Is God Your Father?
By David Feddes
To be a genuine Christian is to have God’s life in your soul. Real religion is not just a matter of having correct opinions or feeling various emotions or doing certain duties. It is being able to say truthfully, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Real religion is the life of God in a human soul.
Nothing is more important for you than to have this divine life inside you. If you have it, you are God’s child. If you don’t have it, you are Satan’s. If you have God’s life, you will be forever happy. If you don’t, you will be forever miserable. But how do you know whether you have God’s life in you or not? Is there any way to know for sure?
I’ve seen highway billboards with giant letters proclaiming, “Who’s the father? Call 1-800-DNA-TYPE.” Not an inspiring sign, is it? Father’s Day shouldn’t be confusing. It should be obvious who a child’s father is: the father ought to be the mother’s husband. It’s too bad marriage is so dishonored and sleeping around is so common that there’s a market for DNA testing just to identify children’s fathers. The point here, though, is that there is a real, reliable way to prove fatherhood. It’s not just a matter of opinion or feeling. If a child’s DNA matches a man’s DNA, it proves the man is the father. If the DNA doesn’t match, the child is not his.
In a similar way, spiritual DNA testing can show spiritual fatherhood. If your spiritual DNA matches God’s kind of life, it proves God is your Father. If your spiritual DNA doesn’t match God’s, it proves God is not your Father; his life is not in you. How can you get a spiritual DNA test? Not by calling a toll-free telephone number but by going to the Bible, especially the book of 1 John. Is God your Father or not? God inspired the apostle John to write this book to help each of us give a clear answer to that question, either yes or no. If Christ lives in you, the Lord wants you to know it. If you truly have God’s life inside, he doesn’t want you to be unsure; he wants you to be confident that he is your Father. On the other hand, if you don’t have God’s life, God wants you to know that, too–the sooner the better. It would be fatal to think you have God’s life, only to find out too late that you were wrong.
The Lord, speaking through John, gives a triple test which reveals whether or not you have been born of God. There’s the belief test: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1). There’s the attitude test: “Everyone who loves has been born of God” (4:7). And there’s the action test: “Everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (2:29). If this threefold test comes up negative, you cannot claim God as your Father. But if the test is positive, it means you have been born of God. Let’s go through the Bible’s threefold test that shows whether or not you’ve been born of God. Let’s begin with the belief test.
The Belief Test
1 John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (5:1). “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God” (4:15). Genuine faith in Jesus proves that God is your Father.
Faith starts with facts. The apostles lived and worked with Jesus for years. They saw and heard and touched him (1:1). They ate with him after he rose from the dead. They received final instructions from the risen Lord. The message of the apostles was actually the message of Christ himself. John, speaking as an apostle of Christ and a writer of Scripture, says, “Whoever knows God listens to us [apostles]; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us” (1 John 4:6). If you think you know better than the prophets and the apostles who knew Jesus personally and were as his spokesmen, you are not born of God. If you are born of God, you believe what the Bible says.
In 1 John the Bible says Jesus is “the Christ” (5:1), “the Son of God” (4:15). “He is the true God and eternal life” (5:20). He “has come in the flesh” (4:2) to die as “the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (2:2) and “to destroy the devil’s work (3:8). Is this what you believe about Jesus?
If you think Jesus was a good man but don’t believe he’s God, your belief test is negative. If you don’t believe that the Son of God became human flesh by being born of a virgin, your belief test is negative. If you don’t believe that “the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1:7), your belief test is negative. If you think it’s possible to be right with God and have eternal life apart from Christ, your belief test is negative. It is impossible to reject these basic truths about Jesus and yet be born of God.
Perhaps you think it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you believe in God. But if you reject Jesus, you also reject God the Father. The Lord says in 1 John, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (2:20-23).
If you truly know God, you believe his Word in Scripture, and you believe in his Son, Jesus, as the Bible reveals him to be. The Holy Spirit of God makes you sure of God’s truth and confident that he lives in you (2:20, 3:24). There are all sorts of religious ideas and spiritual experience, but many are phony. “Do not believe every spirit,” says John, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1). How can you spot phonies? “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist” (4:3). But where the Bible is believed, where the Christ revealed in Scripture is trusted, there you recognize the Spirit of God at work.
If you are born of God, his truth convinces your mind, and his love captures your heart. Your mind believes in Jesus, and your heart embraces him. ”If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (4:15-16). Do you believe the facts about Jesus? Do you delight in him? Do you trust his love? If so, your belief test is positive. God is your Father.
