WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHILD OF GOD
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 12, 2015
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
— Matthew 18:1-14, ESV
“Remember when the days were long,
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky?
Didn't have a care in the world,
With mommy and daddy standing by.”
— Don Henley
The opening lines of this song describe an idyllic childhood, one that fades as the song, and time, passes by. Children become adults. Adults often become a mess. The treasure of childhood gives way to the temptations and trials of adulthood, and one day neither mommy nor daddy are standing by. If only we could remain children, forever.
There is a way. Actually, there is the way, the truth, and the life (ref. John 14:6). And if by grace through faith you are a Christian (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10), then you were, you are, and you always will be a child, a child of God (ref. John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1).
You Have Been Born, Again
Just as my four daughters were born into the DeVane family, children of God are born, again, into an infinitely greater family, God’s family (ref. John 3:3, 3:7; 1 Peter 1:3, 1:23). It is a miracle of God, both childbirth and the new birth. One is wrought by the power of procreative providence, the other by the power of the Holy Spirit and regeneration. And in both cases, a child is the passive recipient of the precious gift of life.
Did you cause your parents to give birth to you? Neither did you cause God to save you and make you His child. Children of God are chosen by God, adopted by the prerogatives of the Father, and “caused to be born again” (ref. 1 Peter 1:3) through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Spirit (ref. Titus 3:5). The text at hand in Matthew, an eloquent and elaborate answer to the disciples’ question, bears this out exegetically and theologically.
Children of God “turn and become like children” (vs. 3, ESV). The KJV and NASB use the word “converted,” and the NIV translates it “change.” In the original Greek, the verb is in the passive tense, meaning it is not something you do, but rather something that is done to you. Children of God, Jesus said, “Believe in me” (vs. 6), an active participle, describing those who have received the gift of repentance (ref. Acts 11:18) and possess the living, active, gift of faith (ref. Ephesians 2:8). And a child of God, converted by repentance and faith, “Humbles himself like a child” (vs. 4).
Children of God are humble, children, of God. They humbly love the Lord, without any reservation or shame. They humbly trust and obey the Lord, showing up at His house on Sundays and listening to His word every day. They humbly serve and “receive” (vs. 5) their brothers and sisters in Christ, and join them in inviting the world to come and join us at the Father’s table. Everything He owns is ours, everything we own is His. It is a good life, a great life, a child’s life, but not one without risks.
You Have Been Blessed, and Warned
When you leave the orphanage of this present world to become a child of God, there is a target on your back that sin aims to hit. The temptations come from your own still sinful flesh, misguided believers, scoffing unbelievers, and even the devil himself. It is a blessing to have all of your sins forgiven, but there is still a dire seriousness concerning sin in this life, to which children of God should take heed.
Children, as a rule, should not fall under the spell of strangers. Children of God, as a rule, should have the same kind of spiritual skepticism. This is not to say that the world at large does not offer any common grace, for it certainly does in the realms of nature, art, and enterprise. Christians can enjoy all things that bring glory to God, but should reject all things that do not. People in this world will use sex, money, leisure, and many other lesser things to try to turn the children of God away from God. Sometimes we stumble and fall. Always we will overcome and be forgiven. But the hottest place in Hell belongs to those peddlers of sin who deliberately lure away a child of God from the happy home of the Father.
Unbelievers better be warned about how they treat believers. So should fellow believers. Racism and legalism were packed into the first presentations of the gospel I ever heard. I rejected the racism immediately, but it took me years to cut through the legalism. Church people have caused me far more harm than any other people on this planet, but thanks in part to my earthly father’s advice, I haven’t let the church destroy my faith, I’ve only allowed genuine faith to help repair and reform the church. Christ said it would be better for unbelievers in the end if they had never been born. So it will be for those who pretend to be born again, too.
The punishment for sin was declared null and void on the cross, for the children of God, but the struggle ensues until we meet the Lord face to face. Though Christ uses hyperbole here, it is good practical advice. If any media, hobbies, social connections, or any other thing pulls you away from a pure and total devotion to Jesus Christ, get rid of it, fast. You do not need everything in this life you may think you need, and you do not need anything or anyone that causes you to look, reach, or walk away from Jesus Christ.
You Are Being Watched, and Guarded
Children of God are born and blessed, warned and watched. We are watched over by angels from the Lord, and most of all, by the Lord God Himself. The world may “despise” (vs. 10), or put us down, but God is always lifting up His true children. Angels watch over us, God the Spirit guards us, and the Holy Trinity guarantees us an end that will astonishingly, brilliantly, and cataclysmically never end.
I believe every child of God has a guardian angel or angels. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Their angels always see the face of my Father” (vs. 10). Though God is omniscient and sees all, He still choses to send angels back and forth between His throne and our footstools. I am not sure of their power, only their presence, but their presence represents the power of God. They are help when we are tempted, comfort when we are cold, guardians in times of stress, and ultimate guides who usher us into Heaven. Amen.
More importantly, every child of God is guarded and guaranteed by God. He is the Good Shepherd who shows us the way to go, provides for our needs, binds up our wounds, carries us on His back, holds us in His hands, seals us in His heart. Sometimes He allows us to wander, always He rejoices when we return. And at the end of the day, and at the end of our days, His promise to us is that we will “never perish” (vs. 14). I do not know if all dogs go to heaven, I would like to concur with Spurgeon that literal children go to Heaven if something happens to them, but I know with the certainty and weight of the word of God that every child of God, born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, will be with God in Heaven for ever, and ever, and ever. Amen!
You Are Great, and Greatly Loved
What does it mean to be a child of God? It means you are born again into the family of God, the kingdom of God, a family and kingdom that will never end. Your sins are forgiven, your struggles will be over, your security is guaranteed by the finished work of Christ. But it means something more, too.
Jesus did not answer His disciples’ question, directly. They asked with wrong, prideful, and selfish motives. They wanted to know which one of them was the greatest.
Jesus did answer their question, emphatically. You are all the greatest, He said, if you are simply and surely the children of God. This is true for me and you, too. If you are a child of God, you are of great value and worth to God. If you are a child of God, God has great plans to accomplish great things through your life. If you are a child of God, God has a great home for you to live in forever, once your time on earth is done. If you are a child of God, God loves you with a great and everlasting love. This makes you great, in the eyes of God. This is what it means to be a child of God.
“I'm taking you Home,
Where we can be with the ones who really care.
Home, where we can grow together,
Keep you in my heart forever!”
— Don Henley
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org