Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
19 February 2017 / Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany
John 1:11-13; 1 John 3:1-2
Grace and peace to you from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”
So says, J.I. Packer in his book Knowing God.
Dr Packer is on to something crucial here. For many professing Christians, the Christian life is about the right set of doctrines, or the right kind of experiences, or the right moral code, or the right prayer book. In other words, the Christian faith and life are utterly de-personalized, academic or emotional. In reality the Christian should be relational and personal. I hope you will come to see the truth of that as we look at God the Father and all his children this evening.
Our sermon texts for today are John 1:11-13 and 1 John 3:1-2. If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The word of God reads:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave 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.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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. (ESV)
The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God!) May God add his blessings to the reading, the hearing, and the preaching of his word. All the church says: Amen!
“We are all God’s children!”
I have heard people say this as far back as I can remember. When I was a little kid one of my friends used this statement to argue that he and I were actually brothers. After all, since we all come from God, and God is our Father, we must be brothers – in God’s eyes.
“In God’s eyes.”
That’s another phrase from my childhood that served as an irrefutable trump card. If something was “in God’s eyes” it was bound to be true and right no matter what anyone else said.
Rabbi Charles Feinberg explains the roots of this idea in an article at Interfaith Action for Human Rights: “The idea that we are all God’s children is rooted in the closing verses of the first chapter of Genesis, which proclaims that God created the world and created human beings — male and female — in His image.”
The apostle Paul made a similar argument to philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:28 — Paul was quoting Aratus, one of their own poets).His point was not “we are all God’s children in God’s eyes” but rather we came from God, God did not come from us.
The Rabbi is right that God is our creator and we are his creatures, that God is our source and we are his offspring. But is he right to leap to the conclusion that God is our Father and we are all his children?
There was a time when it was easy to believe that we are all God’s children in God’s eyes. Why not? Everyone knows and believes that, right?
Oprah has tweeted, “We’re all God’s children. God has a plan for us all. We all share in God’s love.” If Oprah tweeted it, it must be true.
I even came across an old (obscure) song by country music artist Alan Jackson called We’re All God’s Children. It goes:
Here comes a Baptist, here comes a Jew
There goes a Mormon and a Muslim too
I see a Buddhist and a Hindu
I see a Catholic and I see you
We’re all God’s children
We’re all God’s children
We’re all God’s children
Why can’t we be one big happy family?
Not his best effort lyrically or musically. But to answer Alan Jackson’s (rhetorical) question: One reason we can’t be one big happy family is because we are not part of the same family. And we are not part of the same family because we do not have the same fathers.
In reality, we all have different fathers.
That might come as a surprise to some of you. But as we have seen in John’s Gospel, that is what Jesus came to show and tell us.
Today I want us to trace our family tree from root to branches so to speak. I want to highlight a few scenes from our story – show you a few snapshots of God’s family from John’s writings. Look closely and you might see yourself in one of the snapshots.
In John 1:11-13,
 Jesus the Word came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave 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.
This does not mean that they were given the right of refusal, to take it or leave it. It means they were given the power to become children of God by faith in the name of Jesus. Here children of God are not to be confused with children of men or (as we will see later) children of the devil.
The children of God do not come from the right blood-lines, the right family, or the right people-group. They are not earthly and born from below by the flesh; they are heavenly and born from above the Spirit.
This is precisely what Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus. On the surface, he seemed to have every advantage and privilege: he was born with the right blood-line, the right family, and the right people-group. If anyone looked like a child of God it was Nicodemus. Yet, in God’s eyes Nicodemus was not a child of God – at least not yet.
That is why Jesus told him,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” and  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus was a devout, religious, theologian, and yet, just like the rest of us, he needed to be born from above, by water and Spirit.
No one is born into the family of God by nature, but only by grace. No one who is born of flesh and blood is a child of God, but a child of Adam – or worse, a child of the devil. But anyone and everyone who is born of water and the Spirit is a child of God.
That’s hard for some of us to hear, but it is the truth.
In John 8:41-47, Jesus was speaking to a group of religious leaders who were much like Nicodemus in some ways, yet different from him in their attitude towards Jesus.
 They said to him, “We have one Father—even God.”  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.  Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (ESV)
This pointed accusation and charge strikes at the heart of the matter. Not only for them, but for us.
According to Jesus, it doesn’t matter who your founding fathers were, which nation you come from, which denomination you are part of, which festivals you keep, or what Bible stories you know – if you do not believe the truth about Jesus, then you are no child of God, but a child of the devil.
Now, when Jesus mentioned the Devil, he meant the real Devil, not a Hollywood devil. He meant the father of hatred, lies, and violence — the impersonal-finite dragon introduced in Genesis 3.
The real Devil is the crafty serpent who seduced our mother Eve and caused her to doubt God’s word, deny God’s word, and disobey God’s word; the crafty serpent who separated man from God, and snatched us all into his family.
