Children of God, Loved by God

By Unknown artist

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:1-7, NIV)

True children of God, Christians, are loved by God – that is their status and identity. This cannot be changed any more than a tiger can change his stripes.

True children of God live, remain, abide, and continue in their identity as Christians. They know who they are and how they are to live.

Who We Are

When Jesus was on this earth, he was misunderstood by a lot of people. Christians must learn to expect the same. True children loved by God will neither fit in with the world nor seek the world’s affirmation and accolades. The practical difference between Christianity and the world is that Christians locate their primary identity, allegiance, and purpose in Christ, whereas the world finds their identity elsewhere.

Being loved by God brings assurance, peace, security, and hope. These qualities cannot be manufactured by us because they are results of being loved. The world cannot give us these characteristics. This does not mean that Christians always have it all together. We are continually in a process of discovering our identity and growing more and more into that uniqueness. The reason Jesus lived his life without needing the world’s recognition is that he was firmly and securely assured of the Father’s love and care for him. 

Christians continue to learn what it means to be loved by God in Christ. This love helps fortify our faith so that we will not find our identities in worldly roles, however intrinsically good those roles might be. For example, a parent with the primary identity as mother or father will view salvation as coming through the family. Or a person with the primary identity as teacher will see deliverance coming through education. 

When Christians have their primary identity as children of God, loved by God, then they see deliverance from guilt, shame, darkness, and oppression as coming through Jesus. When the church, living and serving together, secure in their identity as children of God, loved by God, then she can withstand any adulterous flirtations from the world to woo them away from Jesus.

We are children of God. We are not children of the world’s institutions, systems, organizations, ethos, mores, and values. Everyone who has hope in Christ is pure and holy. When we locate our primary identity in being loved by God, we avoid defiling ourselves with the world’s grime. We take regular spiritual baths which cleanse us from the world’s crud. We keep reminding ourselves and each other of our true status as God’s children. We do not allow any other identity to topple or replace our wonderful reality of being loved by God.

How we view ourselves will determine how we live our lives.

How We Are to Live

True children of God abide by the law because they abide in Christ. Jesus said all the law could be summed up in two commands: Love God. Love neighbor. Breaking the law means:

  • Hating instead of loving.
  • Working to undermine someone instead of seeking their best interests.
  • Excluding others instead of including others.
  • Dividing and opposing instead of unifying and cooperating. 

No one abiding in Christ continues the same trajectory they had before knowing Christ. Jesus came to take care of the sin issue once for all through the cross. Therefore, Christians, loved by God, cannot be lawbreakers if they are abiding; the two cannot co-exist with each other.

So, our primary task as Christians is to abide in Jesus and remain firmly in our identity as children of God, loved by God. We are to love by remaining in God’s love and allowing love to shape all our thoughts, words, and actions. We will continue to be steadfast in that love. We will not be led astray. We will abide in Christ.

Identity and life work together. For example, I am currently a citizen of the state of Wisconsin. I not only geographically live in Wisconsin, but I am to abide in the state as a responsible person. Being a Wisconsinite is different from the rest of the world. Wisconsinites are readily identifiable by their sports and their food.

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers

Diehard Green Bay Packer fans forsake any identification as Lions, Bears, or the god-forsaken pagan Vikings. They like their prep and collegiate sports, flock to curling clubs, get married in bowling alleys, and observe time through the various hunting seasons. Citizens of Wisconsin like their food and drink. Nothing compares to the Friday night fish fry, cheese curds, venison, mustard – all washed down with either a Spotted Cow, Leinenkugel’s, or a trip to the bubbler.

We are to become more and more like Christ. Our identity as loved by God means we will seek to live in Christ by living a life of love. The people of Wisconsin have a general reputation of being polite and helpful, not rude and unhelpful. All their citizens should live into this identity and behavior. And as Christians whose primary identity is in being children of God, loved by God, we should abide in Christ through love and obedience. 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:1-17, NIV)

Conclusion

A true Christian is a child of God, not the world. Our behavior flows from who we are. If our primary identity is securely in being a loved child of God, then what comes out of us will be loving words and actions, even to those in the world who might not believe or understand.

When we think about our world, it can be a sad place, devoid of love. People from different cultures and backgrounds often do not get along with each other. Political parties have difficulty finding common ground. Some Christians cannot seem to get along with other Christians. In the world, differences often divide us. Can people different from each other get along? 

