Distinguishing the Children
1 John 3:10, 11 says,
10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
Here the apostle equates practicing righteousness with loving one another. Righteousness is biblical justice, which is commanded in the law. We are to respect the rights of God and our neighbors, as the Great Commandment says (Matt. 22:36-40). If we love God, we will have no other gods before Him. If we love our neighbors, we will not steal from them or even covet their possessions.
Who are Children?
John says that those who do not love their brothers are “of the devil,” and not “children of God.” The Hebrew way of thinking uses the term “son” or “child” not only to show biological relationships but also to point out those who follow the works of their father.
Not knowing this, there are some who interpret John’s words biologically, teaching that the devil seduced Eve and produced Cain. Cain, they say, was a biological son of the devil, and his biological children too were all children of the devil, incapable of salvation.
But the New Testament often speaks of “children” in terms of men’s actions, rather than their genealogy. So Jesus says in John 8:39, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.” But because His opponents did not do what Abraham did, He said, “You are doing the deeds of your father… You are of your father, the devil” (John 8:41, 44). Deeds prove spiritual heritage, not genealogy.
So also Paul says in Galatians 3:7,
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Again, he says in Galatians 3:26, 29,
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus… 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
In Luke 7:35, Jesus says, “wisdom is vindicated by her children.” In Luke 16:8, Jesus says again, “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” Hence, both wisdom and light have children. Their status as “children” depend upon their actions, not upon being biologically begotten or birthed by wisdom or light.
James and John were sons of Zebedee, but Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). Thunder has no biological children.
Image and Likeness
In Gen. 1:26, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’.” The Hebrew word tselem is translated “image.” An image is a reflection in a mirror or a painting, picture, or engraving that looks like someone.
The word demuth is translated “likeness.” It comes from the root word damah, from which also is derived the word dam, “blood” and Adam, “earthy.” Just as a son physically resembles his father, so also was man created to resemble the heavenly Father in his character.
Most of us are familiar with the New Testament teachings about coming into the image of God. Paul teaches this in 2 Cor. 3:18. But the teaching about likeness has been overlooked to a great extent, because men have thought that it was the same as image. Certainly, these concepts are closely related, but yet they are distinct.
Adam was made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). Hence, he was named “Adam,” which is from adamah, “ground.” Paul gives us a more literal meaning of his name, saying in 1 Cor. 15:47, “The first man is of the earth; earthy.” The phrase, “of the earth” and the word “earthy” are literal definitions of Adam’s name. He was named for the ground from which he was formed.
Paul contrasts Adam with Christ, who was begotten by God, saying, “the second man is from heaven.” He then brings all of us into the picture, saying in 1 Cor. 15:48-50,
48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…
There are two kinds of people, those begotten of Adam (the earthy man) and those begotten of God in heaven. The “flesh and blood” man cannot inherit the kingdom, for he is a child of the flesh and the equivalent of Ishmael (Gal. 4:49 in Paul’s allegory). Hence, that which your biological parents brought forth into the world cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Only the child that is begotten by God through the seed of the word is “Isaac” (Gal. 4:28) and can inherit the Kingdom.
Therefore, if we identify ourselves with that which is “earthy,” we show that we are not inheritors of the Kingdom, for even if we claim Abraham as our Father, we still have Hagar as our mother. Hagar cannot bring forth Isaac, for she is the Old Covenant, and only the children of the New Covenant are inheritors of the Kingdom.
A Deep Sleep
Those who follow Adam’s example of sin bear the image of the earthy in similar fashion to their father, Adam. In other words, they follow his example, for they remain in Adam’s likeness. They act in a similar manner to how Adam acted, and so they are in the likeness of flesh and “blood” (dam). Such people are in a “deep sleep,” for we read in Gen. 2:21,
21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep [tordamah] to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place, 22 And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
The word tordamah is from the root word radam, “to sleep, to stun, to be cast into a dead sleep.” Here we see the Hebrew concept of death being equated to sleep. When God put Adam to sleep, we are never told that Adam awoke from that sleep. Hence, it prophesied of the long sleep of death which he and all of mankind were to experience throughout history, during which time God was bringing forth His bride (“Eve”).
But tor is also a turtledove, as used in Genesis 15:9 and Lev. 12:6, and so it is closely related to yonah (or Jonah), which means “dove.” Hence, tor-damah suggests a dove that has been dipped in blood (as in Lev. 14:6) to cleanse those being healed of leprosy. Since leprosy is a slow death, it is a type of mortality, the sleep of death imposed upon Adam in Gen. 2:21. This is how the law prophesies the manner in which we all must awaken from death and come into immortality, so that the Last Adam can have a bride.
Origins of Sonship
John’s letter is a study of origins, particularly the origin of sonship. He was showing us that there are two kinds of sons—earthy and heavenly. Earthy sons are in the likeness of the earth (damah), having flesh and blood (dam). But the children of God are those who have been begotten by God through the Holy Spirit by receiving the seed of the revelation of the word of truth.
If we have received His word, we have been begotten by God, and that holy child being formed in us is both immortal and incorruptible, because it is in the likeness of the word of God which abides forever (1 Peter 1:25).
The problem comes when we are uninformed and do not know that we are pregnant with “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Being ignorant of such things, we are often unaware that we need to change our identity from the earthy to the heavenly and live out the life of the spiritual son.
When we do not understand these things, we end up in an awkward position, for we are like Ishmael, having Abraham as his father, but Hagar as his mother. In such a state, we cannot inherit the Kingdom, for to be an inheritor, we must have both Abraham and Sarah as our parents. One cannot bypass Sarah, for she too had a promise of God (Gen. 17:15, 16), and she represents the New Covenant.
For this reason, we have many believers, but not many sons. There are many Ishmaels but few Isaacs. The main reason is because the children of the flesh believe themselves to be chosen and believe that they are the rightful inheritors of the Kingdom, since they were born first. The apostles, however, tell us that this is not true.
John teaches sonship by referring to the story of Adam and Eve. He shows how to be begotten by the Father. Paul teaches sonship by referring to the story of Hagar and Sarah. This apostle shows how to be brought to birth by Sarah, so that you can be an inheritor like Isaac.
Yet both apostles agree in their conclusions. John says that if we love our brothers, this is evidence that we are indeed the children of God, because we are then in the image of Christ.
Paul says that if we walk by the spirit, rather than by the flesh, this is evidence that we are indeed the children of God. Peter agrees, telling us in 1 Peter 1:14-16,
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
This revelation from the word may be disturbing to many and may cause them to question their relationship with God. How do I know that I have been begotten by the Holy Spirit? How do I know that I am of Sarah? How can I be assured of being part of the Isaac company that will inherit the Kingdom?
Being a son of God does not necessarily mean that you are aware of it or that you have that assurance. There are many who are indeed sons of God, but they lack assurance or confidence. Others are children of the flesh and yet have great (misplaced) confidence that they are sons of God.
If you have claimed sonship on the basis of your fleshly biology or your physical descent from Adam, Israel, or any other flesh-and-blood parent, then your confidence is misplaced, for “all flesh is like grass” (1 Peter 1:24). But if your faith is in Christ, rather than in an earthy parent, you are already a child of God. It is that simple. It is always by faith, which comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). Have you heard the word which John, Peter, and Paul have presented to you in their writings? Do you believe what they say?
I presume so, since you are reading this. It is not my intention to shake anyone’s faith, unless they have confidence in the flesh. Paul himself might have had confidence in the flesh, since he was “of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew, as to the Law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5). But he gave up all confidence in the flesh in order to be found in Christ alone (Phil. 3:8, 9).
Let us follow Paul’s example.