The Nature and Life of Sonship
by: T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Hebrews 2:10-17; 3:14
First of all, let us notice what these verses say and clearly imply. They speak of the very closest relationship between the Lord Jesus and His own. In different words one thought is brought forward, and emphasized. It may be the word ‘brethren’: “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren“; “It became (or behoved) Him” to be made like unto “His brethren“. It may be the word “children”: “Behold I and the children whom God hath given Me”. These words relate to the same people, and, while they seem in themselves to be contradictory, that is, your children are not your brethren, it is not the actual words which are the important feature here, it is the idea; that is, it is a family relationship which is in view; it is the relationship as of one life between the Lord Jesus and His own. Earlier the word ‘sons’ is used: “In bringing many sons to glory”, so that we have just to take out the general idea of what is meant here, that it is a relationship by the sharing of one life. That is all gathered up into the final fragment: “We are become partakers with Christ…”. There you get the simple, basic conception of the relationship.
The thing that is implied by that, is that what is true of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man is true of all the members of that family, of all His own. We are not thinking now in the terms of His Godhead and His Deity, but we are speaking in the realm of Him as Son of Man, or, to use another phrase of Scripture: “The firstborn among many brethren”, and, as such, what is true of Him is true of all those who are in that vital relationship to Himself.
That takes us right back to the beginning of His life here on this earth, as He came as Son of Man, and the first thing that we know about that life as it commenced here on earth is that it did not commence here on earth! We know quite well that the Lord Jesus did not originate here in this world. It is wonderful how the Holy Spirit has watched over that truth all the way through the Scriptures. Let me give you an illustration.
You remember when, through Eve’s failure, Adam’s sin, the fall took place, and God came into the garden, He said to the serpent who had tempted to that sin: “l will put enmity between… thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). And it is marvelous how God watched over that all the way through – the seed of the woman. When you come to the birth of the Lord Jesus you have Mary and Joseph, and then you have two genealogies of Mary and Joseph, and you find that if you trace the genealogy of Joseph, you do not work back through David, you have to get through David by way of Mary. David was the royal line, David was the seed through which Christ came and bruised the serpent’s head. It makes it perfectly clear that as early as Genesis 3:15 Joseph was ruled out as the father of the Lord Jesus. It is remarkable! If the Jews had only known their Bibles they could never have slandered the Lord Jesus as they did about His birth. It was the Seed of the woman right back there. The Lord Jesus coming through Mary, therefore, represents something more than nature, it demands the heavenly act if Joseph is ruled out. So that His birth did not mark a natural or earthly origin; it marked heaven entering into the whole question.
What is true of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man is true of all those who are His. All those who are in this relationship to the Lord Jesus have in them that which is not of nature, not of the earth, not of this creation, which did not have its origin in Adam, but which belongs to heaven, belongs to God. That is the deepest reality of our Christian life, of our being born again, of our relationship to Christ. It is the very essence of what it means to be a child of God, and that is the meaning of sonship. It is the possessing of something which is not of the flesh, of the will of man, of this world, of this creation; it is something, the origin and home of which is heaven and God.
You turn to the gospel of John and you have that stated, so far as the Lord Jesus was concerned, right at the commencement, John 1:51: “And He saith unto him, Verily, verily I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”.
Note that “Son of Man” in the gospel of John, which is preeminently the gospel of the Son of God, but here the Holy Spirit, watching carefully the truth, points out that heaven is the native place of the Son of Man; that the Son of Man represents a heavenly reality; “…the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”. He belongs to heaven!
Christianity, for a great many people, is a matter of becoming religious in their interests and relationships and activities. It is a matter of now going to services, to church, to meetings, and becoming associated with all that is of Christian procedure and make-up, mixing with Christian people and doing Christian work. Beyond that there are those who do come to a true experience of being born again, and they know in their hearts that something has happened, they have got an experience and they have got a feeling which is something altogether new. For a great many of such the Christian life is a matter of maintaining that feeling, keeping that feeling alive, looking after that feeling, cherishing it, feeding it, and living in that new feeling. It is wonderfully joyous to live in it, and it, for them, represents Christianity, their new life, their salvation. These are two things which sum up for a great many the meaning of being a Christian, a child of God, or a believer.
What I want to point out is this, that that is altogether inadequate, for something has happened which is infinitely more than a new feeling, a new emotion, a new interest, a new set of relationships and activities. It is a new, intelligent being that has been born. It is like a babe, a normal babe having been born, in which there are all the faculties and capabilities of the man or the woman, but undeveloped at present. Every faculty, every capability of the man or the woman in mature life, which is yet to be, is there already in that babe. Every bit of intelligence that ever that babe will arrive at and possess is already there in the undeveloped faculties. And who will say that a new born babe is merely a new feeling, a new sensation, just an experience? A new born babe is an entity, full of tremendous capabilities and possibilities, intelligences. That is what I want to emphasise, that something new of that character, of that nature has taken place when you and I are born again.
