Whose Child Are You?

Bible Book: 1 John  3 : 4-24
Subject: Child of God; Christian Living

1 John 3:4-24:4 – Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 – But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. 6 – No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. 7 – Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 – The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 – No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 – This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. 11 – For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 – Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 – Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 – Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 – If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 – Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 19 – This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: 20 – If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21 – Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 – and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. 23 – And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. 24 – The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

This week I came across the results of a fascinating study that was done on a pair of identical twins. These twins were separated at birth, adopted and raised by different families who lived about 40 miles apart. Neither twin had any knowledge of the other’s existence—until they met each other for the very first time at the age of 39. Here’s a picture of the two. Well, as these two re-united twins talked they discovered some remarkable similarities.

Both of them had been named James by their adoptive parents.
Both liked math and hated spelling.
Both of them were married twice, first to women named Linda, and the second time to women named Betty.
Both had sons they named James Allen.
Both of them owned dogs named Toy.
Both were chain-smokers of Salem cigarettes—which is probably at least part of the reason both had high-blood pressure.
Both drove Chevys.
Both got headaches at the same time every day
Both worked in law enforcement.
And both vacationed on the same beach in Florida!

I think the results of this conversation between two siblings illustrates the incredible power of family likeness—things that get passed on from one generation to another through our DNA—but, as these results show, it’s not just the DNA that gets passed along. Somehow the values and habits and passions of the family get passed along as well. So if your last name is Manning, you probably play football. If your name is Kennedy, you know politics. If your name is Clooney, it’s no surprise you’re in show business. And as I said last week, if your name is Christian, you’re destined to become like Christ. It’s in your “Spiritual genes” so to speak. Or—more specifically, it is God’s Spirit in You—working to make you more and more like Him!

If you’re our guest you should know that this summer as part of our “second nature” vision for the year, we’re studying the book of 1st John. We’re just over halfway through. And–before we go any further, I need to point out something you may or may not have noticed about the way John writes his little epistle. John likes to hit the same themes over and over and over again—but from different angles and he hits them a little deeper each time. It makes me think of something I heard a pastor say about preaching. He said that in a sermon you tell people what you are going to tell them. Then you tell them what you said you were going to tell them. Then close by telling them what you told them. John does that. He keeps hitting the same themes over and over again—as he writes about the marks of a real Christian—the “DNA” of a genuine Christ-follower if you will. In his little letter he repeatedly talks about what real Christians believe and how real Christians behave and—perhaps John’s favorite—how real Christians love. In fact it is said that when John was so old he could no longer STAND to preach, people would carry him into the congregation at Ephesus and he would give just one exhortation, “Little children, love one another.” Apparently his congregation grew tired of the same simple message every Sunday so they asked him why he kept repeating himself and he responded, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if that is all you do it is enough.” And of course John was right. Everything comes back to the way we love.

I’ll talk more about this aspect of authentic Christianity later but for now let me point out that in today’s text, John CONTINUES his cyclical nature of teaching by returning to a theme he mentioned in the verses we looked at last Sunday—when he said that through our faith in Jesus we become sons and daughters of God. This week John hits that same idea again but as I said he goes a little deeper by saying that since we have been BORN of God—then God’s “seed” is in us. He uses this word picture to say that just as physical children like the twins in this study I mentioned bear the nature of their parents, so God’s spiritual children bear His nature. Look back at verse 29 of chapter 2 where John says, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of Him.” John is using the language of “begetting” here. He’s talking about how parents impart not just LIFE to a child, but LIKENESS—family traits.

Then John goes on to cite two traits that are found in God’s children—two characteristics that our Heavenly Father passes down to us when we put our faith in His Son—two distinguishing qualities that are seen in the life of an authentic Christian.

I. God’s Children – An Absence of Sin

First, John says that God’s children tend to have an ABSENCE of SIN in their lives. Look at verses 6-8. John says: “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”

Now—John is not saying that Christians never sin. As we learned a couple sermons ago, John has already made it clear that Christians do sin. Remember? Back in chapter 1 he said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) So, John is not saying that Christians are sinless—but rather that they are known to sin LESS than other people.

And, to make sure we understand what we’re talking about here let’s DEFINE sin. When a Sunday school teacher asked her students to do this a little girl raised her hand and said, “I think sin is anything you LIKE to do.” And that’s not far from the truth because sin is yielding to our desires—our LIKES—it’s giving in to our WANTS—wants that lead us to doing things God has told us not to do in His law. That goes along with the definition of sin that John gives us in our text. In verse 4 he says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” So sin is basically giving into our wants when doing so involves breaking God’s law. It’s doing things our Heavenly Father has said He does not WANT us to do.

