Copyright © 2010.05.12 | The Rev. Nathan L. Bostian | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the last few years, I have stumbled across a major moral problem among people who are dedicated, sincere, authentic followers of Jesus Christ. And this problem is a two-tier moral standard between how we treat those who are "in" and those who are "out" of the Christian fold.
And this problem revolves around the concept of who God is a Father to, and who are "children of God". There is one standard applied to Christians who are "God's children": The standard of unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial Love (cf. 1Corinthians 13). For those who are "in" the Christian fold, we should spare no effort or expense in helping them, and protecting them, and treating them with dignity.
However, I have found that the same people who hold the above moral standard toward Christians will completely change it when they want to defend hate speech, denial of basic human rights, the use of the death penalty, initiation of warfare, and the "collateral damage" to women, children, and non-combatants in warfare. They will claim that this behavior is justified, even welcomed by Jesus Christ, because these people are "not God's children". Because they are not "believers", or if they are of another religion, or if they practice a lifestyle we do not approve of, then they do not deserve to be treated with dignity. "They" can be mocked, excluded, persecuted, denied rights, and even killed, because God does not love them, or have the same kind of relationship with them, as God does with "us" who are really God's children.
Archbishop William Temple declared "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." Yet, teaching that God is not the Father of all people undermines this missional emphasis. Why reach out to others if we are not sure if God even loves them or wants them? Teaching that some people are not God's children lends validity to any type of violence proposed against "the Other". If we can clearly identify that someone else is "out" of God's Love, then we are fully justified in NOT loving them.
Thus, I would like to expound on the Biblical teaching that God is, in the fullest sense, the Father of all people. All people are children of God, regardless of religion or lack thereof, by virtue of being born into God's creation. In a secondary sense, which is derivative of God's Universal Fatherhood, Christian believers are God's children in a special way because they are aware of their status as God's children. Being a "child of God" is a religious intuition present in many religions, and denied in others. But the fullest assurance of our identity as children of God, and the fullest understanding of that identity, only comes by being "in Christ", who is our "Firstborn Brother" in God, and the "only unique" (μονογενῆ) eternal Son of God.
I apologize in advance to those who are wary of overly-gendered use of language in discussions of God and God's relation to us. The nature of this discussion is aimed at those who tend to identify themselves as both "Biblical" and "Conservative", and thus there is an emphasis on using terms that are as close to the original Scriptural terminology as possible. Thus, I have focused explicitly on the "Fatherhood" of God. This concept has strong overlap with the concept of "Divine Parenthood" in general, as well as "Divine Motherhood" [cf. Gen 1:2; Nu 11:12; Deut. 32.10-18; Psa. 91:4; Isa 66:13; 42:14; 44:2; 44.24; Matt. 23:37; Joh 1:12-13; 3:5-6; Tit 3:4-7; Jam 1:18 Pro 8; Wis 7; Sir 1]. These would be fruitful concepts to explore elsewhere.
However, to drive home the point I wish to make, I have chosen to stick almost exclusively with "Father" and "Fatherhood" [πατήρ, πατριά] to describe our relationship with the first Person of the Trinity in this essay. In terms of our relationship to God, I have tried to use the more gender neutral concept of "child", "children", and "childhood". These terms represent the Biblical terms "son" and "sonship" [υἱός, υἱοθεσία], as well as the term for "child", "newborn one", or "baby" [τέκνον]. I have only used son where it seemed to be rhetorically necessary for the argument, or grammatically awkward not to use it.
With that apology made, I will not apologize for my theological and ideological starting point for this essay. This starting point is with the Triune God who is incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. I presuppose the classical Christian faith of the historic Church, testified to in the Canonical Christian Scriptures, explicated in the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, and summarized in the Nicene Creed. I strongly believe that any journey toward a more "progressive", loving, healing, welcoming spirituality must travel with Jesus through a "traditional", scriptural, creedal, Christian worldview to show us the Way.
1. Scripture declares God's universal Fatherhood, and humanity's universal identity as God's children.
Scripture is overwhelmingly clear that God is the "Universal Father" of all Creation, and that all people are thus children of God, whether they realize it or not.
To start with, Ephesians 4:6 states that there is "one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." There is no clearer statement that connects God's Fatherhood with absolutely EVERY part of creation and EVERY person in it. This is because this one God has made all things [Genesis 1], and especially has made all humans in God's image [Genesis 1:26-31]. Thus, all humans bear the family resemblance of God because we are God's children.
Later in Ephesians, Paul teaches that the human concept of "Fatherhood" is rooted in the Universal Fatherhood of God:
Eph. 3.14-15 For this reason I bow my knees toward the Father [τὸν πατέρα], from whom every fatherhood [πατριὰ] in the heavens and upon earth is named.
If God was not Father of all creation in a universal sense, then it would be impossible for God to be the source of the ideal of fatherhood "in the heavens and upon earth". But, in fact, God is universally the Father of all, and all are children of God, and because of this all fatherhood derives its name, and its core concept, from God's Fatherhood.
In 1Corinthians 8, Paul makes it clear that even if we believe there are other "gods" or other "lords", we are simply in error. Because:
"Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth— as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." [1Co. 8.5-6]
In this, Paul makes it crystal clear that regardless of what illusions we labor under, the true God is still the Father of all creation, and as His children, we exist FOR him.
As far back as Deuteronomy, God's role as Father was explicitly connected with His creation of all that exists. Thus the writer of Deuteronomy 32.6-18 says:
"Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? ...Ask your father, and he will inform you… When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods, the LORD’S own portion was his people… They made him jealous with strange gods, with abhorrent things they provoked him… You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth."
Paul takes up the same theme in his debate with Greek philosophers in Athens. In Acts 17.24-28 he says:
"The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring [καὶ γένος ἐσμέν]'."
