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14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

Paul clearly has Christians in mind here when he speaks of "fellow heirs of Christ." But in saying "all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God," does he exclude others who were led by the Spirit, such as the prophets and judges of Judah and Israel?

  • Judges 3:10 -The Spirit of the Lord came upon him [Othniel], and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the Lord gave Cu′shan-rishatha′im king of Mesopota′mia into his hand...

  • Judges 6:3 - But the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiez′rites were called out to follow him.

  • Judges 11:29 - Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manas′seh...

  • 2 Chronicles 24:20 - Then the Spirit of God took possession of Zechari′ah the son of Jehoi′ada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God..."

  • 2 Chronicles 36:22 - the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

  • Ezekiel 37:1 - The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit...

  • Isaiah 61:1 -The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound...

The Question restated: Each of these people is described as being led or inspired by God's spirit. So were many others in the OT. One was even a pagan, namely Cyrus of Persia. Are they to be included as "sons of God," or does this apply only to Christians?


note: this question is distinct from one dealing with same verse here because that question deals only with Acts 30, while this seeks a more general answer..

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  • I would answer yes.
    – Dottard
    Dec 17, 2023 at 19:56
  • +1. Seems that “Abba Father” is one of God’s names to use to reach out to him and be saved. Dec 17, 2023 at 22:34
  • Just as the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (though it can be seen, retrospectively, hinted at in Abraham) so the 'sons of God' come to light in the New Testament but may be retrospectively observed, again not fully, in ancient times. But it is incorrect to pre-empt the full revelation and to label the hinted yet veiled foretaste as the full revelation. God dealt with national rulers and gifted them and placed them. But that is not regeneration and they can by no means be called 'sons of God'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 18, 2023 at 1:18
  • John Ch.14:6. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life, NO man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 19, 2023 at 0:52
  • Other names would be: God, Jesus, Christ, Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father, Jehovah, Yahweh, etc. Dec 19, 2023 at 9:42

3 Answers 3

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For the sake of the following discussion, we will define “Pagan” as a person who is neither Christian nor Jew. Then we ask the question, “Can pagans be saved, as pagans?” The Bible appears to answer affirmatively.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” Rom 2:14, 15. See also Ps 87:4-6

Further, 1 John 4:7 claims that, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

More explicitly, John 1:9 and Rom 1:18-20 also suggest that all people receive some revelation of God and all are without excuse. See also Prov 4:18 and Luke 12:47, 48. See “Election” for the Bible evidence that all people, including pagans, have (or at least have been offered) salvation.

This is consistent with the non-exclusive attitude of the Israelites to membership of Israel. Further membership in Israel was voluntary and open to all. See appendix.

In fact, the Bible contains numerous examples of pagans behaving like (or often better than) Jews and Christians and receiving divine information, visions and advising Jews and Christians.

  • Pharaoh rebukes Abram after a vision from God. Gen 12:17-20
  • Abimelech rebukes Abraham after a vision from God. Gen 20:3-6
  • Abimelech rebukes Isaac about Rebekah. Gen 26:8-11
  • The Philistine king Achish appeared to recognize YHWH, the LORD, in 1 Sam 29:6, 7.
  • King Necho of Egypt rebukes Josiah’s foolishness. 2 Chron 35:20-22
  • Jonah was the divine agent in saving the pagan city of Nineveh without the need for them becoming Jews. Jonah 3:4-10
  • The magi (“wise men”) of the east were avid students of Scripture. Matt 2:1, 2, 11, 12.
  • Several Roman Centurions were obviously saved. Matt 8:5-12, Luke 23:47, Acts 10:30-35.

The OP also appears to answer the same question in a different but compelling way as well. This all suggests that Christianity is no more exclusive than was the Jewish faith.

Obviously, it is a different story for a pagan who hears and then rejects the Gospel, but for one who never hears the story of Jesus, the Bible appears to suggest somehow God still has a way of positively influencing everyone's lives.

Indeed, according to Paul in Rom 2 (quoted above) and his famous statement in Rom 8, it appears that whether a person calls themself a Christian or not, if a person is controlled by the Holy Spirit, that person is one of the sons of God.

Rom 8:9, 14 - ... if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. ... For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

APPENDIX - Israel Membership

While Israel was chosen as the instrument to tell and show the world of God’s saving grace, salvation was always available to all people. Indeed, the Old Testament contains many examples of foreigners becoming part of Israel, indicating that the Israelite Covenant was open to all and was never exclusive. For example:

