Q: I came across this term, “sonship”, twice recently and it was used to describe the relationship between Christ and us. I am confused because I had learnt that this term is used in our relationship with God since He is the Father and I am Jesus’ brother/sister because He is the Son of God. Has the Church changed its stand? - Lilian Kwek
A: The doctrine that is at the heart of this question is what is sometimes known as the doctrine of supernatural adoption as children of God and at times also referred to under the rather ambiguous terms “divine filiation” or “divine sonship”.
This doctrine has its source especially in the teachings of St Paul who speaks of those baptised in Christ as being children of God in Christ Jesus through faith (cf Galatians 3:26-27).
St John the evangelist also alludes to it in the prologue to his Gospel where he tells us that the power to become children of God is given to all those who accept Jesus Christ (cf John 1:12).
What does this doctrine teach us? Essentially, from what St Paul teaches regarding our adoption in Christ Jesus, it means that in baptism we have clothed ourselves with Christ and by so doing, we have become co-heirs with Christ, sons and daughters of the same Father in heaven.
Such being the case, the baptised are indeed to be considered brothers and sisters of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only-begotten Son of God, the firstborn amongst many brethren.
It is clear therefore that it is in Christ Jesus, the Son of God that we become ourselves sons and daughters of God and so when we speak of our supernatural adoption as children of God, it always implies a relationship not only between us and the Father but also between us and Christ.
This relationship with Christ oftentimes is referred to in the rather catchy phrase “sons in the Son” which in fact expresses this same doctrine of our supernatural adoption in Jesus Christ i.e. that we are adopted sons and daughters of the Father in His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
But this is not all for this doctrine also is taught in relations to the Holy Spirit for it is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts that makes us cry out “Abba, Father” (cf Rm 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7).
In other words, it is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we recognise God as our Father and live as His adopted sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, the Son of God from whose fullness we have received all grace and truth and who has revealed to us the Father (cf John 1:16-18).
Finally, what is the significance of this doctrine of supernatural adoption as children of God? To this question, by way of explaining one of the significances of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a profound theological answer:
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods.” (CCC 460)
Fr Kenneth Gopal