Children Of God
Notes of an address on John 1:9-13 and 1 John 3:1-3
The Christian Privilege : To be a Child of God
When considering the believers of the Old Testament, we see many outstanding personalities. We may think of David, the man according to the heart of God (Acts 13:22), or Moses, who was faithful in all his house (Num.12:7), or Job, who was just and feared God and abstained from doing evil (Job 1:8), or Abraham, who received an outstanding commendation, being named the friend of God (2 Chr.20:7, Isa.41:8, Jas.2:23). Yet we may possess something that all Old Testament saints did not possess, we may be called "children of God". I would like to try to present three things to you this evening. Firstly, how does a man become a child of God; secondly, what does that mean to his life here upon earth; and thirdly what is the future of the children of God when our lives here on earth end.
How does a Man Become a Child of God?
It was necessary for the Son of God to come down to earth so that we could have the possibility of becoming children of God. He came from the home of eternal life. He Himself is life, and when His life upon earth is revealed it is manifested as light (John 1:4). Why is this? It was because it is dark upon earth. In verse 9 we read that He is "the true light..... which, coming into the world, lightens every man". Just as the sun's rays shine upon all, even so the Son of God placed every human being in His light. This is what He is doing tonight, He places every man into His light.
Then we read a very sad thing "the world knew Him not". Most men were not ready to accept this light. The Lord Jesus said when He was here upon earth, with, I believe, a bleeding heart, "Wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who enter in through it" (Matt.7:13). But then we read a second thing "He came to His own", to His earthly people, Israel, who outwardly were the nearest to God (we might say 'the religious men'), but even they "received him not".
When my father was converted from an unbelieving family, he had an uncle who was a preacher, and after his conversion he went quickly to see him and told him of his conversion. The uncle said "Now this is interesting, I have never experienced this myself!" My father was very confused, and said 'Well you preach every Lord's day', and this outwardly religious man replied 'Well, every time I do, I receive ten Swiss Francs'. He did it for money. This is surprising to some, that even high religious men are not ready to receive the Lord Jesus.
Now verse 12 places before us "as many as received him". I hope that each and every one here present in this room has received the Lord Jesus. We find here the two great elements of conversion. First of all, that we receive the Lord Jesus as the light, the light that shines into our innermost being, and convicts us that we are sinners and that we have sinned. This fact also makes us tremble because we understand that we deserve judgment. But then the second element comes in, that God has provided an escape, by believing on the name of the Lord Jesus. On Calvary's cross He died for us, and in faith we may find our support in Him. We may know that Christ's work at Calvary is sufficient with regard to the problem of sin dwelling in us, and also with regard to the matter of sinful deeds.
In verse 13 we find new birth mentioned, men who have been born of God. It is not easy to talk about new birth. New birth is an act of God in a man, and is a miracle. I have heard that in some circles people are trained to make new births! But of course this is nonsense. It is not possible for man to make others be born again. New birth is something that God alone can do.
Nicodemus was a scholar who came to the Lord Jesus by night (John 3). It is remarkable to read what he says to the Lord Jesus, but even more important are the Lord Jesus' answers. If high ranking dignitaries meet each other they start by exchanging compliments. Nicodemus greeted the Lord by saying "Rabbi, we know that thou art come a teacher from God, for none can do these signs that thou doest unless God be with him". He expected the Lord Jesus to answer him 'And you are the great teacher of Israel'. But the Lord Jesus did not say this, he said to him "Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God", and Nicodemus had to ask Him what He meant. So the Lord Jesus explained the new birth to him.
It is a remarkable thing in Scripture that we often have to understand earthly things before we can understand spiritual things. This principle we find in 1 Cor.15:46 "But that which is spiritual [was] not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual". In order to understand new birth we have first of all to say something about natural birth. There are two elements involved in natural birth. First of all you see the process of the birth, and secondly you hear the cry of new life. The Lord Jesus gave an explanation of new birth by referring to wind. For years I reflected as to why did he this. It is now some years since my daughter at 8 years of age came home from school and said 'Father, I would like to ask you something. What do you see in nature without hearing?' I thought about it, but could not answer her. She told me 'Fog, or mist'. Then she said 'I would ask you a second thing. What do you hear in nature without seeing?' And then I was quick to answer 'Wind'. I think this is the reason why the Lord Jesus spoke of wind here. With a new birth you cannot see any process of being born, but you hear the cry of new life. Life becomes evident in natural things as well as in spiritual things.
