1 John 3:1

‘how great a love the Father has given to us,
that we should be called children of God!’
(1 John 3:1)

This is what true Christians are, adopted children of God! He ‘predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to Himself,… He freely gave us favour in the Beloved’(Ephesians 1:5-6). So this status is not earned, but freely given and received.

As such, the creator of the universe no less looks upon us with love, care and concern as a father looks upon his little children. He is the almighty, more powerful, knowledgeable and in control than we could ever imagine, and yet he tenderly loves us as a perfect father!

This should affect our approach towards God, as Jesus taught: ‘“receive God’s Kingdom like a little child”’(Luke 18:17), and pray ‘“‘Our Father in heaven’”’(Matthew 6:9). Likewise Paul encouraged the early Christians, ‘because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”’(Galatians 4:6).

He went on, ‘you are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God’(Galatians 4:7). So even more amazingly we are heirs of God, as he wrote elsewhere too, ‘we are children of God; and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’(Romans 8:16-17).

How could we know such things, digest such truths and experience this reality and ever feel insecure, unloved, depressed, anxious or vulnerable again? When feeling like that we should remind ourselves of these facts and run to God praying ‘My heavenly Father…’, to receive His love, comfort and reassurance.

But how can we know that we’re in this category – children of God? That’s partly why John wrote his letter, ‘that you may know that you have eternal life’(1 John 5:13).

First it includes a birth into this new life, which can only happen through Jesus, ‘God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn’t have God’s Son doesn’t have the life’(1 John 5:11-12). To describe this John uses the phrase ‘born of God’(1 John  3:9,4:7,5:1,4&18) both in this letter, and elsewhere: ‘as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’(John 1:12-13). This is a spiritual birth, as Jesus himself taught, ‘“That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit… ‘You must be born anew’”’(John 3:6-7). This is the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts which cries Abba, Father, already mentioned above.

This Spirit in our hearts will have other effects too, evidence of true spiritual life in us. In particular John is keen to emphasize love, especially for our spiritual siblings: ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers’(1 John 3:14), and avoidance of sin, ‘Whoever is born of God doesn’t commit sin’(1 John 3:9). Although this seems to use absolute language, the original Greek implies an underlying attitude and intent of life rather than sinlessness, as ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’(1 John 1:8) confirms. Nevertheless, our spiritual birth should be evidenced by spiritual appetites and growth, as Peter put it, ‘having been born again… as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow’(1 Peter 1:232:2). And as doting children we should want to be like our loving father: ‘imitators of God, as beloved children’(Ephesians 5:1).

However, God won’t allow us to remain spiritual babies and toddlers forever. As we grow we should find our perfectly wise and loving Father exposing us to discipline and trials, with His help and encouragement, so that we mature: ‘God deals with you as with children, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline?… it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it’(Hebrews 12:7&11) and as James explained, the testing of our faith through all sorts of trials ‘produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete’(James 1:3-4). The Father’s aim with all His adopted children is that we become like our older brother, for we’re ‘predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many’(Romans 8:29), and Jesus exercised His full perfection ‘through sufferings’(Hebrews 2:10), demonstrating God’s sacrificial love to us.

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