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Lesson 49: True and False Children of God (John 8:37-47)

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March 23, 2014

Some of the scariest verses in the Bible are Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

Here are people who call Jesus “Lord.” They have served Him in some impressive ways by prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles in His name. And yet they will be turned away from heaven at the judgment because they were false children of God, as revealed by their lawless lifestyles. Since you and I will dwell forever in either heaven or hell, you want to make absolutely sure that you are a true child of God, headed for heaven, and not a false child of God, who will spend eternity in hell.

The dialogue in our text follows John 8:30-31, where we saw that although many professed faith in Christ, it was not genuine, saving faith. This is first seen in 8:33, where it becomes clear that these “believers” were trusting their Jewish lineage for right standing with God. They mistakenly thought that being Jewish by birth automatically made them spiritually free. But Jesus said that actually they were slaves of sin. Only those who abided (“continued”) in His Word were truly His disciples. In 8:34-36, Jesus dealt with their claim to be spiritually free by showing them that they were only free if He set them free. Now He deals with their claim to be children of Abraham by showing that their claim was false as seen in their deeds. Their murderous intentions toward Jesus revealed that they were not children of God, as they thought, but of the devil.

Jesus is teaching here what He taught elsewhere, that conduct stems from one’s nature. Good trees produce good fruit; bad trees produce bad fruit. Children of God produce good deeds; children of the devil produce bad deeds. But it’s not quite so easy to tell which are which, because often bad trees seem to us to produce good fruit. For example, we see many people who are not believers in Jesus Christ, but they’re “good” people. They’re caring and kind. They give generously to charitable foundations that help the needy. They’re the type of people that you want to have as neighbors. And, on the other hand, there are some who sure seem to be children of God, and yet they do some horrible things that sometimes even land them in prison.

Only God knows what is in human hearts, so we always have to be a bit tentative when determining whether someone else is a true or false child of God. And sometimes we don’t even know our own hearts! We fluctuate in our desires from loving God to loving this world (which are mutually exclusive, 1 John 2:15). So to the best of our ability, we need to apply the tests that we see in our text, first to ourselves; and then, with a bit more hesitation, to others whom we are trying to help spiritually. The principle is:

False children of God follow Satan and his evil deeds because they have not been born of God;
true children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

The text reveals a number of characteristics of both false and true children of God:

1. False children of God think that they’re following God, but they’re actually following Satan and his evil deeds because they have not been born of God.

What makes this dialogue scary is that these Jews who were actually children of the devil were very religious people who professed to believe in Jesus. In other words, they weren’t raw pagans, avowed atheists, Muslim terrorists, or Hindu idolaters. These people professed to believe in the God of Abraham and outwardly they were zealous for their religion. But Jesus plainly tells them that they were deceived. They actually were in Satan’s camp. And so we who profess to be Christians and perhaps even are zealous about our faith need to think carefully through these five characteristics to make sure that we’re not deceiving ourselves!

A. False children of God count on their religion to put them in good standing with God.

This theme is repeated here so that we don’t miss it. In 8:33, they tell Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone.” In 8:37, Jesus acknowledges that they were Abraham’s descendants physically, but He contends that they were not Abraham’s descendants spiritually. But they still repeat (8:39), “Abraham is our father.” When Jesus points out (8:39b-41a) that their deeds were not in line with Abraham’s, but indicated a different father, they retort (8:41b), “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.”

There could be a couple of things behind that comment. It could be a subtle slur against Jesus’ birth, alluding to the fact that His mother conceived Him out of wedlock. Rumors about Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus had circulated for decades. So the Jews may be putting Jesus down by saying, “You’re illegitimate because Your mother was immoral, but we’re not!” Or, it could be an assertion that they were not like Gentile idolaters. Often idolatry in the Old Testament is described as spiritual adultery. So the Jews’ retort here could mean, “We were not born like idolatrous Gentiles; rather, as Jews, God is our Father.”

But however you take it, it’s clear that these Jews were counting on their Jewish heritage and religion to put them in right standing with God. The apostle Paul did the same thing when he was a Pharisee. He boasted in his Jewish credentials (Phil. 3:4-6). But after God saved him, he counted all of that as loss. He wrote (Rom. 2:28-29), “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” And (Gal. 3:7), “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.”

It’s a great blessing to be born to Christian parents and reared in the church, as I was. But that blessing increases your accountability to respond to the light that you’ve been given. Your religious upbringing will do you no good and will only increase your culpability on judgment day if you do not respond to the gospel with repentance for your sins and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

B. False children of God are deceived into thinking that they are children of God, while their actions actually show them to be children of the devil.