So, Paul explicitly connects God's creation of ALL nations and God's providential guidance of ALL peoples with our common identity as God's "offspring". The word "offspring" is γένος (genos), and this is explicitly a familial word, meaning "family, race, kind, offspring". It indicates descent from a common father. In fact, to make the Universal Fatherhood of God even clearer, the quote "We too are his offspring" comes not from a Jew, but from the Greek poet Epimenides. Apparently, the Fatherhood of God is so universal that even Pagan poets could get a dim glimmer of its truth!
This connection between universal creation and Universal Fatherhood is made the prophet Hosea as well:
Mal. 2.10 Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?
Jesus continues this prophetic tradition, because his favored name for God was not "God" nor "Lord" nor "King" nor "Master" nor "I AM" nor "Creator" nor even something more abstract, like "Ground of Being" or "Source" or "The One". For Jesus, the primary Name of God is "Father". For Jesus, before we can understand God as an abstract Reality, or a Ruler, or a Master, we must first understand God as a person in a concrete, loving, nurturing relationship with us. We must understand God as OUR Father.
For Jesus, even those who are "evil" can understand this Parental relationship, because it is fundamental to human experience, and basic to our relationship with God:
Luke 11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Note two things: First, Jesus assumes that even evil people can understand something about God by the analogue of human fatherhood. Secondly, to these same evil people, Jesus says that God is "the heavenly Father". Jesus simply could not do this if God was not, in fact, the Universal Father of all persons.
It would be an extremely lengthy study to look at every time Jesus spoke of God as Father. So, we shall look at one isolated sermon: The Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon [Matthew ch. 5-7], Jesus outlines his teaching on God's Universal Fatherhood of all people, good and evil, as well as God's special Fatherhood to believers.
In Matthew 5.45-48, we are told that "loving our enemies" is the key to "being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". The perfection of God is found above all in the love of those who we cannot stand, and who cannot stand us. This is because God is also the Father of our enemies, and loves them with the same love with which He loves us. We do this, in Jesus' words, "so that you may be [γένησθε] children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."
By loving others as the Father does, we live into, we fully become [γένησθε] who we really are: God's children. God's Universal Fatherhood is demonstrated in His loving treatment of all people, regardless of whether or not they accept their identity as children of the Father. After all, he "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous".
This doing of righteousness as a sign of both God's Universal Fatherhood, and our fully living into our identity as God's children, is paralleled in John's first letter:
1John 2.29-3.1 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. 1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1John 4.7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Doing right, and showing love, are both signs of living into our status as children of God. They are both signs that we have already been born of God. We do not suddenly become God's children by doing right or loving, as if we have to earn our status as God's children. Rather, they are signs that we are growing into our prior identity, an identity that all people share, even if they do not know it, or they reject it.
Back in the Sermon on the Mount, we find something interesting about the audience addressed in the sermon. Apparently, the audience included people who were not followers of Jesus' way. In Matthew 7.11, which parallels Luke 11:11-13, Jesus again says: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
Later, in Matthew 7:15-27, Jesus warns that some among his listeners may be false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing, bad trees bearing bad fruit, hypocrites, and those who do not build upon the Rock of his teachings. And even for these people, Jesus connects his warnings with God's Fatherhood: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." [Matt. 7.21].
And although this text is not definitive in terms of God's Universal Fatherhood (after all, Jesus does say "my Father" here) it does set up a pattern: Jesus speaks freely about the Fatherhood of God around those who may not be following His way. The Fatherhood of God thus cannot be dependent on obedience to Christ. People are God's children regardless of whether they accept that status or not. What following the way of Christ does do, however, is bring people to the full awareness of their status as God's children.
This pattern of Jesus identifying God as Father in front of all types of people reaches its apex in his teaching on prayer. In Matthew 6.1, Jesus warns hypocrites and non-hypocrites to "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven." In Matthew 6.4 he teaches the same about our charitable giving. In Matthew 6.18 he teaches the same again about fasting. All of these practices are aimed toward "our Father in heaven" and are to be done "in secret".
But it is in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus' teaching on prayer, that he reaches his pinnacle. In that section, we learn "The Lord's Prayer" which has been prayed by believers and non-believers from the time of Jesus to this day. This prayer does NOT begin with "My Father" or "Father of believers" or even "The Father".
The prayer begins "Our Father in Heaven".
If God was not the Universal Father, it simply would not make sense for Jesus to teach this prayer to a mixed crowd of disciples and hypocrites, of good and evil. Especially if he had any premonition that this prayer would be used by all kinds of people, both Christian AND non-Christian, across the centuries. If God were not Father of all people, it would be madness to teach all kinds of people to pray "Our Father".
In fact, Jesus even explicitly connects God's Fatherhood with both those who are forgiven, as well as those who are NOT forgiven, by the Father:
Matt. 6.14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Note that for both those forgiven and those unforgiven, the identity of God is the same. He is "your" Father.
In Matthew 6.25-32 Jesus connects God's universal Fatherhood with God's providence over all creation. In this teaching, our Father in Heaven provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. The Father knows the needs of all, and provides for our needs out of his abundance.
Thus, the Sermon on the Mount epitomizes Jesus' teaching on the Universal Fatherhood of God for both believers and unbelievers. This, combined with the clear teaching of our other Scriptures above, makes it undeniable that God is in fact the Father of every single person.
This has always been realized by the Church, because the Universal Fatherhood of God is proclaimed in the first line of the Creed we use every Sunday in Church. In that Creed, the Nicene Creed, we state unequivocally that "We believe in one God THE Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of ALL that is seen and unseen."
2. Scripture declares God's special Fatherhood to Christian believers who become aware of their true identity through Christ.
I will start this section with the admission that it is my weakest point in the argument. It will not be seen as plausible unless one takes the texts on "Universal Fatherhood" as the controlling texts within which the texts on "Specific Fatherhood" should be interpreted. But, if one does take those texts as the interpretive key to the more specific texts about God being the Father of believers, then I think you find that both a reconcilable within the framework of God's Universal Fatherhood of all.
