Who are and who are not children of God?

by Mike Ratliff

11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:11-19 NASB)

All in Christ have much in common no matter what doctrines they hold. Therefore, this post’s focus is on the marvelous outcome of our salvation that we are Children of God and because of that we have a “purifying hope” in Christ.

28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:28-29 NASB)

We will focus on in 1 John 2:28-29 through 1 John 3:1-3. This section of 1 John follows a section of chapter 2, v24-27, that is focused on a call for Christians to let truth abide in them in order to discern what is truth and what is false and deceiving in this world. Then John moves into a call to not only let the truth abide in them, but for them to abide in Christ Himself. The word abide is translated from a Greek word that means to “dwell in” or “remain with.” This is the same word Jesus used in John 15 when He spoke of Himself as the Vine and His disciples as the branches. He said that those who abide in Him prove their genuineness by doing so and are enabled to serve Him in His power because His strengthening Joy becomes manifest in their hearts. In fact, Christians can do nothing good unless Christ empowers them to do so.

Immediately before John commands his readers to abide in Christ, he calls them “little children.” This is a term of endearment that was common for disciplers to use when talking with their students. All of God’s children are Christ’s disciples. There are none of God’s children who do not qualify as disciples. There are no pretenders. All of Christ’s disciples are God’s children. Those who are not genuine Christians, but are part of the “visible church” will fail the test of love and obedience that John will elaborate for us in this passage.

Why are God’s Children to abide in Christ? They must so they will not be ashamed and shrink from Him at His coming. Part of the test of genuineness is a growth in righteousness. The genuine Christian will continue to grow in virtue as they mature. This will cause such character change in them that when they appear before Christ they will not be ashamed, but will rejoice with Him because they passed the test.

1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 NASB)

1 John 3:1-3 is one of my favorite passages from Sacred Scripture. It is important to me. God used this to reveal to me how vital it is for His Children to turn their hearts back to Him. When my wife and I were still members of the church we left back in 2006, I used this passage as a test with a few of those who were insinuating that I was not an authentic leader while they were. They were trying to move the church into a pragmatic form of doing Church and I opposed them. I used scripture to compare to what they were trying to implement. Whenever I shared this passage with a “leader” in that movement, I would ask them what it meant to them. Very few saw how vital it is in our walk and our approach to God and how we serve Him. I used this passage with these people so that God would verify in my heart those who were deceived and those who weren’t. I could always tell by their reaction. Sadly, those whose heart was pricked by these words were few in number. Those who shrugged it off were the majority.

What is so important about this passage? It is the focus. First we are to value the love the Father has given to His people as the most valuable of treasures. We are to see it as totally undeserved. We should marvel that God chose us at all. However, those who did not pass my little test would always shrug this off. They would just skim over these verses then give me a quizzical look. The fact that God saves us is amazing. We should never take our salvation for granted. These people were. Of course their theology was still geared towards what men do not what God does. They were attempting to secularize the church with worldly music, a weak gospel, etc. This passage tells us that the miracle of salvation should always be a mystery to us and we are to be different from the world, not part of it. The fact that God adopted us to be Jesus’ siblings is an amazing thing. But, that fact didn’t even phase those people. It was like a big “so-what?” to them. We should see our salvation as a miracle and we should never get over that. These people had gotten over it or they saw their salvation as something they accomplished themselves. If they had the proper focus they would read this passage and would rejoice with me. But that rarely happened.

The last part of this passage tells us what we are to do since we see how important it is to abide in Christ as He matures us. Those who see their salvation culminating in a glorious homecoming in Heaven to be with their saviour forever, will devote themselves to living a virtuous and pure life.

I have often pondered on the difference in reactions to 1 John 3:1-3. The ones who saw little in it of value were believers still chasing after the wind in church. They worked hard. They were faithful in church stuff, but their devotion to God Himself, walking in repentance, and walking by faith was next to nothing. Those who responded with joy as they read this passage were those whose faith was alive and growing deeper and more vibrant. Does this mean those others were not really Children of God? No, not necessarily, even though that is a possibility. God has to break them down. He must break their hearts and draw them to repent as they learn to walk close to Him. They must become Spirit-led, but God has to do His good work in their hearts to accomplish this.

Do you know anyone like I was describing? They look at those who are all about walking within the Lordship of Christ as either crazy or too serious about their faith. I know many like that. It breaks my heart, but what can we do? All we can do is live obedient lives and pray for them to learn how to repent and abide in Christ. Again, it must start by us drawing near to God. God will then draw near to us. He will then perform His wonderful work of Heart reconstruction in us. We must forsake the attractions the world has in favor of walking closer to God. Our devotion to God must come first. This is how we abide in Christ. This is how we start down the narrow way of the cross, which is the narrow way that leads to the Celestial City. This is how we become Spirit-led. I fear that those “professing believers” who refuse to do this are not Children of God at all.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “Who are and who are not children of God?

  1. Mike,
    I find myself constantly confused by teachings like this in comparison to what my own church seems to teach. Of course a true Christian who is humbled by God’s mercy and walks in repentance will begin to bear the fruit of that repentance in his/her actions. But it seems as if my church places too much of an emphasis on that fruit and on obeying God’s commands in an attempt to “repay” Jesus, or “show gratitude” for what he has done, with no mention of repentance at all. (Or rather, repentance is in the rear-view mirror, so to speak, important at our conversion but not so much afterwards.) The focus is always on us and our actions, even while the church purports to be “all about Jesus.” It seems like there is such a fine line to walk, doctrinally speaking, between repentant faith that results in good works and a works-righteousness that is hyper-focused on “obedience” at the expense of faith in Christ’s finished work. (I hope I have explained that in a coherent way. I certainly believe that obedience is good.) Is this something you have seen as well?
    Your sister,


  2. Windy, exactly, as true children of God who are so entirely by the work and will of God Himself it would seem we should work to repay the Lord for grace, but that is not so. We cannot do it. On the other hand, our walking in repentance which produces the fruit is what naturally happens as the Lord transforms us through the renewing of our minds as we submit to the Lordship of Christ as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1,2). We do not do this out of gratitude, but because of who we are. We are new creations.


  3. Yes — because of who we are! That’s such a great way of expressing it. These doctrines are slowing taking shape in my mind and overcoming what I’ve been taught my whole life. When I try to explain the difference, people look at me strangely (because, as I said, there is such a fine line, and these people truly believe their doctrines are not works-righteousness). You state it so simply. Thank you!


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