Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me… You belong to your father, the devil” (John 8:42, 44)

Who is your father?

For some of us, that’s a question we’re glad to answer. We’re proud of our fathers. We admire their character and achievements. We feel close to them, and we’re grateful for the impact they’ve had on us. They may not be perfect, but we can’t think of anyone we’d rather have as our dad. And Father’s Day is a time to say so.

For a number of people, though, Father’s Day is awkward, and the question “Who is your father?” is painful. Some can only say, “I’m not sure who my father is. My mother never told me.” Others know their father’s name, but that’s about it. He’s a deadbeat dad who never sees his children and does nothing to support them. Still others grew up with a father in the home, but a bad one. He’s alcoholic or bad-tempered or mean or unloving or a rotten example, almost worse than no dad at all. So while some of us celebrate Father’s Day enthusiastically, others can only wish things had been different.

A growing number of children have bad dads or no dads at all. And as one generation grows up without good fathers, their chance of being good parents themselves is harmed. The generation after them is likely to be even worse. Single moms and their children should get as much love and support and possible, but that doesn’t change the fact that fathers matter enormously.

Still, as important as fathers are, there’s an even more important level at which to ask the question, “Who is your father?” At this deeper level, it’s not just a question of who fathered you physically, or of what man has had a hand in raising you. It’s about the father of your soul. When it comes to your deepest spiritual identity, who is your father, God or Satan?

That sounds like a strange question, doesn’t it? When I ask about human fathers and mention the importance of fatherhood, you know what I’m talking about. But when I mention spiritual fatherhood and raise the possibility that Satan might be your father, it sounds awfully strange. What comes to mind when you think of what it would be like to have Satan as a father? Maybe you picture some dark ritual where devil worshipers do ghastly things and pray to Satan as “our father who art in hell.” Such things do happen, and a relatively tiny minority of people do deliberately devote themselves to the devil–and it’s horrible. But these people aren’t the only ones who have Satan as father.

Believe it or not, you can be a prominent, respectable person in a mainstream religious group, and have Satan as your father. You can have godly ancestors that you’re proud of, and have Satan as your father. You can even say, “God himself is my father,” and have Satan as your father. Of all the people who have Satan as their father, only a very small percentage are self-avowed Satanists. The vast majority of Satan’s children don’t think of themselves that way at all. They see themselves as decent folks who proudly believe in God and family and freedom.

That’s a chilling thought, isn’t it? Even if you think of yourself as a child of God, it may turn out that Satan is your real father. It’s possible to be a respected, church-going, freedom-loving person from a good family and yet be a child of Satan without knowing it. That is so scary we’d rather not think about it. But there’s also another possibility. It’s possible to be a nasty, irreligious person from a rotten family and yet to become a child of God. The question “Who is your father?” has power to frighten and humble us, and it also has power to encourage us and lift us up. It can make the best of us pause and tremble at the possibility of being Satan’s children, but it can also make the worst of us lift up our heads and take heart that God may yet reveal himself as our Father.

On this Father’s Day, it’s fitting to think about our human fathers and the impact they’ve had on us. But let’s also deal with the question “Who is your father?” at a deeper level and be sure that we’re not children of Satan but children of God. How can we have God as our Father? Only through Jesus. He says, “I am the way… No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Although human fathers are important, the greatest of all needs is to have God as our Father, and the greatest of all problems is to have Satan as our father. I also said that you don’t have to be a Satan worshipper to have Satan as your father. You can see yourself as a believer in God and family and freedom and still be a child of Satan.

In John 8 the Bible tells of a dispute between Jesus and some prominent religious people. These people boasted of their freedom. They prized their religious ancestry. They even spoke of God as their Father. And yet Jesus shocked them by saying, “You belong to your father, the devil.” If Jesus could say that to those people, might he not say the same to some of us?

When we read John 8, we find that the dispute began over the question of who Jesus was, and who his Father was. In the course of dealing with that question, Jesus turned the tables, and raised the question of who their father was.

Here’s how it all started. Jesus spoke up and said, “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (John 8:12). The Pharisees, who were the strictest, most religious people around, thought that sounded outrageous. How could anybody claim to be the light of the world? How could Jesus say such a thing? Did he have anyone else as a witness to prove that his claim was valid?

