idea of grace; God gives us love and mercy even though we don’t deserve it, we have done nothing to merit it.
What were my Christian friends telling me? “You are seeking something in your life; you will find it in giving your life to Jesus Christ. You are trying to recover from a traumatic experience: Jesus will give you new life. You need a new direction for your life: that new direction will be apparent to you, for you will be a child of God.”
I remember going on a retreat on October 8 through October 11, 1998, a spiritual/educational retreat called The Emmaus Walk. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. For the first time, I began to understand what that phrase “giving your life to Christ” meant. By the end of that weekend, I had done that. I laid down all my burdens on the altar and I became a new man. I had a sense of excitement and freedom that I could not explain. All I wanted to do was read The New Testament [which I did when I returned home]. I started and finished it in three days. Every page was a true revelation for me. I began finding answers to all my questions.
We are in the part of J.I. Packer’s book where he discusses the most important matters. No greater question can ever be asked of you than “What are you?” In a secular sense it is encouraging to have an answer to that, but in a spiritual sense, it is even more important to have an answer.
For many, they might say “I am a Christian.”
Packer has another question. “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father” .
The richest answer is “ I am a child of God.”