Children of God
Good morning. Please turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of John. So far, we have looked at the first five verses, and we have considered those verses in intricate detail. Today, we will go all the way down to verse thirteen. We will be focussing on the subject of children of God, especially the question: What makes children of God? What turns average, ordinary people into children of God?
Beginning with the first verse of John 1, we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
How children of God are identified.
Verse twelve speaks of those who were given the right to become children of God. What is a child of God? John distinguishes children of God in at least three ways. He distinguishes them through identity, privileges, and nature.
The first way John distinguishes children of God is through identity. He uses words in a way that clearly distinguishes between the converted children of God and the eternal Son of God. For the converted children of God, John uses the word teknon, which is properly translated as child. For the Son of God, for references to Jesus, John uses the word huios, which is properly translated as son.
The second way John distinguishes children of God is through their privileges. He does this through the phrase "the right to become children of God." The word right implies the privileges that a child of God has now, compared to the privileges he had before becoming a child of God. This is illustrated when we consider the privileges that used to belong to Jews alone. Paul describes those privileges in detail in Ephesians 2:11-13:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Then, continuing with verse 19, Paul writes:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
Thus, Paul expands in detail the treasure that lies behind John's very short, concise phrase: "the right to become children of God."
The third way that John distinguishes children of God is with respect to their nature. In John 8:39-47 we read about one of Jesus' confrontations with the Pharisees:
They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father." They said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
Jesus is saying that children do the deeds of their fathers. He tells the Pharisees that if they were Abraham's children, they would be following in the righteous steps of Abraham. However, as they reject Christ, they reveal who their spiritual father really is -- the devil. The devil has an unbelieving nature, and when people reject Christ, they show that they are not children of God but children of the devil. That is what this verse reveals: we discover the nature of a person through the acts of that person. The acts of a person reveal whether he is a child of God or a child of the evil one.
In summary, this is how John distinguishes children of God. He distinguishes them through identity, through privileges, and through nature. But it is the new nature that John emphasizes. We see this especially in his epistles where children of God demonstrate their new nature in six ways: what they believe about Jesus Christ, what they practice, what they reflect, whom they love, how they stand, and how they persevere.
We have just considered how children of God are identified. But where do children of God come from? What makes a child of God? Over the next few minutes we will consider three aspects of making children of God:
Ten Things That Do Not Make a Child of God
Does good doctrine make one a child of God?
A few weeks ago, we studied the first two verses of John 1. We read, " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
From these verses, we were able to confirm the doctrine of the Trinity. We observed that God is one essence and three persons, and we established that Jesus, while distinct from the Father in person, is equal to the Father with respect to His divine nature. This is one doctrine that is affirmed by most Christians around the world. It is affirmed by most Catholics and most Protestants. It is affirmed by most Baptists and most Methodists. Yet, how many people do we know personally who, although they would never deny the doctrine of the Trinity, they deny the authority of God through the way they live their lives. They reveal by their actions that they are not children of God.
So we see that one can have good doctrine and yet not be a child of God.
Does being a creationist make one a child of God?
The next passage we studied in John 1 was verse three: "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."
From this verse, we saw that scripture clearly identifies Jesus as the creator of all created things. Everything that was created was created through Jesus. No created thing came into existence without Him.
Meanwhile, we live in a day when it is quite fashionable to deny God's work in creation. Instead, people have adopted the formula: time plus chance plus nothing equals something. People who believe the Bible stand against this view. These people are sometimes called creationists. Does being a creationist make you a child of God?
In answering this question, we must remember that prior to the late 1800s, most westerners still believed that God created the world. In fact, even the Pharisees would have believed this much. But that certainly did not make them children of God.
So it is that one can be a creationist and still not be a child of God.
Does being moral make one a child of God?
In our third sermon on John's gospel, we looked at verses four and five. In the fourth verse we read, "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men." We learned that for John, although he sometimes spoke of light with respect to physical light, most of the time his references to light were ethical. We also learned that you cannot have the life of Jesus without the light of Jesus. To hate the light of Jesus is to hate Jesus, himself. Many today have great regard for the teachings of Jesus. They hold the golden rule and the beatitudes with the highest esteem. Yet, they ignore the Christ who is behind those teachings.
In the 1700s, the philosopher Immanuel Kant did much to undermine the classical proofs for the existence of God. He shattered the traditional arguments that appealed to logic and evidence. Yet, at the same time, he realized that without God, ethics would be meaningless, and without ethics, society could not exist. Since that time, people have tried to have ethics without objective ethical authority. They have even tried to have Christianity without Christ, denying his divinity, his miracles, his sovereignty, and His resurrection.
So it is that a person can be moral and ethical and still not be a child of God.
Does sharing the gospel make one a child of God?
The fifth verse of John 1 deals with the light shining in the darkness: "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." One of the ways the light shines in the darkness is through evangelism.
