Skip to content

Five Gifts God Gives All His Children

  • by

In the 1960s, a deviant religious group called, among other things, the Children of God emerged from California. The group’s declaration was essentially this: “We are revolutionary Christian nomads, bypassing the hopeless, unresponsive older generation and churchy people and bringing new-time religion to a new-time generation.” They quickly spread their bizarre, blasphemous teachings, becoming global in their evangelism. Ironically, though, the very group which suggested that they of all people understood what it was to be a child of God didn’t bear the marks of authentic faith at all. Their claims were based in error rather than truth.

In his first letter, the apostle John dealt with earlier false teachings that were in a similar vein. Believing themselves to be the real children of God, false teachers had infiltrated the church to which John was writing and had unsettled the true believers’ faith (1 John 2:18–27). John was concerned that these believers would know they possessed eternal life (5:13).

How can we enjoy this assurance, knowing that we are truly God’s children? In 1 John 2:28–3:3, the apostle highlights five gifts that God gives to all His children and that assure us of our membership in God’s family.

A New Birth

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)

The genuine child of God experiences a new birth. Having already described believers as those who “know” God (2:3) and who are “in the light” (2:9), John now employs a new picture: that of spiritual birth. He’ll go on to use it with frequency (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4:7).

It’s a familiar picture to those of us who know our Bibles. In the Old Testament, God relates to His people as a Father (Ps. 103:13; Prov. 3:12; Isa. 63:16). The New Testament develops this imagery, emphasizing that men and women become God’s children as a result of divine initiative, by His creative activity. We are God’s children not because of certain external factors—nationality, socio-economic status, adherence to a set of religious principles, etc.—but because God, by the Spirit and the Word, imparts life to those who are dead (John 1:12).

Doing what is right is a
consequence of new birth, not a
cause of new birth.

A classic statement on the new birth occurs in John 3, which recounts Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. A religious Pharisee, Nicodemus believed that Jesus had come from God (vv. 1–2). But Jesus’ response showed that tacit acknowledgement and religious background aren’t enough for inclusion in the family of faith. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). No one can transfer himself from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. “You must be born again,” says the Lord (v. 7).

Since the source of the new birth is in God’s creative activity, its authenticity doesn’t rest on our ability to fully grasp it. Later in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus would say of salvation’s mystery, “The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8). In other words, there will always remain a mysterious element in our regeneration. To quote the hymn writer,

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

But “I know whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”[1]

We may not recall the moment of our conversion—and that’s alright. John was less concerned about the date on his readers’ spiritual birth certificates than he was with the reality of their present-tense lives. It’s our spiritual life in Christ that assures us of the new birth.

Good Behavior

Verse 29 deals not only with the new birth but also with Christian behavior: “Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” Importantly, the verb “born” occurs in the past tense, implying that doing what is right is a consequence of new birth, not a cause of new birth. In John’s mind, righteous living flows from God’s causing us to be born again. The new birth precedes true righteousness.

That we can’t achieve the new birth by our own righteousness precludes an approach to religion that says, “If I do the right thing, I’ll be good with God in the end.” That’s moralism, not Gospel. Moral uprightness doesn’t necessarily mean adoption into God’s family. Behaving and believing are two sides of one coin: “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23). Good deeds and benevolent dispositions, though they may be signs of God’s common grace, ultimately are vanities unless we believe in God’s Son for eternal life.

A New Name

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1a)

When children are born, one of the first questions is “What will their name be?” Similarly, when we’re born of God, we’re given a new name: we’re “called children of God.”

The Greek word translated as “kind” in verse 1 is potopós, a term that means “from what country.” Using this word in reference to God’s love, John emphasizes its radical, otherworldly dimension. The love that God gives is a kind that takes all the initiative. Scripture uses adoption as a metaphor for how God loves His children (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:5). When there was nothing attractive in us, God chose to love us, including us in His family and bestowing on us a new name.

Here, for example, is how God describes His love for Israel:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut. 7:7–8)

We’re welcomed into God’s family on the basis of divine love. Our security in Christ comes through realizing that our identity as God’s children depends not upon our own activity but on His electing grace. The Father loves His children with an unconditional, unlimited love.

A Unique Future

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. (1 John 3:1b–2)

Notice the juxtaposition in these two verses. The world doesn’t know what God’s children are (v. 1b), nor do God’s children themselves fully know what they themselves will be (v. 2). The world didn’t recognize Jesus when He came to them (John 1:10–11); it likewise can’t perceive the Christian’s relationship to the Father.

God welcomes us into His family on the basis of divine love.

As it pertains to God’s children, we are simultaneously aware of and ignorant of our future. On the one hand, certain realities aren’t yet known to us. The book of Revelation, for example, reveals some truths, but in a veiled manner. Many details of our glorious future remain dim this side of eternity. John Stott warns, “It is idle and sinful to speculate or to pry into things which God has not been pleased to make known.”[2] It isn’t for us to wander into the territories that God has marked off as yet secret.

On the other hand, there are certain things we do know. We know, for instance, that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). John tells us Jesus will return. He will come in the clouds and in great glory. He will come for His own. And we will recognize him without a shadow of a doubt.

This unique future is indeed a gift for God’s children, and for God’s children alone. The question is whether knowing that we’ll be with Christ and be like Christ for all eternity is enough to give us hope for today and all our tomorrows.

A Great Hope

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

God gives His children the gift of hope. In verse 3, John emphasizes that this hope has an ethical dimension—i.e., that those who hope in Christ’s return will show it not in their eschatological views but in their holiness. God’s children, he says, are to live in a state of ongoing ethical, moral purity.

Those who hope in Christ’s return will show it in their purity of conduct.

Put another way: when we claim the hope of heavenly glory yet are unconcerned about our sin, we deceive ourselves. We’re walking in darkness, not light (1 John 1:6). Those who have this hope in their hearts—having been given a new birth, a new behavior, and a new name—increasingly display it in personal holiness.

If these five gifts are ours in Christ, then we can experience the assurance and heed the command that John gives in 2:28: “Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence.” We have nothing to fear if we are in Christ. And when He returns, we will have nothing to hide.

This article was adapted from the sermon “The Children of God” by Alistair Begg.

Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” (1883). ↩︎

John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 119. ↩︎