The Attitude Test
Next let’s consider the attitude test. 1 John says, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (4:7-8,16). If you have God’s kind of life in you, you will have God’s kind of love.
What is God’s kind of love? First of all, God loves God. The love that unites God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity is the fountain of all love. Therefore, if God’s Holy Spirit lives in you, you will love Jesus Christ and God the Father, because that is who the Holy Spirit loves most.
At the same time, if you have God’s life and love in you, you will also love other people. After all, if God the Father loves his world enough to send his Son, if Jesus loves his people enough to die for our sins, if the Holy Spirit loves Jesus’ followers enough to live in us and flood us with God’s favor, then if God lives in us, we will love other people as God does. “If we love one another,” says John, “God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (4:12).
Our attitude toward God can be measured by our attitude toward others. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (4:20-21).
There’s a story about the apostle John as an old man. (The story isn’t in the Bible, but it’s a very old story recorded by St. Jerome.) John got to be so old and weak that his people would carry him in their arms into the midst of the congregation. He was unable to speak for long. In fact, he didn’t say anything except, “Little children, love one another.” End of message. Every time they carried him in, he said the same thing: “Little children, love one another.” Finally, the people got a bit tired of hearing the same thing over and over. “Master,” they asked John, “why do you always say this?” “Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”
Whether or not that story is true, we know for sure that in the Bible John often repeats Jesus’ command to love one another, and he says it’s a sign of being spiritually alive. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (3:14). Lack of love means a lack of God’s life in you. Love shows you’re born of God. He is your Father.
The Action Test
The third test is the action test. If God’s life is in you, your behavior will show it. John says, “If you know that [God] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (2:29). “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him” (5:18).
Does this mean that God’s life within makes us instantly sinless? No, says John, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1:8,10). If you took the action test and concluded you always did the right thing and were perfect, it would not mean you were born of God. It would mean you were misreading the test, fooling yourself, and calling God a liar.
If you are born of God, you know your sinfulness and admit it. At the same time you keep growing in your ability to overcome sin. Remember, being born is not the same as being grown up. Someday those who are born of God will be mature and perfectly sinless, but that day hasn’t yet come for you and me. Even if Christ lives in us, we have a sinful nature that still needs to shrivel away and a spiritual nature that still needs to grow.
When the action test says that “anyone born of God does not continue to sin,” it doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean that if you simply go on sinning, without sorrow for your sin, without struggling against it, without overcoming it more and more, without growing in obedience to God’s commands, then you are spiritually dead. Satan is your father, not God. John says,
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as [God] is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (3:8-10).
If you have God’s life in your soul, you do what is right, and if you do wrong, you don’t simply go on wallowing happily in sin. You count on Jesus’ blood and God’s faithfulness to deal with your sin. “If we confess our sins,” declares John, “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). God forgives your failure, and at the same time he purifies you by giving you greater hatred of sin and growing power to overcome it. In short, if you value God’s commands, if you grieve and confess when you break them, if something within you longs and strives to please God and be like Jesus, and if you are growing in obedience to God, then the behavior test is positive. God is your Father.
The Tests Together
Any one of these tests, properly used, will show whether or not you have been born of God. But it’s possible to misread the results of one test if taken in isolation from the others. All three–the belief test, the attitude test, and the action test– should be combined and be consistent with each other before concluding that God is your Father.
You might hear the belief test and say, “Sure, I believe what the Bible says about Jesus.” But if you then say, “It doesn’t matter what I do–I’m saved by faith, not by works,” you are fooling yourself. Belief without behavior is dead. It’s not real faith. Living faith, says John, “overcomes the world” (5:4), empowering genuine believers to live by a higher standard.
Or you might hear the attitude test and say, “Oh, I’m a very loving person. I don’t believe in Jesus or worry about the Bible’s commands, but I certainly have a lot of love.” But without belief in the Savior or obedience to his commands, what you call “love” is mere human feeling and sentiment. It’s not the kind of love that comes from having God’s life in you.
Or you might hear the action test and say, “I’m a good person. I do my best. I have high moral standards.” But without belief in Christ and love for God and others, all supposedly good behavior doesn’t measure up. John says, “This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (3:23). How can you be a good person and live up to God’s expectations if you break his great commands to believe in Jesus and to love others for Jesus’ sake?
Throughout 1 John, the Bible not only states the three tests in various ways but also intertwines them, showing that faith, love, and obedience cannot be separated. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands (5:1-3). If God is your Father, if you have his life and his spiritual DNA, the threefold test of belief, love, and obedience will show it.
