God's children

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (Joh 1:12–13)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. (Rom 8:16)

The Bible teaches that everyone who receives Jesus Christ and believes in his name (the Greek word translated 'believe' means to put one's faith in, to trust in) becomes a child of God. They then remain God's child for the rest of their life on earth.

The New Testament often refers to believers as brothers and sisters. That is because, spiritually, we are all children of the same Father.


Jesus frequently used children to illustrate truths about the kingdom of God. Consider the following statements:

'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' (Mat 18:3)

'Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' (Luk 18:17)

Jesus came to show us the way of salvation, so we should pay careful attention to what he said. Peter said, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Joh 6:68).'

The Church emphasizes the importance of faith for salvation, and rightly so: Eph 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through the action of faith. But, according to Jesus, if we want to enter heaven something more than faith is required: that something is that we change and become like little children. What did he mean by that?

Jesus was talking about dependency. Everything we see (apart from what God has created) is the result of mankind's effort and ingenuity—the vehicles we travel in, the buildings we live in, the technology we use.

We've taken the elements around us, applied our brains and our strength, and produced them all—largely without God. And yet, despite what we've achieved, we cannot save ourselves: to be saved we have to depend on him.

Children depend on their parents for everything: for food, for clothing, for protection, as well as for advice and guidance. That is how God wants us to depend on him—not only for salvation, but for every other need as well.

Are you depending on God for everything, or is he only your Saviour and you're still trying to make your own way in life? That is not how he wants you to live.

When Israel passed through the wilderness on the way to the promised land (which, for us, symbolizes heaven), they depended on God for everything: for provision and protection, as well as for direction. That is a picture of the Christian life.

Salvation of infants

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' (Luk 18:15–16)

Those words of Jesus have led some to believe that every child that dies goes to heaven. That would be nice if it was true, but it isn't.

Whether a person receives eternal life does not depend upon the age at which they die, but on whether they are elect (chosen by God for salvation). God chose to give eternal life to Jacob, but not to his brother Esau; and that choice was made before they were born or had done anything good or bad (Rom 9:10–13).

Some people believe that children go to heaven because they are innocent of sin, but they are not innocent of sin. Every human being is born a sinner, we inherit it from Adam. David said he was sinful at birth, sinful from the time his mother conceived him (Psa 51:5).

If an infant dies, and is elect, it will go to heaven; if it is not elect, it won't, and there is nothing we can do about that. God chose those he was going to save before he created the world (Eph 1:4–5). Be assured that he cannot do anything wrong: the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (Gen 18:25).

So if Jesus wasn't teaching the salvation of all infants, then what was he teaching? He said, '…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' The kingdom of God doesn't belong to every child, but to those who change and become like children.

That any should perish

'What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.' (Mat 18:12–14).

The New Testament uses the terms 'children', 'little children' and 'little ones' not only to describe males and females below the age of puberty, but also believers in our Lord Jesus Christ of any age (1Jo 3:1). Jesus addressed his disciples as children (Mar 10:24).

So when Jesus said that it's not God's will that any of these little ones should perish, he meant that it's not God's will that anyone who believes in him should perish.

What did he mean by 'perish'? He meant lose their salvation. The same Greek word is used in Joh 3:16: it means to be destroyed, to lose your life—the opposite of eternal life. Can a believer lose their salvation? Yes they can. They can lose it by turning from the faith and going back to their sins (2Pe 2:20–21).

Jesus said:

'If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung round their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!' (Mat 18:6–7)

The Greek word translated 'stumble' in those verses means to fall. In this context it means to fall into sin. It comes from a word meaning an obstacle, a stumbling block—that which causes people to fall. The picture is of someone falling into sin as they walk along the road that leads to life (Mat 7:14).

Satan is the tempter (Mat 4:3); he is the one who puts stumbling blocks in our path and he often uses humans to do it (Mat 16:22–23). As there will be degrees of rewards in heaven so, I believe, there will be degrees of punishment in hell. One of the worst will be for those who enticed God's elect (those he had chosen to save) back into sin and to their destruction.

