I am a child of God and I am in Christ by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Holy Spirit.” The sermon was preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and first published in 1997 and this edition in 2002.
You will remember that we are still considering this great doctrine of regeneration – the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating the believer. It is such a vital and all-important subject that I have deliberately not hurried with it. I have forgotten all about form and precision and have allowed the great truth itself to lead us and to guide us. Now we have considered something of its essential nature. We have considered also why it is absolutely essential, and we have seen how it is brought about and in particular its relationship to the word. We have emphasised in particular that no means are used in our regeneration; it is the direct, immediate work of the Spirit upon our souls. Furthermore, it is something that can never be lost; it is a work done by God and it is a work that is permanent. Ultimately, the security of the believer, as we shall see when we come to deal with the doctrine of final perseverance, rests specifically upon this great doctrine of regeneration.
We come now to the consideration of a subject which, while it is essentially doctrinal, is also more practical. The essential purpose of these lectures is to look at doctrine, but I have tried throughout to show that this is not something dry and arid, theoretical and abstract. My concern with doctrine is because of all things, it helps me most in the living of the Christian life. So we must, perforce, turn occasionally to consider the practical application and therefore I want to deal now with the results to which regeneration leads, or to put it another way, the proofs of the fact that we are regenerate. I know that this troubles large numbers of people and that is why I am turning to it. `My difficulty is,’ they say, `how may I know that I’m regenerated?’ Now that is an essential part of the doctrine of regeneration and that is why I have called this the results to which regeneration leads. It is a subject about which the Bible has a great deal to tell us.
We can start from this general principle: regeneration, we have shown, is the implanting within us of a principle of spiritual life. Very well, life is something that always shows itself. A baby gives proof of the fact that it is born alive and not stillborn, by screaming or moving. You cannot have life without some kind of manifestation of that life and that is as true of spiritual life as it is of any other form of life. So the Bible has many tests which it puts before us in order to help us to know whether we are truly regenerate or not. The classic passage of Scripture on this is the first epistle of John. One man who wrote a book on 1 John very rightly, I think, gave it the title The Tests of Life. And that is precisely what the first epistle of John is. But I always feel that the Beatitudes are also a test of life and of regeneration and they are the tests put forward by our Lord Himself.
Now let us look at this briefly. In the first epistle of John there are four main tests which John constantly repeats. (There are other subsidiary tests, but we will not be dealing with these.) 1 John is an epistle which can be divided up with comparative ease on condition that we realise that it depends upon the recognition of these four major tests of spiritual life or of the fact that we are regenerate. I shall not take them precisely in the order in which they appear but they are to be found in every section of the epistle.
The first test is believing that Jesus is the Christ. John says, `Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God … Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God’ (1 John 4:1-2). Now that is a tremendous statement. It means the full doctrine about the Lord Jesus Christ. It means that you believe that He is indeed eternal God, one of the three Persons of the blessed Holy Trinity. Apply that test to some of the cults around today and you will see what a vital test it is. It is not enough that you praise Jesus Christ, not even enough that you say He is the Son of God. You must say that He is Jehovah, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh—the eternal Son of God, co-equal, co-eternal with the Father—that the second Person in the blessed Trinity has come in the flesh. It was not a phantom body, `The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). It is all that we said earlier1 about the great doctrine of the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. John is very fond of repeating this. He says it again in chapter 5 in the first verse: `Whosoever,‘ he says, ‘believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him,’ and so on. And, you remember, Paul has said the same thing. He said, `No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). You cannot say it otherwise. The man who tells me that Jesus is Lord, and puts the right content into that statement and is not merely repeating it mechanically, is giving proof of the fact that the Holy Spirit is in him, that he is regenerate.
The second test is the test of keeping the commandments. That is actually the first test that John introduces: `And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments’ (1 John 2:3). And John constantly repeats that also; you will find it in every section of the epistle. He says it again in the very last section: `For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). He sometimes refers to it as `doing righteousness’ (1 John 2:29). That is the way to distinguish between the child of God and the child of the devil, John says. And not only that; not only does this child of God, this person who is born again, keep the commandments, to him the commandments are a delight. God’s commandments, says John, are not a burden; they are not against the grain. Christians are not always kicking against them and wishing they were not there; they enjoy keeping the commandments. You will find that again elaborated by Paul in Romans 7. So keeping the commandments is a most important test. Our relationship to the commandments of God and of Christ proclaims at once whether or not we are recipients of this blessed new life.
The third test is that He has given us His Holy Spirit. `Hereby we know,’ says John, at the end of the third chapter, `that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us’ (v. 29).
`But,’ says someone, `how do I know that I have received the Spirit?‘
Well, we shall have to deal with that later on as we continue in our consideration of this doctrine, but one aspect of it is certainly this: there is such a thing, says the apostle Paul, as `the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). Paul says that again in Galatians 4:6: `God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ The Spirit is `the Spirit of adoption’ and one of the proofs, therefore, that the Holy Spirit is in us is that, though we may not understand it fully, we have a feeling, a consciousness, that God is our Father. He is no longer a God afar off, but is our Father. We say, `My God, my Father.’ There are also other manifestations of the presence of the Spirit but we must leave these to a subsequent lecture.