Dealing With Test Results
Perhaps you call yourself “born again” but have never tested yourself this way. When asked how you know you’ve been born of God, you might reply, “Well, I went forward when a preacher gave an invitation. I said the prayer I was told to say, and I signed a decision card.” But such things don’t prove you are born of God. A dog can walk forward when somebody calls him. A parrot can repeat words of prayer after somebody else. Walking forward, mouthing a prayer, or having certain feelings may occur in connection with genuine rebirth and mark a marvelous moment in your life, but these things can also be empty. The way to test whether you’re born of God is not simply to focus on a special moment or a strong feeling but on the threefold biblical test of your spiritual DNA. If you fail the test, you are not born of God. Jesus himself speaks of people who receive the gospel with excitement but quickly fall away (Matthew 13:20-22). The problem is that they have never truly been born of God.
On the other hand, perhaps you can’t point to a particular moment when God’s life entered you. No problem. It doesn’t matter whether you can pinpoint the exact time you became a child of God. What matters is that the threefold test shows God’s life is in you. You may not know quite how or when it started, but if you find that you trust and treasure Jesus, if you love God and other people, if you are growing in obedience to God’s commands, you are indeed born of God, and you should be confident of that.
At this point, we need to be very clear about something: testing is a way to find out whether you are born of God; it’s not a way to earn the right to be God’s child or make yourself be born of God. A DNA test only shows whose child you are; the test doesn’t make you anyone’s child. The things being tested–faith, love, and holiness–show whose offspring you are, but they don’t give you birth and make you alive. The Bible doesn’t say that if you manage to produce enough faith, love, and holiness, you will be born of God. It says that if these things are in you, you have been born of God. The spiritual birth comes first; the evidence comes after. The right to be God’s child is a gift paid for by Jesus, not something you can earn. God’s life in your soul comes through the Holy Spirit, not through something you do. Being born of God is not something you can make happen, any more than being born of your human parents was something you made happen.
Having made that clear, the question remains: Have you been born of God? The Bible says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
If you fail the test, where does that leave you? It leaves you helpless. You need to be born again, but you can’t make it happen. You can’t make yourself into a person who has God’s life inside of you. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Like the wind, the Holy Spirit blows where he wishes, and you can’t predict or cause or control his life-giving work. Whenever someone is born of the Spirit, it is God’s action, not ours. The Lord commands everyone to believe in Christ, love God and neighbor, and obey his will. Put your faith in Jesus, and you will be saved. But the only way you can do that is if God first puts his life in you.
A certain Pastor Palmer once met a young man who came to his church and was upset by what he heard. He complained, “You preachers are the most contradictory men in the world. You said in your sermon that sinners were perfectly helpless in themselves–utterly unable to repent or believe and then turned round and said they would all be damned if they did not.”
Pastor Palmer replied, “Well, my dear friend, there is no use in our quarreling over this matter; either you can or you cannot. If you can, all I have to say is that I hope you will just go and do it.”
After an awkward silence, the young man said, “I have been trying my best for three whole days and cannot.”
“Ah,” responded Palmer, “that puts a different face upon it; we will go then and tell the difficulty straight to God.” He prayed for the young man as though this was the first time in history that anyone had faced such a problem. The young man must believe or else perish, but he was unable to make himself believe. He needed divine intervention. After finishing the prayer, says the pastor, “I offered not one single word of comfort or advice. I left my friend in his powerlessness in the hands of God, as the only helper. In a short time he came through the struggle, rejoicing in the hope of eternal life.”
If your spiritual DNA test is negative and God is not your Father, you can’t do anything to get his life into your soul. Give up on yourself. Admit your helplessness. When you are most desperate, go to God in prayer. The Lord may be pleased to implant his life in you. Then you will be able to do what you couldn’t do before: believe and delight in the Lord Jesus, love from the heart, and become more obedient and Christlike.
If your spiritual DNA test is positive (as I expect it is for many of you), then rejoice and be certain that God is your Father. If you find evidence of faith, love, and holiness, it means that Christ lives in you. One old-time Christian said he would rather see the real marks of a godlike nature upon his soul, than to have a vision from heaven, or an angel sent to tell him his name is written in the book of life. To be sure of eternal life, you don’t have to pry into God’s hidden decrees from the past or peek ahead at the future verdict he will announce on judgment day. You can find a copy of God’s thoughts about you written in your own heart! Faith, love, and obedience are evidence that you are born of God and eternal life is already inside you. God is your Father, you may be sure of it. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.