The early church did. And they did it without all the stuff we have – sanctuaries, church buildings, programs. Those early believers did it through the message of the cross using the basic tool of love. Not every Christian will serve on the foreign mission field or serve in a professional ministry position. However, every Christian can be loving.

True children of God are loved by God. They are characterized by the Christian practices of hospitably loving the immigrant and stranger, loving their enemies, forgiving those who have sinned against them, and obeying God’s commands. These practices stem the tide of evil and hate in the world and usher in the love of God in Christ.

1 John 2:18-25 – Who Is Really the Enemy?

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, c.1540 C.E.

My dear children, the end is near! You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming. And now many enemies of Christ are already here. So, we know that the end is near. These enemies were in our group, but they left us. They did not really belong with us. If they were really part of our group, they would have stayed with us. But they left. This shows that none of them really belonged with us.

You have the gift that the Holy One gave you. So, you all know the truth. Do you think I am writing this letter because you don’t know the truth? No, I am writing because you do know the truth. And you know that no lie comes from the truth.

So, who is the liar? It is the one who says Jesus is not the Messiah. Whoever says that is the enemy of Christ—the one who does not believe in the Father or in his Son. Whoever does not believe in the Son does not have the Father, but whoever accepts the Son has the Father too.

Be sure that you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you do that, you will always be in the Son and in the Father. And this is what the Son promised us—eternal life. (ERV)

Throughout Christian history there have been churches, ministers, and individuals who have advanced certain persons as being the “antichrist,” enemies of Christ and his followers.

Attempting to identify a particular enemy comes from a theological disposition that believes an antichrist is the first link in a chain of end-times events. Typically, a ruthless or dictatorial ruler, like Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin received the label of “antichrist.”  For some Protestants, the papacy continually gets set apart as being the antichrist. Even recently, Pope Francis received the dubious title from a group of end-times watchers because they claimed he allowed people to treat him as if he were Jesus, accepting worship and praise.

Yet, the term “antichrist” has not typically been used as a title for one enemy setting-off a bomb of world-ending trauma. The earliest church, following the teaching of the Apostle John, understood antichrist not as an individual, but as a class of people who deny Jesus is the Christ. Indeed, John plainly said the antichrist is anyone who forsakes the Father and the Son. What is so disturbing about John’s talk of antichrist is that these persons arise from within the church, not outside of it.

It has become much too vogue in some circles of Christian evangelicalism to identify and label enemies outside their small groups, leading to a xenophobic attitude of distrust and finger-pointing toward all kinds of people. 

The fingers, however, must first be directed within our own house. It behooves us all to take up the instruction of John to let what we have heard from the beginning abide in us. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 

We are to embrace basic core cardinal truth given us. Then we will not be deceived by some supposed enlightened teacher who detracts from Trinitarian theology.

It is the last hour – but not because of some politician, tyrant, or even religious figure. It is the end-times because Jesus has accomplished redemption for us, and the only event left is the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. 

Therefore, we must all live with the possibility and tension that it could be today. We are to be prepared. That preparation comes through proclaiming Jesus in all we say and do – not by obnoxiously ginning up fearmongering through pointing fingers at those we don’t like. Rather, we emulate our Lord in the way of loving God and neighbor.

When a person or group gets labeled by us as “enemy” or “antichrist” then our hate for them seems divinely justified and sanctioned. God, however, is the judge; not us. We are to follow the ethical instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, not curse them through slapping a moniker of “monster,” “devil,” “animal,” or some other non-human label on them.

Weaponizing words in a verbal war which supposedly defends Christianity only shifts the focus off Jesus and onto how horrible another is. One of the great problems of our world, including many corners of Christianity, is that we assume we already know what another believes. So, we fail to listen. We cannot care as we ought because we’ve already formed our judgment.

“The moment someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important there is to know about you because of that association. And that’s not the way to have a conversation.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Within Christianity, there is much more we have in common with one another across the various traditions than that which is different. Yes, spiritual charlatans exist. Let’s just make sure we have done our due diligence in listening to another and being curious before we form our opinions.

Despite our differences, the exchange of ideas and debate among various Christian groups in the early centuries of the church helped to clarify and form a sound Christology. While it may be difficult to avoid labeling individuals in an increasingly complex society, we must act in good faith.

Mighty God, you sent the Son to this earth to fulfill all your good promises. Let me embrace Jesus so fully and completely that the truth of his reality comes pouring out of me in every area of my life.  In his name I pray. Amen.