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by Jacob Ninan

It is a tragedy that as a result of watered down and incomplete preaching of the gospel these days, quite a large number of people have come to believe that they are born of God, when they are not actually so.

Since it is impossible to enter or even see the kingdom of God if one is not born from above (Jn.3:3,5), it is really worthwhile examining oneself on this point, so that one's life is not wasted in ignorance, and one does not get a shock on the day of judgment.

We find some of the marks of the child of God clearly described in the first letter of John. From the way John emphasises and re-emphasises some of these aspects, we can see that his burden is to make the distinction between a child of God and a child of the devil as clear as possible. Since this letter was written in the context of antichrists (2:8), false prophets (4:1), spirits of error (4:6), etc., and in the shadow of the last hour (2:18), how much more urgently is its message needed for now!

He does not sin (1Jn.3:8-10;2:29)

This is the most distinctive mark of the true child of God. More than anything else, this characteristic is what manifests the change that takes place when someone is born of God.

Other ways of translating 1Jn.3:9 include 'does not practice sin' and 'cannot go on sinning'. It is God's seed coming into a man which makes him a child of God, and such a man's whole attitude to sin undergoes a radical change. He can no longer tolerate sin.

If he does fall into sin, he seeks to get out of it at once. It is true that God has made a provision for our cleansing if we do fall into sin, but such falling is considered the exception rather than the rule (1Jn.2:1-2;1:9). The normal Christian life is where sin has no mastery (Rom.6:14).

In contrast to all this, we see that he who is of the devil sins because that has been the devil's way from the beginning (1Jn.3:8). For such a person, sinning is normal. He may avoid sin when that does not inconvenience him, or because he is afraid of getting caught. But the child of God avoids sin because he hates sin.

He loves his fellow-believers (1Jn.2:9-10;3:10,14,15;4:7-8,20)

From the way John emphasises this, we can see how he felt people could be deceived. People who are deceived on this point imagine that their relationship with God is fine even when their relationship with their Christian brothers has broken down.

"We love, because He first loved us" (1Jn.4:19). If we do not love, it proves that we have not experienced the love of God ourselves.

If we have come to God as sinners worthy only of hell fire, and have experienced God's mercy, shouldn't we find it easy to love others? Many come to God with a lot of confidence in their own righteousness. One proof of this is that they find it difficult to see themselves as hopeless sinners. Such people cannot come to God through Jesus the door, for Jesus came to save only sinners. They also find it difficult to show mercy to others and to love them. Notice the emphasis on the love of "the brethren". Jesus said that the distinctive mark of His disciples will be that they love one another (Jn.13:35). It is not that there is no love for other human beings. We love them too (Mt.5:43-48). But that is not what is seen at first. When a man is born into God's family, he finds himself drawn to the other members of this family, and becoming a stranger to the people of the world. If this doesn't happen, he should question his conversion.

He does not walk in darkness (1Jn. 1:6)

Jesus said, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (Jn.3:20). Those who walk in darkness are those who have something to hide. They do not want their shady deals, crooked schemes and wrong attitudes and thoughts to be seen by men. John says that he who hates his brother is in darkness still.

Those who are born of God have forsaken the ways of darkness and have come into the light (Jn.3:21). Even if there are things in their lives which they are ashamed to talk about, their distinctive mark is that they are not secretly cherishing them.

His sins are forgiven (1Jn. 2:12)

Notice that John mentions this characteristic about those who are 'little children' (spiritually). This is because the first thing that a person realises when he is born of God is that his sins have been forgiven.

He may however still listen at times to the accusations of the devil, and begin to doubt God. But this need not be so. If we have done our part, in repenting, confessing and forsaking our sins, we can be certain that God has done His part and blotted them out (1Jn.1:9;Is.1:16-18). Those who have not repented of their sins of course will not be forgiven.

He does not love the world (1Jn.2:15)

John mentions emphatically that love for the world and love for the Father cannot exist together in the same heart. Satan is the present ruler of this world (Jn.14:30). The values of this world are abominable in the sight of God (Lk. 16:15). When a man is born from above, he is taken from the worldly realm and placed into the heavenly realm (Ep.2:1-6).

