Question: "What does it mean that we are children of God (1 John 3:2)?"
Answer: It is God’s great love that takes the initiative to make us the children of God. This extravagant outpouring of our heavenly Father’s love made the apostle John marvel: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Being children of God means we have been born into God’s family. We become God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ, which results in spiritual rebirth: “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:12–13, NLT; see also Galatians 3:26; 1 John 5:1).
Jesus taught that only the children of God experience new birth and the opportunity to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). When we hear the gospel message, repent and confess our sins, and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, at that moment we are born into God’s family. We become a child of God and co-heir with Christ of everything in God’s kingdom for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13–14; Romans 8:14–17). All that God has given to His Son in the kingdom belongs to us as His children, as well.
Presently, we have only limited knowledge of what it means to be children of God: “We are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3, NLT). When we see Jesus face to face, our understanding of what it means to be children of God will be expanded (2 Corinthians 3:18). Yet, John explained, even a partial grasp of our status as children of God will make us want to live pure and holy lives.
John continued with a challenging teaching about sin, concluding with these statements: “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God” (1 John 3:9–10, NLT).
As children of God, we have a new nature “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Contemplating who we are as the children of God will cause us to think seriously about how we live and whom we serve. Will we pursue a life of holiness and obedience to God and His Word, or will we take on a lackadaisical attitude toward sin? Will we serve our heavenly Father or our sinful nature, “which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (verse 22)?
Children of the devil (see John 8:44) make a practice of sinning, but Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil in the lives of God’s children (1 John 3:8). As the children of God, we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), led by the Holy Spirit: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14, NLT). Although at times we still sin, a child of God has “an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1, NLT). Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins and restored us to a right relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:21). We prove ourselves to be children of God by living to please and obey our heavenly Father (practicing righteousness) and by loving our brothers and sisters in the family of God (1 John 3:10).
Salvation in Christ is pictured not only as a rebirth but also as an adoption: “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son” (Ephesians 1:5–6, NLT; cf. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5).
It’s difficult to fully comprehend the love of our heavenly Father—a love that delights in transforming rebellious, undeserving sinners into the children of God. At times, like John, we can only marvel at being adopted into God’s family. Our security in God’s household does not depend on our behavior or performance. We owe our position as His sons and daughters all to our Father’s gracious love that purchased our salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Our identity as children of God is hidden in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:3; Galatians 3:26). We are no longer orphans or slaves, but sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4–7). We have a good father who loves us and will care for us and supply our needs for all eternity. Our purpose now, as the children of God, is to develop into our full stature and unique potential by becoming like Jesus: “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29, NLT).