When I was a young teenager, I used to go out with older teenagers to share the gospel. I was not old enough to drive, but I would sometimes ride in a car driven by a teenager whom we will call D.H. I had listened to his testimony and had heard him share the gospel on many occasions.
When I was an older teenager, I began to attend a different church. At that time, we received news of D.H. that was shocking. He and another boy I knew had been arrested for burning down churches. Eventually they both went to prison.
From teenage evangelist to teenage arsonist -- what a change! What evidence that this young man was never a child of God in the first place! Clearly, a person can be zealous for evangelism and still not be a child of God.
Does good teaching make one a child of God?
God has sent us great teachers. Such a teacher was John the Baptist. In John 1:6-9 we read, "There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man."
John the Baptist was an effective bearer of light in his time. In John 5:35 Jesus speaks of John saying, "He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light."
Many benefited from the testimony of John the Baptist. He entered into a society that was satisfied with its apparent piety, and he was able to convince many that they were actually sinners who needed to repent and flee the coming wrath of God.
But others, while willing to listen to John the Baptist, were unwilling to change their ways. An example was King Herod. In Mark 6:18-20 we read:
For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.
We live in a society that is filled with popular preachers. Some churches have multiple services to accommodate the masses of people. But how many are like King Herod, who enjoyed listening to sermons but refused to repent and believe?
People have responded in the same way to the teachings of Jesus. In John 1:9 Jesus is described as "the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." By coming into the world, Jesus made the truth available to people throughout the world. Some have rejected Him outright. Others have had a kind of faith for a season, only to eventually turn against Him. In John 2:23-25 we read:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
D. A. Carson comments on this passage:
Sadly, their faith was spurious, and Jesus knew it. Unlike other religious leaders, he cannot be duped by flattery, enticed by praise or caught off-guard in innocence. His knowledge of men's hearts is profound.
So we see that people can receive good teaching about Christ and even believe that teaching for a season and still not be a child of God.
Does creation make one a child of God?
In John 1:10 we read, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." Yes, we certainly recognize that the world is in rebellion against God. In spite of this, however, is there not some sense in which God is the father of all mankind? After all, we still sing songs like "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," page 58 in the red hymnal. Even Paul, when speaking to the men of Athens at the Areopagus in Acts 17:28-29 refers to all men as God's offspring. Now, surely if we are God's offspring, then in some sense, God must also be our father. Right?
Well, it is certainly biblical to speak of God as our father in the context of creation. However, the designation children of God is not a consequence of natural birth but a right that is granted by God to those who received Jesus and, after they received Him, continue to believe in his name. We see this in John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name."
The word receive is in the past tense, and the word believe is in the present tense. It looks like bad grammar, but it is actually a faithful translation of the Greek text. There are many that receive Christ, but those who continue to believe on His name are few.
So creation, by itself, does not make children of God.
Does a religious heritage make one a child of God?
Apparently it does not, for in John 1:11 we read, " He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him."
I still remember a friend from high school and the confrontation he had with his parents about going to church. He did not want to go. When my friend resisted, his parents responded, "On Sunday we go to church." All my friend asked was one question: why? They had no answer.
Hopefully, if one of the children here asked the same question we would quickly point to Hebrews 10:24-25 where we read, "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."
But for my friend's parents, all they had was a religious habit that was no longer undergirded by biblical authority.
So we see that a religious heritage is not enough to make one a child of God. More is required.
Does having Christian parents make one a child of God?
The beginning of John 1:13 says, "Who were born not of blood." In the Greek the word blood is plural -- bloods. It may pertain to the way two separate bloodlines come together when parents have children. But children of God are not the products of two Christian parents.
Your mother might have taught Sunday School for thirty years. Your father might be a minister of the gospel. Your grandfather might have been a missionary in a far-away land.
But the blood of your parents cannot make you a child of God. Only the blood of the Savior can do that.
Does having Christian zeal make one a child of God?
Looking at John 1:13 again we read, "Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh." In this context, by will of the flesh John speaks of passion in the sense of human emotion. You can have great passion for the programs, the fellowship, and the activities of a church and still not be a child of God.
Being in a youth group does not make you a child of God. Neither does working in a soup kitchen, as commendable as these activities are. Something more than zeal is required.
Paul spoke of the zeal of his fellow Jews. In Romans 10:1-4 he writes:
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
From these verses, we see that you can have great zeal for God and still not be a child of God.
Does having Christian determination make one a child of God?
Looking again at John 1:13 we read, "Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man." Can we turn ourselves into children of God through an act of will?
On our own, we can certainly do things that children of God do. We can attend church and share the gospel. We can have devotions with our families and pray with our children. We can read our Bibles and drive to faraway Christian conferences. We can clean up our language and avoid bad company. We can use our time and money to help needy families. We can change what we watch on television or just throw the thing out the window. We can improve what we do in many ways. But these are outward changes. These are external changes.