I believe the paradigmatic text in dealing with the issue of the Christian believer's special status as "child of God" comes from the beginning of the Gospel of John, which in some ways acts as the "thesis statement" for that book. It reads:
John 1.12 But to all who received [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave authority to become children of God [ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι], 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
This is a paradigmatic text, because it connects believer's spiritual re-birth, and their special identity as children of God, to a specific "mechanism": Namely receiving Christ [ἔλαβον αὐτόν] by putting trust in His Name [τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ]. Other passages that speak of re-birth and special "child of God" status do not as clearly connect these to a specific mechanism. Many are more vague references, such as:
John 3.3-5 "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit."
Other texts from John relate "child of God" status, and spiritual re-birth, to putting our trust in Christ:
John 12.36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light [ἵνα υἱοὶ φωτὸς γένησθε].
1John 5.1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God [ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται], and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
But only John 1.12-13 comprehensively puts all of these issues in one text. And what is interesting for this discussion is that this text does not say that those who receive Christ and trust in his name BECOME children of God. It says that they are given "AUTHORITY TO BECOME children of God".
Authority [ἐξουσίαν] is a personally felt consciousness of the power of one's identity. For instance, a young child who has inherited a billion dollars may go for years not knowing the financial power that comes with her family identity. But, upon learning about her inheritance, she suddenly receives authority to fully live into that identity and use the power she has. It was not that she did not have the money or the power before. She did. She just didn't KNOW it. But knowing her identity and understanding it gives her the authority to use that power.
In the same way, all people are children of God, even if they do not it, nor know what that means, nor know the power that goes with that identity. It is only as they receive Christ, the firstborn Child of God, and trust in His Name, that they come to realize what it really means to have spiritual childhood status in God. Then they finally grasp the authority that goes along with their inheritance in Christ.
This new awareness of our true identity in Christ- an identity we always had, but were not truly aware of until receiving Christ- this new awareness is our spiritual re-birth. And this re-birth is analogous to physical birth. In physical birth, we were already alive in the womb and already are "children". But, it is only by exiting the womb and entering into life in the created world that we begin to realize that we are children. We come to know we are persons. We begin to understand we can act. We find out that we can choose. We start to differentiate ourselves from our biological parents.
This is the result of the "new awareness" from our first birth, our physical birth.
In the same way, our second birth, our spiritual birth, brings a new awareness of our identity as a spiritual child of God. In Christ, we see what it means to be a child of God in all its fullness. We realize that in Christ, we too are children of God. And that opens up a new awareness to the spiritual reality we were already living in before we were spiritually re-born.
This is why "no one can see the kingdom of God" without this spiritual re-birth [John 3:3-5]. This is why, by trusting in Christ's light, we can finally "become children of Light" as we see the Light we have always been living in, which "enlightens everyone" [John 1:9; 12:36]. Likewise, 1John 5:1 indicates that this spiritual re-birth comes through trusting that Jesus is the Christ.
In short, our spiritual re-birth in Christ is to finally realize our identity as children of God, and come to the full realization of all the potential that implies, as we grasp the authority to both understand and practice it. We are children of God through physical conception and birth. But it is through our "spiritual birth" that we come to realize this identity which we already possessed, but did not understand.
This also makes sense of Scriptures that speak of being "born of God" without explicit faith in Christ:
1John 2.29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.
1John 4.7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
Clearly, there are people who do what is right, who Love other, and who follow the Spirit's leading, without full knowledge that this behavior is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. God's Spirit works through God's children to bring them to a ever fuller knowledge of their true identity. These people are already born of God, already children of God, without fully knowing or understanding it.
Likewise, when we turn to Paul's language of adoption, we can begin to understand this as God's formal, explicit declaration of what was previously an informal, implicit identity:
Gal. 4.4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Eph 1.5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In fact, there is ample reason to believe that adoption is not even a declaration that is made in this life, but one made at the final resurrection when we are finally clothed in our "true selves":
Romans 8:19, 23 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies [υἱοθεσίαν ἀπεκδεχόμενοι, τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν].
Regardless of whether God's decree of adoption is an event in this life, or at the end of history, it is clear that it is a formal declaration of a status that was already in place. People are children of God before they experience the assurance of their formal "adoption" as children of God.
Even the analogy that this decree of adoption is based on- the analogue of human adoption- presumes a previous implicit identity as children. Parents do not suddenly decide that a child is THEIR child at the moment they sign the adoption paperwork, or the moment the judge gives the final decree of adoption. No, the parents decided long before that THIS child is THEIR child, and then they make this previous decision public and binding by going through the process of adoption.
With this understanding of "re-birth" and "adoption" as a new, explicit awareness of our previous, implicit identity as children of God, we can understand most of the "Specific Fatherhood" texts within the texts on the "Universal Fatherhood" of God.
There are very few texts that stubbornly resist this interpretation. However, for the record, I will list two:
Rom. 9.8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.
Gal. 3.26 In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Both of these texts come from extended discussions by Paul about the relationship between Judaism and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They come in the midst of him unravelling what the role of the Law is for the believer in Christ, and how to interpret membership in Israel in light of membership in Christ. So, these texts are not talking about people in general, but Jews and Christians in specific.
The first text from Romans is a very difficult text in one of the most difficult sections of the Bible [Romans ch. 9-11]. These texts have been argued and debated by so many, from so many different angles, that it is hard to come down dogmatically on what it is, or is not, saying.
However, it would seem reasonable that "children of the flesh" refers here to those made "children of Israel" by the circumcision of the flesh of their penises. Paul is NOT saying "children of the flesh" refer to those born naturally (i.e. all of humanity), but it refers to those physically incorporated into Israel (i.e Jews).
And thus, Paul is making the point that they cannot base their status as "children of God" on their Jewish rites and rituals. Their assurance as children of God- their felt authority as God's children- can come only from one place: The Promise of Jesus Christ.