My brother's keeper

So what should be done if a child of God does leave the road that leads to life? Jesus said that if a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, will he not leave the ninety-nine and go to look for that sheep?

In Gen 4:9, Cain asked God whether he was his brother's keeper. The Hebrew word means to keep, to watch, to observe, to guard. God didn't answer him, but a careful study of Scripture will show it is so: we are our brethren's keeper; their eternal destiny should be our concern.

Jam 5:19–20 says:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The word 'death' there refers to spiritual death. God wants us to know that if one of his children does stop following the truth, their sins—even their many sins—can be forgiven and they can be saved from spiritual death.

Jesus has given pastors (Greek: shepherds) to his church (Eph 4:11–12) to watch over and guard his flock; elders perform the same function (1Pe 5:1–2). But it's the duty of every believer to watch over their brethren; we are our brother's keeper.

In Exo 32, Moses came down the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments and found Israel sacrificing to a golden calf. God said, 'Leave me alone. I'm going to destroy them and make a new nation from you.' Israel had done what had made them liable for destruction; but Moses prayed for them, and God listened to his prayer and did not do what he'd planned.

What can we learn from this? It's teaching us a spiritual principle. 1Jo 5:16 says that if we see a brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death—blasphemy of the Spirit is the only sin that leads irreversibly to spiritual death (Mar 3:28–29)—we should pray and God will give them life.

Wayward brethren can be restored to life through our prayers.

Don't let go of the rope

Christians who become ensnared by sin are backslidden. The word means to revert to sin from a state of moral purity. The ability to recognize and resist sin comes from God; if we move away from God we lose that ability. Such people need our help; they are lost sheep; they need to be brought back into the fold.

Paul said that while he was in Damascus the governor had the city guarded in order to arrest him, but he was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through their hands (2Co 11:32–33).

Paul was in a difficult situation: he was trapped and the enemy was trying to kill him; he needed the help of others. His friends lowered him in a basket (presumably attached to a rope) through a window in the wall. If they'd let go of the rope before he reached the ground he could have fallen to his death.

When we pray for backsliders we're performing the same function, but with a difference. Instead of lowering them to safety, we're pulling them back to safety. Paul's friends were saving him from physical death, we are saving them from spiritual death.

We could be the only person praying for them. If we let go of the rope before they are safe again, they could perish. Eph 6:18 tells us to always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. That instruction is not just for pastors, but for every Christian. The strong should help the weak (1Th 5:14).

The book of life

Further proof that God wants none of those he has chosen to lose their salvation is found in his law. In Deu 25:5–6, he said that if a man died without having a son, his brother should marry his widow and have children for him. The first son she bore would carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name would not be blotted out from Israel.

Are names important to God? Yes they are. Read through the Bible and see how many people are mentioned by name, both good and bad. Names identify us, but at the end of the age they will serve one supreme function: at that time anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).

Jesus told his disciples not to rejoice that the spirits submitted to them, but that their names were written in heaven (Luk 10:20). How were they written in heaven? They were written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev 13:8).

The name of every human being God has chosen to save was written in that book from the creation of the world (Rev 17:8) and he doesn't want a single name to be blotted out of it. Why? Because they're the names of his children, whom he loves, and whom he wants to spend eternity with in heaven.

The one who is victorious

The Book of Revelation is a letter Jesus sent to seven churches in Asia. Included in the letter was a message for each of the churches (chs 2–3), and each message contained a promise for 'the one who is victorious'. Let's look at three of them:

The promises concerned the people's salvation. Were they for everyone in those churches? No, they were for those who would be victorious. What does 'being victorious' mean? The Greek word means to overcome, to conqueror, to triumph over. In the New Testament it's used in the context of our fight against evil and the evil one (Rom 12:21; 1Jo 2:14).