What about internal changes? What about our affections, our desires, and our motivations? We can change what we do on the outside, but can we change what we do on the inside? On our own, can we change ourselves into people who are growing towards loving God with all our heart, all or mind, all our strength, and all our soul? On our own, can we turn ourselves into people who can honestly say with Paul: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain"? On our own, can we turn ourselves into people who love our enemies? Can we become different people on the inside just because we want to be different?
Many have tried. So it is that again and again we rejoice over what has appeared to be a new Christian, only over time to have him come crashing down and emerge a worse child of the devil than he was before. For the will of man, alone, does not make a child of God.
Please notice that I said "The will of man alone." For certainly the will of man is necessary. Receiving Jesus and believing in His name are acts of the will. Unless you receive Jesus and believe in His name, you are not a child of God. But where does the motivation to receive and believe come from? That is the key. Does it spring from an old nature that is trying to be religious, or does it spring from a new nature, a different nature, a nature that was not there before?
Could this new nature be the ultimate factor that determines whether one is a child of God or not? The answer is in the final lines of verse thirteen. Looking at John 1:13 again we will now read the whole verse: "Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
There it is: to be a child of God you must be born of God. You must be born again. While anyone can resemble a child of God on the outside, only through a new birth can you be a child of God on the inside. And only if you receive Jesus and believe in Him out of a new heart will your believing and receiving survive the kinds of trials and tests that Christians experience.
Does John say this? I believe he does, especially in 1 John 5:4, where we read, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith."
There is a kind of faith that will not endure to the end. It will fizzle and fail during times of testing. This kind of faith is not born of God. But there is another kind of faith, the kind of faith that does overcome the world and does endure to the end. This is the faith that is born of God. This rebirth is the one thing, the one essential thing, that makes a child of God. This is what Nicodemus had to learn.
The One Thing That Does Make a Child of God
The visit from Nicodemus.
One night Nicodemus, a highly respected teacher, went to visit Jesus. In John 3:2, Nicodemus says, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
Here it is clear that even as an unsaved man, Nicodemus is able to understand certain things about Jesus. He can see that Jesus has come from God, and he can see that Jesus has the kind of power that only God can give.
But Jesus immediately responds that there is more to see and understand. While Nicodemus is presently willing to honor Jesus as a teacher, it is necessary for Nicodemus to know more. However, something has to happen first, or Nicodemus will never understand. That is why Jesus responds by saying in John 3:3, " Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus could see the work of Jesus and, from that, extrapolate certain facts about Him, but without being born again, Nicodemus would never understand the depth of his own sinfulness. Nor would he understand how much he needs the eternal life that Jesus offers.
At first, Nicodemus was very confused. He asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"
From John 3:5-8:
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
We see at least four features of the new birth in these verses:
The reference to water and the spirit ties back to Ezekiel 36:25-27:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
John's use of the phrase born again.
John speaks of being born again and its effects in several places in his epistles:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
Those who are born of God occasionally walk in darkness rather than light, but this straying is neither their practice nor their design. Furthermore, they are not content to stay on the path of darkness. Repentance is a way of life for those who have been born of God.
Why This One Thing is Necessary
To have eternal life, faith and repentance are required, but both spring from being born again. That is why the new birth is necessary for eternal life. Both true faith and true repentance are consequences of the new birth. That the new birth must occur prior to true faith and repentance is evident when we consider how fallen man is. In chapter 12, John quotes from Isaiah 6:10 where we read, "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed."
As we examine this verse, we see that we have a problem when it comes to spiritual things. Before we are born again, we cannot:
Jesus lays out just how desperate our situation is in the following verses:
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."
We need new life in our souls so that we can believe with true faith, but it is the Spirit who gives life. We would like to be able to have this new life through our own efforts, but the flesh profits nothing. We would like to be able to understand what Jesus is saying, but his words are spirit and life. They do not make sense to us unless we are spiritually minded. No one can come to Jesus unless it is granted by the Father. The Father makes people willing to come to Jesus through the new birth.
And there we must end -- helpless before the sovereign God, unable to come to Christ apart from the Spirit's transforming power. Many of you know in your own hearts whether or not you have been born again. You know whether you are living for God or simply tolerating God, hoping thereby to procure some divine favor. You need a new heart, my friend. Cry out to God. Give Him no rest from your pleadings. He may have mercy on you yet. And if I might encourage you, please note that when John talks about the necessity of being born again, he never uses this to prevent people from coming to Christ. He never uses this to block the door. Instead, he uses it to explain two things:
Let us pray: Lord, you have shown great mercy in saving some. Yet, I would pray that you would save all that are here. Save their husbands, save their wives, save their children, save their loved ones, and save their friends. Even in our day, may we see your power exercised to subdue the hardened hearts of people throughout our community. Amen.