A midwife said some time ago to me that doctors who know about birth say that the first cry of the new-born is no cry of joy, but rather a cry of fear. The child comes out of darkness to light, and is not able at first to cope with it. This is also true in new birth. The cry of new life is often no cry of joy. Sometimes young people come to me saying 'I believe I am converted, but my difficulties are so big I have the impression that I am not', and I often answer them that even these difficulties are proof that they have life. They now have to learn to cope with their condition in the light. Everyone who is born of God is ever in the light. To those who are converted and in whom God creates this new life God gives the privilege of being children of God.
I would just add a word in regard to the sequence. On my travels I meet brethren who know their Bible very well who tell me that first of all a man must be converted and then he is born anew, but I meet other brethren who also know their Bible very well, and they tell me that first someone has to be born anew or else he cannot be converted. I do not know what brethren here think, but I would suggest that both are right. I think that these things happen at the same time. We human beings always need a sequence of things, but in godly matters some things can happen at the same time. Conversion is man's side, and the new birth is God's side. In the fraction of a second when a man gets converted he is also born anew, and in the fraction of a second of being born again he is converted, and to these people God gives the right of being called children of God.
What Does it Mean to be a Child of God?
Now I would like to consider a second passage. In 1 John 3:1-2a we find what it means upon earth to be a child of God, "Behold what love God the Father has bestowed upon us". The child of God may now experience and know the love of the Father. When it says here "what a love....." it is not so much the scope of the love, but rather the quality. The love of God is varied. In creation itself we see that God loves His creatures, that is man. It has always impressed me to read in the beginning of the Bible that God Himself planted trees in the garden of Eden for man, so that man would have something for his eyes but also for his mouth (Gen.1:9). Then we see God's love to an earthly people, and further on in the New Testament where we see love in it's highest form, that is the love of a Father. The love of the Father for the Son is there in eternity, and now the children of God may also experience this love.
When speaking of God as the Father we have to notice three things, firstly, when God is called Father in the Old Testament the thought is, generally speaking, of origin. There are also three passages in the New Testament that speak of the Father in this way, when God is called the "Father of mercies" (2 Cor.1:3), the "Father of lights" (Jas.1:17) and the "Father of glory" (Eph.1:17). Secondly, is the capacity of discernment. Since the Son of God came to earth we know the truth of the Trinity of God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, existing from eternity, but manifest through the coming of the Son upon earth. Matt.28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" shows us that we have knowledge of the three Persons of the Godhead and that we can make a difference between them. But, the third point to notice when speaking of the Father, which John presents to us, is relationship or fellowship.
My father is my origin. I also have the same name as my father, and we have lived in the same village. This made it difficult for the postman, who sometimes brought a letter for my father to me. What the postman should have known was how to discern between us. Later I worked together with my father for 20 years and then a relationship came into existence, something of which the people of the village would not know so much of. This relationship was formed in the privacy of our living together, and this is the great thought of John, fellowship with the Father.
"See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God". We now belong to God's family. We are His children. This means two things. First of all, we have fellowship or communion with the Father, and secondly, we have fellowship with each other. This is why the world does not recognise us. Unbelieving men cannot understand us. This is what we have to appreciate. They cannot understand people who go three times a week to the meetings. I live in a village and there are people watching us coming together, and they think that there must be a tremendous pressure upon us to do that. I can understand why they think that, because they do not know what the Lord Jesus means to us. Unbelieving people can do many things, they can be gentle, helpful or can have compassion, but one thing they cannot do, they cannot rejoice in the Lord Jesus. This is why they do not understand us, and we have to understand this. There is, however, great comfort in that neither would they recognise Him. This may comfort us when men do not understand us.
There is also a question as to our relationship with the world. Children of God are no longer useful for the purposes of unbelieving men, in politics, in religious affairs and also in cultural affairs (entertainment, music, etc.). When useful for them in this respect we no longer comply with the character that we have as children of God. Beloved, this is what we may experience day by day as God's children, the sun of love shines every day upon us.
