May 16,2021 - Where Do We Come From?

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Today we want to talk about: where do we come from? Let’s begin with the question: Are we humans all begotten children of God, just like Jesus? Is Jesus literally our firstborn brother? The New Testament Greek term for “beget” is gennaō, which is used for fathers (and also mothers) when they “produce” a child.

When anyone fathers or conceives a child, the children share the human nature of their parents. So when God “begets” a Son (as the New Testament describes it), this means that this Son of God shares God’s divine nature.

It has always been the teaching of the historic Christian church that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 1:14). He is the only one that shares both God’s nature and Mary’s. To be precise, according to Matthew and Luke, he was “begotten” by the Holy Ghost, not by God the Father in a human body.

The concept of us all being begotten children of God in a literal sense is obviously different from our historic Christian understanding. The Bible speaks of us being born of God in a non-literal sense, such as in John 1:13, where it says that we who believe in Christ have been “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” How do we prove that this verb gennaō can be used non-literally? Paul tells his readers in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “I have begotten y’all through the Gospel.” Paul even says that he has “begotten” Philemon’s slave Onesimus while the 2 were in prison together! Both are obviously figurative.

Please note: the Nicene Creed did not invent, but simply explained the New Testament teaching that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost share the same nature as God. And yet, the Bible makes it equally clear that there is only one God. Isaiah 45:22: “I am God, and there is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:39: “The Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath: there is no other.” Joel 2:27: “I, the Lord, am your God, and there is no other.” So even though the Nicene Creed’s term homoousios (“one in substance”) is not found in the Bible, just put the puzzle parts together, and the historic Christian Trinity is the logical product. (We talked about this in our recent broadcast on the Trinity, just before Easter.)

A side issue is whether these three personalities are “one God” or simply “one in purpose.” The Bible’s clear teaching that there is only one God should be the basis for all other discussion on this issue. Jesus speaks of being one with his followers, or his followers being one with each other, but to say that Jesus means the same kind of oneness when he says “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30 is to torture the meaning of what he says. The Jewish bystanders understood that; that’s why they pick up stones to throw at Jesus. They do so “for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:34)

Now, there is a common belief out there that we are all children of God in a non-divine sense. Many people would say that we humans are all part of God’s family and are therefore beneficiaries of his love and other family privileges. The New Testament teaches, however, that those who place their faith in Christ (not the whole human race) are the only ones who are true children of God. John 1:12 says, “To those who received [Christ], who believed in his name, to them he gave the power / right / authority (Greek exousia) to become children of God.” In Galatians 3:26, Paul tells believers, “For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” So becoming children of God does not happen automatically by birth. It happens only through faith. And it happens by adoption.

Galatians 4:4-5 says that God sent his Son to redeem us, “so that we might receive adoption as children” (huiothesia). Ephesians 1:4-5 says that God “predestinated us unto adoption of children (same Greek word) by Jesus Christ to himself.”

Adoption was an extremely familiar institution in the Greco-Roman world. The power of the image comes from the fact that a child who was completely unrelated by DNA gained all the privileges of a child who was begotten by the adopting father.

That’s us. We are children of God, not by sharing the same nature as God, not even simply by being born into the human race, but because God has given us a brand-new status that we did nothing to deserve, nor were we entitled to it by birth or DNA. Romans 8:17 says that God has given us the Spirit of “adoption,” which makes us heirs of God and fellow-heirs of Christ, which we were not previously.

Jesus has no spirit brothers. All he has is a half a dozen half-brothers in the flesh through Mary. As for the rest of us, we were adopted! If we are adopted children of God, that means that we did not begin our lives as God’s children, in either a divinely “begotten” sense or a figurative “human family” sense. And that adopted status that we have received comes through placing our faith in what has done to take away our sins and put us right with God.

But knowing that we were adopted does not answer the question: Where did we come from? Did we simply not exist before our parents conceived us? Or did we exist in a life before this life? And how did we come to exist there?

Some claim that our human spirits are begotten by God, not created. They reject the possibility that God creates each person’s spirit when he/she is conceived. They think that would require God to be working too hard to say that God rested from his work of creation. So we are told that eternal procreation would avoid this problem. But if it’s overwork to create billions of spirits, isn’t it just as much overwork to procreate billions of them? Even Solomon and his oversized harem would appear to be unequal to such a task.

Let’s take a look at the Biblical argument for a pre-mortal world. What do we do with a verse like Ecclesiastes 12:7, where we are told that the human spirit “returns to God who gave it”? Could the human spirit return to God, if it was never with God to begin with? Could we return to a place where we never were before? One might also point to our instinctive knowledge of God and of moral law as evidence that we learned it in a previous existence.

What about the question the disciples ask Jesus about the man born blind in John 9:2? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Doesn’t that question prove that both Jesus and his followers presume a previous existence? What about Hebrews 12:9, where we are told that God is the “Father of spirits” (in contrast to the “fathers of our flesh”)? What about Job 38, where God asks Job, “Where were you…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” And what about Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”?

Belief in one previous life amounts to an abbreviated form of reincarnation, without all of the returns before and after the present life. With that belief in a previous life usually comes some sort of belief in karma: the belief that what happens to us in this life happens as reward or punishment for acts we did in the previous life.

Needless complications are raised by the idea of this pre-mortal existence. Like the problem with reincarnation, why should we be punished for sins that we don’t remember? Why should some people be born into poverty or oppression, based on offenses in a previous life that they have no memory of? Why should some people be cursed in this life, because they supposedly joined Satan’s rebellion in the previous world?

In the case of reincarnation, our previous lives were supposedly lived as other persons. The alternative claim is that this pre-mortal world is where we were first begotten by God as spirits, and then we receive bodies of flesh when we are sent to earth. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:46 that the physical comes first, and then the spiritual.

