Child of God
The title of our sermon today is “Children of God, Children of Satan”.
As we come together to contemplate on this beautiful passage, I would like to first direct your attention to chapter 3 verse 1. The first half of the verse says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Just last week, some of our younger brothers and sisters in Christ gathered together over the weekend for our annual youth retreat. The theme of the youth retreat this year was “Who do you say you are?” Which is a theme on the topic of Christian identity. There were in total 8 sermons preached. And one of the topics preached in the retreat was on our identity as a child of God. Which is, coincidentally, also the focus of our passage today. In fact, I also quoted this passage in the retreat. So there will be some overlap between that sermon and this sermon. But for the sake of those who did not attend the retreat, I will share a little bit of what I preached in the retreat with you this afternoon as well. And as for those who attended the retreat, I hope that the sermon this Sunday afternoon will be a good reminder to you of the timeless truth of us being a child of God. When I say, or should I say, when the Bible says, that you are a child of God, that God is your heavenly Father, what is the very first thing that comes to your mind? As for me, whenever I consider myself as a child of God, and him as my heavenly Father, the first thing that comes to my mind is the security I enjoy for having a father. That I know that I as a child will be loved. That he, my heavenly Father, will protect me, and provide for me my daily needs. And if I have to summarise all these thoughts and make it into one thing, I suppose it is the benefit I enjoy knowing that God takes parental responsibility over my wellbeing. Is this what it means to be a child of God? Well of course it is. The Bible makes it very clear that God will love us as a father would, in fact, he will love us more than any earthly father could and would. While it is true that being a child of God means having a claim over God’s fatherly care, it is far from being the full picture. When the Bible says that God is our Father and we are his children, the Bible doesn’t only highlight God’s responsibilities as a Father. At the same time, the Father-child relationship also highlights our responsibilities as children. However, I must confess that whenever I think of myself as a child of God, my instinct is to think about what God has to do for me as my father, about the love and care that he owes me. But I seldom think about what it means for me to be his child. If we have an imbalanced focus on God’s parental responsibilities, two problems can arise:
The first problem is that we might come to take God’s fatherly love for granted. The second problem is that we might forget how to behave, how to think and act, as a child of God. So, for the rest of the sermon, we shall address these two problems. And hopefully by the end of the sermon, you and I may come out with a greater appreciation on what it means to be a child of God.
First problem: taking God’s fatherly love for granted. Let’s talk about the first problem: taking God’s fatherly love for granted. For those of us who have been a Christian for some years, it is rather common for us to simply assume that God loves us. We no longer see it as a privilege. We simply consider it as a reality. But this attitude is so different to the attitude of apostle John when he talks about Christians being children of God. In verse 1, you can hear his excitement and gratitude toward God: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!” Why is it that, sometimes, we don’t speak of being a child of God like this? Why is it that we have come to take God’s fatherly love for granted? I suppose the main reason is because we do not consider how we got to this point of being a child of God in the first place. In other words, we have forgotten who we were, and where we’re at, before we became a child of God. We have forgotten the condition we’re in when God chose to love us and adopt us into his household. I suppose you know the answer to these questions in your mind, but somehow, as time passes, our memories of the past fades, and it dilutes our gratitude toward God. And eventually, as we course through the river of time, we replace our memory with imagination. We have come to think that we enter into this father-child relationship with God as a blank slate. Innocent as a baby. No record of wrongdoing, and no reason for condemnation. Moreover, we have come to think that we enter into this father-child relationship with God as a being capable of independent living apart from God. And we say to God, like a rebellious child, “I used to live just fine without you. And if I wish to, I can leave this relationship whenever I want and do just fine, just as how I was before you came into my life.” And not only that, Because we have come to think that we are capable of living without God, or so we think, we consider that we have entered into this relationship with God as our free choice, even our “grace” to God. We say to him, “You should be honoured that I chose you.” But that’s not who we were prior to entering this relationship with God. We may think we were innocent, that we had our options, and that we could choose to play our cards according to our own will. But that’s not who we were. Instead, we enter into this Father-child relationship with a lot of baggage on our backs. And all this baggage was laid on us because of one reason: For before we became children of God, we were children of Satan.