In short, sin is disobeying God—it’s a form of rebellion against His rule in our lives. I’m reminded of the young boy who had just been disciplined by his mother for some misbehavior. He stormed around the house throwing a tantrum and eventually went into his mom’s closet and shut the door. When she didn’t hear from him for a while she opened the door and asked him what he was doing. He responded, “Well, I’ve spat on your coat, and I’ve spat on your dresses and I’ve spat on your shoes and now I’m waiting for more spit!” This may sound like an extreme example but sin is a lot like that. When we sin it’s like we’re spitting on God and those things that are important to Him. And John says that REAL Christians—genuine children of God are known for their tendency to NOT doing that kind of thing. Let me put it this way—a true child of God won’t LIKE to sin—won’t CONTINUE to sin.

Of course we all fall short. We lie if we say we don’t. We all mess up from time to time—but when we do this we will experience regret that leads us to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. You see, one of the evidences of God’s “DNA” – God’s Spirit—in us is that we turn from sin. W. T. Conner, professor of theology at Southwestern for many years once put it this way. He said, “When I became a Christian, Jesus did something with my ‘wanter.’” That’s what happens when we accept Jesus into our hearts. He gives us a new nature—a new “wanter.” We know we have become His children because we WANT to obey God. We no longer WANT to spit on His laws. We want to please Him. Picture a sheep and a pig walking together and the both fall into a mud hole. The pig will wallow in it because that’s his nature. The sheep on the other hand will want out and will avoid it the next time. So—if you like it “in the mud”—if you like to sin and yet claim that you’re a Christian you need to check your “spiritual birth certificate.” Something is not right. For the Christian—the genuine child of God—sin will be the exception not the rule because when God’s “seed” is truly planted in a person, it will grow and as it does we will change.

Let me put it another way. We cannot live in a lifestyle of rebellion or sin and expect at the same time to enjoy a rich, intimate relationship with Jesus. Sin and closeness with Christ are incompatible. Believers who CONTINUE to abide in Jesus will not persist in habitual sin. Again—to be clear—a genuine Christian is not sinless—but he or she will be known for an ABSENCE of sin.

II. God’s Children - A Presence of Love

But that’s not all. As I mentioned earlier, God’s children also tend to have a PRESENCE of LOVE in their lives.

Remember, many of the churches John was writing to were embroiled in conflict. False teachers had infiltrated these congregations and had spread their lies—lies that led to division—division that led to conflict—conflict filled with hateful words and actions. If you’ve ever been involved in a church split then you know the kinds of things that were going on. Let me put it this way. Love is the “circulatory system” of God’s church. If the “arteries of love” get “clogged,” the church is in danger of “spiritual cardiac arrest.”

And apparently that’s what was happening in many of the churches under John’s care. Christians were behaving like Cain in that they were “murdering” their spiritual brothers with their hateful thoughts, words, and actions. John is telling these feuding believers that their behavior made him question if they really are Christians—because the true child of God is known for the way he or she obeys Jesus’ command to love on another—hence that short, one-point sermon that John apparently gave over and over again in his elder years.

In his letter, John is reminding us that one key evidence of spiritual maturity in our lives is that we obey Jesus’ command and love one another—love others in the way that our Heavenly Father loves us. And—it is vital that we grow to become like God in this way because we can’t make a difference in this loveless world unless we love others. Churches that learn to LOVE have the greatest impact on their culture. I mean, when a person or a church loves like God, people can’t help but notice and be drawn to that love. Let me put it this way, for every one person who comes to Christ for intellectual reasons, a hundred are simply loved into the kingdom.

You’ve heard the old cliché “People don’t care how much you know until they know much you care.” Well, it became a cliché because it is true. People want to know that we care for them. Do you remember Chevy Chase’s short-lived talk show? It was a disaster. It just about set a TV record for early cancellation. One TV critic said the main reason his show failed was due to Chase’s “obvious disdain for his audience.” It doesn’t matter whether or not he was funny; no audience will tune in to someone who looks down on them and constantly makes jokes at their expense. On the other side of the coin, that’s why Rachael Ray and Oprah are so popular. They love their fans and their fans know it.

The fact is people yearn for authentic love. They are drawn to it—which is why LOVE SONGS are—and always have been—so popular. Let’s look to the decade of the 1980’s for some examples. Like all decades it had more than its share of love song hits.

There was Queen’s “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love,”
Diana Ross and Lionel Richie had a hit entitled, “Endless Love”
REO Speedwagon had a song in which they promised to “Keep on Loving You.”
Joan Jett announced “I Love Rock and Roll.”
Tina Turner asked, “What’s Love Got to do With It?”
Stevie Wonder raised the possibility of a “Part-Time Lover.”
Huey Lewis and the News reminded us of “The Power of Love.”

