Children of God
I have a very consistent memory from when I was a young child. Usually, in my mind, I had just done or said something totally sweet and innocent, but for some reason it caused my mom to become exasperated. And then she would say, in a voice that still rings in my head, “I hope that you have a child just like you someday.”
I’ve thought about those words more and more in the last few years, since actually having kids of my own, because my kids are- for better or for worse- like their dad in many ways. My mom’s wish has come true.
It’s really not that surprising that this would happen. To have kids at all is to have kids like yourself in one way or another. Science has uncovered that there is a genetic component in our personalities, and so it’s not surprising to see my kids being like me in certain ways just by nature.
But then there’s also a whole slew of ways in which they are becoming like me from being around me. As we live together and I father them, they are becoming like me in certain ways not just by nature but also by nurture.
Lately, around our house, it’s been very obvious that my sons have a pastor for a dad. We catch them saying “you may be seated” to each other before they sit down for supper. They practice baptizing each other off of the front steps. And more than once I’ve heard one of them say to the other, “Don’t talk to me right now. I’m working on my sermon.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that to them in those words, but you get the point. Both by nature, and by nurture, my sons are very clearly my sons. In different but detectable ways they are like me.
This is really the big idea we’re going to discover in our passage today in 1 John, but applied to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. God’s children look their Father.
God’s children look like their Father by nature- just because He is their Father, they are like Him. God’s children are also commanded to nurture that- to stay in close relationship with Him so that they become like Him more and more.
And the upshot of all of this is that we can tell who God’s children are by looking at people’s lives. And John applies this idea to the struggle his readers were having with the false teachers who had left their churches.
So we see this whole idea of God’s children being like Him introduced in verse 29: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
Jesus is righteous, and so if we see someone practicing righteousness—acting like Jesus, doing the things Jesus did and commanded—we can know that they are one of His children. They have been born of Him.
I don’t know if this language of being “born” of Jesus or “born” of God sounds familiar to you or not. It comes from the bigger gospel that John wrote. In John chapter 1 John wrote that “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)
Those who believe in Jesus are those who have been born of God. They are God’s children because they have been spiritually born of God, just like they were once physically born of their mothers. This is the exact same thing that Jesus talks about in John chapter 3 when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:2)
The first time we were born, we were born of the flesh to human parents, and we became their children. But if you’ve been born again, you’ve been born by the Holy Spirit. And now, in a very real, direct way, you are one of God’s children, by direct spiritual birth.
This is what it means to be a Christian. And if this is true of you, then you will be like your Father. You will practice righteousness, just like your Heavenly Father. In the context of 1 John that means walking in the light and obeying God’s word and loving our brothers and sisters. God’s children will prove they are God’s children by being like their Father.
Now John is about to go on to really dig in to this idea and apply it to His readers and their whole situation with the false teachers. But before he gets there, he stops. Because this idea of being God’s children is so incredible that he can’t keep going without stopping to marvel over this. So look at chapter 3 verse 1.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
See! Look! Or, Behold! Just look at this kind of love! We’ve been born of God. We are God’s children.
It’s not just that God has forgiven us for our sins. It’s not just that Jesus died to pay for our sins, and give us peace with God. All of that is astounding. But after doing all that, God has made us His children. The king did not just pardon our treason and send us on our way. He made us His heirs and invited us to come live in the castle with Him.
Have you ever seen that kind of love anywhere else? It’s astounding when we stop to take it in, which John is telling us to do. Just look at this love. And God hasn’t just called us his children; He’s actually, really made us His children through the Holy Spirit. “And so we are.”
The second half of verse 1 tells us that just like the world didn’t recognize that Jesus was God’s son, so they won’t recognize that we are God’s children. We shouldn’t expect special treatment from people for being God’s children- in fact, often it’s the opposite, just like it was for Jesus.
But then John moves on to the really exciting part- which is that the best is yet to come. 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.”
We are already God’s children on the inside through our spiritual re-birth, but we know that when Jesus returns we will be completely changed to be like Him in an even more profound and permanent way. In 1 Corinthians 15 it says that who we will be then compared to who we are now is like a flower compared to a seed. That’s what John is pointing to here. We’re like Jesus now, but we’re still just seeds.
When Jesus appears we’ll see Him for who He is, with eyes like the rising sun and a voice like many waters. We’ll see Him. And we’ll be like Him, fully. These seeds will burst into bloom.
These words stir up deep longings in my heart. I can’t wait to see Jesus. And passages like this remind me that this is not just a wish, it’s a certain hope. I am going to see Him with my own eyes. My faith is going to become sight. And in seeing Him I will be like Him.
Is this your hope? Do you hope for this? Do you long for this? If you do, which I hope you do, you’re going to want to listen to what John says in verse 3, when he brings this all back to the big idea in this whole passage.