Verse 8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” The phrase “makes a practice of sinning” describes someone who is involved in sin in an ongoing way. Sinning has become a habit, a second nature. In fact, in other parts of the Bible, fallen mankind is often described as slaves to sin. That they have no control over their sinful desires. Instead, their sinful desires control them, so that they could not escape the pattern of a sinful lifestyle. And in verse 8, these people who live an ongoing sinful lifestyle are described as coming from the devil. As children of Satan. They are called children of Satan because they imitate the devil in their lives, just as a child would imitate his father. But I think there is more going on here when the Bible calls sinners the children of the devil. More than just sinners imitating the devil, the devil also puts his desires and his thoughts into the hearts of sinners, so the sinner’s desires are born out of Satan. In the book of John, Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who rejected him they were of their father the devil because they wanted to carry out the desires of the devil by seeking to put Jesus to death. In John 8:44, Jesus says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” And elsewhere, speaking of Judas Iscariot, the disciples of Jesus who betrayed him, it is mentioned that such evil desire actually came from Satan. John 13 verse 2 says, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him [Jesus].” And right before Judas betrayed Jesus, the Bible mentioned that Satan had entered into Judas in John 13 verse 27. In this letter of 1 John, the apostle John splits the world into two, into darkness and light, into the household of God and the household of Satan. And there is no third option available. Those who are not of God, they practice habitual sinning. They persist in sin. They cannot control the desires to sin that Satan has placed in their hearts. In fact, their minds are so enslaved by these sinful desires, that they have come to a full agreement with these sinful inclinations. They feel like they are just doing what they want to do, without feeling that they are being controlled. And this is why the passage describes them as being of the devil. Because they imitate the devil. And because the devil has put it into their hearts to sin in this way.
The reason why I am describing all this, is because that’s who we were, before God brought us into his household. We were enslaved by sinful desires. We were like puppets on strings, and Satan had absolute sway over our actions and our thoughts. He knows what we like. He tempts us with what we like. And he reassures us that we will be happy and satisfied chasing after the carrot on a stick that he had placed right in front of our mouths. Truly, before we knew Jesus, what hope was there? In fact, we can’t even say that Satan had deceived us. What he offered to us was truly the best thing we can enjoy apart from God. Sin can be pleasurable. Rebellion can be sweet. Just tickle our lust, just feed our pride, and fulfil our greed, and we would gladly follow Satan to hell after 80 years of “independent sinning.” Sin is the poison, and we were all slowly heading toward our eternal deaths. And that’s who we were. We celebrated sin because we were children of the devil, and we are accursed so that we can only do what our father wants. Our understanding of who we were prior to entering this relationship with God, will determine whether we will cherish God’s fatherly love for us. Knowing that we openly rebelled against God, and we were happy about living in the household of Satan, calling him our father, knowing that we had betrayed God’s love and is now on a highway toward utter destruction… Knowing all this, would it change your perspective, now that I tell you that God came down to your world, and embraced you as his child? That while you were blind in sin, he called you his and cleansed you? That he laid down the life of his son in exchange for yours? Now returning to verse 1, does it make sense to you that John rejoiced in being a child of God? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” To be called children of God is an immense privilege, because it means that God himself has chosen us to be in his family. We didn’t choose him. Instead, he chose us. It is not that we had many options in life, and out of the many options we chose to live in God’s home. Instead, we had no option but to sin, and sin, and sin until we die. And when we had no other options, Jesus came and gave us a new option through his death: the option of becoming a child of God. This is what the Bible says in John 1:12–13. “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Looking at our adoption into the household of God from a human point of view, we have become the children of God because we received Christ, that we believed in his name. However, if we look at our adoption into the household of God from God’s perspective, we are his children because we are born of God. To be born of God means that God is the active party in deciding that we should become his children. So, did we become the children of God because we chose God, or because God chose us? The answer is both. However, there is a certain order to it. It is God who first chose us. And those who are chosen by him will in turn choose him. Rom 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And in Eph 1:4, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” He had determined to love us, save us, and forgive us our sins in Christ, even before he made us. But there is yet another question. So, are we born of God, or are we adopted by God? Well again, the answer is both. Because each of them represents a different reality. On the one hand, “Born” implies God’s sovereignty in choosing us. It is not we who chose him, but he who first chose us. On the other hand, “Adopted” implies God’s mercy, because as sinners who lived in the household of Satan, we do not originally deserve his love. The word “adopted” reminds us of the journey we took from being of the devil to being of God. Because we forgot to consider who we were before we became a child of God, we do not value our newfound identity in being a child of God. We must reconsider what it means to be a child of God, by comparing it with its only alternative, that is, apart from being adopted into the household of God, we are trapped in the household of Satan, as slaves to sin, and we are marching toward our rightful destruction in sin. Coming into the household of God, we have no right to claim anything as rightly ours. We came like a beggar boy to his doorstep. Hungry, we came to him for food. Naked, we came to him for clothing. But we did not receive food or clothing. Instead, we are received into the household of God, loved as a son. And our Father in heaven is pleased. We came for mere mercy, but got an eternal inheritance instead. If we should consider who we truly were before becoming a child of God, we would avoid the problem of taking God’s fatherly love for granted.