In a similar vein, in Galatians 3 Paul has just made clear what the Jewish Law can and cannot do. He is crystal clear that no one can be justified, or put in a right relationship with God, by following the Law. As best, the Law is merely a "disciplinarian", not a Savior, and not a source of assurance.
And again, Galatians 3.26 is Paul's statement that our only clear assurance that we are children of God comes through faith in Christ.
Thus, the pattern stands: All persons are children of God by virtue of being created and endowed with the "family image" of God. However, due to sin, ignorance, and rebellion, we are not aware of our true identity as God's children. Only by putting our faith in our "Firstborn Brother" Jesus Christ do we come to a knowledge of what our true identity is. By receiving Him, and putting our trust in his Name, we are spiritually re-born into a new awareness of who we already were. This is our formal adoption, which makes explicit our previously implicit identity. The assurance of this identity cannot come by any other means, especially not by trying to be "justified" by performing the Jewish Law (or any other Law for that matter). Our assurance that we are indeed children of God is found only in Christ.
3. Scripture declares that anti-believers have given themselves over to "another father", which is a deception that God desires to redeem them from, not leave them in.
One perplexing problem raised by our texts on the Fatherhood of God are those texts in which people seem to have another "father". Among the most problematic of these texts is Jesus' rebuke of the Jewish religious authorities in John 8:39-47.
This passage begins with the Jewish leaders protesting that they are in right standing with God, as God's children, on the basis of their descent from Abraham:
John 8.39-41 They answered him, “Abraham is our father… We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.”
Jesus answers this with a biting indictment:
John 8.42-47 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here… You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires… Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”
Now, we must take note that this exchange occurs as part of a very volatile debate with the Jewish leaders over the identity of Jesus, in which they were accusing Jesus of being demon possessed, evil, and a half-breed Samaritan. This is not something Jesus says out of the clear blue regarding sinners in general, or un-believers in general. No, this is said specifically about those blatantly denying him, to his face.
As such, we could probably assume this is dramatic overspeak on Jesus' part. Jesus is angry and is speaking out of anger, not out of rational, well measured teaching. These people are not beyond redemption or beyond God's Love, any more than the "prodigal son" in Luke 15 was beyond the love of his father. But they do believe in a deception which could permanently destroy their understanding of what it means to be God's child.
And it is this deception that Jesus is pointing out in dramatic, direct, damning terms.
What is the nature of this deception?
The deception that they are living in, and basing their identity upon, is that they somehow "merit" their status as God's children, or "earn" their relationship to God as Father. First of all, they think they have earned their right to be children of God based on their physical, genetic descent from Abraham: “Abraham is our father… We are not illegitimate children [who are considered to be worthless subhumans]; we have one father, God himself.” [John 8.39-41]
Secondly, they think that they maintain their status as children of God by adhering to the Law and "earning" God's Love and affection. Although this is not apparent in the immediate context of John 8, this is a rather standard critique from both Jesus and Paul throughout the New Testament. The fact that they saw their status as based on physical merit and effort is not only an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but even to the Mosaic Law which they claimed to adhere to.
For instance, God makes it clear that the Israelite's status as "chosen" children of God is based purely on his Love, mercy, and grace, and not upon anything they can do to "earn" such status:
Deut. 7.7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
And by using "Abraham" as the source of their value, they are refuting their own argument. For Abraham was chosen by God as a gift of sheer grace, and not because he was worthwhile, as Paul repeatedly points out in his letters (such as Romans ch. 4-5 and Galatians ch. 2-4). Indeed, "children of Abraham" are created as a sheer act of grace, and can be created anywhere, out of anyone, or anything:
Matt. 3.9 [Jesus said] Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
So, by succumbing to the theory that the Fatherhood of God can somehow be earned, the Jewish leaders are falling for one of the oldest and most perennial temptations of Satan: "Do this ___, and you will become like God!" [cf. Genesis 3]
The idea of attaining our status, our worth, our identity, our validity through our own effort and through our lineage, and then using this status to oppress, demean, and abuse others is an ancient lie from the pit of hell. When people buy into this lie, they are trading in their birthright as God's children (by grace) to be Satan's children (by works). They are basing their status, not on the undeserved unconditional Love of God, but on "proving" they are worthy and "accusing" others as unworthy (for that is what the Hebrew "satan" and the Greek "diabolos/devil" means: The accuser).
The process of this denial of status as God's children by grace, and acceptance of status as children of the devil by works, is described by Paul in Ephesians 2.1-10:
1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient… We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
This describes the universal state of humanity under slavery to Satan, and then under the liberation of grace through Jesus Christ. This is the model within which we can understand Jesus' words when he calls the religious leaders "children of the devil". These leaders, like all of humanity, are "dead through the trespasses and sins" as we follow the devil. This makes them, and all of us, "children of wrath" insofar as we deny our true identity as "children of God". But, even if we forget our identity in God, God has not. For, "out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses" God has come to rescue us in Christ as a sheer act of his grace.
So, we understand Jesus' words, and Paul's paradigm, NOT as a denial of humanity's basic status as "children of God", BUT as a description of how we deny this identity and live under the illusion that this identity is either lost (God rejects us) or is earned (God only loves us based on our heritage or our works). This illusion is shattered in Christ, as we come to realize that we always have been loved as God's children, and always will be loved as God's children, on the basis of grace alone.
4. God's Universal Fatherhood makes better sense of the Divine motive for salvation.
This paradigm of salvation is given to us in story form through Jesus' parable of "The Prodigal Son" in Luke 15.11-32. In that story, as most of us know, the younger son literally "cashes in" his identity, and sells his authority as a child in the family, in order to go and do whatever he desires. So, the premise of the story is that the "prodigal son" begins, from birth, with the identity and status as "son". He then denies his identity, and sells his status, for something far lower than that status. This denial is so dramatic that, when he finally "comes to himself" and goes BACK to the Father he had denied, the Father says:
"Let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" [Luke 15.24-25]
Note first that this is precisely the language of spiritual re-birth given by Jesus, John, and Paul. His state of denying who he really is, is called "death" and being "lost". His repentance, acceptance, and new awareness of his identity as a "child of the father" is called becoming "alive" and being "found". The Prodigal Son is a story of spiritual re-birth into his implicit identity as a child. It is the father's declaration of "adoption" as his son is once again declared to be "this son of MINE".
