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Charlemagne’s Children

May 4, 2003

1 John 3:1-7

1399 words



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.

2  Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

5  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

6  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

7  Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.



The Human Family

If you are of European ancestry, you are a descendant of Charlemagne.  Charles the Great lived from 742 to 814.  He was King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  And yes, you, and every European, are his descendants.  How is that possible?  How can hundreds of millions of persons, be linked to Charlemagne?

Think for a minute about how many ancestors you have.  You have two parents and four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great-grandparents.  Go back 40 generations, or about a thousand years, and each of us has, theoretically, more than a trillion direct ancestors.  And since our family trees are not independent, but inevitably overlap and intersect, that means that we are all related.  We are all family.  So the next time someone brags about their family tree, listen closely and congratulate yourself—because it is your family tree also.

Yale statistician Joseph Chang has made some discoveries about the common ancestors of all present-day individuals.  His research reveals that the most recent common ancestor of every European today was someone who lived in Europe about 600 years ago.  In other words, all Europeans alive today have in their family tree the same man or woman who lived around the year 1400.  This common ancestor was from the line of Charlemagne, and so it is through this person that every person with some European ancestry has a connection with Charles the Great.

These links can be found around the world as well.  The most recent common ancestor of all six billion people on earth today probably lived just a couple of thousand years ago.  This means that through this single person we can all trace our family ties back to Confucius, Nefertiti, Julius Caesar and just about any other ancient historical figure who ever lived.  At some point, all six billion of us are family.


The Spiritual Family

Now maybe that is more genealogy than you ever wanted to know, so let us talk about a different kind of family.  This family is not made up of people who trace their lineage back to Charlemagne or to Confucius, but to God.  Through Jesus Christ, you are literally a God child.

Let me take a moment here and pass out a paragraph from the Westminster Confession of Faith.


Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter XII

Of Adoption

ALL those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption; by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have his name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.


The reason I wanted you to look at this paragraph is that I realized that if I just read it to you that you would never get.  I would never get it if someone just read it to me.  George S Hendry in his commentary on the Westminster Confession says that this paragraph is “exceedingly cumberous and , some have thought, barely grammatical.” [George S Hendry, The Westminster Confession for Today, (John Knox Press, Richmond VA, 1960) p141].  Hendry is being polite.  The paragraph is poorly written.

Having said that however, having said all the bad that I can about it, let me add that the paragraph says some things that we need to hear.  It is worth working through. 

The figure of Adoption is one way that the Bible describes the relationship that we have with God in Jesus Christ.  Picture an orphan—poor, hungry, cold, standing outside the door of a warm and well-lit home.  The door opens; the child enters the house and is surrounded with loving care.  The point is, when God extends his grace to us, he not only forgives our sins, God also receives us into his family.

It is often said that “you can’t choose your parents,” and in the family of God this is certainly true.  We have not chosen God, God has chosen us.  We did not first call God “Father”; God first called us his children.  We have not earned a spot in this family by our good deeds or our noble thoughts or our winning ways, but by one thing, and one thing only: the generous love of God the Father (v. 1).

The actress Jeanette Clift George tells the story of a woman and her baby, flying home on a turbulent flight.  Every time the baby cried, the young mother fed the baby a little fruit and a little orange juice, but because the flight was so bumpy, everything that went down came back up.  At the end of the flight, the carpet was a mess, and the baby looked awful.

At the gate was a young man who had to be Daddy: white pants, white shirt and flowers. Jeanette George thought to herself, “He’s going to run to that baby, get one look and keep running!”

He didn’t. He grabbed the messy baby, held her against his white shirt and whispered loving things in her ear.  All the way to the luggage claim area, he never stopped hugging and kissing that baby, stroking her hair, welcoming her back home.

Jeanette George asked herself, “Where did I ever get the idea that my Father God is less loving than a young daddy in white slacks and white shirt?” Our God has chosen to make us his children, and he is going to embrace us and accept us with open arms, no matter how messy we are.  That is how much God loves us.

Note, however, that the Confession says “in and for his only Son Jesus Christ.”  It is only through Christ that we become adopted of God, and have “the liberties and privileges of the children of God.”.  The Confession further states that God has put his name upon us.  In an ordinary human adoption, the parents give the adopted child their name.  God does the same thing.  God puts his name on us so that we are literally God children, and God protects us, provides for us, and loves us.

He loves us so much the confession says, we are “never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.”  In human adoption, when you adopt a child, that is your child forever.  Same with God.  Adoption is forever.  It is true that sometimes we may be a wayward child.  We may stray far from God and stand in need of restoration.  But God always leads us home.  God always welcomes us home with open arms.

Everyone in the world is related to Nefertiti and Confucius; everyone in Christ is related to one gracious and loving heavenly Father.  Charlemagne can keep his crown.  We are children of an even greater king.  Amen.



George, Jeanette Clift.  “Dad meets the messy baby.” Men of Integrity. January 18, 2000.

Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl A. “Beyond outreach.” Congregations Magazine. July-August 2002, 15.

Olson, Steve. “The Royal We.” The Atlantic Monthly. May 2002, 62-64.



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