There were a dozen more I won’t bother to mention. But the song that is played more than any of them even now—thirty years later—is by a band called Foreigner. The title is, “I Want to Know What Love is” Do you remember the chorus? I hate to mention it because it’s the kind of chorus that is hard to get out of our heads—or our hearts. It goes like this: “I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me. I want to feel what love is. I know you can show me.” I think the reason those words stick in our heads—the reason they resonate with people even today in the “twenty-tens” is that all people do WANT to know what real love is. They want to see it and feel it and experience it—and even though they probably don’t realize it, the love they yearn for is the love that humanity lost in the fall. It’s the love of GOD—the love of our Creator—so when people see that caliber of love in God’s children they can’t help but take notice.

I want to use the rest of my time in an attempt to describe this kind of love—the presence of which is seen in authentic Christians. So—How is God’s love manifest in His children? (I am indebted to Steve May for these three points

A. It’s a love that leads us to open our EYES.

Look at verse 17 where John says, “If anyone has material possessions and SEES a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” We show that we have been born of God—we give evidence that God’s Spirit lives in us—when we NOTICE people in need.Do you remember when the expert in Jewish law came to Jesus and asked him how to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what the law said and the man replied, “Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You are correct.” And the man said, “Well, who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ reply was to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan—a parable that says anyone we SEE in need is our neighbor. We can’t just LOOK the other way when we encounter the needy in this world like the priest and the Levite did in Jesus’ story.No, if we are children of God we always have eyes that are OPEN—focused on the needs of people around them.

In 1987 the entire nation was outraged when six-year-old, Lisa Steinberg, was found beaten to death, an obvious victim of years of child abuse. The woman who gave her up for adoption as a teen was interviewed by PEOPLE magazine and was distraught to learn what had happened to her daughter. She thought her baby was going to a loving home—but nothing could be further from the truth. During the investigation police discovered there had been a substantial amount of evidence before little Lisa died indicating that something was terribly wrong. Yet nothing was done. The people around Lisa—school teachers—social workers—just did not open their eyes to see what was going on. Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ parable they just “walked by.” No one paid any attention to the danger signals—and it cost this little girl a life of horrible abuse that only ended when she died at the hands of the couple who adopted her.

John says the kind of love that is found in people who are born of God does not close its eyes to the needs of other people. It is a love that NOTICES.But Godly love is not just seeing…it’s not just opening our EYES…

B. It’s a love that also leads to our opening our HANDS.

Look at verses 16 and 18. John says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in TRUTH.” The Greek word “truth” here was an idiom in John’s day that means, “actually” or “really.” In other words it’s a love that is SHOWN to be TRUE. It’s a love of action.It’s a word that reminds us that true Children of God don’t just give lip service to love—they DO something about it. This action-oriented kind of love stands out because our society tends to say that love is a feeling—a mystical sensation that sweeps over you one day and may disappear the next. As long as you feel a certain way, you’re in love. When the feeling goes away, you’re not in love. And, according to our fallen culture, commitment is required only as long as the feeling remains. But in His Book God says just the opposite. He says that love is not just something you FEEL. It’s something you DO—and His children are known for the way they follow this Biblical teaching. They are known for this kind of action-oriented love.

After all, their elder brother opened His hands and allowed Roman nails to be driven through them—in order to pay the sin debt of all mankind. And Jesus’ spiritual siblings are known for this same kind of open-handed love. They are always using their hands to give in order to meet the needs of others.

I read this week that William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once sent a one-word telegraph message to all the members of his organization. The message simply said, “OTHERS!” The purpose of the telegram was to encourage the members of the Salvation Army to be unselfish—to open their hands and put the needs of others above their own. Down through the years that has been true about the army. One example of this happened on May 29, 1914, when a ship called the Empress of Ireland sank. More people died than did when the Titanic went down and among its passengers were 130 Salvation Army officers. One hundred and nine of those officers were drowned and not one body that was picked up had on a life belt. The survivors told how the Salvationists, finding there were not enough life preserves for all, took off their own belts and handed them to others—even strong men—saying, “I can die better than you can.” And they could—all Christians can die better because they know where they are going. But if we have God’s Spirit in us—we are also able to DIE TO SELF better than others. I mean, let’s be realistic. The chances are practically nil that you and I will be called on to give our lives physically for anyone like these Salvation Army people. We probably won’t get the chance to literally die for someone. Our lives aren’t that adventurous. But I can guarantee something that might be more difficult. We will be inconvenienced. We’ll be asked to give up our precious time. The question is, when it happens, how will you handle it? And, will your response reflect the fact that you are a child of God? Will you open your hands and give—will you do what you can, even when it’s not easy? What if a friend needs a ride to work every day for a week? What if your neighbor needs help fixing his lawnmower? What if the boss asks you to work late? What if the church needs you to help in the nursery or to cook for the youth group, or visit someone in the hospital or serve on the AV team? This is not literally laying down your life but in a sense it’s worse because when you literally die physically you go right to Heaven—but when you die to self you live to tell about it. You live to have other opportunities to die to self.

