We Are the Children of God
So here in the month of August, we as a church are hitting reset, and I want to go ahead and remind you right from the start about the foundation that we’re coming back to. This is the organizing principle, or the premise, that I’m praying will snap us back to reality and give us a fresh vision for what God has for us. It goes like this:
The more we are assured of God’s love and of how much we don’t deserve it, then the more we are humbled and filled with joy, and then the more we are poured out in love for others, which all amounts to magnifying the glory of God.
And so last week we talked about the love of God, and we looked at 1 John 4 where the Bible tells us that God is love. God’s love is demonstrated and deep and determined — and we know that God’s love changes us. In fact, the more we comprehend God’s love for us then the more we will be changed. That’s a foundational conviction in this reset we’re doing, and just to be clear, that’s a conviction that I’m getting from the Bible. And I think the clearest place we see it is Ephesians Chapter 3.
What Has Been Prayed for Us
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3, has been writing about the eternal purposes of God realized in Jesus, and then in verse 14 he moves into a prayer, and he tells the church what he’s praying for them. Paul is asking God to strengthen the church so that Jesus would dwell in their hearts through faith. And then Paul explains what that means: Jesus dwelling in our hearts means that we are rooted and grounded in love, and that we have the strength to comprehend every dimension of God’s love in Christ. This is Ephesians Chapter 3, verse 19.
Paul wants us to know more deeply the love of God that surpasses knowledge. That’s his prayer for us. That’s what the apostle Paul is asking God to do in the church, including our church.
And maybe there’s a lot of us in here who have heard Ephesians 3 before. Maybe we know that Paul has prayed for us to comprehend every dimension of God’s love; this is not new to us; we’ve seen this before — and yet if that’s the case for us, if we’ve seen this before, which I know is many of us — why then haven’t we taken God up on this?
The apostle Paul has prayed to God and asked God to make me know more of God’s love in Jesus, so then why don’t I come to God more often expecting God to answer that prayer?
I mean do I think that Paul is wrong here in what he prays? OR do I think that God is not able to answer this prayer? Which is it? Why don’t I — why don’t we — come to God like Ephesians 3 could be true?
Look, Ephesians 3 is not a pipe dream. This is a prayer, and it’s a good prayer. Paul is praying a good prayer and God is good and strong enough to answer it — so therefore, I’m living with a new expectation. It’s part of this reset.
I don’t know all the details of what people want in their pastor, but I can tell you the kind of pastor I want to be: I want to be an expert in the love of God. And apostle Paul prayed that I would be, and he prayed the same thing for you. So let’s pray that together this morning as we get started:
Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of everything, we are asking, with the apostle Paul, for you to indeed strengthen us by your Holy Spirit to know more of your love for us in Jesus. And we mean this. There is more wonder and depth and glory in your love than we currently understand — so give us more understanding. Make us know more of your love today. In Jesus’s name, amen.
What Does It Mean to Be Children of God?
So the more we are assured of God’s love and how much we don’t deserve it, then the more we are changed. We are changed how? Well, I’m saying that we are “humbled and filled with joy.”
And those are virtues. Humility and joy are character traits that mark the Christian life, and they’re both commanded in the New Testament. We should walk in humility and we should rejoice, and the reason that I’m highlighting these virtues over other virtues like patience or kindness is because I think humility and joy are broader, fundamental virtues. They are like the soil in which the other virtues grow. And that’s because they’re at the heart of our identity, which is what 1 John 3 is all about.
So if you have a Bible, open there to 1 John Chapter 3. And look there in verse 1 — 1 John 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.
So John here is telling the church who we are. We are children of God. Now, what does it mean to be children of God? It means at least three things. Being children of God means:
- We are loved by God
- We look like Jesus
- We live in hope
Loved by God; look like Jesus; live in hope — that’s the sermon outline, and the plan is just to walk through each of these one at a time, starting with first.
1. The children of God are loved by God.
And we can see this right there in verse 1. John says “See what kind of love the Father has given to us” — and by “see” he means to “understand.” So John, like Paul, wants us to understand God’s love, and he says that we can understand God’s love in the fact that we are called the children of God.
So last week we saw how John explains the love of God: God’s love is demonstrated in the death of Jesus. John says: This is how it’s love — it’s that we didn’t love God, but God loved us, and sent his Son to die for us. That is the love of God.
And here in Chapter 3 John says we can understand more of what that love means by remembering who we are.
There’s the love of God and what the love of God has done, and then there is who the love of God makes us to be. It makes us God’s children. We are the children of God, which means we are loved by God as his sons and daughters.
It Is a Particular Love
And let me just say: that’s not going to mean anything to you if you think that every human being is a child of God. That’s kind of a popular idea, this idea that every person in the world is a child of God — but here’s the thing with that: it only works if it stays generic. When there’s a generic god with generic love then you can have a world full of generic children.
But that’s just not the way the Bible puts it. In the Bible, the love of God for his children is a particular kind of love. It is love that we are given as a gift, not love that we are entitled to.
