The Marks of God’s Children (2)
January 18, 2004 / No. 3185
Dear Radio Friends,
What are the marks of God’s true children? I would like to answer that in this message.
In the light of the Reformation, look at those marks that especially were restored and emphasized during the sixteenth century Reformation. Let me explain. When we talk about the marks of a child of God, what a child of God will look like, we could go into a whole plethora of the spiritual graces that are to be seen in our life: humility, meekness, love, holiness, and patience — as all of these things, the Scriptures say, are to adorn our life.
We are not going to do that in this message. What we would like to do is look into the inward work of the Holy Spirit: what does the Holy Spirit work in every saved child of God? What is the Christian experience as taught by the Reformation? I will give three marks that the Reformation restored once again, the true marks by which the child of God is known, the true Christian experience.
Now before I mention those three marks, remember that these marks are all of God. For the Reformation and the Scriptures loudly and beautifully declare the glory of God — that God is God! All of these marks, then, are of His power. As God made man from the dust in the beginning and breathed into him the breath of life, so God alone can make a child of God and breathe into him these marks. It is the Lord God, we read in Exodus 11:6, that puts a difference between the Egyptian and the Israelite, between the child of the world and one who is redeemed from it.
Remember, also, as we go through these marks, that they are now imperfect or, better, that they are in us as we still have our sinful flesh. Thus these marks will never be in us to the degree that they ought to be or with the power that we desire them to be. As you read of these three marks that I am about to mention to you from the Scriptures, as emphasized in the Reformation, if you are for real, if you are a true child of God, if you are not sitting here proud and indifferent, then you will respond each time saying, “Yes, but it seems so small in me. These feelings, these experiences, are so faint in me that I sometimes wonder if they are there.”
… these marks will never be in us
to the degree that they ought to be
or with the power that we desire them to be.
That also means that there is one great mark of the child of God. That is that the child of God, so long as he is on this earth, will mourn the fact that these marks are so dim. We will yearn that they be more and more in us. Yet, these marks are there. These marks are important for our own assurance, but they also must be there for our witness before the world.
What are these marks?
From the Reformation, and from the Scriptures, the marks of God’s children are, first of all, an exclusive trust in Christ for righteousness.
What is the mark of one who shall come into eternal life? What is the most basic and non-negotiable mark? We read of it in Romans 5:17: They who have received “the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Those who trust, by grace. Those who completely and exclusively depend upon Christ for acceptance with God for righteousness, for the favor, and for the smiling face of God. Including, then, the forsaking and the rejecting, from the heart, of all sinful self-sufficiency and work-righteousness as being the ground of eternal life.
We read in the Scriptures (Rev. 7:13) where one of the elders asks John, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” Who are they who are in heaven? John said, “Sir, thou knowest.” And he answered, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They are ones who have sought and found righteousness only in the work of Christ on the cross. We read in Psalm 71:16, “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.” A real Christian is convinced of the excellency and the sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ, of Christ’s work on the cross. Isaiah 45:24, “Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength.” That is, the mark of a child of God will be this: That I cannot obtain heaven on my own — only in the work of Christ. That was the Reformation!
The Roman Catholic Church had taught the people to place the weight of their souls upon duties. It taught them to look upon their works as so much gold paid out for heaven. It taught them that their own deeds would be sufficient to begin to weave a coat to clothe them throughout eternity. This is hypocrisy. This is the false Christianity. The false Christian is the one who rests upon what he does and never looks so high as to Jesus Christ. As the Pharisee in Luke 18, he says, “I prayed, I fasted, I tithed.”
What is the first mark of the child of God? The first mark taught in Scripture and by the Reformers is this: We must, by the grace of God, renounce our own righteousness and, by grace, embrace the righteousness of Christ as our acceptance with God.
You say to me, “That is very obvious.” But do not be too quick. For sin has twisted our minds with regard to this question: How shall I get right with God? Sin has so twisted men’s minds that they are either indifferent to that question or they give the wrong answer to it. They are either indifferent and respond: “Is there a God to get right with?” and live their life in hedonism, giving no thought to God. Or, men respond as the Pharisee of Luke 18, who came to the temple and brought his works to God as the basis of His acceptance and said, “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men. I must be accepted of God. Of course I have the marks of God’s children. Of course I am going to heaven. Don’t you understand, I have all of these “brownie” points — all these things that I have done. And, upon these grounds, certainly God shall accept me.”