Yes, there are scriptures that refute the belief that human spirits must be procreated by God rather than created within the unborn child. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God breathed into us the breath of life. In Zechariah 12:1, God states that he is the one “who formed the human spirit within.” And in Psalm 139:13-16, God’s intimate involvement in the formation of human embryos contradicts the argument that God cannot devote enough time and effort to the creation of billions of human spirits as well.

We can also correct the misinterpretation of the verses used to support a belief in the pre-mortal spirit world. Before birth, Jeremiah (and the rest of us) existed only in the mind of God, not as pre-mortal spirits. God’s question to Job “Where were you?” has a better answer: you did not exist! Likewise, verses like Ecclesiastes 12:7 and John 9:2 do not prove what some say those verses prove. Indeed, in the case of the man born blind, Jesus dismisses the idea that there was any previous life to be blamed for how he was born.

The only person in Scripture who actually did exist before his life in the flesh is Jesus Christ. In John 1:30, John the Baptist says that Jesus “is he of whom I said, After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.” (Remember, John was born before Jesus, but John says Jesus existed before he did.) In John 8:58, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus prays in John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world existed.” Paul tells us in Colossians 1:17 that Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So Jesus existed, long before he was conceived and born as one of us on earth. However, these verses cannot be used to teach the pre-existence of other human spirits.

How does God create our spirits? Does it happen through special creation, or do we get them from our parents? Christian theologians have leaned toward the first option, that God creates each human spirit special and unique. But even if God uses the spirits of our parents to create our spirits, the end product is a new creation, just as surely as God uses the DNA of our parents to create a totally new body.

Psalm 139 teaches that God is intricately involved in our prenatal development. Yet God does not create us out of nothing, like the way our first parents were created in Genesis 1. God creates us not from dust, but out of previously existing human ingredients. God is not starting from scratch, like with Adam and Eve. God’s creations in the womb remain fallen creatures, who still have a sinful human nature handed down to us from our first ancestors. Adam’s sin appears to have flipped on a switch in our DNA that makes us all prone to sin and selfishness.

Why doesn’t God switch off that inclination to sin? That would require God’s constant interference. God chose to interfere like this only once: when Jesus was conceived. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, with the overpowering attraction to sin switched off. Jesus was born as a new creation, like Adam, with the same ability to choose good and resist evil that Adam had before he rebelled. That’s why the apostle Paul calls Jesus the “second Adam” – he came to undo all the damage caused by the first Adam.

So we did not exist until the moment we were conceived. But where does God come from? Did God start out as a human like one of us? Does God have ancestors, and if so, how many, and with whom does it stop? Who is the One to whom we ultimately owe our existence?

Isaiah 43:10 answers that question, where God declares, “Before me was their no god formed, neither shall there be after me.” Psalm 90:2 says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” There never was a time when God did not exist. God was always there. As I used to teach in confirmation class, we have to begin with either a God who was always there, or with a universe that was always there. You can worship an eternal God, or worship eternal matter.

What is true of our Heavenly Father was/is also true of God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. There never was a time when they did not exist. Our universal Christian creed states that Christ was “begotten of his Father before all worlds.” The General Conference at Nicea didn’t make that up. They got it from God’s word.

Paul writes to the Colossians that Christ is “the firstborn of all creation.” What that means is that Christ was already there before anything else came into being. We also find this teaching in Micah’s prophecy of the Messiah in Micah 5:2, where he says that from Bethlehem will come forth “one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth / origins have been from of old, from everlasting.”

So Christ, the Holy Ghost, and God the Father existed before anything or anyone else was made. Were there worlds before ours? We don’t know. All we know is that there was a day at the beginning of time when God “laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (By the way, the “sons of God” in the Hebrew Bible, mentioned only in Job and in Genesis 6, are angels.)

Genesis 1 does not mention the creation of angels, but they must have been among the first beings that God created. They are spirits, and they (along with us) are the only creatures who are made in the image of God. The Bible tells us that there was a great war in heaven back in the beginning, in which the angel Lucifer rebels and gets a large number of angels to follow him. That’s all we know about any world before ours, and the Bible (the only trustworthy source we have) doesn’t tell us all we might want to know, but it’s all we need to know. Instead of suffering for sins we can’t remember, we can learn from what we do know about the previous world; we can learn not to follow the example of Lucifer, who sought to take the place of God.

All that exists owes its existence to the one true God. There are NO others; there never has been, and there never will be. God has no ancestors. In Hebrews 6:13, we read that because God had no one greater by whom he could swear, God swore by himself. There is no one greater than God to whom God owes his existence.

Psalm 8:5 says that God has made us “a little lower than the angels” (which can also be translated “a little lower than God”). The angels appear to have been created before we were, but God intended us to be the crowning jewel of creation. We humans enjoy incredible status in God’s created order.

God has elevated humans who trust in the cross of Jesus Christ to become his children. But we are not literal children of who share God’s divine nature. We are not gods in embryo. Nor do we have the potential to become gods in the future. There is and always will be a huge divide between ’s nature and the created world of which we are a part.

We are not co-eternal with God. We did not exist before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. We had no previous life. But God’s word tells us that we existed in the mind of God long before the universe began. We see it in God’s words to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” We see it in Ephesians 1:4-5, where we are told that God chose us before the foundation of the world, and predestined us to be adopted as God’s children.

God has only one begotten Son. Six times the New Testament says that Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son” (the Greek word it uses is monogenÄ“s). The most famous is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.” God has only one begotten Son. We are God’s children only by adoption.

God did not change, but God did something new when he chose to be born into a human body of flesh. When Jesus ascends to heaven after his resurrection, he takes human flesh where it has never gone before. The implications are enormous. We’ll talk about that next time on Biblical Words and World!