1 John 3:1-10
This is the last statement we will be considering in our series. I do have one final message to wrap this series, “Christians Say the Darndest Things” up, but its purpose will be to appropriately conclude this series in a way I hope will be helpful. If you have been listening closely to each of the sermons in the series, each message was meant to build on the sermon that preceded it.
- “God helps those who help themselves.”
- “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “Bad things happen to a good people.”
- “Money is the root of all evil.”
- “Just follow your heart.”
- “I’m not getting fed”
- “Heaven gained another angel.”
Today, we will be considering another statement I have heard Christians say so many times: “We are all God’s Children.” Let me begin by stating what is true about the human race. For starters, we are a part of God’s creation. We are not only a part of creation, but we as a species are uniquely set apart from the rest of creation as creatures who reflect the image of God, for we read in Genesis 1:26-27,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27)
We also read of mankind in Psalm 8,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3–8)
Because we are creatures who bear the image of God who also have been given the authority to manage the rest of creation, we are above every other creature which will eventually include angels. This is one of the reasons why the murder of another human being is a capital offence in God’s economy: “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 24:17; see also Exod. 20:13, Rev. 22:15).
However, unlike the rest of creation, with the exception of Satan and the demons, we as a species are still in rebellion towards God, for all of us have been born this way: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). In Ephesians 2:1-3, humans are described as spiritually dead and all are guilty of deliberately or subconsciously, “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
This epistle John wrote was written to reaffirm Christians of their salvation and it challenges those who claim to be Christian to examine the genuineness of their faith in Christ. Essentially, 1 John answers what it means to be a genuine child of God; he even gives us the reason why he wrote his letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). In the scripture passage we are looking at this morning, John contrasts the child of God against the child of the devil. Let us now turn our attention to this passage to see how it speaks into the popular assumption: “We are all God’s children.”
Who are the Children of God?
Who are the children of God? Well for starters, they are people who are the recipients of the love of God. John is not suggesting that we consider the love of God, but instead is insisting the Christian step back and consider the depth of such love. I think the NIV better translates the tone of the apostle in the first verse: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). What is it that makes the love a Christian has received from God so great? It is great because it overcame my sin and rebellion. I was not only dead in my sins, but I was deserving of the wrath of God, and yet he found me, rescued me through his Son, and now he calls me his own. The apostle wrote at the beginning of his gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right 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 1:12-13).
James Montgomery Boice said of 1 John 3:1, “…men and women become God’s children when God the Father of his own will takes the seed of his Word and plants it within the heart, causing it to unite with the ovum of saving faith, which together begin to grow.” Think about the moment you found out that you were going to be a father or a mother. Do you remember what you felt when you got to see the first ultrasound when you were able to see the little flutter that was the heartbeat of your child in the sanctity of the womb? What excited you was that the life in the womb was a life made possible by the miracle of love and conception! At 14-18 weeks you may have gone in for an ultrasound to find out if your baby was a male or female; when we went in to find out the sex of our youngest, our oldest son Nathan (who was nine at the time) let out a loud, “Yes!” when the technician told us that we were definitely going to have another boy.
Each stage of development in the womb of a baby’s mother means that the baby will enter into the world. The baby will grow into a toddler, the toddler will eventually enter grade school, the child will become a teenager, the teenager will one day go to college or trade school and become a young adult, and the young adult may get married and have children of his/her own. The expectation of having a baby is not that the baby will remain a baby, but that the baby will grow up under the care of mom and dad. What remains true for the life of that child is that he or she will always be your son or your daughter.
If you have received Jesus by faith, you will always be a child of God and the evidence that you are a living breathing child of God is that you will continue to grow as a child of God. This is the point John is making in verse 2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” What this means is that if you have been born again, you will grow as a child of God just like a baby eventually grows to become an adult. With each passing day as we follow Jesus we should look more and more like Jesus.