The logic of this story- indeed the whole logic of the economy of salvation- does not work unless a person is ALREADY a child of God BEFORE they are saved, born again, and adopted.
This story would simply make no sense if it was about some homeless drifter who became tired of his life of sin and instability, and looked up the richest local landlord, and appeared on the doorstep saying "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son" [cf. Luke 15.21]. At that point the landlord would simply say "You are damn right you are not my son!", slam the door, and call the police.
It requires the Prodigal Son to ALREADY be a child of the father, in order for the father to be yearning for reconciliation, to be waiting for him to come home, and then to "see him while he was still far off, and be filled with compassion, and run to him and put his arms around him" [cf. Luke 15.20].
Thus, in order to make any sense out of God's motive for saving humanity (or even a portion of humanity) through Jesus Christ, we must understand that God was ALREADY the Father of his children before choosing to reach out to them and save them. This is most concisely summed up in John's most famous passage:
John 3.16-17 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
Clear indications of God's prior love for the world, as his children, and his desire to save them from their sins and lies, comes in a number of Scriptures, notably: Ps 145:9-17; Mt 5:45; Ac 14:17; 17:25; Wis 11:21-12:2; Rom 11:32; Eze 33:11; 1Ti 2:1-6; 2Pe 3:9; Mark 1:15; 2Sa 14:14; and 1Ti 4:10.
This prior Love for all persons can only be fully described by the fact that, in accordance with Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son, God is ALREADY a Father to all persons, and loves them as such, and on this basis decides to save them.
This just makes more sense than the alternative. It does not make sense that God would create people for the purpose of hating them. In fact, even in God's disciplinary punishment, it only makes sense that God punishes IF God is their Father punishing them for the purpose of bringing them to healing and salvation.
Scripture tells us God uses punishment to accomplish His Purpose of Love in several ways. It may be for restitution, to restore imbalance [A]. Punishment may be a deterrent to warn others to avoid evil [B]. Punishment may be done to protect God's people, and quarantine evil from harming the community [C]. But divine punishment is NEVER done for revenge or "retribution" (i.e. God never gains pleasure from torturing the wicked or seeing them suffer). Divine punishment is ALWAYS done for redemption: To save those involved through a process of discipline, learning, and healing [D]. Even "vessels of destruction" handed over to "the destruction of the flesh" are given over in order to ultimately be saved [E].
[A] Lev 24:17-21
[B] Deu 19:19-21; Pro 21:11
[C] Deu 17:2-7; Psa 37:28-29; Mat. 13:47-50; 25:31-46; Rev 21:27
[D] Heb 12; Eze 18:32; Lam 3:33; Lev 19:18; Rom 11.32; 12.17-21; Mat 5-6; Luke 15:20-32; Psa 32:3-6; 2Co 7:10; Rev 2:22;
[E] 1Co 3:10-15; 5:5; 11.32; Jude 1.22-23; Rom 11:32; Hos 5:14-6:2; Jer 18:1-11; 30:24; 1Pe 4:5-6; Rom 9:21-23, 2Ti 2:20-21; 1Ti 1:15;
This is summed up well by the writer of the Deuterocanonical book "Wisdom":
"For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things. Therefore you correct little by little those who trespass, and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you, O Lord." [From Wisdom 11.21-12.2]
This is because, according to John, God's personal nature is Love [1John 4.8-16]. God loves God's entire creation in general, and declares it to be good, over and over and over [cf. Genesis 1]. Specifically, God loves those persons who are made in God's image and share in God's "family likeness" [cf. Genesis 1.26-31]. This familial love for persons who bear God's image is called "fatherhood". That is what love looks like when it is love shared between a Creator and a creation, that is a person, just like their Creator. There simply is no other "relational analogue" besides parenthood that comes anywhere near describing this Love that the God of Love has for his beloved children: God is a Loving Father to all those who bear God's image.
5. Just as God's special Fatherhood of Jesus does not deny, but enhances God's Fatherhood of believers, so also God's special Fatherhood of believers does not deny, but enhances God's Fatherhood of humanity.
Some may protest that declaring ALL people "children of God" detracts from the special identity of believers in Christ as "children of God". If we say God is Father of ALL people, then what difference does it make that God is especially the Father of those who have received Christ as Lord and Savior?
It makes all the difference in the world! For it is only those in Christ who can truly understand the rights and responsibilities that come with being a "child of God". Only those in Christ are given the full revelation that they are indeed children of God, beloved by the Father before all time, out of the sheer grace and abundance of God's Love, and not based on anything they can do (or not do) to earn this Love.
Think of the tragedy of being the child of a billionaire, but living your entire life without knowing it, without having access to the fortune that WAS ALREADY yours. If this is a tragedy, how much greater a tragedy for those who are already children of God, but who are separate from Christ, unable to fully know, grasp, or understand who their true identity is.
God sent Jesus to rectify and reconcile this tragedy. Now he sends us, those who are IN Christ, to do the same. We are sent, like Jesus, to bring people from death to life by making them aware of who they really, already are as children of God. We do this, by bringing them to Christ, our firstborn Brother in God's family. It is only by seeing Jesus, by knowing Him, by being IN Him, that we can fully live into what it means to relate to God as "Our Father".
Furthermore, it is bogus, poorly constructed logic to argue: "If all persons are children of God, it diminishes the believers' identity as children of God: Thus we must call no one children of God but believers".
