Then children were brought to Him that He might lay His hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and went away.
The gospel of Matthew says that “such as these” inherit the kingdom of heaven, so we can safely intuit that God is looking for us to have certain qualities that are childlike, and that those qualities, in turn, unlock something of the kingdom of God to us. Paul discusses how Christlikeness looks like humility, gentleness, patience, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness (see Colossians 3:12-14). Paul commends these heavenly qualities to us and advises us to put them on like clothing.
But doesn’t that list sound like who Christ is—what He’s like? So how do putting on those qualities translate to inheriting them? How can putting on something, which we are going to inherit, help us to inherit it? How do we put on what we are about to receive? How can we be something that we’ve yet to become?
This is the mystery of grace! This is the wonder of the Gospel. You already are what you are becoming. You already have all the childlike qualities that Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with; you already have the inheritance of Christlikeness that you seek in Christ. In Christ, you are already complete, fully clothed in all of His attributes. To put it differently, God already sees us as complete in Christ—whole, innocent, childlike, humble, blameless—even when we are doing blame-worthy things and are terribly deceived about who we are. When a child throws a tantrum at one moment but then is kind and adorable the next, we simply tend to think of this as the spectrum of the child’s nature—just the human condition, more or less, with good and bad traits.
But how does God see us when we are throwing a tantrum? When we sin? Does He see our sinfulness? Is that just part of who we are? How far does the Gospel go—how far can we dare to believe that our sins are forgiven and that we are a new creation?
Maybe we should ask the question a different way: does God see us as primarily innocent, when we mess up, or primarily sinful? Or, from a different point of view, when a child throws a tantrum, does the parent see their child as primarily naughty, as the “true nature” of their child now revealed, or does the parent see this tantrum as a deviation from the norm, as the child acting “out of character”?
Despite how we can see humans as made up of good and bad traits, God sees beyond this, for He sees us in Christ—whole, complete, without lack because all we need is provided in Christ. What was Jesus’ prayer to the Father as He died, about all of the wayward humans who’d forgotten they were meant to be children of God? “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:43). Couldn’t that be said of the average four or five year old throwing a tantrum—“they know not what they do?” Can’t this be said of us when fall into sin?