We have not just become Christian in our interests and in our activities, church-going and so on. We have not just come into a new sensation, a new delightful feeling, a new emotion. Something has come into us out from God, which has all those tremendous possibilities wrapped up in it, and that is there at our new birth. It has come from heaven; it is not of this world, not of this creation. No man, by any means whatever, can produce that! Only God can give that! That is where sonship begins. The definite crisis of that thing when it becomes an actuality, is what is called “new birth” in John 3:3 and 3:13, you have that made very clear, and you must remember that the Authorized Version is not altogether satisfactory in the way in which it puts this matter: “Ye must be born again“. The original language makes it quite clear that: “Ye must be born from above“.
Having seen that, let us look again at John 5:19: “…Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing; for what things so ever He doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner”. Here you are in the family realm again, the Father and the Son. And what is true of Him as Son is true of all the sons whom He is bringing to glory. In these words He said quite clearly: ‘My ability to do does not originate in Myself; it originates in God, and, not only My ability to do, but all the things which I am not to do out from Myself, I cannot plan for Myself I must know exactly what God wants done, and I must get from God all the ability to do it’. That is a law of something which comes out from God, of anything which belongs to heaven. God is the source, the spring, the seat of all things to be done, and of all energy for doing.
This new thing that has entered into us, which is not us – which was vastly different from us by nature – has got to constitute our whole lives on that principle that God has the whole program of works for our lives arranged. The apostle tells us: “The works were finished from the foundation of the world that we should walk in them”. God has them all. By reason of this inner, new life, we can come to the knowledge of those things which are in God’s mind concerning us. We could never know them of ourselves. “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them”. But because of that new thing, which is of God and has in it faculties for understanding and knowing the things of God, we can come to know what is in God’s mind and will: the works, the ways for our lives. And then we have to get from God the knowledge, the strength, the ability to do that which we have come to know as God’s way for us. That is very simple so far as the words, the truth is concerned, but it changes the whole basis of life.
Again, a great many Christians think or act as though they think that the Christian life is a matter of just working for God, doing anything and everything you can for God. It does not matter what it is, so long as you are doing something for God, that is to be your concern; do all that you can for the Lord, everything that comes into your mind or that you can think of for God – that is the Christian life, and that is Christian service. Well, the Lord Jesus here positively repudiates that whole thing and says: “The Son can do nothing out from Himself“. That does not mean that the Lord Jesus could not have been doing all sorts of things for God, but it does mean that, by reason of the mystery of that which was of God in Him, He knew that He could not do it. If He had broken away from that, He could have done lots of things, but that very reality of His inner relationship with God rendered it impossible for Him to do anything. He was here in the interests of His Father, and that bound Him, and He had to get from the Father continually the knowledge of what those interests were, and have His life entirely limited to what the Father showed Him.
If you go through the gospels, and you only need to go through the gospel of John, you will find that whole thing working out again and again. At Cana of Galilee His mother sought to persuade Him to turn water into wine to meet the dilemma of the exhausted wine, and He said: “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:5). And yet a little while after He did the very thing. Later in John 7 His brethren sought to persuade Him to go up to Jerusalem to the Feast, and He said: “You go up; I go not up; mine hour is not yet” (John 7:8). But when they had gone up He went up. Was He just trying to get rid of them? You cannot put down such unworthy motives to the Lord Jesus! He had used those words “Mine hour” again. He was refusing to be governed by outward things, by what was the usual thing to be done, even by the recognized religious order and what was expected of Him religiously. He was living within with His Father, and His attitude was: ‘Father, do you want Me to go up to that Feast? Until I get the witness from You, I am not going, whatever they may say, whatever the consequences may be: I wait for You!’ And when He got it, He went up. It was ever so! He was living in the secret of an inner walk with God, and doing nothing out from Himself. That is sonship!
You see, there is that which is of God which does not belong to this world. It belongs to another world. It must be absolutely governed by the laws of that other world. It must draw all its resources from that world, because there is nothing like it in this world. There is no correspondence at all between it and this world. There is nothing here which suits it. Try and do spiritual things or live a spiritual life upon natural resources, and what a breakdown and a tragedy comes about! it cannot be done! There is nothing here in nature that corresponds to what is of God. Therefore, for what is of God to be maintained, there must be a drawing all the time upon God. The tragedy of becoming part of a machine, a recognized ecclesiastical machine and religious order, to take all your instructions in that way, and have your life governed in that way, is that your own spiritual life is crippled and your knowledge of the Lord becomes very limited, if not non-existent.