Imagine a similar argument: "If we say that believers are children of God, then we diminish Jesus' identity as the firstborn, unique Child of God [τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ. cf. John 1.14; 1.18; 3.16; 3.18; 1John 4.9]: Thus we must call no one a child of God but Jesus Christ."
This logic does not work, because clearly our identity as God's children only enhances and brings glory to Jesus' identity as the firstborn, unique Child of God. So says Paul:
Rom. 8.29 "For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family."
Jesus' identity as the Central Child of God, who alone is able to bring others to know and understand their identity as children of God, brings glory to the Father. In the same way, we who know we are children of God reaching out to other children of God who do not yet know they are children of God also brings glory to both God our Father, and to Jesus our Firstborn Brother.
It is a chain of Love that extends out to the Lost, Last, and Least among God's children:
God the Father --> Jesus the Firstborn Child --> Knowing, re-born Children --> Ignorant, un-born Children
Jesus glorifies the Father by becoming Savior of the world. We glorify Jesus by bringing those who do not know Him to realize who they are through Him.
6. A more comprehensive hermeneutic is preferable to a less comprehensive hermeneutic.
An underlying concern throughout this entire essay has been to find a hermeneutic- an interpretive schema- which can make the most sense out of the most evidence. It is common sense that if you have 100 facts (pieces of evidence), and you are trying to explain all of those facts, the best explanation is the one which takes into account the most facts without denying or distorting any of them.
Thus, an explanation which accounts for 90 facts is better than one that accounts for 60 facts, which is better than one that accounts for 30 facts. But an explanation that takes into account all 100 facts is better than all of them. This is particularly where the idea of the Universal Fatherhood of God is far superior to the idea of a Fatherhood which is only limited to believers.
Here is a list of facts that we must deal with thus far:
[A] God is clearly taught as Father of all people [cf. Eph 4:6; 3.14-15; 1Co 8.5-6; Deu 32.6-18; Acts 17.24-28; Mal 2.10; Luke 11:11-13; Mat 5.45-48; 1Jo 2.29; 4.7; Mat 7:15-27; 6.1-18; 6.25-32]
[B] God has a special, explicit relationship with believers, because they have been "re-born" through Christ to fully understand their identity as children of The Father [cf. John 1.12-13; 3.3-5; 12.36; 1John 5.1; 2.29; 4.7; Rom 8:14-30; 9:8; Gal 3:26; 4.4-6; Eph 1.1-18]
[C] Scripture declares that anti-believers have given themselves over to "another father", which is a deception that God desires to redeem them from, not leave them in [cf. John 8:39-47; Deu 7.7-8; Mat 3.9; Eph 2.1-10]
[D] Both God's Creation and Redemption of humans is tied to God's prior Love for them as their Father [cf. Luke 15.11-32; John 3.16-17; Ps 145:9-17; Mt 5:45; Ac 14:17; 17:25; Wis 11:21-12:2; Rom 11:32; Eze 33:11; 1Ti 2:1-6; 2Pe 3:9; Mark 1:15; 2Sa 14:14; 1Ti 4:10]
[E] Even God's discipline and punishment is linked to His identity as a Father [cf. Dt 8:5; Pro 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-6] who desires to heal and save all His children [Eze 18:32; 33.11; Lam 3:33; Lev 19:18; Rom 11.32; 12.17-21; Luke 15:20-32; Psa 32:3-6; 2Co 7:10; 2Pe 3.9; 1Ti 2.1-5]
The idea of Limited Fatherhood could possibly explain facts B and C above. But even at that, it is next to impossible to understand WHY God would want to save and create children for himself in the first place if God did not already Love them as a Father. Limited Fatherhood has real problems making sense of texts which present the "logic of salvation", such as Ephesians 2.1-10 and the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.11-32.
In fact, the idea of Limited Fatherhood has to simply ignore, deny, or distort most of the evidence contained in fact A and D. Perhaps the evidence contained in fact E could be maintained under the idea of Limited Fatherhood, but that would raise the nasty question of why God would choose to discipline and punish people he did not Love and did not want to save. Does he just enjoy their suffering?
To make a long story short, Limited Fatherhood simply cannot make sense of whole swaths of evidence found in Scripture. Limited Fatherhood seems to be merely a mechanism for "insiders" to achieve a legalistic sense of superiority to "outsiders" who are "not God's children" like "we" are. To put it bluntly, to believe in merely the Limited Fatherhood of God is to come way too close to the error that the Jewish leaders fell into when Jesus castigated them as "children of the devil" [cf. John 8:39-47].
On the other hand, as I have shown, the Universal Fatherhood of God makes more sense out of the Limited Fatherhood evidence than even the idea of Limited Fatherhood does! The Universal Fatherhood idea can explain all the facts listed above, even the texts that can be used to appeal to Limited Fatherhood.
The Universal Love of God for all naturally includes the Specific Love of God for believers. But, if we begin with the Specific Love of God for believers, and allow the horizon of our understanding to be confined to this alone, we simply cannot explain or grasp the Universal Love of God.
And, on top of all of this, there is one piece of evidence we have not yet examined which Universal Fatherhood makes far better sense out of.
7. Denying God's Universal Fatherhood has dire moral implications, and makes impossible to follow the command to "love our neighbor as ourselves".
If Jesus is God Incarnate, and the Central Person in Scripture, it makes sense that we should pay attention to what He says is the "Main Thing" in Scripture. We should emphasize and live into what He emphasizes, and de-emphasize what he de-emphasizes. Over and over, we find that the preeminent concern of Jesus and his Disciples is the universal Love of all our neighbors, including and especially Love for our enemies and for outsiders.
Such Love is said to be the perfection of God [Mat 5.38-48], the Greatest Commandments [Mat 22.36-40], the motive of God's mission [John 3.16-17], the mark that we are truly known as Jesus' disciples [John 13.34-35] the fulfillment of His example [John 15.12], the most excellent way [1Corinthians 13], our method in every single action [1Corinthians 16.14], the fulfillment of the Law [Romans 13.8-10], the primary fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5.22-23] and the apex of virtue [2Peter 1.5-7].