In fact, when it comes to what we’re entitled to; when it comes to our destiny as sinful humans, the Bible says that it’s God’s judgment. This is in Ephesians Chapter 2, verse 3. Paul is talking there about who we used to be apart from Jesus, and he says that in our sin, apart from faith in Jesus, we were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” That’s who we used to be. Our inheritance as sinful humans is God’s wrath, which includes everybody apart from Jesus. Apart from Jesus you are not a child of God, you are a child of wrath.
But then there’s God’s love. Because of God’s great love for us, Ephesians 2:4, God makes us alive in Jesus. God takes people dead in their sins — he takes children of wrath — and he makes them his own children. The apostle John explains this in the Gospel of John. It’s in Chapter 1, verse 12. John says there:
But to all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, [God] gave them 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)
Children of wrath become children of God when they believe in Jesus Christ, and God is the one who makes that happen. We can’t do this. This is the work of God, and when you believe in Jesus, when you put your faith in Jesus, you become a child of God. God makes that your right. That is who you become.
He Calls Us His Children
And there’s more. I love how 1 John 3:1 says it. Hear this again:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
I think John is highlighting something important here. Notice he says that we are called the children of God, and that we are the children of God. Being called something and being something are not the same.
Sometimes people are called things they are not, and then sometimes people are things they are not called. One is to flatter, the other is to disown. One is to overspeak, and other is to underspeak. But God will do neither. With God, there is perfect congruence between his word and reality. With God, he calls it as it is, and what he calls is.
And so if he calls you his child then you are his child. And if you are his child, he calls you his child.
And I wonder what you think about that? Have you ever thought about what it means that God calls you his child?
And I want us to feel this at the heart level. You as a child of God does not mean that you are just part of the family tree. It does not mean that you’re just somewhere on the map, somewhere down the line. It does not mean that you have some kind of connection to God as if you were just a distant great-great grandchild.
Get this: there is one mediator between God and man — it’s Jesus — and if you trust in Jesus then you are a child of God, and God calls you child. So stop living like a great-great grandchild, and start living like a child.
You are God’s child, and that means that God says about you what he says about Jesus — and we know what God says about Jesus in Matthew 3:17. He says: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is my son whom I love, and I am happy in him. And if you are a child of God, then God says that about you.
Sons and daughters, my brothers and sisters in Christ, see what kind of love the Father has for us. We, the children of God, are loved by God as his children.
2. The children of God look like Jesus.
Look at verse 2 there in 1 John 3. This is 1 John Chapter 3, 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.
John is talking about about Jesus here, and he says that at the Second Coming, when Jesus returns, we are going to be like him. We are going to be resurrected into a glorified body, and we are going to resemble Jesus. That is the completion of our salvation: every Christian will be perfectly Christlike. This is something that will happen in a moment; Paul says it’ll happen in “the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52) — and it’s something that is already at work in our lives right now.
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says that right now, as in today, as in this moment, we are being transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So God, after he makes us his children, he continues to work in our lives — this is what we call sanctification. And the goal of sanctification — what God is doing in your life right now, Christian — is that he is making you look more like Jesus. That’s what it means to be a child of God. It means you look more and more like Jesus until one day, when Jesus returns, you perfectly look like Jesus.
This is the reason the New Testament talks about Jesus as “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29), or, like the Book of Hebrews says it: Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He’s the one who has gone before us.
In fact, I think one of the most glorious passages on sanctification is in the Book of Hebrews, in Chapter 2. I want to read this passage to you, because I just want you to hear it (and there are a lot of pronouns, but I’m just going to insert the name so you know who we’re talking about). So hear this — Hebrews 2, verse 10,
For it was fitting that [God the Father], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For [Jesus, the one] who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source [which is God the Father]. That is why [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers.
So let me point out the obvious here: if God is your Father then that makes Jesus your brother. If Jesus is the Son of God, and we are children of God, then that makes Jesus our brother. And there’s more. Jesus is not ashamed to be your brother.
That’s what Hebrews 2:11 says.
Jesus is not ashamed of you, and if he’s not ashamed of you then what does that mean? Honest question. What does that mean? If Jesus is not ashamed of you then what is he?
What I’m about to say might sound weird to you. It might come off strange, and I’ve debated whether to say it because I don’t want it to be misunderstood or taken out of context, but I do want us to feel Hebrews Chapter 2, verse 11. And what the Bible is says here is this:
- women in this room, daughters of God in this room, Jesus is proud to call you his sister; and
- men, sons of God in this room, Jesus is proud to call you his brother.
And you look like him. And he’s making you look more like him.
That is what holiness means. That is what repentance is all about. Because we are children of God, because we look like Jesus, sin becomes a contradiction to our identity. And so we kill our sin to live in Christ; we put off our old self to put on our new self. The holy life is the life that resembles Jesus, and next week we’re going to talk about what that life does, but for today you need to know that’s who you are.
As children of God, we are being conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). The children of God look like Jesus.
3. The children of God live in hope.
There’s a connection between the future that God has for us and the way we live right now, and that connection is called hope.
