I am a child of God.
What does that statement mean? It is obviously an identity statement. I could say “I am David Carter.” I could say “I am a golfer.” I could say “I am a teacher.” However, when someone identifies themselves as a child of God, that statement seems more important than any other statement of identification. Frankly, I think it is. As John Stott draws his book Basic Christianity to a close, he focuses on the idea that Christians are children of God. He refers to the Apostle John who explains in his prologue to his Gospel that “He (that is, Jesus) came to His own home and His own people received Him not. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born…of God.”
The major questions about this child of God designation are these: have you received Him? Do you believe in His name?
Some might question is God not the Father of all men? Aren’t all people children of God? Well certainly God created man, but that is not what a person means when they say “I am a child of God.” The identity “child of God” is more than acknowledging that I am a creature who was created by a Creator. When I say I am a “child of God” I declare that I have a special relationship with God because of my acceptance of Christ in my life.
Reference the statement above: “He came to His own home and His own people received Him not.” Contrast that to this idea: when He came to me, I received Him.
But what does all this mean? In Basic Christianity, Stott has written a book for a seeker, an individual who has made a new commitment to Jesus but they are not really sure what that means. They need more information because they want to grow in their faith. They may be happy that they feel momentarily free from their sins and they may be excited about the new direction they are going in their life but their life change is new. They don’t really know what their future holds. They are affectionately referred to as “baby Christians.” Human babies are fed by parents and growth for them is natural. Christian babies grow through their own effort: to grow they should read God’s Word and obey God’s Word in their lives.
In this post, I will comment on Stott’s “privileges” for the person who is a new creature, that person who has joined the family of God, and now is related to God as Father.
The first privilege is an intimate relationship with God. Sins were a huge barrier between God and us before we declared Jesus Christ as our Savior. Stott writes simply, “We were under the just condemnation of the Judge of all earth.” Due to Christ bearing all our sins on the cross, we have been “made right” with God. Our Judge has now become our Father. Stott comments on this new life by turning to the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Before I went to church and said the prayer, the words were only an exercise in rote learning. After giving my life to Christ, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” took on a whole new meaning. He knows my needs before I ask Him. He promises to give good things to His children and I am now His child. Do I have carte blanche with my behavior? No, God disciplines me when I sin and even though I have declared my love for His Son, I will continue to sin. However, new Christians must realize that God is disciplining us for our own good. We need His guidance in life so we can grow closer to Him.
Secondly, we have an assured relationship with God. “Assured” is one of the most important words for a new Christian. Some people act as if they only hope for a brighter future, but Christians are assured that God will never desert them, God will give us peace and rest and God will give us eternal life.
Let’s stop and clear one thing up: God is not promising that life will always be happy, that the problems of life will not occur. However, He is promising that He will always be there to help us in the tough times. This is very confusing to new Christians who feel close to God when things are “right” and distant from God when things are “wrong.” This can plunge the new Christian into uncertainty as we desire all highs and no lows.
One key to overcoming this problem is to read God’s Word and believe it. God promises eternal life to those who receive Jesus Christ in their lives. Secondly, God speaks to our hearts. When we believe in God, His Holy Spirit comes into our lives and He directs us. Stott writes “The outward witness of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is confirmed by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit in experience” . When we cry out for God in our prayers, listen. He will answer if we are quiet, meditative and receptive. Thirdly, if we are active on His urgings through the Holy Spirit, we will find spheres of life where we can do His work. There will be evidence of His influence in our acts. This “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit also gives us a new path to righteousness as God leads us down a new pathway to life.
Security. Who does not want that? This is the third privilege that new Christians will eventually discover. A major fear that many have is the penchant to sin after declaring a “new life in Christ.” How can this be? The things I did before I came to Christ are still there: the old temptations, the old triggers to sin, the weaknesses that have led to sinful habits. Many new Christians don’t understand that we may be “justified” once but we need to be forgiven every day. Paul said we have to “die to sin daily.” Eventually we hope that sin tugs on us less as we seek God more and more but real life is a see-saw battle as righteous behaviors can emerge in one instance and then sinful behaviors can emerge in another. So many Christians refer to this as the “old man, new man” problem. When we declare Christ as our Savior, we try to put our “old” behaviors away and we seek better behaviors [our “new” man]. However, the “old man” returns from time to time. Old habits are hard to break. New habits are hard to adopt. Where is security in all of this? God knows the battle we are waging because His only Son walked this earth living a human life. His only Son is also in heaven at His right hand advocating for man. God knows every sin we are going to commit before we commit it. Our weaknesses are baked into who we are and God has made us. Despite this, God wants us to succeed in our efforts at righteous living. Satan is the one who wants to see us fail.
I love the way Stott ends this section of his last chapter. When we give our lives to Christ, we are cleansed from our sin. He references Peter who asks Jesus to wash his hands and his head as well as his feet, but Jesus replies “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, for he is clean all over.” In Jesus’ time in the Middle Eastern world, dusty conditions made it customary for people to bathe before leaving their home for social gatherings. When arriving at someone’s home, a slave would still greet them and wash the dust from their feet. Stott likens this to what happens when we give our lives to Christ. We receive a bath which symbolizes the fact that we are made right with God. That bath never needs to be repeated, but as we walk through the dusty streets of this world, we constantly have to have our feet washed. This is God’s daily forgiveness.
I am a child of God.
When someone identifies themselves as a child of God, that statement seems more important than any other statement of identification.
It means that God will give you an intimate relationship, an assured relationship and a secure relationship.
New Christians don’t know what they are getting when they give their lives to Christ, but in the closing words of Basic Christianity Stott explains the privileges.
In my last post* on this book [about the last pages of the book], Stott explains the Christian’s responsibilities.
*My first post on Basic Christianity was October 25, 2020 [entitled “Studying Stott Once Again”]. When I began blogging on December 30, 2014, I had never commented on two books at once, but I admire John Stott so much I wanted to do this, alternating comments on Basic Christianity with The Cross of Christ.