I could go on, but a helpful list of all the ways that practicing Divine Love for our neighbor is considered central to living as children of God can be found here:
Matthew 5:38-48; 7:12; 22:36-40;
Luke 6:27-38; 10:25-37;
John 3:16-18; 13:34-35; 15:12;
Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35; 11:1-18;
1Corinthians 8:1; 12:31-13:13; 16:14; 16:24;
Romans 8:33-39; 12:9-13; 13:8-10;
Galatians 2:20; 5:6; 5:13-26;
Ephesians 3:14-4:2; 4:15-16; 5:2; 5:25; 5:28; 6:23-24;
Philippians 1:9; 2:1-11;
1Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9-10;
2Thessalonians 1:3; 3:5;
1Timothy 1:5; 1:12-14; 2:3-6; 4:12; 6:11;
2Timothy 1.7; 1:13;
Titus 2:2; 3:4-7;
Philemon 1:5, 1:9;
Hebrews 10.24; 13.1;
1Peter 1:20-23; 3:8-9; 4:8;
2Peter 1:5-7; 3:9;
1John 2.10; 3.1; 3.10-18; 3.23; 4.7-21; 5.1-5;
And this is just the Love passages. This does not include all of the many passages in which kind, compassionate, loving action is prescribed in how we treat those OUTSIDE the Christian fold, such as:
Matt. 5.14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Luke 6.27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
1Pet. 2.12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
Heb. 13.2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Rom. 12.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
I could go on, but it is patently obvious. God's utmost desire is for us to Love others, especially and specifically those who are NOT ONE OF US. And here is the crux of it: IF God does not actually Love everyone, THEN God is a hypocrite for wanting us to Love others, especially our enemies. Furthermore, if God does not love those "outside" then it eliminates all our motive to Love them. It is useless to love them. We are in fact Loving a "lost cause".
And actually, God cannot be said to Love others in the fullest sense of the word- the sense of the word that God means when he tells us to Love our enemies sacrificially- if God does not Love THEM like He Loves US. And if God is NOT a Father to THEM as God is a Father to US, then God does not Love them the same say, nor does God Love them in a sacrificial way.
The only way God can truly be said to Love people made in God's image fully, perfectly, and sacrificially is if God is their Father. God MUST be their Father for ANY of these Love commands to make sense. The idea of a merely limited Fatherhood of God does severe damage to our motive and example to "love our neighbor as ourselves".
Furthermore, it would make it a logical impossibility to Love our neighbor as ourselves if in fact our neighbor was NOT a child of God. Because, we can only love ourselves on the basis of our identity as a child of God. We can only Love ourselves because God first Loved us as our Father.
If they were not in fact children of God, it would make our entire Love for them false, because we would be loving them on the basis of ourselves, when they did not have the same status or identity as ourselves. Indeed, the whole puzzle of "Who can we Love as a child of God like ourselves?" would be become a crippling handicap in all of our relationships!
We would first have to create criteria to judge the eternal salvation of others to determine if they were a child of God like us, before we could Love them "as ourselves". This judgment of people's souls, and the implied condemnation of many as "damned outsiders", puts us in the place of God and goes directly against another of Jesus' central teachings:
Matt. 7.1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye." [see also Luk 6:37-42; Rom 2:1-3; 14:1-13; Col 2:16; Jas 2:1-4; 4:11-12]
Yet, the idea of a merely limited Fatherhood of God logically drives us directly to this point of judging others as "inside" or "outside", before we are able to Love those "inside" as ourselves. This is, in a word, damning to the soul.
When the idea of "Limited Fatherhood" is taught, with the corollary that not all are children of God, this is exactly what it leads people to. Worse than that, the Limited Fatherhood of God is used as an excuse to exclude, oppress, demonize, and abuse others who are considered outsiders. This is because "child of God" easily becomes both "us" and "fully human", while "not a child of God" easily becomes both "them" and "sub-human".
Furthermore, if "they" are sub-human, and are not loved by God as children, then "we" have no reason to Love them either. "They" become an obstacle to be removed, or a tool to be used, to bring "us" into the "good life".
This logic is not often rigorously or explicitly followed by those who adhere to the Limited Fatherhood of God. But the implications are easily connected, and can be observed in racism and prejudice and injustices and murders and wars and genocides throughout history.
I could name concrete example after concrete example of how Limited Fatherhood of God is used as a justification to oppress and exclude those who are "not God's children". But I will only use one such example.
I had a recent discussion about the death penalty with a person who I know to be a well-intentioned, sincere Christian who does a great deal of volunteer work, and who is a good parent. She self identifies herself as "Biblical", "Evangelical" and "Conservative". She is also a supporter of the death penalty, and was advocating the execution of a suspected terrorist if that terrorist was convicted of trying to bomb American civilians.
For the record, I am against the death penalty. I support the use of necessary force by the police or military to stop an oppressor who is actively abusing others. I understand how this could be a "lesser evil" than allowing oppressors to continue to violate their victims, and as such is necessary for the maintenance of a "just" society. But I cannot support taking a defenseless prisoner, who is no longer a threat, and who is a child of God, and willfully murdering them in a planned, pre-meditated fashion. The murder of a murderer does not bring about justice, in the same way that adding negative numbers together will never result in a positive number.
Anyway, as we discussed the matter, I dismantled her arguments for the death penalty one by one, until she stopped trying to defend her position on the basis of Scripture. But, as a parting shot, she said this:
"I believe your assumption that this guy is a “child of God” is incorrect. Based on his actions, and based on his allegiance to Pakistan, I think its safe to say that his god is Allah, and not the “I am”, and [because] of that would not then, have the Holy Spirit living in him… [So] how then, how could he be a child of God. Was Hitler a child of God? No. I think we would both agree he did not have the Spirit either! I believe there are just plain evil people in this world [because] of satan’s influence and therefore Exodus 21* is necessary."