These Jews claimed that Abraham and God were their spiritual fathers (8:39, 41), but they were blind as to who their real spiritual father was, namely, the devil! In reply to their contention that Abraham was their father, Jesus said (8:39, 40), “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” Then, in response to their claim that God was their Father, Jesus replies (8:42), “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”

So they were claiming to be devoted followers of their religion, but at the same time they were trying to kill God’s unique Son, whom He sent to earth for their salvation. Their actions revealed their true nature, that they were children of the devil.

Jesus goes on (8:44) to explain that Satan is both a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. He murdered the entire human race by lying to Eve about what God had said. As such, he is the author of all the murders and lies ever since that tragic incident in the Garden. Since these Jews were seeking to murder Jesus (8:37, 40) and since they were liars (8:55), they were reflecting their true nature as children of the devil. As they say, “He’s a chip off the old block.” Or, “Like father, like son.” But tragically, these Jews didn’t see how deceived they were. They thought that they were the righteous ones and that Jesus was the liar and deceiver.

Here’s the hard question that each of us needs to ask ourselves, so that we don’t end up being deceived: “Whose child do my actions reveal me to be?” There are far more tests than the two in verse 44, but take them: Do you have murderous intents for others? You say, “Whew, I’m off the hook on that one! I don’t want to kill anyone!” But not so fast! Jesus said (Matt. 5:21-22):

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

Whoa! If you’re an angry person, you need to get radical in eliminating that sin from your life or at the very least, it indicates that the devil has gotten a foothold in your life (Eph. 4:26-27). At worst, it indicates that you may not be a true child of God. But in either case, anger is not a “minor fault.” It’s a major sin!

Or, take the other test in verse 44: Lying. Jesus says of Satan, “[He] does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Are you committed to being a truthful person, or do you bend the truth when it’s to your advantage? Do you put on a “Christian” front so that you look good at church, but you actually live in violation of God’s Word at home or when you’re in private? Hypocrisy is lying. Being truthful is a mark of God’s true children, but lying is a mark of the devil’s children.

C. False children of God seek to eliminate Christ and His Word from their lives because they don’t want to hear the truth about their sin.

These Jews were seeking to kill Jesus because His Word had no place in them (8:37). Jesus tells them further (8:40), “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” In 8:45, Jesus adds, “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” The truth threatened them because it exposed their sinful hearts. Rather than believing the truth and repenting of their sin, they were trying to eliminate the messenger.

Again, keep in mind that we’re not talking here about atheists or agnostics. We’re talking about outwardly religious people. In modern terms, they were active church members, some of whom served on the governing board. Some were even ministers. So you have to ask, “How do professing Christians today try to eliminate Christ and His Word from their lives?”

Some liberal “Christians” do it by undermining the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. It often starts by rejecting the early chapters of Genesis as history so that they can accommodate evolution. It moves on to eliminating the miracles in the Bible as mythical stories. Then they distance themselves from the parts of the Bible that don’t align with our modern “enlightened” understanding of things. For example, they argue that the biblical roles for men and women are culturally antiquated and not binding on us today. They argue that the Bible’s view of homosexuality is “homophobic.” The overarching virtue in the Bible is love and tolerance for everyone, so we can’t condemn as wrong any behavior or belief, no matter how unbiblical it may be.

But, it’s easy to throw stones at the liberals and ignore how we as evangelicals may be eliminating Christ and His Word from our lives because we don’t want to hear the truth about our sin. One way we do it is simply by neglecting the Word. We don’t read it and seek to obey it. We’re ignorant of what it says because we haven’t taken the time to read and meditate on it.

Another way that we eliminate or at least dilute Christ and His Word from our lives is by mixing it with worldly ideas, such as modern psychotherapy. The widespread self-esteem teaching flooded into the church, not because it was discovered in the Bible, but because it came in through worldly psychologists, such as Carl Rogers. It flies in the face of biblical teaching on humility and it serves to build our pride, which is the root of all sins.

Another way that we eliminate or dilute Christ’s Word so that we can do what we want, rather than what God commands, is by putting other “revelations” alongside the Word, which in effect supersede the Word. I’ve heard Christians say that God told them that it was okay for them to marry an unbeliever. A Christian man once told me that God had told him that he could divorce his wife. A charismatic pastor was separated from his wife, but the elders of his church had not asked him to step down. When I asked why they had not done this, one of the elders replied, “The Lord hasn’t told us to do that.” I persisted, “But the Lord has told you to do it. He told you in 1 Timothy 3.” But he kept saying, “No, the Lord hasn’t told us to do that.” So unbiblical “revelations” take precedence over God’s Word, allowing us to do what we want when it isn’t convenient or easy to do what God commands.