The Pharisees aren’t the only ones who react to Jesus that way. Many of us do the same thing. We act as though we’re the judges and he’s the one being judged. We’re the ones who are smart and educated, and Jesus is the one who had to prove himself before we believe him. If he can come up with the kind of evidence and explanations and witnesses we demand, we’ll think about taking him seriously. Otherwise, forget it. We’re judging his claims, and he’d better meet our standard.

But what does Jesus say? He says that he knows his origin and destiny, while we simply don’t have a clue. So how can we pretend to judge Jesus or insist that he fit our standards, when we know so little, and when he’s the only one who can tell us? Jesus told those Pharisees, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I come from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But,” Jesus continued, “if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

At that point, when Jesus mentioned his Father, the Pharisees couldn’t help snorting. They knew his mother had become pregnant with him before she was married. They knew that the man who married his mother was a lowly carpenter who didn’t even claim to be Jesus’ biological father. With that kind of family background, how could this Jesus try to back his outrageous claims by appealing to his Father? Those pious people snorted, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” In other words, if you don’t recognize Jesus as the light of the world and the Son of God, it says more about you than it says about Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, it’s proof that God isn’t your Father and that you don’t have a clue what God the Father is like. And if that’s the case, Jesus went on to say, “you will die in your sin.”

“You are from below,” Jesus told them. “I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”

Now remember, when Jesus said this, he wasn’t talking to criminals and lowlifes. He was talking to people who were very upright and religious. Many of us tend to think that good people go to heaven. Decent people who live fairly clean lives and have some sort of religion will automatically end up in heaven. But that’s not what Jesus said. He told these people that there was no way they would go to heaven as long as they didn’t believe in him. “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be,’ Jesus said, “you will die in your sins.”

“Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. Then, to these people who were trying to judge him, Jesus said, “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

Do you see how Jesus turns the tables? They have been judging him, but he has plenty to say in judgment of them. They’re asking obnoxious questions about where his Father is and who Jesus himself is, but Jesus informs them that they are the ones with the problem. He and his Father are from above, while they are from regions much lower down. Even as Jesus spoke, says the Bible, many put their faith in him.

But Jesus still wasn’t finished. Having made it clear that the Pharisees and all others who rejected his claims would die in their sins, Jesus went on to address those who believed him. Many of these people believed Jesus only in a shallow and superficial way. You see, it’s one thing to hear Jesus and say you believe in him. It’s quite another to have a deep, permanent faith where you follow him and build your life on the truth of who he is and what he’s accomplished and taught.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The moment he mentioned setting them free, they got upset. Set free from what? They were already free! They were good enough and godly enough just the way they were. Jesus might be somebody special–they were willing to believe that much–but they weren’t about to admit that they needed him to save them. They were already part of the chosen people. They had a great heritage. They could trace their pedigree all that way back to that great friend of God, Father Abraham! They must be okay! “We are Abraham’s descendants,” they told Jesus, “and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Doesn’t that sound horrible? “A slave to sin”? Those people didn’t like that one bit. And they’re not the only ones. The idea that we are slaves to sin and totally unable to free ourselves is perhaps the most unpopular of all Christian teachings. We’d rather think we’re basically good. And even if we do admit that we’ve committed a sin, we like to think that it’s just a slip, a mistake, something that won’t happen again, something we can correct if only we try a little harder. But Jesus says we’re just fooling ourselves if we deny our slavery.

“I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We are slaves of sin, and we have no place in God’s family–at least not until Jesus, God’s Son, sets us free and brings us into his Father’s family.

Having made that clear, Jesus pressed the matter of fatherhood. He said, “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

“Abraham is our father,” they again insisted.

But Jesus pressed on. Sure, they were Abraham’s children, at least physically. But spiritually they weren’t Abraham’s children at all. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”

Here they snorted once again. How could this Jesus, whose mother got pregnant by an unknown father, talk so high and mighty about fatherhood. “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” Then Jesus bluntly told them who their real father was: “You belong to your father, the devil,” he said, “and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell you the truth, you don’t believe in me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Maybe you’ve had the notion that God is everybody’s Father and that we’re all part of his family. If so, give it up. Jesus destroys any such notion once and for all. Who is your father? Don’t automatically assume that it’s God. It might be Satan. If you’ve never admitted your own slavery to sin, if you’ve never asked Jesus to set you free, if you don’t love Jesus or believe what he says about your desperate need for him, if you don’t accept his teaching and follow him, then you’re just lying to yourself if you say God is your Father.