Sometimes we say the sun was shining yesterday, but today it is not. But this is not true. In Switzerland I was told that you can rarely see the sun in England, but when for the first time I came to England yesterday the sun shone brightly. The sun shines every day. Have you ever thought of the fact that the earth itself cannot bring forth light and warmth? It can only bring forth something that hinders light and warmth, this is fog or clouds. This is true also in our lives. The sun of God's love shines every day upon us, and we never want to forget this. Maybe somebody is sitting here who thinks 'Nobody loves me', but if you are a child of God, God loves you every day, although it may be that something has come in between, something that is not pleasing to God, and it has to be confessed and done away with and then we sense again the love, the warmth and the light of the Son of God. Beloved, we are now God's children", even upon earth. This is a present and secure blessing.
What is the Future for the Child of God?
Sometimes there are believers who are very modest, who say 'I will just have a little place to stand in heaven', but I myself am not so modest, I say I am even now a child of God. This is no presumption; it is what God says in His word, this is what I am leaning upon. It is a great thing to walk here through this life as children of God, to have fellowship with the Father, and to be able to experience day by day the love of God, yet we have to say, the most beautiful is still ahead of us when our life here upon earth finds its end, when the Lord Jesus comes to rapture us. This is what the second part of verse 2 involves. Again and again it amazes me how God is able to present wonderful truths in so few words. Here we find two great sides of our future. First of all "we will be like Him", and secondly "we shall see Him as He is". This is our wonderful future.
The first fact has to do with appearing with Him in glory and the second that we may go into the Father's house, one is the public side of it, the other is the secret side. I would like to present three Scriptures to make it plain. The first is in John 17:22-23, where we find that we will be like Him. Then the world will know that we are so loved as the Father has loved the Son. Then in verse 24 the Lord Jesus speaks of the Father's house, saying "I desire..... that they may behold my glory". In the Father's house He does not say that we will be like Him, but we will see Him.
A second passage is Romans 8:29, we will be "conformed to the image of his Son" when we will appear with him in the glory, but when we shall then go into the Father's house, it is said of Christ "that he should be the firstborn among many brethren".
Thirdly in Luke 9 we see the Lord Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, and Moses and Elijah appearing with Him. The glory is an image of our public situation, and then we find something very astonishing, the Lord Jesus enters along with these holy men into the cloud. The cloud is a picture of the dwelling of God (e.g. Ex.40:34), and the entering into this cloud symbolises the Lord Jesus coming back and taking us to Himself.
1 John 3:2 does not say that 'We shall see him as he was', neither does it say 'We shall we see him as he has become', but rather "We shall see him as he is". This means that the glory the Lord Jesus asks for in John 17, which He had before the world was, He requires now as Man so that we might see it in Him, in the Father's house. He explains this glory "for thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world". In the Father's house we may see the eternal flow of love flowing forth out of the heart of the Father to the Son. Beloved, this is our future.
What we find in verse 3 is more a statement than an exhortation, yet it has to do with the practice of our life, "Every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure". I would like to point out how precisely Scripture expresses itself in this verse, for it is not said that 'we are pure as the Lord is pure', as this would not be true. James says that we all stumble very often, and it is always necessary for us to cleanse ourselves, that is, to be exposed to the cleansing effect of the word of God; but neither is it said here 'The believer purifies himself as the Lord has cleansed Himself'; oh, no! Our Lord Jesus never had the necessity of cleansing Himself, He has been pure forever. Three apostles speak of this fact. Peter, the man of walk, says of the Lord Jesus, in His walk from the manger to the cross "He did no sin" (1 Pet.2:22). Paul, the man of principles says that the Lord Jesus "knew no sin" (2 Cor.5:21). In His teachings there was not even one principle of sin. John, the man of fellowship (fellowship is something within ourselves), says "in him is no sin" (1 Jn.3:5); never, not even for one second, was the fellowship of the Lord Jesus to His Father dimmed. Our Lord Jesus is holy and pure, and we bow down in worship before His holy name.