“And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3)
We don’t just say “Yay, one day I’ll be like Jesus,” and then not worry about it now. Knowing that we will be like Him when we see him means that today, we work to be like Him. We purify ourselves just as He is pure.
The hope of the return of Christ translates into us practically becoming more like Jesus today.
Like we said, this verse brings us back to the main thrust of this whole passage, which is all about us being like Jesus here and now.
And John really wants us to understand this truth. He really wants us to understand that God’s children must look like Him. Because like we’re going to see, so much hangs on this.
And in verses 4-10 John goes all out to prove to us that God’s children will be like Him and must be like Him.
And I used the word “prove” because that’s what John does in these verses. He makes an argument, like a lawyer, using proofs and logic to convince us of what he’s trying to say.
I see John making two main arguments in these verses. And the first main argument is in verses 4-6, which is what we’re going to look at first.
In this first argument, John spells out two truths, and then he draws a conclusion from those truths to make his point.
So think about a basic logical argument like this. Grass is green. My lawn is made of grass. Therefore, my lawn is green. That’s just basic logic, and that’s what John does here in his first argument.
So the first he establishes truth #1 in verse 4. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”
Now he’s making an important point here. From what we can piece together, the false teachers John was combating were trying to downplay sin. “Oh, sin is not that big of a deal.” Or, “sin is just something I do with my body, but it doesn’t impact my soul at all.”
We hear that kind of thing today a lot. “It’s not sin, it’s just a bad decision. Just a mistake. Just a medical condition.”
John cuts through all that by saying that sin is lawlessness. “Lawlessness” is a word that’s used in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament most often to refer to Satan and his rebellion and willful rejection of God.
And that’s what sin is. Sin not just a mistake, not just missing the mark, as if we were trying to hit the target, but oops! we missed. That’s not biblical. Sin is lawlessness, anarchy, rebellion against God.
That’s the first truth John lays out. The second truth is in verse 5: “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Jesus came to not just forgive our sins, but to take away sins completely. And Jesus himself is sinless.
Then in verse 6, John spells out the conclusion we get if we put these two truths together. “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning, no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”
It’s perfectly logical. We can’t both abide in Jesus and rebel against Him. We can’t both abide in Jesus and keep doing the things that He came to destroy. It’s just not possible.
Now I hope that the logic of John’s argument makes sense to you.
But this also makes us ask really big questions. How can this be true? Is John saying that if we know Jesus and are abiding in Him, then that means we will stop sinning completely? It sounds like that, doesn’t it?
What we need to keep in mind is the way that John writes. Because more than once in this letter, John has made a big huge statement, and he assumes we’re going to interpret in the context of the whole letter.
So, for example, last week he said that if we have the Holy Spirit, we don’t need anyone to teach us. But he wrote that in a letter where he himself is teaching us. So, he’s assuming we’re going to think and realize that he’s not talking about all teaching, period. He was talking about the specific teaching coming from the false teachers.
So it is this this statement in verse 6. John is smart, and he assumes we are smart, and we’re not just going to forget what he said back in chapter 1 verse 8:“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
John has already told us that we should not expect to be perfectly sinless. And so he’s not contradicting himself. He’s not saying that if you commit one sin after becoming a Christian than you’re not really a Christian at all.
But what John is doing here is intentionally making a big, strong statement designed to get our attention. He is saying here that if we are abiding in Jesus, then sin has no place in our lives. If we know Christ, we can never make peace with sin in our lives. If we are abiding in Christ, then sin will not define us the way it did the false teachers.
See, that’s the big issue here. These false teachers were saying they knew God, but their lives were defined by sin. They just kept on sinning and never repented of their sin and made no effort to fight against it. They just thought sin was no big deal.
And John is saying, it is a big deal. If you are abiding in Christ, sin has no place in your life. You have to remain in a state of war with sin, never accepting it, never being okay with it, always fighting back.
Because here’s the scary truth. “No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” That’s what verse 6 says, and I’m not going to tell you that it means something different than what it says. People who persist in sin, who don’t repent of their sin, who never fight their sin, people who think sin is no big deal and get comfy with it, do not know Jesus and have never really seen Him for who He is.
And John wants His readers to apply this to the false teachers and realize, these guys don’t actually know Jesus, regardless of what they say.
So that’s argument #1. You can see that it deals with the practical, nurture side of our relationship with Jesus. If we abide in Him, if we know Him, if we’re in relationship with Him, then we won’t be able to persist in sin.
So let’s look next at verses 7-10, where John makes the nature argument. In this argument John goes back to the idea that God’s children will look like their Father by nature. We’ll be like him because we’ve been born of Him.
And John makes this second argument in a series of punchy statements that each build on the other. So let’s follow along.