Were the messages relevant only to the Christians they were written to? No, they are relevant to every Christian in every age (2Ti 3:16–17). According to our Lord's teaching in the Book of Revelation overcoming evil (ie sin) is a condition of salvation, and if we don't overcome it our names could be blotted out of the book of life.

After Israel had made the golden calf Moses said to the Lord, 'But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.' The Lord replied, 'Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book (Exo 32:32–33).

Will occasional sins cause our names to be blotted out? No:

My dear children I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins… (1Jo 2:1–2)

It's persistent sin that will do that:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb 10:26–27)

That is a description of backsliders: they've known the truth, they've walked with the Lord in righteousness, but they've now returned to their sins. The dog has returned to its vomit, and the sow that has been washed has returned to her wallowing in the mud (2Pe 2:22). Is that God's will? Certainly not!

Lessons from the Old Testament

Going back to Deu 25: God said that if a man died without having a son, his brother should marry his widow and have a son for him. A man could have more than one wife under the Old Covenant so, presumably, he was to marry her even if he was already married.

Normally people marry because of mutual attraction, but in this case they were to marry, whether they liked each other or not, in an attempt to fulfil God's desire: that the man's name should not be blotted out from Israel.

The Old Testament accounts for three quarters of our Bible. Why is it there? What is its purpose? It's there to teach us spiritual truth and spiritual principles.

The Jews were, and still are, God's chosen physical people on earth; we (who have been born of his Spirit) are his chosen spiritual people. God's dealings with his physical people in the Old Testament hold spiritual lessons for us, 'on whom the culmination of the ages has come (1Co 10:1–11)'.

God, not wanting any of the names of his chosen physical people to be blotted out of Israel, foreshadowed the New Testament truth that he doesn't want any of the names of his chosen spiritual people to be blotted out of the book of life. And it was the duty of others to try to prevent that from happening.

If he finds it

Of course, there was no guarantee that if the man married his brother's wife she would bear a son. In the same way, when we pray for backsliders there is no guarantee they'll return to the Lord.

In Matthew's account of the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus said, '…if he finds it (Mat 18:13).' But in Luke's account he said, '…when he finds it (Luk 15:5).' Why the discrepancy? There is no discrepancy: both are true.

When we pray for backsliders we should pray with faith expecting them to come back to the Lord and, in most cases, they will. But some won't. Why is that? Because God created us with free will and he will not take it from us. Amazingly, after knowing the Lord, some people return to the world because they prefer the pleasures of sin to God.

Love for the world

Paul wrote, '…Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me… (2Ti 4:10)', and there is no evidence he came back. Demas is mentioned in two of Paul's earlier letters (Col 4:14; Phm 1:24), but not after 2 Timothy.

The apostle John wrote:

'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.' (1Jo 2:15)

If we love the world—and by that is meant the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2Pe 1:4, 2:20) which, as far as we can see, was Demas' final state—we don't love God. Loving God is the first and greatest commandment (Mat 22:37–38); if we don't love God we will never enter heaven. Do you love God? I hope you do!

The battle

Christians are in a battle: the battle is with the world (ie the sins that are in the world), our sinful nature and the devil. And, as in any battle, there can be casualties. Some Christians are lost in the battle. We must do our best to prevent that.

Do you know any backsliders: people who have been born again but are no longer walking with the Lord? They are in a precarious position. Are you praying for them? Are you trying to get them back onto the Way? You should be, because God wants them back.

Look at the Parable of the Lost Son (Luk 15:11–32)—a man who left his father to enjoy the sins of the world. See how his father ran to greet him when he returned, throwing his arms around him and kissing him. Look at the rejoicing; look at the celebration. That is a picture of God.

Paul attributed all that he was and did to the grace of God (1Co 15:10). It was by God's grace he had not returned to the world, as Demas had; and those of us who are not backslidden should say the same. However, we should do our best to restore our brethren who are in that state. That is the will of God.

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? (Pro 24:11–12)

If we love our brethren, as Jesus commanded us to (Joh 13:34–35), we will pray for them, and especially for those whose salvation is at risk.

Michael Graham
January 2014

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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