A Discussion on Identifying Children of God
And Distinguishing them from Children of the Devil
Concerning the question as to what the Bible says about how one identifies children of God and distinguishes them from children of the devil,
the Bible has a lot to say as I've studied it. But I don't have space
here to cover all the aspects. So I'm not going to be comprehensive. And
each point I bring up could be further elaborated upon and spark a
theological debate. So to just make a few points.
#1. Fundamentally faith in Christ is sole condition for
salvation. But it begs the question as to how one knows whether they, or
someone else, has both the content of faith and the quality of faith
acceptable for salvation. One distinguishing sign of saving faith is
public confession. "If you confess with your
mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him
from the dead, you will be saved" Rom 10:9 Some have a "faith" in Christ, but don't even go so far as to confess him.
"Many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the
Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put
out of the synagogue" John 12:42 Gerry has rightly pointed out that merely calling oneself a Christian doesn't make one so. Nonetheless John writes, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." 1John 4:15 So
that is one evidence. If a person is not willing to go public with
their alleged convictions, then they're not really convictions. And
that's the level of faith that saves - a conviction, not merely an
#2. Perhaps the most explicit answer to this question is found in 1John 3:10 "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." Much of 1st John is
devoted to answering this question. To get at the precise meaning John
had in mind it appears John consistently uses the Greek present tense to
speak of characteristic behavior and the aorist to speak of events or
behavior which is uncharacteristic of the person. In other words when he
speaks of doing what is right and loving his brother, these are the
characteristic behavior or lifestyle of the children of God, not denying
that they fall short in the aorist sense from time to time. So also
Paul writes, "The acts of the sinful nature are
obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and
witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition,
dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I
warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal 5:19-21
Along this line as an example of a Christian brother who fits in this
category is the sexually immoral man in 1Cor 5. Paul says of him, "Expel the wicked man from among you." 1Cor 5:13b and goes on to say, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1Cor 6:9a
And just as a digression, may I note concerning judging others Paul asks the rhetorical question in the 1Cor passage "Are you not to judge those inside?"
The answer to rhetorical questions are obvious and as such at the time
there was not even need to debate that point. We are to examine not only
ourselves as to whether we are in the faith, but others who make the
claim as well. Even Paul allowed himself to be scrutinized in that
regard. Paul said, "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? And I
trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test." 2Cor 13:5,6
#3. John gives us an example of such examination in 1John 2:19 "They
went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had
belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going
showed that none of them belonged to us." What's interesting is
the principle John utilized in determining whether these people were of
the faith. It was not by special revelation that he came to this
conclusion. For he uses a "FOR" statement as the principle by which he
came to this conclusion. Here's the principle. "For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us". This is one aspect of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. We can find it applied elsewhere, "He who endures to the end shall be saved." Mt 24:13 "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." 1Cor 15:2 and so forth.
#4. Do they listen to what the Bible says. John writes, I assume concerning the apostle's teachings, "They
are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world,
and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God
listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This
is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." 1John 4:6 Jesus said,
"His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never
follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do
not recognize a stranger’s voice." John 10:4,5 and "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." John 10:27
In this category I would include issues of doctrine. I would expect
children of God to hold to that which the Bible says clearly,
abundantly, emphatically, and unambiguously, at the least.
These are the few major points I would bring up in answer to the
question, which come to mind. There are other points to be made but
space doesn't allow here. I would like to hear others on this question
or in response to some of the points I have made.
Bob writes, "BJ: Steve, do you assume that if one is not a child of God then he is a child
of the devil? If you do, what is the basis for that idea? Jesus did not lump
everyone in one of two categories."
Well that's an interesting hypothesis - that there are three categories.
Namely those who are children of God, those who are children of the
devil, and a third nebulous category who are neither children of God nor
children of the devil. Actually from my studies I am under the
impression that there are just two categories. Is there a particular
verse you have in mind that leads you to believe of this third nebulous
1st John, for example, is pretty much either/or, speaking of two categories. Take for example 1John 5:12 "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." or how about 1John 5:19 "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." Further Paul makes a universal statement concerning the Christian's former condition saying, "As
for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you
used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler
of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who
are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying
the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and
thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." Eph 2:1-3 Which also goes along with the Paul's dualistic view of the human condition in Romans 8
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the
things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the
things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be
spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity
against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not
in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in
you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."
So it would seem the Bible advocates, if I'm reading it right, the prior
to being born of God, receiving the Spirit, belonging to Christ, having
life, the person's mindset and lifestyle are characteristically sinful.
And that such is forensic evidence distinguishing children of God from
children of the devil, according to 1John 3:10 "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.", and elsewhere.
So regarding this hypothetical third category, if they're living sinfully they are of the devil, as it says, "He who does what is sinful is of the devil" 1John 3:8a And if they are not living a lifestyle of sin, but characteristically doing what is right, 1John 3:10 indicates that's how you know they're children of God.
So what kind of people are you referring to which fit into this third
category you mention who are neither children of God nor children of the
BJ: We just don't have warrant to exclude a third category. One
could call them "children of Adam" or "children of men." But that too
would be speculating.
SA: 1st John, for example, is pretty much either/or, speaking of two categories.
Take for example 1John 5:12 "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have
the Son of God does not have life."