Having now become a new creation, he finds that his old tastes, pleasures, friendships, etc., have lost their charm (2Co.5:17). His delight now is in pleasing his Saviour alone. While he lives in the world, his hearts affections have been removed from its attractions and placed on his new found Friend and Bridegroom. Therefore he finds himself increasingly separated from the people of the world whose goals are only to please themselves and to become great before the others.

He has life (1Jn.5:12)

It is the one who has Christ in him who is a Christian. Christ's life comes in as a seed in his heart and begins to grow up as a plant and bear fruit. Jesus is not only his Saviour but also his Lord. Life becomes a personal relationship between the Christian and Christ. The child of God learns to listen to the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him (Jn.10:27-28). He partakes of his Lord's spirit (1Jn.3:24), His attitudes and His values. We can see how soon after Stephen's conversion he cried out, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Lk.23:34;Acts 7:60). If anyone does not have this spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Ro.8:9).

He has an anointing that teaches him (1Jn.2:27)

There is an anointing that comes upon a child of God that teaches him the things of God. The Bible is no longer a dry, boring book to him. When he reads it, God speaks to him, and God's ways make sense to him. He receives exhortations, teachings, corrections, warnings, comfort and encouragement from it for his life, and God's word becomes his spiritual food (1Pe.2:2). This is a clear mark of the child of God.

He has a witness within himself (1Jn.5:6-10)

This witness is an inner certainty that a child of God experiences concerning God, His word and His ways, in relation to himself. This is the essence of faith; and thus true faith is distinguished from mere intellectual agreement about facts. By this a child of God is certain of what he believes in - for example, that his sins have indeed been forgiven (He.11:1:8:12). Many do not have this witness in themselves, but have been taught to 'simply believe', on the basis of the repetition of a formula. What is often lacking is a conviction of sin and genuine repentance.

He purifies himself (1Jn.3:3)

Though his sins have been forgiven, the child of God is still tempted through his flesh (Jas.1:14-15). He keeps finding that there are many things in his life that are quite opposite to the life of Christ. So he constantly purifies himself (2Co.7:1). A child of God cannot be content as long as there are things in his life that dishonour his Father and cause grief to Him, even if they are hidden from the eyes of the people around him.

He keeps himself (1Jn. 5:18 NKJV)

Though the child of God hates sin, he knows that he is weak (Mt.26:41), and so he watches over himself. He watches his heart to see if sin is trying to get in (Pr.4:23), and keeps crying to God for help to overcome in times of temptation (Heb.4:16,5:7-8). Thus he keeps himself in the place where God can keep him from falling into sin (Jude 20-24).

He overcomes the world (1Jn.5:4)

Though the child of God has been given a heavenly mind, he is being pulled towards the world by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1Jn.2:16). But he has understood that the world and all its lusts are passing away, and his mind is getting renewed to partake of godly values (1Jn.2:17;Ro.1:2). Thus he overcomes the world.

Examining ourselves

If we were to examine ourselves honestly in the light of the above characteristics, we would discover whether our conversion was genuine and complete or not. It is better to acknowledge our true condition now, and to make sure of our foundation (2Co.13:5), than to stand on our prestige and refuse to receive help to be truly born again. There is a need, however, for a special word to those who have a very sensitive mind. Such people can end up always being uncertain whether they are really born of God. We are not talking here about a flawless life, but only about a beginning in the right direction. We shall be like Jesus, flawless and perfect, only when He comes (1Jn.3:2). But we honour God by not doubting His goodness or love, and by believing that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and all unrighteousness (1Jn.1:7,9;2:1-2).

If we become careless in any of the things mentioned above, we can backslide from our position as a child of God. And the ultimate end of such backsliding will be to lose our connection with God altogether.

Let us give thanks to God for His gracious salvation, and press on to a life which is pleasing to Him in every respect (Col.1:10).

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