The babe has been born. That babe is a heavenly babe. That babe, then, cannot live upon earthly food; its only food must be heavenly; that is the only meat that is suitable; nothing else can suit that particular kind of child. So you pass to John 6, and you find that the food of the Son is heavenly food, and it is brought out very clearly in that chapter that our food is to be heavenly food if we are related to the Lord in this way. It is: “The bread which cometh down from heaven”. The Lord Jesus is that bread, and the children of God have got to live on Christ, feed on Christ, appropriate Christ.
What is feeding on Christ? Take your natural state as an illustration. You may be hungry; someone puts food in front of you, and, to meet your hunger, to satisfy it, to save yourself from the growing weakness of being without food, you take that food, and in your taking you are saying, ‘I make You my life’. We do not say that to everything we eat, but that is what it means to feed on Christ. We say: ‘Lord, for every need You are my life; by faith I make You my life. Whatever the need is – wisdom, strength, grace, endurance, love, patience – You are that; by faith I take You to be that and count on You to be that’. That is eating; that is, as it were, putting your teeth into your Living Bread. It is appropriation by faith, and believing that it is so. If you should regard that food which has been placed before you for your natural hunger in this way: ‘Well, I do not believe there is any nourishment in it at all. I do not believe that that will meet my need, that it has the properties that I require for my satisfaction and up building’. That unbelief will keep you from getting the good. You take the food, though you do not argue about it, because you verily believe that in that food there are those properties which you need for your physical sustenance and strengthening. So you come to the Lord Jesus and you say: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe that You have the very properties that are required for this inward, inner man, this born-again man; You are the Heavenly One, and in You there is everything that this heavenly life of mine requires for its sustenance and up building, and growth and development, and I make You my life by faith’.
You can take another attitude toward your food. You are in need; there is the food! You say, ‘I believe that that food has all the properties that I require for my enrichment, for my salvation from death; for my renewal of life. I believe that food has it all; I quite believe it’. What is the good of that if you leave it there? What have you to do in order that you shall be nourished? You have got to step out on it, act in relation to it, commit yourself to it. That is, you have got to express your faith in it by action, commit yourself to it in assurance. You do not know, so far as actual science is concerned, whether that food is really going to meet your need, speaking naturally. Yes, the last word may have been said about it as to its property, its vitamins, and that sort of thing, but you know, every man and every woman differs so much, that what is one man’s food is another man’s poison, and you never know until you have taken a thing, however high the food properties may be, whether it is going to meet your need or not.
A doctor can prescribe for you just the very best thing from his intelligence point of view, but many of us know that sometimes the doctor does not just strike the nail on the head. He is prescribing in a way that he thinks will suit us, but we have to say: “Doctor, that does not suit me: you do not understand my case”. Now, we have got to act in faith! If you stand back and argue about the thing all the time, you will never do anything, and you will starve. It is a faith action that is necessary. You will prove the consequences, the results afterwards. And in the case of the Lord Jesus, there has got to be an absolute confidence in Him, which leads you to step out in faith upon Him and commit yourself to an active course upon Him. You will prove that He is just what is needed for the spiritual life, for the growth of that new, heavenly life within.
It is quite impossible for us to exhaust the whole course of the life of sonship. All that we have been able to do has been to indicate the nature of sonship, and to point out that here is something which is of God, which is an intelligent thing, and which has to receive for its development everything from above: strength and knowledge, power and wisdom, and everything else. And it is as you and I learn how to do that, and do it, that we become matured, full-grown men in Christ spiritually. That is the life of faith. It is a matter of stepping out on Christ on every matter, trusting in the Lord with all our heart, and leaning not to our own understanding. Here is a realm in which nature cannot help us, and in which nature will only bring us into confusion. Here is a realm of spiritual and heavenly knowledge, a very real and wonderful thing. Here is a realm in which that has to increase by our recognizing it and walking according to it.
It will revolutionize everything. It is an entirely different point of view from the natural, but if the end of it is conformity to the image of God’s Son, then the whole course of it has to correspond with what is true of God’s Son. What is true of Him has got to be true of us from birth onward, in every phase and aspect of that. All the way along what was true of Him has got to be true of us, and as we take that course, follow that way, we become conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is the way of the development of sonship in us, until, when we see Him, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
“We are made partakers with Christ if we hold fast unto the end”. That is, if we keep moving on this way. What way? The way mentioned just prior to that very phrase: “He that sanctified and they that are sanctified are all of one“. What is that? One life, one nature, one way. It is all heavenly; all of God.
The Lord teach us what that means for everyday life, and by so teaching us, show us that here in this world we do not belong to it, we are altogether out from it, that ours is something which has nothing whatever to correspond with it in this world. It is the mystery of: “Christ in you, the hope of glory“.