*Exodus 21 is a passage that assigns the death penalty to a number of offenses under Hebrew Law, including: Cursing one’s parents Exo 21:15-17; Kidnapping Exo 21:16 and Murder Exo 21:12.
Here is what is interesting about her ultimate rationale: We can kill him BECAUSE he is not "God's child", a foreigner, and not "one of us". She seemed to be convinced that murdering another child of God by using the death penalty was out of bounds (because presumably that person was forgiven, re-born, and in some way redeemable). But, once someone was judged and condemned as "not a child of God", all such barriers were removed. We can murder them with impunity because their life does not matter in God's sight.
And this is coming from a fairly thoughtful, very committed Christian who quotes Scripture constantly. Imagine if someone who was not as sincere, or not as committed to Jesus, or not as Biblical got a hold of this idea. They might perhaps get the idea that God's chosen children were some type of easily identifiable Master Race, who were the "real humans", while ethnic and religious others were "sub-human". They might begin a final solution, and load all of the sub-humans in death camps and start killing them. Because, after all, their lives do not matter to God.
Any Christian Teacher or Pastor who teaches a merely Limited Fatherhood of God is, in effect, teaching other Christians a method of distancing themselves from the humanity of "others", and a mechanism to absolve themselves of the responsibility to "love their neighbor as themselves". Granted, most people who believe this are not going to follow this "slippery slope" to its logical end. But they will, in small ways, use the Limited Fatherhood of God to ignore or deny the full humanity of "others" in subtle ways.
Over time, across a culture, this will justify, or even create, social, political, and economic inequalities. It is inevitable. It will, in subtle ways and overt ways, begin to harm God's children, who the Father loves. It will become a stumbling block to the full realization of God's Love. And Jesus speaks of those who teach or lead others into stumbling blocks:
Matthew 18.6 If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
However, if a Christian Teacher or Pastor teaches the Universal Fatherhood of God, and how this Universal Fatherhood leads us into mission to help every single person discover their identity as God's child through Christ, then there is NEVER a justification for treating other people as "sub-human". When persons- any persons from any where- are seen through the eyes of the Universal Fatherhood of God, their life is ALWAYS sacred, and they are ALL worthy of being treated with dignity.
Conclusion: Teach and Live as if every single person is a Child of God
In the end, denying the Universal Fatherhood of God has severe spiritual implications as well.
If Universal Fatherhood is true, and absolutely all people are children of God, then denying their full dignity as God's children in our teaching and practice will result in the wrath and discipline of God upon us. God will be angry at us in the same way that our earthly Father would be angry at us for mis-treating and denying of our siblings. If we teach that God is not Father of all, or we mistreat others because they are not "children of God", when in fact this is untrue, it will most certainly result in harsh discipline from our Father [cf. Dt 8:5; Pro 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-10].
If Universal Fatherhood is false, and God is ONLY Father of those who are "in Christ", it still invites God's wrath to teach and live like as if Limited Fatherhood is true. Jesus' teachings and parables make it clear that we cannot discern who is truly in Christ and who is not. Through parables of wheat and weeds, sheep and goats, wise and foolish builders, Jews and Samaritans, and many others, we find that we cannot be sure at all of who are God's "elect" and who are not.
No matter what group we choose to exclude as "not God's children", whether Protestants or Catholics, Jews or Muslims, Men or Women, Gays or Lesbians, Liberals or Conservatives, Atheists or Fundamentalists, or whatever else, there are bound to be exceptions to "the rule". God is at work in all of these groups, bringing people to be "in Christ". And to abuse, oppress, persecute, ignore, or demean ANYONE in certain groups is to deny God is at work to save at least some as his elect children in these groups. Thus, teaching and living as if God is not at work among certain groups is to invite the abuse and denial of God's elect children. The only way to treat all of God's elect children with the dignity they deserve is to teach and live AS IF all people deserve the dignity of God's children. To do any less is to invite God's wrath and discipline upon us for denying and abusing His elect children.
Furthermore, even if the "worst case" scenario is true, and we treat a person (or group of people) as if they are God's children, when in fact they are not, only good can result from it. Good will result for them, because such a practice would treat them with dignity, encourage them to live healthy lives, and exhort them to Love Christ and Love others. This could only make their lives better, not worse. Additionally, treating them as Christ would, with unconditional, undeserved, sacrificial Love, can only benefit us as well. For it is in the practice of such Love that we become more Christlike. So, rejecting them as an "out group" would have none of these benefits, either for them or for us.
In fact, it seems that the only motive to exclude others as "not God's children" boils down to human selfishness. It is a fundamental way to legitimate our use of other people for selfish ends, whether that is to gain power, or property, or praise, or pleasure, or prestige from using them. The denial of the Universal Fatherhood of God is a primary "distancing mechanism" to excuse oneself from the full responsibility to love our neighbor as ourself. Thus, treating anyone as if they are not a child of God not only does damage to them, but also does damage to our own soul as well. Our practice of un-love and un-Christlikeness toward them can only further infect us with the disease of sin. There simply is no benefit, but there are plenty of detriments, to adhering to the idea that God is not Father of all.
Thus, whether the Universal Fatherhood of God is completely accurate or not, it is best to live and teach as if it is. If we follow this moral "Pascal's Wager", it can only result in a better world, with a superior basis on which to "love our neighbor as ourselves". In fact, teaching and practicing the Universal Fatherhood of God, and universal dignity of all people as God's children, will result in a better world even if God did not exist. Furthermore, such teaching and practice will surely result in less damage to our relationship with God, and less discipline from God, regardless of whether or not it is fully accurate.
So, we find an overwhelmingly strong argument that God is in fact Universal Father. This, combined with the clear benefits, and removal of deficits, provided by this teaching, leads to one conclusion: We should teach and live as if God is Father of all people, and all persons are children of God.