Opening your hands means that you share yourself, your resources, your time, your talents, wherever you have the opportunity—and God’s children love like this. They are known for opening their eyes—and their hands—but there is one more aspect of this God-like caliber of love.

C. It’s a Love that is opening our HEARTS.

Look at verses 16 and 17 again. John uses some interesting words to describe people in need. He says, “We ought to lay down our lives for our BROTHERS and SISTERS. If anyone has material possessions and sees a BROTHER or SISTER in need but has no pity on them, how then can the love of God be in that person?”

John is saying that children of God—look at needy people—whether their needs are for money or for friendship or whatever—they look at these people not as things but as people—in fact, they look at them as BROTHERS and SISTERS.

I’m reminded of something Max Lucado shared in his book, Outlive Your Life. Lucado writes:

“A few months ago I was sitting at the red light of a busy intersection when I noticed a man walking toward my car. He stepped off the curb, bypassed several vehicles, and started waving at me. He carried a cardboard sign under his arm, a jammed pack on his back. His jeans were baggy, his beard scraggly, and he was calling my name, ‘Max! Max! Remember me?’ I lowered my window. He smiled a toothless grin. [He said], ‘I still remember that burger you bought me.’ Then I remembered. Months, maybe a year earlier, at this very intersection, I had taken him to a corner hamburger stand where we enjoyed a meal together. He was California-bound on that day. ‘I’m passing through Texas again,” he told me. The light changed, and cars began to honk. I pulled away, leaving him waving and shouting, “Thanks for the burger, Max.” I’d long since forgotten that meal. Not him. We never know what one meal will do. When we provide food stamps, we stave off hunger. But when we invite the hungry to our tables [when we treat them as fellow human beings], we address the deeper issues of value and self-worth.”

The day Max invited that beggar to sit at the same table with him, he was acting like—loving like—God Himself. Remember, God opens His heart to ALL people—even people who rebel against Him. He loves ALL people—the WHOLE WORLD—so much that He sent His Son to die in their place. Well, God’s children love like that. Their hearts break for people—all people.

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements and it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”

With this in mind, you could say that God’s children love dangerously—because they open their hearts to all people. I’m not saying they justify the sins of others—I’m saying that like God they love people—all people—in spite of their sin.


This week I came across an excerpt from a book by James White entitled, The Good and Beautiful Life. In it White tells about something that happened in the early 1990’s when gang violence erupted in Boyle Heights—a section of East Los Angeles. Eight gangs were in conflict in the parish around the Dolores Mission Catholic Church. Killings and injuries happened daily. Well, a group of Christian women who met for prayer read together the story of Jesus walking on water during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Then one of the mothers, electrified by the text, began to identify the parallels between the Jesus story and their own as a storm of violence raged around them. So that night, she led seventy women on a procession from one barrio to another. They crossed gang boundary lines and brought food, guitars, and most of all love—unconditional—all-inclusive love. As they ate chips and salsa and drank Cokes with gang members, [they began to sing traditional songs together]. The gangs were disoriented by all this—they were baffled and the war zones were silent. Each night the mothers walked. By nonviolently intruding and intervening, they “broke the rules of war.” The old script of retaliation and escalating violence was challenged and changed. It is no accident that the women christened their nighttime journeys “love walks.” They crossed barriers and embraced the members of these gangs as their own children. They opened their hearts to these young men. As the relationships between the women and the gang members grew, the kids told their stories. Anguish over lack of jobs; anger at police brutality; rage over the hopelessness of poverty. Together they began to fix things. They developed a tortilla factory, a bakery, a child-care center, a job-training program, a class on conflict-resolution techniques, a school for further learning, a neighborhood group to monitor and report police misbehavior, and more. These Christian women were acting like God—-LOVING like God. You see, the kind of love we are talking about here is a love where you give of yourself for the good of others even for those with whom you have differences. It’s thinking of all people—as brothers—LOVING them in that way—opening our hearts to them and their problems. Vaughn Roberts puts it this way, “When you love people who are like you that’s ordinary. When you love people who are UNLIKE you that’s extraordinary. When you love people who DISLIKE you that’s revolutionary.” That’s the kind of love John is calling us to…the kind of love the world is waiting for.