Now I say to you, no matter who you are, be careful. Understand the gospel. Whether you are respectable or, in your past, very non-respectable; whether you have been reared in a Christian home or in a den of sin — when the searching light of God shines, there must be one confession: “I’m undone. All my own works are as filthy rags. There is no righteousness in me. It must be given to me merely of grace.”
Would you look for the mark as to whether or not you are one of the Lord’s? Do you trust completely and exclusively in Christ’s righteousness and therefore turn in your heart from all self-sufficiency and righteousness? Do you take your works, then — as far as being the basis upon which you will assure yourself to be saved — do you take all of those works and do you forsake trusting in them and place the whole weight of your soul upon the righteousness of Christ?
… when the searching light of God shines,
there must be one confession: “I’m undone.”
I say, not so fast. Do you cling to something you have done? Do you still whisper in your heart that you are at least a little better than someone else? That certainly God notices your sweet attitude in the church, or your prayers? This is very difficult, you see, because the cord of pride must be cut repeatedly.
What was the apostle Paul’s problem? In Philippians 3 he tells us that of himself he was the most religious of all men. As for righteousness … before the days of his conversion he would say that he had the best of all breeding — Pharisee of the Pharisees, the best of all trainings, activities, learning. But when he came to see his own sin and the surpassing excellency of Jesus Christ, he called all of that, as to its being the basis of his salvation, dung (manure).
Renounce, then, by the grace of God, your works as the ground of your acceptance. How can I state it plainer? One strand, one dependence upon any work that you have done, is forbidden. Yes, we are to live a new and holy life. But the mark of the child of God, in principle and foundationally, is a trust in Christ alone as the ground of his acceptance with the Father. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!
You see, the hypocrite is always going to trust in something or someone other than Christ to pacify the wrath of God. The mark of the child of God: exclusive trust in Christ’s righteousness.
But there is another mark that was emphasized from Scripture in the days of the Reformation. That mark was this: A sincere repentance of sin. The word “repentance” in Scripture is a word that means “change of mind.” And it is rooted in a knowledge and a love of Jesus Christ in the heart, which now makes every sin exceedingly loathsome and something from which I want to be delivered. The Scriptures say that all who come into the kingdom are given this mark of repentance. I Thessalonians 1:9 — “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son”; Acts 5:31, “Him (that is Christ) hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins”; Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” The mark of the child of God is repentance.
The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism give a very concise, biblical definition of repentance. We read, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby the sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does with grief and hatred of sin turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.”
Very briefly, let me describe to you the biblical truth of repentance using the picture of a tree. A tree, of course, must have roots. The roots of repentance are twofold: there must be a conviction of sin (I did not say a sense or even an awareness or an admission of sin — I didn’t say that — I said conviction by the Holy Spirit). For all men know they are sinners. Romans 1:32 tells us that they know the judgments of God against those who commit such things; yet they go on and they do them and find pleasure in them. You can get somebody to admit many things that he has done wrong. But repentance is rooted first in that spirit-worked conviction of sin, so that now life is seen, not on the horizontal, but in the vertical over against God. It is rooted in the knowledge that I have sinned against God, and in the light of God giving me to know the inward thoughts of my heart as corrupt in sin. Repentance is rooted in understanding that my sin is not simply those things that I have done, but it is what I am. I am a sinful man.
Secondly, the root of repentance is a laying hold of Christ. Repentance is not simply a resolution rooted in my own will — that I have to do a little better and stop certain things in my life. It is a look unto Christ in faith.
Then out of those two roots comes the main trunk of the tree of repentance, and that is a change of mind or a conversion, a daily conversion, a conversion in my thoughts about God, no longer as someone to dread, no longer as someone to have enmity toward, but to love. It is a change in my mind toward sin, not as pleasurable but as loathsome in the light of God’s love for me. It is a change in an understanding of myself — that I no longer live, as we read in II Corinthians 5, unto myself but unto Him who died and rose again.
Then, finally, repentance is not a barren tree, but it will bring forth fruits worthy of repentance — sorrow before God. You may read of these fruits more explicitly in II Corin-thians 7:10 and 11, where the apostle speaks of the marks and the fruits of a thorough repentance before God.
Is this mark in you?
