But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12)
Today in the Orthodox Church we honor the memory of the Apostle and Evangelist John whose writings famously portray us believers as being born of God and thus we are God’s children.
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)
The Egyptian Coptic monk, Matthew the Poor, explains:
“God’s sublime fatherhood has condescended to adopt the sons of dust out of his compassion and grandeur and not as a reward for man’s works or diligence. Our sonship to God is a truth that stems from God and not from us. This sonship continues regardless of our disability or sin, bearing witness to the goodness of God and his generosity. … Man’s idea of diligence and activity and of every spiritual work from now on is corrected. They are not the price to be paid for God’s love and fatherhood, but only a response to them.” (ORTHODOX PRAYER LIFE, p 245)
Loving God and loving neighbor is not how we earn our way into God’s family and Kingdom. Rather, they are our response to God creating us as His children and for lovingly and forgivingly welcoming us back into His fold even though, like the Prodigal Son, we claimed the world as belonging to us and not to Him and turned our back on Him to follow our own whim and will. Knowing that despite all of this, God the Father still loves the world and us, we can enter into His love and be filled with it and united to God for all eternity. Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 really can be interpreted to be God asking us: I loved you and love you, what did you do with the love and life I gave you? Like the goats, we can say, I spent it all on myself. Or, like the sheep, we can say, I used it to love my neighbor, the stranger, my enemy, and the least of Your brothers and sisters.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)