There are advantages to having godly ancestors and growing up in a religious environment, but there are also dangers. It’s possible to get just enough religion to make you immune to the reality of God. You settle for “Churchianity” and ignore the living Jesus and your need for him. You figure that as long as you appreciate your heritage and follow certain dos and don’ts, you’re a child of God. But is that really so? “You belong to your father, the devil,” says Jesus. “You do not belong to God.”

Let me remind you again that the people to whom Jesus first spoke these words were not criminals or misfits from messed-up homes. They were people who claimed to stand for freedom and family and God. What’s more, they even claimed to believe in Jesus, at least at first. But the moment Jesus started telling them that by nature they were slaves of sin and sons of Satan, and that their only hope was to hold to Jesus’ teaching and trust him to set them free and make them children of his Father in heaven, they refused to believe him and wanted to get rid of him.

How about you? Have you ever admitted that by nature you are a slave to sin? Do you believe in Jesus, not just as a teacher or a special person from God, but as the very Son of God come down from heaven to die for a sinner such as yourself?

You might say, “Well, I don’t really believe all that ‘slave to sin’ stuff. But I believe in Jesus, and I believe God is my Father.” Oh, really? So did those people Jesus called children of Satan. Their so-called faith in Jesus was really just faith in their own false ideas about Jesus. They wanted to think of him as a nice man sent from God to be nice to other nice people and to show them how to be even nicer. But that’s not why Jesus came. Jesus said that he came as the light of God in a dark world. He came to call people away from their father Satan, and into the family of God.

But how is that possible? How could anyone be a child of Satan and yet end up a child of God? The answer is as simple as it is impossible: the only way you can have a new father is to be born again. You must be born from above, born of God. Somehow, your old sinful self that takes after Satan must die away, and you must be born again as a new person who depends on Jesus completely for your salvation and truly looks to God as your Father. You can’t do this on our own, of course. It’s impossible. But with God all things are possible.

God can take the very lowest, despised people whose slavery to Satan seems quite obvious, and he can make them new creatures in Christ. That is a great miracle. But there’s an even greater miracle. The greatest miracle of all is that God can even take smug, self-satisfied people who talk loudly of freedom and family and God and give them a new birth, so that they stop trusting in themselves and look to Jesus.    An article by Steven J. Cole in World magazine tells the following true story.

Some years ago in a certain church, a pastor noticed an ex-convict kneeling at the front of the church, and kneeling beside him was the very judge who, years before, had sentenced the criminal to prison.

Later, the judge and pastor were walking home together, and the judge asked, “Did you see who was kneeling beside me?”

“Yes,” replied the pastor, “but I didn’t know you noticed.”

The two men walked on in silence for a few moments; then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace!”

The pastor agreed, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace!”

Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?”

The pastor replied, “Why, to the conversion of the convict.” He thought it was amazing that a convicted criminal would repent and come to Jesus and change his ways.

But the judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”

“What do you mean?” the pastor asked.

The judge replied, “That criminal knew how much he needed Christ to save him from his sins. But look at me. I was taught from childhood to be a gentleman, to keep my word, to say my prayers, to go to church. I went through university and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that criminal. It took much more grace to forgive me for my pride and self-righteousness, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than the convict whom I sent to prison.”

You may have a rotten father and grow up to be a criminal, or you may have a fine father and grow up to be a judge. But no matter how good or bad your human father is, no matter how bad or good you think you’ve been, the most important question is this: Who is your father, spiritually? Have you been born again? You must be born again, says Jesus, in order to see God’s kingdom or be part of his family.

So repent of your old life, and believe the good news of new life in Jesus. Admit that apart from Jesus you are a slave of sin with a selfish, deceptive nature like Satan’s. Trust Jesus as the Son of God and the only one who can give you this new birth of freedom. Give thanks to God, your loving Father, and live as his humble, obedient child. Then, when you’re asked, “Who is your father?” you can truthfully and joyfully say, “God is my Father!”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.