Faith in Jesus Christ, true faith, is not dry-eyed. Have you, from the heart, forsaken sin as the willful practice of your life? I did not ask, Have you broken the practice of every sin? — but, have you found a change worked in your heart, by God’s Word and Spirit, toward all sin, toward sin that you no longer love but now despise? The hypocrite is never divorced from the love of sin. He keeps back some sin. He makes a cage for that sin. He takes it out and plays with it, and then safely puts it back in, he thinks. The Lord’s words were emphatic: If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy hand or foot offend thee, cut them off. What was He saying? He was saying: In My kingdom, the citizens do not make peace treaties with any known sin. We deal, then, with sin ruthlessly.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, Satan does not care if you yield to God in many things, if you will be true to him in one thing. For he knows that one sin willingly lived in, one sin willingly loved and nurtured, will hold you fast enough.
What is dear to your heart? That envious spirit that you have nursed as a little girl? That terrible lying tongue? That tongue of sarcasm? That evil eye of suspicion that puts the worst construction upon the deeds of others? That deep-seated spirit of unforgiveness? That evil pride that makes you worship your fate? Cut it off!
In My kingdom, the citizens do not
make peace treaties with any known sin.
A mark of God’s children is, for sure, true repentance before God.
There is a third that was emphasized by the Reformation and in Scripture: (An exclusive trust in Christ for righteousness; a sincere, Spirit-worked, thorough repentance; and then, thirdly,) a humble submission to the will of God. For the Scriptures declare in Hebrews 12:6 and 7, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Every child of God who comes at last into the eternal fold and house of God bears the necessary marks of chastening.
Another way of referring to chastening is learning from the heart submission to the will of God. When at last God’s children are all home and stand before His throne, and you look over the vast multitude, you will see that all bear that mark, all give evidence of having been molded patiently, persistently by God to submit to His will.
That speaks very loudly to us when we grieve in the death of a dear brother, husband, or father. The marks of God’s children are not that they do not weep and their hearts do not feel as if they will be crushed. But the marks of God’s children are that they will find, deep down, even in this, to say: Have Thine own way, Lord, it is good; whatsoever the Lord doeth is good.
Every child of God who comes at last into
the eternal fold and house of God
bears the necessary marks of chastening.
You see, every child of God must receive this mark. Therefore, we are all tried. Acts 14:22 tells us that it is only through much tribulation that we shall enter into the kingdom of God. And under this tribulation the mark of the hypocrite is exactly that he will not submit. He will lash out against God. He will say, “I don’t want that type of Christian faith that declares the sovereignty of God.” Or he will not hold out under the discouragement that must come in the way of following Jesus Christ. In the words of Job 27, concerning the hypocrite, Job asks the question: “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?” And the answer is, No. For if the hypocrite knocks and pleads to God and God does not answer immediately or according to his fancy, then the hypocrite will be out of patience. If the cost is too high, he will go away; if the trial is too much, he will curse his God. For the mark of God’s children is submission — peaceful, blessed submission to the sovereign will of the heavenly Father in Christ.
Therefore, we know as children of God that the way of the kingdom is that way that is uphill and a muddy path. Yet, for the joy that is set before us we go on that path and we are ready to endure, for the Lord’s sake, all these trials, and we understand that it is always the hand of God that comes upon us in order to mold us, in order to chasten us, in order to scourge from us our sins. What is the mark? The mark of God’s children according to the Reformation and the Reformers (and all the people of the Reformation learned this mark through God’s own sovereignty) was that they would forsake their own will as the guiding principle of their life and submit to the will of the almighty God as alone good. In the words of David: “Let him do unto me as seemeth good to him”; or in the words of Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” The child of God, then, calls upon God in his trials. He does not bellow or scream or mourn out of his own pride or self-pity. But he comes before God and he says, “Lord, from bitterness give me reception to Thy will; from complaining give me praise; make me bright and hopeful and not toxic in my words.”
The marks of God’s children: exclusive trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ; sincere repentance; submission to the sovereign will of the almighty God. Nothing profound or in the sense of being new, I trust. And yet these are the simple, irreducible marks of a child of God as proclaimed in Scripture and again heard in the Reformation.
Where will you find these marks? How shall these be worked in you? Christ, in the Reformation, restored the church and the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. And through the preaching of the Holy Scriptures in the church, these marks are again placed upon God’s children. If you covet these marks, then you will covet a true ministry and true church of Jesus Christ.
Are you, then, for real? You cannot take that question for granted. You cannot be indifferent to that question or ignorant of it. There are three marks, at least, of a child of God: Trust in Christ for righteousness; repentance unto life; and submission to the almighty will of God. Are these in you? I know they are in us so weak, but are they in you? Then you are God’s child. God is your Father; Christ is your brother; heaven is your home. All things are for your sake.
And then, when these marks are in you, others will see you and they will learn what God is like, and God will be glorified in His children. Amen.