  • Abraham’s own household must have consisted of perhaps 2000 people just to be able to raise an army of 318 men to liberate Lot, Gen 14:14. Indeed, Abraham’s chief servant (from Damascus) was clearly a believer and very devout as shown in Gen 24.
  • The unfortunate story in Gen 38 about Judah and Tamar shows that a foreigner became the mother of the tribe of Judah.
  • When Jacob entered Egypt, his family numbered 75 people (Acts 7:14, Ex 1:5). Some of these were not direct descendants of Abraham such as the wives of the 12 patriarchs, notably Joseph’s own wife. 215 years and four generations later at the exodus, Israel’s army had over 600,000 men, excluding women and children, (Ex 12:37, Num 1:46, etc) suggesting a total population of several million people, requiring many additions. This included a significant mixed multitude (Ex 12:38) showing that Israel obviously consisted of many non-biological Jews had joined. (Note that it is biologically impossible for Israelite numbers to have grown from 75 to several million biologically without many outside additions.)
  • Moses married a Midianite (Ex 2:16-21) also known as a Cushite. Miriam and Aaron were severely reprimanded and punished for displaying racism (Num 12:1, 2)
  • Caleb, who represented and led the tribe of Judah was a Kennizite (Num 32:12).
  • Rahab was a Canaanite (Josh 2:1, 2, Matt 1:5)
  • Ruth was Moabite (Ruth 1:4 16, 17, Matt 1:5) – these last two make King David descended from foreigners (Ruth 4:13-16).
  • Uriah was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3)
  • King David’s elite personal regiment consisted of Gittites, that is, Philistines (2 Sam 15:18-22, 1 Chron 18:17)
  • Isa 14:1 - When the LORD has compassion on Jacob and again chooses Israel, and settles them on their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob.
  • Isa 56:6, 7 - And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants— all who keep the Sabbath without profaning it and who hold fast to My covenant—I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” See also V3.
  • The Rechabites were Kenites (Jer 35:1-19)
  • Many other foreigners lived in Israel (1 Chron 22:2, 17, 2 Chron 30:25)
  • In Esther’s time “many of the people of the land became Jews” (Esther 8:17, 9:27)
  • Even in NT times, many Jewish synagogues were attended by godly gentiles converted to Judaism (Acts 13:16, 26, 16:14, 17:17)
  • Many Jewish proselytes came to worship in Jerusalem (John 20:20, Acts 2:9-11)
  • Jesus quotes Isa 56:7, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations”, Mark 11:17.
  • Further, biological Israelites could opt out of the covenant and be cut-off (Ex 30:33, 38, 31:14, Lev 7:20, 21, 25, 27). Esau and Ishmael (both descendants of Abraham) were good examples of this.
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  • Dottard - You have used many ambiguous words like “some revelation”, “at least”, “somehow” etc. It seems you are suggesting God has 2 different standards of judgment; one “the toughest” for Judeo-Christians (Heb 11:36-38) and another “the easiest” (just the conscience) for the pagan Gentiles! But God says He has only “one judgment” for all whether Israel or others (Lev 24:22)! Dec 18, 2023 at 5:24
  • @NepheshRoi - That is what Jesus Himself said in Luke 12:48 - But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded.
    – Dottard
    Dec 18, 2023 at 7:12
  • Dottard – Luke 12:48 is talking about the “steward/manager/overseer” (οἰκονόμος – also see Tit 1:7, bishop as steward) and not about the lay Christian believers! Jesus said that in response to Peter’s question whether He meant ‘the apostles’ or ‘all believers’ (verse 41). That steward is beating other menservants and maidservants (verse 45). So, as is very clear, Jesus is not at all talking about pagan gentiles here! Dec 18, 2023 at 8:30
  • @NepheshRoi - it is the principle stated - "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded."
    – Dottard
    Dec 18, 2023 at 10:04
  • Dottard – that is disconnecting something from the context. Jesus is not talking about the pagan gentiles here. ‘Everyone’ means the stewards and ‘much’ means the stewardships. Dec 18, 2023 at 10:50
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Just as the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (though it can be seen, retrospectively, hinted at in Abraham) so the 'sons of God' come to light in the New Testament but may be retrospectively observed, again not fully, in ancient times.

But it is incorrect to pre-empt the full revelation and to label the hinted, yet veiled, foretaste as the full revelation.

Also, God dealt with national rulers and gifted them and placed them. But that is not regeneration and they can by no means be called 'sons of God'.

1
  • Very clever of you to comment to the OP and then transfer that comment into an answer. But, with all due respect, a comment is a comment and this is hardly an answer. It's a downvote from me. Feb 8 at 18:22
2

I would say, the statement “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14) does NOT apply to non-Judeo-Christians!

Holy Spirit Dwells IN

Now “led by the Spirit” means “the Spirit of God/Christ dwells in” that person (verses 9-11).

This very well includes righteous Abel, the holy Patriarchs and the Prophets et al. They knew and followed Christ (Psalms 110:1).

In fact, the very existence or foundation of the Christian Church of God includes them:

“Then, therefore, you (the NT Christians) are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the holy ones (Patriarchs and others), and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles (of the NT) and prophets (of the OT), Jesus Christ Himself being chief corner-stone” (Eph 2:19-20).

To Jesus Christ and the Apostles, there is no difference between saints in the OT and those in the NT. They all follow the same God and the same spiritual rules.

Holy Spirit Works With

There are instances when the Spirit of God works with the unbelievers and even with inanimate things but without dwelling in them.

“and the Spirit of God moving gently on the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2).

But the waters are not led by the Spirit.

“And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping, by its tribes. And the Spirit of God was on him” (Num 24:2).

Balaam is considered as an unrighteous person in the New Testament. Yet we see in Numbers that the Spirit of God prompted him to bless Israel. It is certain that Balaam did not have an indwelling of this Spirit.

So we see that the Holy Spirit can work with people without indwelling them.

Conclusion

So, to conclude:

As long as a person has an indwelling of the Spirit of God/Christ, he/she is led by the Holy Spirit and is a son of God.

Does this apply to non-Christians? Yes. It applies to the Old Testament saints.

Does this apply to non-Judeo-Christians? No. It doesn’t, now.

A special Note:-

In the Old Testament list given by the OP, one instance, 2 Chronicles 36:22 does not involve the Spirit of God. Here, the spirit mentioned is the “human spirit” of Cyrus the king. Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.

Zech 12:1 says that God “formed the spirit of man within him”. This is the human spirit and is different from the Holy Spirit.

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