In 1 John 3, right after John mentions the return of Jesus when we will become perfectly like Jesus, John says in verse 3: “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
In other words, our hope in Jesus and becoming like him is what makes us holy. We become like Jesus by hoping in Jesus. This is when the reality of what we will be in the future reaches back into our present and changes us. That’s the way God wants us to live, and it’s so important that God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us do this.
The Holy Spirit is the minister of hope in our lives. And do you know what he does? How does the Holy Spirit give us hope? What is the hope that the Holy Spirit makes clear to us? I’ll say it this way: If the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to our spirits, what is he bearing witness about?
The Witness of the Holy Spirit
It’s that you are a child of God; and that one day you are going to look perfectly like Jesus. This is Romans Chapter 8.
Romans Chapter 8, verse 15,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
God has a future for us. He has an inheritance for us. We are fellow heirs with Christ. That is our hope. So how do we live in that hope?
It means that we live like what will be more fully realized in the future can be more truly realized today, because it’s true today. I’m going to say that again:
Living in hope means that we live like what will be more fully realized in the future can be more truly realized today, because it’s true today.
One day it will be revealed and made crystal clear to the whole world that you are a child of God, but you don’t become a child of God then — “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2). And so we live like it now — and that means we go about our days, from place to place, and moment to moment, like we have a Father in heaven who loves us. It means that whenever we find ourselves in hard places, whenever our circumstances are painful, we know that our Father in heaven is in control, and that he is not surprised by anything, and that he only intends our everlasting good and he will effect our everlasting good no matter what. It means that every detail of our lives is under our the care of our Father, and that somehow, in some way, by his wisdom, our Father who loves us is working out every detail for our joy.
Humbled and Filled with Joy
That’s the hope we live in, and if we want to get more practical (and we do) living in that hope emanates character. Living in that hope expresses itself in virtues, and those virtues are humility and joy.
The more we are assured of God’s love and how much we don’t deserve it, then the more we are humbled and filled with joy. That God loves me. The God of Abraham is my Father. The Creator of the universe calls me his child. I don’t know whether to fall down in silence, or to jump up and sing. I don’t know whether to put my hand over my mouth, or to raise it in the air.
The love of God humbles us and fills us with joy. We are profoundly grateful and we are pervasively glad. And I want so badly to live this way. Church, I want us so badly to live this way!
The Rock-Bottom Smile
My son, Micah, who is seven, has had an eventful summer. About a month ago he mashed his fingers in the hinge side of a door and he’s losing a couple fingernails, and then the very next day he was playing outside and he gashed his knee open. And so the afternoon when he did that I took him into the ER at Children’s to get it stitched up, and I don’t know the last time you’ve been to the ER, but it’s kind of standard that they ask you to rate your pain on a pain chart.
And for adults, I think it works to use a numerical scale of 1–10, but for kids, they use an emoji scale. And there’s a big smiley if you have no pain, and then there’s a dreadful sad face for the most intense pain.
And so we’re at the ER and they asked Micah: “which face looks like how you feel?” And before I could explain to Micah how it all works, he chose the big smiley face, and so they sent back out in the waiting area, and four hours later they finally called us back for the stitches.
And during that four-hour time we were waiting, I was explaining to Micah that if his pain was really bad then they would have seen him sooner, but because he chose the big smily face then we got bumped to the bottom of the list — and so, buddy, the next time you’re at the ER, if you don’t want to wait four hours, don’t pick the big smiley face, pick the sad face. And I was joking.
Well, this past Thursday Micah was playing outside and he fell and cracked his arm, and so Melissa took him into an Urgent Care for an X-Ray, and while they were trying to figure out how bad it was, the nurse told Melissa that he probably just needs to go into the Children’s ER — and Melissa tells me this later — but Micah hears the nurse say that he needs to to the ER, and he’s quiet for a minute, sitting there with his arm splinted up, and then he tells Melissa: “Well Mom, I know what Dad is going to say, but I’m still gonna choose that big smiley face.”
Look, there are a lot times in life when we are rightfully sad. That is part of what it means to live in this world of suffering and hardship. There are dark and terrible valleys that God brings us through, and some of you are walking through those valleys right now, and I want you to know that God is with you, and he has not forsaken you, and that even in that valley, even in your suffering, you can have joy. You can. Because even at the rock bottom, down to the core, there at the root, when everything else fades or falls or is taken away, you are still a child of God. And you can smile because God smiles on you.
You are loved by God. You look like Jesus. And you can live in hope.
And that’s what brings us to the Table.
This Table is a gift that Jesus has given his church so that we can remember, each week, the greatness of God’s love. And the way the Table does that is by reminding us that Jesus died for us. The Table brings us back to the cross where Jesus died for the children God who through faith in Jesus become the children of God.
All that I have said today about God’s love does not apply to you apart from Jesus. It does not. But in Jesus, by faith in Jesus, you are called a child of God, because you are.
So sons and daughters of God, this bread and this cup is for you. And so, let’s eat and drink together.