Last week we looked at 1 Peter 1:3-12; I pointed out that according to Peter, the evidence of being born again is described in his own words: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” (1 Peter 1:8). The apostle John takes what Peter wrote in a single verse and expands on what that looks like day to day for the person who is born again and becomes a child of God. There are at least thirteen characteristics of the child of God; I will only list them here, but you can read 1 John for yourself for an explanation for each characteristic listed from his epistle:
- A child of God loves God (this is assumed by John in his epistle)
- A child of God understands that he/she is a sinner (1:5-10)
- A child of God depends upon Jesus as his/her righteousness (2:1-6)
- A child of God loves what God loves and hates what God hates (2:7-11)
- A child of God rejects the world (2:15-17)
- A child of God understands that Jesus is the only Son of God (2:18-27)
- A child of God abides in Jesus as his/her joy and satisfaction (2:28-29)
- A child of God repents from sin (3:9-10)
- A child of God loves others, especially those who belong to Jesus (3:11-18)
- A child of God rejects false teachings and their teachers (4:1-6)
- A child of God is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and is evidenced by his/her love for God and others (4:13-21)
- A child of God desires to obey God (3:24; 5:1-5)
- A child of God’s faith can survive hard times until the end (5:4-5)
Who are the Children of the Devil?
If being a child of God is only associated by one’s genuine faith in Jesus Christ that results in a transforming life that looks more and more like the character of Jesus over the course of time, then who are those who are not born again? Can it really be said that we are “all” God’s children if we simultaneously believe the Bible to be true?
According to John, there is another category of humans, and they are marked by their actions in the same way the child of God is marked by his. Listen to some of the things John says of the person who does not belong to Jesus:
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15–16)
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14–15)
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20–21)
Now, just so you are not filled with despair, John is not telling us that Christians do not sin against God and one another, for he wrote at the very beginning of his letter: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But here is the rub and what seems to run against the grain of American Christianity. John states in verse 4-6 a warning for us all: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:4–6). What does this mean? Does it mean that if I sin, I can lose my salvation? Is John saying that once you become a Christian, you will never sin again? Is John telling us that eventually you can get to a point in your Christian faith that you will not struggle with sin? I do not think John is saying any of these things.
What I believe John is saying here, and what makes the most sense in light of everything else he wrote in his epistle is that the person who continues in indefinite, ongoing, and unrepentant sin is evidence enough that he or she is not a child of God because he/she has not been truly born again. What John is saying is…
…if you continue to walk in darkness in unrepentant sin, you are not a child of God.
…if you continue in your love of the world, you are not a child of God.
…if you remain unwilling to love and forgive, you are not a child of God.
…if you hate anyone who is loved by God, and your heart is unwilling to change, you are not a child of God.
Listen again to what John says in verse 9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” The reason why a child of God cannot continue in deliberate and unrepentant sin is twofold: 1) God’s seed abides in him, and 2) he has been born of God. Both of these are related but with slightly different emphases.
To have the seed of God abiding in the child of God is to have the DNA of his character in us. This does not mean that we are becoming little deities, but that our character is being transformed to reflect his character for at the moment we were born again, you and I received a new nature (see 2 Cor. 5:17). To be born of God, is to be a member of his family, and to be a member of his family is to be a son or daughter of God. Paul describes in Galatians 4:6-7 of what it means to be born of God: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6–7).
Listen: To be born again is to be a child of God. Just as it is natural for a newborn child to breath air and crave milk, the evidence of being a child of God is that he/she loves God, loves his Word, loves his people, and loves to please God. For the child of God, the Creator who is Yahweh, is now the one you have the privilege to call him: Daddy (that is what Abba means).
No one who has not been born of God, who has not placed their faith and trust in Jesus, who has not been forgiven of their sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can claim to be a child of God. If you are not a child of God, then by default, you are a child of the devil. Who is the child of the devil? The one who is still dead in their sins. This is why John concludes this part of his letter with verse 10, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
An appropriate question for you today is, “Who are you?” Are you born again? Being born again is not something that happens from saying some mantra in the form of a prayer where your heart is not engaged. Muslims use mantras to convert to Islam. The version of Christianity in the Bible shows us that being born again is the miracle where God’s word and your faith generates new life in Christ. It is more than just head knowledge that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave, it is reciprocated by a life that is changed, changing, and will continue to change until he comes again!
I have two quotes for you that I read this week. The first I want to share with you if Christianity is only religion, if you are Christian by association only, or if you are not a Christian at all. It is something that was written long ago by John Bunyan: “He that runs from God in the morning, will hardly find him at the close of the day.” My appeal to you is to repent by turning your heart to Jesus while it is still the morning. If you are not a child of God, then the place you will spend all of eternity is the place prepared for the devil and the demons.
To my Christian brothers and sisters, I leave you with this quote by Elliott Greene: “God is ruthlessly patient with his children.”