By Mike Willis
The less men know the Bible, the more blurred are their concepts of right and wrong. Living in an age of Bible ignorance, an ignorance which is spilling over into the church, we face a generation whose distinction between the children of God and children of the Devil is blurred. In John 8, Jesus spoke of the children of God and the children of the Devil and gave us several criteria to use in distinguishing the two. Here are some general truths affirmed by Jesus which enable us to distinguish between children of God and children of the Devil.
A Child of God Does Not Commit Sin Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (8:34).
The plain affirmation of this Scripture clearly shows that one cannot habitually practice sin and still be God’s child. A first century apostasy, known as Gnosticism, affirmed that sins committed by the body did not interfere with the spirit’s relationship with God. The books of 1,2,3 John were written to refute this error. There John emphasized that those who profess to know God while committing sin lie and do not the truth (cf. 1 Jn. 1:6-10).
The heresy has not died. There are still some who believe that those who habitually commit sin are children of God. The “once in grace, always in grace” doctrine affirms that children of God are not separated from the Father by their sins. The “continuous cleansing” advocates affirm that children of God can habitually practice every sin except highhanded rebellion and remain children of God. Hence, they propose to fellowship those “children of God” who use instruments of music in worship, support human institutions (colleges, orphan homes, hospitals, etc.), and use church funds to sponsor any “good” work (such as recreation, church camps, etc.).
The plain statement of this Scripture is that one can distinguish God’s children from the Devil’s children by whether or not they are committing sin. Earlier Jesus had said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (8:12). A person cannot “follow Jesus” and walk in darkness because Jesus did not walk in darkness.
This is not to be understood to state that a Christian never stumbles into sin. Both experience and Scripture show that they do (1 Jn. 1:6-10). When they stumble into sin, they must repent of their sins and confess them to God and man (as the occasion might require, Jas. 5:16). Rather, what this Scripture is affirming is that one cannot continue in the practice of his sin and remain in the fellowship of God. Those who departed from New Testament worship to introduce mechanical instruments of music, choirs, quartets, observance of the Lord’s supper on days other than Sunday, and similar departures must repent of these sins in order to be children of God. Those who perverted the organization of the church in the sponsoring church arrangement and be organizing national Christian conventions must repent of their sins to be children of God. The same is true of every sin: a man cannot continue in the practice of his sin and remain a child of God.
A Child of God Hears God’s Word
He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God (8:47).
A person can distinguish children of God from children of the Devil by their reaction to the preaching of God’s word. The apostle John later added, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:6).
When a person closes his ear to the preaching of God ‘ s word, he is not a child of God. A child of God has a genuine love for the truth (contrast 2 Thess. 2:10-12) which causes him to search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) and try the prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). A man who refuses to listen to God’s word is not a child of God.
A Child of God Loves Christ
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me (8:42).
The man who loves God loves him whom God sent. Regardless of how religious and sincere some of our non-Christian neighbors may be, the man who does not love Jesus is not a child of God. The first century Jews who rejected Jesus as the Christ, denied the virgin birth, charged that Jesus worked miracles through the power of Beelzebub, and otherwise spurned him were not children of God. Neither are twentieth century men who do the same (whether Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, or other unbelievers) children of God.
A Child of God Believes in Christ
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins (8:24).
Belief in Jesus is essential for salvation from sin and being a child of God. Here are some things which one must believe about Jesus which are revealed in John 8: (a) That he was sent from the Father (8:23); (b) That he existed before Abraham (8:58); (c) That he was sinless (8:47); (d) That belief in him would free one from sin (8:21,24) and prevent spiritual death (8:41). A person who does not believe these things about Jesus is not a child of God.
A Child of God Abides in Jesus’ Word
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word,
then are ye my disciples indeed (8:31).
A person who believes in Jesus may not be a child of God. In John 8, among those who believed in Jesus (8:30) were some who did not love Christ (8:42) and who were designated as children of the Devil (8:44). These men momentarily had faith in Christ but departed from that faith, stumbling over some of the things which Jesus said about himself.
“Abiding” in Jesus’ word has several important points of emphasis. First of all, “abiding” emphasizes perseverance in obedience to Christ, doing the works of Abraham (8:39). Being a child of God requires more than a “splash in the pan.” Some people make a momentary commitment to Christ, a commitment of shallow emotionalism which does not last. They are like those believers who were compared to seed planted in rocky and thorny ground which never bring fruit to maturity (cf. Lk. 8:11-14). A child of God must endure to the end (Matt. 24:12).
Secondly, “abiding” in Jesus’ word emphasizes that Jesus has set the boundaries of divine revelation. The same Apostle John later wrote, “whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 9). Those who transgress the doctrine of God, moving into unauthorized activities, are not children of God, regardless of what professions to the contrary they make.
Let us not allow the uncertainty of an agnostic age to cause us to blur the distinctions so clearly revealed by Christ. We can know the children of God. Those who have never obeyed the gospel plan of salvation, teach for their doctrines the commandments of men, call works of the flesh “alternative lifestyles,” and such like things are not children of God. Those who have once obeyed the gospel but have not been content to abide in the doctrine of Christ, perverting and distorting the work, worship, and organization of the New Testament church, are not children of God so long as they do the works of the Devil. These clearly revealed criteria for distinguishing the children of God from the children of the Devil must be taught to every succeeding generation.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 17, pp. 514, 532
September 6, 1990