Second problem: don’t consider that we have responsibilities as children too. Now, we shall enter into the second problem that we commonly encounter when we think of our relationship with our heavenly Father. The second problem is that we often don’t consider that we too have responsibilities as children of God. While the responsibility of God as our Father is to love, protect, and provide for us, our responsibility as his children means submission and obedience. That we should agree with who God is, and what he stands for. God is loving and he stands for love, and so we should also love as an act of obedience and submission. God is everything good combined. And as our father, he commands us to strive for everything good, to do what is good. And this is what being a child of God means. Our passage today makes this aspect of our responsibilities as children quite clear. Verse 29 says this, “Everyone who practises righteousness has been born of him.” In other words, everyone who is a child of God practises righteousness. Not only should we be righteous because God demands us to be righteous, but also because God himself is righteous. Therefore verse 7 says, “Whoever practises righteousness is righteous, as he [God] is righteous.” So, just to summarise everything we’ve said so far: Anyone who believes in Jesus is a child of God. Subsequently, anyone who is a child of God is responsible to God as his child. As a child, our responsibility is to obey and imitate our Father in heaven. This obedience and imitation are summed up in our passage by one word: righteousness. Everything that God fights for, everything that is considered good in God’s eyes, everything that is consistent with God’s law and God’s holiness, boils down to this word: righteousness. And righteousness is the mark of the children of God that will distinguish them from the children of Satan. Verses 9 to 10 is the clearest example of this distinction. It says, “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. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practise righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Those who are born of the devil, imitate the devil, and the devil puts his desires in them, so that they do the will of Satan. However, those who are born of God, imitate God, and God puts his desire in them, so that they will do the will of the Lord. The Bible closely connects the identity of man with the actions of man. Verse 7 in our passage today says, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practises righteousness is righteous…” Of course there is a distinction between being righteous and practising righteousness. However, while there is a distinction, there is no separation between being righteous and acting righteous. Brings up a question: sinless perfection? The traditional way of resolving the tension is to argue that 3:6–9 claims that those born of God cannot sin habitually, whereas 1:8–9 recognises that they do sin occasionally. Such a distinction is based upon the use of present tense forms of the verbs in 3:6–9 when speaking about sinning which, it is argued, denotes habitual sinning. The phrase “to commit sin” in 3:6-9 is used in the Gospel of John (John 8:34, for example. “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”) to denote habitual sinning and sinning from nature (i.e. being enslaved by sin).
How should we respond? Obedience. (Eternal fate in God’s hands, we leave it to him). Lyonnet comments: Just as a Christian lives under the influence of God living in him, so do sinners live under the influence of the devil and allow themselves to be seduced by him. Consequently, just as he who is born of God and in whom God dwells does what God does, or concretely, ‘lives the same kind of life as Christ lived’ (1 Jn 2:6), that of a son of God, so the ‘children of the devil’ can only do what their ‘father wants’ (Jn 8:44), those very deeds which the Son of God came to undo (1 Jn 3:8). Complexity is compounded when we consider that Satan still has influence over Christians. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus confirmed to him that it was the Father who gave this knowledge to him. But right after that, Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from taking his appointed path to the cross, Jesus exclaims, ‘Out of my sight, Satan!’ (Matt 16:23; Mark 8:33). Also, later Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Key 1: Luke 22:31-34. 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Satan will not have final victory in a Christian’s life. Key 2: Mark 13:22-23. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. Note: it is impossible to lead the elect astray. Note: Still, we must be on guard (And we see how Peter fell temporarily because he was not on guard). Surface distinction between Peter and Judas is very small. Guard your heart, just as God guards your heart. God’s perspective: preservation. Man’s perspective: perseverance.
Hope of Children. Is there hope? Or are we stuck in this internal inconsistency? Yes there is hope. Responsibility, status, and desire, will one day come together in perfect harmony. V.2 “See him as he is.” Not as how we see him now, clouded by sin. But see him as it is. In his beauty, his righteousness, his holiness, his love. When we see him as he is, it means that we would fully agree with God. Full agreement = perfect imaging and perfect obedience. Full agreement does not mean full understanding, but full trust. V.2 “When he appears we shall be like him.” Amazing Grace, “Was blind, but now I see.” Application. That’s future hope. I trust, I believe, I look forward to it. But what does it have to do with me right now? Is found in Verse 3. V.3 “Hopes in him” refers to the hope of changing to full agreement with God, and perfect imaging of Christ. Purifies = present tense. Right now. Reason: “As he (Jesus) is pure.” “We shall be like him” is not just a future hope. It is a present desire. Count everything else as lost. Sustained by present strength. V.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 power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the resurrection, is now in us. To know him and the power of his resurrection. Know the power = experience its strength. We are new creation.
1. One of the ways we can take God’s love for granted, is if we had forgotten to consider who we were before we were adopted as God’s children.
a. Hypothetically speaking, who would you become and what would your life look like, if the redeeming grace of God did not come to us? Or, for those who became a Christian somewhere in your life, how was your life like?
2. Now that you are a Christian, how has the Holy Spirit empowered you to escape the enslavement of sin? Was there any sin that God had helped you gain victory over (even if it is still work in progress)?
3. As a child of God, what do you think of the responsibilities (such as obedience and trust) that we owe our Father? Is it easy or difficult for you, and why so?
If you have any questions regarding the sermon, please feel free to send an email to me to this address: [email protected]