The Children of God

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 Jn. 3:1-3).

The United States Treasury Department has a special group of people whose job it is to track down counterfeiters. Naturally, these people need to know a counterfeit bill when they see one. Oddly enough, however, they are not trained by spending hours examining counterfeit money. Rather, they study the real thing. They become so familiar with authentic bills that they can spot a counterfeit by looking at it or feeling of it.

This approach of authenticating truth is the same one John teaches  in 1 John 3, as John warns us that in today’s world there are counterfeit Christians, whom he identifies frankly as “children of the devil” (v. 10). Instead of listing the evil characteristics of Satan’s children, however, John gives a clear description of God’s children, and the contrast becomes obvious.

We are the Children of God (v. 1)
 “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”

The word “Behold” means to “see with the mind, perceive, to know” (Thayer). The word is the same as used when John the Baptist introduces Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.” It is like a flashing light on the highway. It calls on us to stop, to ponder, to consider a truth we might pass up too easily.

The expression, “what manner of love” means “of what sort or quality” (Thayer), and it indicates something foreign. The phrase can read, “Behold what foreign kind of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” The love of God is foreign to humanity because it is not found in us naturally.

Your sins and my sins were responsible for the death of Jesus on the cross. His crucifixion is not just some isolated event in history in which we were not involved and that does not relate to us. Paul argues, “God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The mystery of the love of God is beyond human comprehension. Paul expresses the magnitude of God’s love when he prays that God would enlarge our understanding that we might know “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge…” (Eph. 3:18-19).

That we should be called the sons (children) of God:

The expression “sons” (tekna), is better translated “children.” The expression denotes that as children of God, we receive a new dignity, a new relationship with God, and a new inheritance.

As a child of God, you have a relationship with God that others do not have. Long ago a king returned triumphantly home from battle to a hero’s welcome. As he was carried on his portable throne in the procession, his subjects got down on their knees and bowed in homage to him. A prostrated man noticed a young boy making his way through the crowd, however, stepping over people and around people as he headed in the king’s direction. The man grabbed the boy by the arm and lectured, “Son, that man is your king passing by! You need to bow down and show him honor!”

The boy replied, “Yes, he is my king, but he is also my father!” He jerked his arm away from the man and ran to the king who was waiting for him with outstretched arms.

The story illustrates that regardless of the position a person holds, if the person is your father, you have access to him that others do not have. Jesus says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11). He adds, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

Furthermore, as children of God we become His legal heirs. Paul explains, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:16-17).

Peter adds, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

In order to claim an inheritance, one must become a legitimate, legal heir. A family can take a child into its household and care for the child, but if the child is never made a legal heir, it can make no claim of inheritance. The same is true with becoming heirs of God. We must go through the process of becoming a legitimate, legal heir by obedience to the gospel (Gal. 3:23-29).

What We Shall Be (v. 2)
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

Verse 1 tells us what we are (children of God) while verse 2 tells us what we shall be. All of the possibilities of eternal life are found in our being the children of God.

It doth not yet appear: The apostle is saying, “We cannot say; and it is not good for us to know. We shall be like Christ and that must be enough for us.”

What we shall be: This expression suggests something unspeakable, contained in the likeness of God (Vincent). What developments await us, to what services God will appoint us, and with what honors He will crown us in the hereafter, we do not know.

Those who knew something of these things and were recalled to life, as far as the record shows, maintained resolute silence about them (Lk. 7:11-16; Jn. 11:38-44). Paul was called up to into paradise where he heard “unspeakable things that are not lawful to be uttered” (2 Cor. 12:1-4).

Such passages as these makes one wonder about “near-death, out-of-body” experiences reported commonly today. A number of Americans have reported having near-death experiences, and there are hundreds of support groups across the nation helping people deal with them.

I honestly do not know what to make of these reports, but I do know that those in the Bible who had near-death experiences, or who were actually dead (Lazarus had been dead for four days!) and brought back to life remain absolutely silent about what they experienced on the other side.

God has wisely and graciously left a veil over our future condition and experiences. There are not symbols or words that can adequately describe it anyway. No music can express it; no painting can portray it. God has been merciful in leaving the future condition veiled because if He were to pull back the curtain and allow us to see the other side, it would be so wonderful we could not patiently continue our duties here. Paul says, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Also, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain…Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:21, 23).

When he shall appear, we shall be like him: Even though most of what the afterlife will be is hidden to us, John does give us a hint when he says we shall be like Christ. He explains in Philippians 3:20-21, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” He adds, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).

This present body has disease, decay, and death in it. It becomes tired and exhausted. It may have deformities, and parts may be missing due to accident or operation. The future body, however, will have no disease, weaknesses, deformity, or death in it. What a blessed state that will be to have a body that can never die, in which there will be no sinful nature, that will never become weary or exhausted, and in which there will never be anymore pain.

God’s promise that we will be like our Savior’s glorified body should be enough to cause us to strive to obtain that inheritance.

What We Should Be (v. 3)
 “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

Verse 1 tells us what we are, verse 2 tells us what we shall be, and verse 3 tells us what we should be. The hope to be like the Lord in the resurrection should arouse the determination to be pure like Him.

Scientists tell us that rats without hope drown in a jar of water in a little over three minutes. However, if you give them a glimmer of light and hope, they will swim for 36 hours! Hope affects us the same way.

If a doctor tells the patient, “There is no hope,” most patients give up. If an athletic team concludes there is no hope for winning the contest, they too will give up. The same is true of living successfully as Christians. Take away the hope of immortality and of being transformed to be like Christ, and life’s inspiration is gone. It is just a matter of time until one gives in to the old saying, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”

Purifieth himself: There were Gnostics in John’s day who felt moral purity had nothing to do with being a child of God or with the hope of the resurrection. John says in verses 4-10, however, that if one is not striving toward moral purity, he is not a child of God, but rather a child of the devil. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8).

John makes a startling statement in verses 6 and 9 when he says that whosoever is born of God “does not commit sin” and “cannot sin.” That statement might sound like a contradiction to what John says in chapter 1:8, 10. There he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

The tense of the verbs in each case clarify the meanings. In chapter 1, John is talking about someone who has committed an occasional sin in the past. Every great personality mentioned in the Bible sinned at one time or another. Abraham lied about his wife (Gen. 12:10-20). Moses lost his temper and disobeyed God (Num. 20:7-13). Peter denied the Lord three times in one night (Mt. 26:69-75). These were, however, isolated incidents in their lives, totally contrary to their normal habits. Furthermore, when they sinned, they admitted it and asked God to forgive them.

The word “sin” in chapter 3 is used in the present tense and refers to the practice of consistent sin as a way of life. If you were to graph it on a board and put down a point or dot for every sin, it would look like a continuous line.

Children of God may sin by committing an occasional wrong act, but such is the exception rather than the rule. Children of the devil, however, live a life of habitual, continual sin. Those who persist in drunkenness, drug abuse, fornication, adultery, lying, slander, and such like, are not children of God. Regardless of how loudly they may protest, they are counterfeit Christians who are in reality children of the devil.


What a glorious privilege to be the beneficiary of God’s foreign kind of love that allows us to be freed from our past sins and adopted into the family of God! As God’s children, we enjoy a new dignity, an access to God that others do not have, and an inheritance in heaven. Because of the hope of that inheritance we should strive to purify ourselves and cultivate a genuine love for the other members of God’s family.


Article by: Carl Johnson