That devil was the father of the false disciples who were gathered around Jesus. He might be the father of some of you as well.
Ever since the fall of man into sin, everyone who is born of flesh is a child of the devil by nature, but everyone who is born of the Spirit is a child of God by grace.
Does this mean that everyone is stuck where they are, and that no one can be saved? No, not at all!
The reason the Father sent his son Jesus into the world was to deliver his people and destroy the devil’s works. The reason the Father and son sent the Spirit into the world was to breathe on the slain and blow them into the family of God.
In other words, the fact that someone is a child of the devil today does not mean he will be a child of the devil tomorrow – or always. The Spirit blows where he pleases and breathes on all those for whom Jesus died.
So, if Jesus laid down his life and blood for you, the Spirit will bring you to faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, you will be adopted out of the devil’s unnatural family into God’s supernatural family.
How can you know if Jesus laid down his life you at the cross? How can you know if Jesus paid your ransom and purchased your redemption with his blood? Only by believing in him with your heart, mind, and soul.
Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh and the Savior of the world? If so, he will give you the gift of eternal life, which involves liberation from sin and death, and adoption into God’s family. If not, you will remain in your sins, and in the dysfunctional family of the devil.
Now, I want you to see something that is so subtle yet so significant.
In the upper room, the night before he was crucified, Jesus spoke with disciples and called them little children. (John 13:33)
After his crucifixion and resurrection, he spoke with his disciples again and called them children – again. (John 21:5)
Why is that so significant?
Jesus was not just using a term of endearment as if he were their father. No, calling them “little children” was his way of letting them know that they were given the right to become children of God in his name; that they were born of God, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. Calling them “little children” was his way of letting them know that God was their Father and they were they were all brothers in God’s eyes.
The apostle John picks up where Jesus left off. Towards the end of his ministry he wrote these words to the people he loved and served:
1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:2 – 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.
Like Jesus, he calls the people he loved and served “little children” (1 John 3:7) — not because he saw himself as their father, but because he saw God as their Father.
This was his way of letting them know that they were born of God, adopted into God’s family, delivered from the devil, and loved by the Father.
It was also his way of letting them know that the Father has a deep purpose for them and that he is not finished with them yet.
The Father adopted us into his family for the purpose of helping us become transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus, the one and only-begotten Son of the Father. Not in his earthly state as a humiliated man, but in his heavenly state as the exalted God-man.
So, the Spirit is helping us to walk in the light, to walk in the love, and to walk in the life of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the Spirit is working to reform and conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Echoing Jesus, John makes it clear that we are not all God’s children in God’s eyes.
There are two fathers and two families. One good, the other bad. One true, the other false.
How can you know which family is yours and which father you belong to?
“By this it is manifest who are the children of God and the children of the devil: every one who does not do righteousness and does not love his brother is not from God.” (1 John 3:10)
Little children, you know who your father is by what you look like, think like, and act like.
If you have been born from above by the Spirit and word of God, then God’s seed abides in you: you have his spiritual DNA.
As you mature, you will look more like your Father God, and you will act more like your brother Jesus.
You will overcome the world and its soul-killing desires and deceits.
You will walk in the light as God is in the light and the blood of his Son Jesus will cleanse you from all your sins.
You will love one another as Jesus loved you and you will lay down your life and stuff for one another.
If you are one of God’s children, you will bear his name, live in his house, and act like his Son.
Why does all this matter?
In his book, Children of the Living God, Dr Sinclair Ferguson says, “This is the way – not the only way, but the fundamental way – for the Christian to think about himself or herself. Our self-image, if it is to be biblical, will begin just here. God is my Father (the Christian’s self-image always begins with the knowledge of God and who he is!); I am one of his children (I know my real identity); his people are my brothers and sisters (I recognize the family to which I belong and have discovered my deepest roots). Do you think about yourself and the Christian life in this way? (p.2)
If not, you should, because God has given you who believe in Jesus the privilege and advantage of thinking about your life in this new way.
In our Father’s house there is room enough for all of us, not only to dwell in our own rooms, but also to eat and drink at the family table.
When we come to the table, let us come rejoicing, trusting that, as God’s children, we are called by the Father, cleansed by the blood of Jesus our brother, clothed in his righteousness, and comforted by his Spirit.
In the future when our children ask why we eat and drink at this table, we must answer them: We were children of the devil, slaves of sin and death, but God set us free and adopted us into his family with an outstretched hand. In love, he called us his children, and by grace we call him our Father. We have every right to come to this table because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
O merciful Father, we do not presume to come to your Son’s Table, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under his Table. But you are the same Father, whose special quality is always to have mercy on all your children: Grant us therefore, gracious Father, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. All this we ask and pray as children of the living God, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Prayer of Humble Access — adapted by JMT)