BJ: Of course, there are those two categories only. The children
of God have life. The children of the devil and if there is a third
category, they do not have life. But here is a question. Are those who
do not have the Son of God, but will come to faith in Christ sometime in
the future, children of the devil? I pointed out that those called
children of the devil by Jesus were hardened Jewish leaders who rejected
Christ, and the context indicates it wasn't everybody who had not come
to faith in Christ.
SA: So it would seem the Bible advocates, if I'm reading it
right, the prior to being born of God, receiving the Spirit, belonging
to Christ, having life, the person's mindset and lifestyle are
SA: And that such is forensic evidence distinguishing children of
God from children of the devil, according to 1John 3:10 "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.", and elsewhere.
BJ: Context here, Steve. The Apostle John is not talking about
everybody, but rather professing Christians. Some are children of the
devil, who profess faith but are actually rejectors of Christ as shown
by their lives. By the way, I don't think it is "forensic evidence," but
rather practical evidence. God is not in the forensic business of
judicially judging people. That will occur at the final judgment. But 1
John 3:8 says that the professing Christ who "commits sin" in the sense
that the Apostle is asserting is "of the devil."
SA: So regarding this hypothetical third category, if they're
living sinfully they are of the devil, as it says, "He who does what is
sinful is of the devil" 1John 3:8a And if they are not living a
lifestyle of sin, but characteristically doing what is right, 1John 3:10
indicates that's how you know they're children of God.
BJ: Right. It is a matter of distinguishing true Christians from
false. But it must be taken in that context, not just generalized to
apply to everybody.
SA: So what kind of people are you referring to which fit into
this third category you mention who are neither children of God nor
children of the devil?
BJ: Well, for starters, babies and little children. And then we
might go from there. Now you mentioned confessing Christ. Were Jews who
were true believers in the one true God of Israel children of the devil
because they had not yet confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but did
Well this is more what I expect of a theological discussion. I
thoroughly enjoy interacting with you despite our different
perspectives. I want to think more about this hypothetical third
category of people. It seems one thing I think we both agree upon
concerning this third category as that "prior to being born of God, receiving the Spirit, belonging to Christ, having
life, the person's mindset and lifestyle are characteristically sinful.", to which you responded, "Correct".
Oh, and concerning the term I use "forensic evidence", I was not
referring to God's evaluation. God already knows the person's status,
whereas we can only infer it from the evidence.
You mentioned infants as potential candidates for the third category. I
was more interested in a scriptural example. Let's consider Cornelius of
Acts 10,11. In Acts 10 he's described thusly, "He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly." Acts 10:2 And he was affirmed by an angel, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Yet in Acts 11:13,14 Cornelius testifies that the angel told him, "Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved."
So prior to Peter preaching to him, Cornelius and his household were
unsaved on their way to hell. And this despite the fact he and his
household were characterized as devout, God-fearing, generous and
praying regularly. (And by the way, this disproves the hypothesis which
some of the infant baptism crowd often make of this passage that the
house contained infants. For it's difficult to imagine Luke speaking of a
baby in a crib praying regularly, or being devout and God-fearing, let
along giving generously. These are evaluations of one's outward behavior
which excludes such infants)
Oh, and just as another interesting digression concerning
Cornelius. Consider what Peter said the Cornelius already knew about the
gospel. "You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened
throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John
preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and
power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under
the power of the devil, because God was with him." Acts 10:36-38 So Cornelius knew a lot of stuff about the message, but apparently not enough to save him.
This kind of generates the theological question as to what
is sufficient information for a person to be saved. That is, was is
necessary to include in preaching the gospel to constitute a legitimate
preaching of the gospel. I take it to be the rest of Peter's message.
Perhaps another time.
But, despite the commendation, since being outside the faith, the
reality is that he and his household had had a mindset and lifestyle
characteristically sinful. Which is the case with everyone outside the
faith. And they had not been children of God, as no one is a child of
God prior to being born of God, which follows faith in the message
preached. So the question would be, seeing as he's was not a child of
God prior to hearing and believing the message, was he and his household
children of the devil at that time?
At issue is what the Bible means by "children of the devil".
You're right in pointing out that the application in 1John is referring
to false brethren. And thus I think we can both agree that if I were to
ask the question as to how one could distinguish among the Christian
community (or Christendom) between those who are children of God and
those who are children of the devil, 1John 3:9,10 applies. But we also
know that the term "children of the devil" had been applied to some outside the faith. as in the case of John 8:44 were Jesus says of the Jews who hated him, "You belong to your father, the devil" So "children of the devil" is not exclusive to false brethren.
You might be right of there being a third category, though outside the
faith. For in John 8 Jesus categorized children of the devil by their
reaction to him. But it would seem Cornelius, Nicodemus and some others
who were apparently sincere seekers not trying to kill Jesus. Another
interesting candidate in contrast to Cornelius would be Zacchaeus, who
despite not being a man of good reputation as Cornelius was, upon
repentance Jesus said of him, "he also is a son of Abraham" Luke 19:9b
In fact in John 8 he speaks of those Jews hostile to him as not being
Abraham's children. So there are these two categories of those unsaved
who are children of Abraham, who are seekers and open to the gospel, and
those who are not. And correspondingly with the Gentiles, like
Cornelius was spiritual was an offspring of Abraham, and those Gentiles
who were hostile to the gospel.
I guess I'm convinced enough. You've changed my thinking on the matter. Thanks
The Berean Christian Bible Study