D. False children of God attack or look down on those who convict them of sin.

This is behind the Jews’ comment (8:41), “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” As I said, that either was a slur against Jesus so that they didn’t have to listen to Him, or it was a derogatory remark about Gentile idolatry. But either way, it diverted the issue from their need to confront their own sin by pointing at others and their supposed faults. Invariably, false believers do not let God’s Word confront their sins (John 3:19-21). True believers allow the light of God’s Word to expose their sins so that they can turn from them and grow in holiness.

E. False children of God are not able to understand or obey Jesus’ Word because they are not born of God.

This gets to the root of their problem. It comes up twice here. In 8:43, Jesus asks, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” He answers His own question, “It is because you cannot hear My word.” He does not say, “You do not hear My word,” but rather, “You cannot hear My word.” The Greek word refers to inability. They lacked the spiritual ability to hear Jesus’ word, which primarily means, to obey it. Then, in 8:46 He asks, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” Then He again answers His own question (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” In other words, they were not born of God.

The Bible is clear that because of sin, unbelievers cannot do anything pleasing toward God (Rom. 8:8). They are unable to understand the gospel or other spiritual truth (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Cor. 2:14). And yet, God holds them responsible for their unbelief (Acts 2:23). If you say, “That’s not fair,” then you’re contending against the Sovereign of the universe! Be careful! Rather than rail against Him, cry out to Him for mercy! “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). But when you get saved, remember (1 Cor. 1:30), “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus ….” The reason that false children of God follow Satan and his evil deeds is because they have not been born of God.

2. True children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

Briefly, here are four marks of true children of God:

A. True children of God give God’s Word the primary place in their lives.

This is the converse of what Jesus said about these false believers (8:37), “My word has no place in you.” The word translated “no place” can mean, “My word makes no progress in you.” Or, as we saw in 8:31, they did not continue in Jesus’ word, which is the mark of His true disciples. As I said last week, continuing or abiding in Jesus’ Word is the key to experiencing consistent victory over sin. True children of God can say with the psalmist (Ps. 119:11), “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

B. True children of God obey God’s Word.

Jesus says (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; …” “Hears” does not mean just hearing the words audibly; the Pharisees did that. Rather, it means to hear so as to obey. In 8:39, Jesus says that if they were Abraham’s true children, they would do the deeds of Abraham. Abraham was noted both for believing God so that he was justified by faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3); and obeying God, which demonstrated that his faith was genuine (Gen. 26:5; James 2:21-23). As John says (1 John 2:3), “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Is your life marked by obedience to God’s Word?

C. True children of God love Jesus.

Jesus says (8:42), “If God were your Father, you would love Me ….” Jesus repeatedly asked Peter when He restored him after his denials (21:16), “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Paul shows the importance of this (1 Cor. 16:22), “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” Love is a commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. Love for Christ is a commitment to seek His glory through all that I do. It certainly involves my feelings, in that I am most happy when I see my Lord most glorified. But the basis of biblical love isn’t feelings, but the commitment to seek His highest good. Have you made that commitment? Do you love Jesus enough to forsake your sin?

D. True children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

As we saw, at the heart of why false children of God are not able to understand or obey Jesus’ Word is that they are not of God. The flip side of this is (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; …” Being “of God” means being “born of God” through the new birth. The reason that we now love Jesus and obey His Word is that we have a new nature. The Spirit of God dwells in us and opens up to us the treasures of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:9-10). So it’s the reality of the new birth that distinguishes the true children of God from the false.


In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” It’s possible to go too far and become overly introspective, so I don’t want anyone to do that. But it’s also possible to go glibly through life, assuming that you’re a true child of God because you go through the outward motions of Christianity, while your heart is far from God (Mark 7:6). It would be utterly tragic to hear the Lord say (Matt. 7:23), “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Make sure that you’re a true child of God!

Application Questions

  1. Some evangelism approaches encourage you to give assurance of salvation to a person who just prayed to receive Christ. In light of these tests, is this wise? Why/why not?
  2. Are there any marks of false converts that you need to deal with personally? What is your plan for doing this?
  3. What are some other marks of the new birth than those mentioned here? Cite Scriptures.
  4. How can you sensitively use these tests to help others without becoming judgmental?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Hamartiology (Sin), Satanology, Soteriology (Salvation)