The first one comes in verse 7. “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” This is very similar to what we heard at the beginning, up in verse 29. If we’re God’s kids, we’ll do the things our dad does.
The second statement in this argument comes in verse 8: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
Wow. Do you hear how strong and punchy this is? Just like in verse 6, we have to resist the temptation to dial back the intensity on this. If God’s children prove they are God’s children by doing right, then those who persist in practicing sin prove they are from another father. They are of the devil, who has been practicing sin from the beginning.
Third statement: “The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Sinning is of the devil, and remember that Jesus appeared to destroy the devil’s works.
So once again, let’s put all of this together. God’s children are like Him. The devil’s children are like him. And Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Therefore, according to 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.”
If we have been born of God, that means we have God’s seed abiding in us- which is a very powerful metaphor for the Holy Spirit who caused us to be born again. And because of this, it’s impossible for us to keep on persisting in sin.
Let me sum this whole second argument up for you simply: God’s kids can’t act like the devil’s kids. It’s impossible.
Now let’s remember the point of all of this, which was protecting John’s readers from the false teachers. And John pulls this whole passage together when he writes in 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.”
This is what he’s been building up to in this whole passage. We can tell who God’s kids are and who the devil’s kids are by the way that they live. It’s evident.
Wow. On Canada Day I think it’s appropriate to recognize that this is a very non-Canadian way to think. Our whole lives in this culture we’ve been trained to not think this way. I think we need to acknowledge that this way of thinking, this kind of discernment, feels strange to us.
I’ve been a part of conversations where people are talking about certain celebrities or politicians whose lives are dominated and defined by a continual practice of sin. And yet these same people say that they are Christians who believe in Jesus.
And isn’t it so common to hear people say, “well, they say they are a Christian!” And it’s kind of like, who am I to argue with that?
John is saying that we must, with fear and trembling, be more discerning than that. We can’t just take people’s claims to love Jesus at face value, especially when these are people who want to influence us or teach us.
Because the really important application here is not just celebrities and politicians but teachers and leaders who want to influence us. Just like John’s readers, we need to avoid being sucked in by false teachers who allure us with their great-sounding words while their lives tell us another story. John is telling us to look at their lives. Look at what they do. We can tell, we must tell, whether they are God’s children or not by their lives.
That’s the big idea in this passage.
What About Us?
But I’d imagine that for many of you, you’re thinking a little bit more personally today. Because this passage doesn’t so much make you think about false teachers or celebrities or politicians. It makes you think about you.
This passage makes us think about our own claim to know God, and our own sins. This passage makes us ask, do I know God?
And it’s very tempting for me this morning to try to explain a lot of that away for you, to ease the tension, to downplay John’s strong words here.
But I can’t. Because these words are designed to be strong. These words are designed to challenge our sloppiness towards sin. These words are meant to make us take sin seriously.
Please do be reminded again that these verses are not teaching sinless perfectionism. But they are teaching that God’s children can never be ok with sin. We can never sign a peace treaty with sin. When we encounter sin in our lives, we’ll fight it, put it to death, like Romans 8:14 tells us.
And this passage points us to the secret for doing that. The way we fight sin is to have our hope fixed on seeing Jesus face to face. Remember verse 3? “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
The next time you are in the middle of temptation, about to give in to sin, maybe even this week, remember Jesus. Think of him, with eyes like the sun, bursting through the skies on a white horse with the armies of heaven behind him. Think of looking Him in the eyes as He sits on His throne. What will He say to you? What will you say to Him?
It all of a sudden makes that temptation feel pretty thin and weak and ugly, doesn’t it?
The way to fight sin in our lives here and now is to keep our hope fixed on that day, when we’ll see Him and be like Him. It’s just like verse 28, at the very beginning of our passage, said:
“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
We don’t want to be like the kid whose dad asked him to mow the grass, but comes home to find him playing video games instead. We want to be ready and unashamed to meet Him.
So stay close to Jesus. Don’t move on from Jesus to greener pastures. There are no greener pastures than Christ. Remain in Him. Remain in His word.
As we close this morning, let’s remember that although this passage has said some heavy things to us, it has also summoned us to celebrate. God has shown us so much love in making us His children. It’s not a burden to fight sin- it’s our joy to look more and more like the Father who has loved us so much. We’re God’s children, and we get to be like Him.
It’s our joy to show our Father we love Him by being like Him.
I want to say one more thing this morning. Maybe you’re here and you don’t know that God is your Father. You don’t know if you’ve been born again.
I’d love to talk to you more about that. But more importantly, I want to encourage you to talk to God about that. Ask Him to forgive your sins. Ask Him to make you His child.
We’re going to end by singing a song together that celebrates that we have a redeemer who has paid for all of our sins. And one day we’ll see His face and be like Him. And until then we have the gift of the Holy Spirit who is making us more and more like our loving Father whose children we most certainly are.