“Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4.7).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is decidedly masculine but it is neither discriminatory nor chauvinist. In fact, the glory of the gospel is wrapped up in its masculinity rightly understood. Given the context of Scripture and the people among which the gospel spread, we want a masculine gospel.
God as Father with children almost exclusively called “sons” does not sit well in an increasingly egalitarian culture. Gender-neutral Bibles attempt to tame the “maleness” of Scripture (and often of God) so as not to disenfranchise women. Neither is the pulpit immune. Feminism has ridden the Trojan Horse of political correctness past the narthex all the way to the chancel. Pastors and teachers feel compelled to emasculate Scripture so that “sons” always include “daughters.” “Brothers,” before anyone gets offended, always includes “sisters.” We castrate Scripture lest any woman feels slighted by God or the church.
The gospel, however, needs no help including (or elevating) women in Christ’s kingdom. The maleness of the gospel is about “sonship” and inheritance, not chauvinism and anatomy. The greatest gift of the gospel lies in its “sonship” and that’s good news for women.
The typical Hebrew father passed down his inheritance to his sons. And his firstborn son was the primary beneficiary of the father’s wealth bestowed through the birthright (cf. Gen 25.31-34; 27.18-29; Mt 21.38). The daughters of the family were not excluded or neglected. Rather, a father would marry his daughter to a husband who would himself receive some measure of his father’s inheritance. Only in situations where there was no male benefactor would women lay claim to their own wealth (see Ruth, for example). “Sonship” implied an inheritance that would continually trickle down and serve the needs of those for whom the heir was responsible.
When God calls those he saves “sons” he is not intentionally excluding women. Sons are not sons because of their maleness. They are sons because they inherit the wealth and riches of the Father. God’s children, however, are not second-rate sons. They are all heirs to the wealth, riches and blessing of the Firstborn Son himself! Through “adoption” God makes all those who are otherwise excluded from his blessing heirs to all that the Firstborn Son is due (Gal 4.4-7).
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8.14-17).
All who are being led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Paul is not saying only men are led by God’s spirit. He is saying all who are in Christ receive the status, position, hope, inheritance befitting of sons. The masculinity of the gospel does not define who are God’s children (males only). It defines what exactly God does in salvation; namely, he makes those heirs who are not such by nature.
To become a son is to become an heir. But not just any heir. We receive he full rights and privileges of the Firstborn Son – Christ himself (cf. Eph 1.3). When Jesus tells his disciples he preparing a place for them so they will be where he is (Jn 14.1-3), he is not talking about a physical location. He is talking about the place of the Firstborn Son. All those God saves in Christ will be where Christ is: first chair next to the Father (Jn 17.24), heirs according to the promise (Gal 3.28).
The gospel is certainly masculine but it is not chauvinist. In Christ, God makes sons of those who are otherwise excluded from his riches. God makes sons out of those the religious elite excluded from the Kingdom: slaves (Gal 4.7), children (Mk 10.14), Samaritans (Lk 10.30-37), shysters (Lk 17.9-14) and whores (Lk 7.36-50). They all become sons when they become Christ’s. The very people considered excluded from God the Father’s salvation become the full and rightful heirs of it. Therefore, as much as we might want to denude the gospel by generalizing “sons” into “sons and daughters,” we actually rob the gospel of its full importance. In wanting to include woman as God’s “daughters” let’s be careful we’ve not unwittingly excluded them as sons! The glory of the gospel is that even the daughters of men become sons of God (Gal 3.28).
Gender neutrality cheapens what the gospel promises every woman who loves Jesus: Sonship. They don’t finally get what men get. They get all Jesus has!
By referring to his children as “sons” God is not disenfranchising women (or slaves, children, shysters or whores). In reality, he is restoring dignity to them all by giving them the wealth of his glory for all eternity. Jesus assumed their shame to himself so they could enjoy the privileges of sonship. The gospel opens the storehouse of God’s glorious wealth those (1) not inherently permitted to it and (2) most unworthy of it. Peter would even call the Christian wife a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3.7). God treats her as much like a son as he does her Christian husband. Therefore, the gospel stood, and stands, against all forms of inhumane discrimination, be it gender, ethnicity, economic class, etc. Unlike the kingdom of Caesar, the church would actually treat women, slaves, outcasts and cripples as equals in the kingdom of Christ.
Let’s not tame the gospel or attempt to make it more inclusive. It couldn’t offer a more privileged position than that of the Firstborn Son’s place. The gospel cannot bequeath more than the riches due Christ himself to all who desire them.
When God saves one of his children he does not leave her a daughter, slave or cripple. Like David did for the club-footed Mephibosheth (2 Sam 10.13), Israel’s King makes his servants sons and heirs of his kingdom (Rom 8.29). All girls allowed.