The last test is that we love the brethren. `We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14), and this is a wonderful test. It is a test that points on to the next theme that we shall consider, namely the mystical union of all believers with the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore with one another. This is inevitable, you see. If we are all joined to Him and joined to one another, we are related to one another and we inevitably love one another. In other words, we recognise Christians when we meet them. In a sense, we don’t need to be told that people are Christians, we recognise them at once and we feel that we have always known them. They belong to the same family, we are related to one another. We prefer their society to any other. If you offered us the choice of spending our evening with the so-called great people of this world or with some humble unknown Christian people, we would prefer to spend our evening with the unknown Christian people. There is something in common; we love them; we know that we belong together; nothing can ever separate us. `We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.’ If we do not recognise Christians, even at their worst, and love them, then we had better examine the whole foundation of our position. The children of the family love one another.
Those, then, are the four main tests given by John in his first epistle, but there are other tests suggested elsewhere in Scripture and I just want to note them. Here is one which I regard as of great value and which has, many a time, been a great comfort to me: the consciousness of a struggle within. That is an extremely valuable test. Paul puts it perfectly in Galatians 5:17 where he teaches us that `the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these two,’ he says, `are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’ The Spirit and the flesh. They are warring or `lusting’ against one another. What it means is that Christians, by definition, are people in whom a great competition is taking place. The Holy Spirit, as it were, wants them for God, but the flesh—this other spirit that is worked by the devil—wants them for the kingdom of darkness. So they are fighting for possession and Christians are aware of the fact that they are the seat of conflict, that a kind of internecine warfare is taking place within them. They are conscious of these two forces, these two powers, and men and women who are conscious of that have a right to know that they are Christians.
But be very careful. I am not merely talking about the consciousness of good and evil, right and wrong; they have a sense of moral decency and have a code of ethics and may feel that they let themselves down. I am not referring to that. What I am referring to is very different. In the old unregenerate life, you are aware of the fact that you are handling the whole situation, everything depends upon what you do. You, as it were, are dealing with the conflict. But what I am describing now is that you become aware of the fact that there is another Spirit apart from yourself, in you, dealing with you, working in you, drawing you, weaning you from the world and indicating truth to you. You are aware of the operation of the Holy Spirit and you are aware of the power of Satan in a sense that you never were before.
A very good sign, therefore, that people are born again is that they become more acutely aware of the existence and the working of Satan than they have ever been hitherto. There is no need for Satan to busy himself very much with the unregenerate. They can be left, as it were; they are already bound; they are already in his kingdom and they cannot escape. But once people are transferred to the kingdom of God and the kingdom of light, the devil makes a new effort and in a spiritual way comes to them and attacks them. And they are aware of this other presence that is fighting for their life and for their very existence. Flesh and Spirit – the conflict is a proof of regeneration.
Another very good test is this: anybody who is aware of a desire to know God and not merely a desire to be blessed by God, can be quite happy and certain of being a child of God. Everybody wants blessings, of course. Yes, but the peculiar mark of children is that they are interested in the person. They want their Father. They want to know their Father better. They are more interested in the Giver than the gift, the Blesser than the blessing. They begin to know something of a hunger and thirst for God Himself, as the psalmist puts it, `for the living God’ (Psalm 42:2). Their soul thirsts for the living God. And whatever may or may not be true about you, if you have a desire to know God Himself, you can be quite happy that you are regenerate. That is something that the unregenerate is incapable of, because the natural mind is `enmity against God’ (Rom. 8:7) and we are all by nature, as Paul says, `alienated and enemies’ (Col. 1:21), away from God. Unregenerate men and women are haters of God and do not want Him, and are always ready to believe anything they may read in the newspaper which purports, however vaguely, to prove that there is not a God. They are against God, but the children desire to know God.
The last test I would mention at this point—and again I regard this as very important—is that children of God do not merely desire forgiveness of their sins and an avoidance of the consequences of sins, but they also know what it is to hate sin. In other words, in Paul’s words in Romans 7, they say, `O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?’ (v. 24). Now sinners, unregenerate men and women, do not like the consequences of sin, they do not want to be punished for sins, but they know nothing about a sense of sin, they do not know a true conviction of sin. They have not seen sin in all its vileness and foulness, in all its ugliness, they do not hate it. But the children of God do. That is why our Lord says concerning them: `Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness’ (Matt. 5:6). Why are they blessed? It is because they are already children of God. Unbelievers cannot know, the unregenerate cannot experience, this hunger and thirst after righteousness and true holiness. They may want to live a good life and keep up to their standards, but Christians go beyond all that. They have a positive hunger and thirst for a positive righteousness. They want to be like Christ. They want to be like the saints of whom they have read. They are not content merely with not committing certain sins butwant a clean heart. They want to be pure. They want to be holy. They want to be like God. They hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Those, then, it seems to me, are some of the main tests. They are not the only ones but I regard them as the most important tests which we can apply to ourselves in order to discover whether or not we are truly born again.
However, in dealing with this whole subject of regeneration in his first epistle, John also introduces something else and that is our union with Christ. That appears many many times in that epistle. For instance, `He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him’ (1 John 3:24). In other words, John sometimes writes in terms of regeneration, of the seed of life, and at other times he puts it in terms of the union of the believer with his Lord. Now this doctrine is quite inseparable from the doctrine of regeneration with which we have just been dealing, and that is why we have to take it at this point. I think you will agree that there is no more vital, sublime and glorious doctrine than this.
Now some may be surprised at the fact that we are taking this doctrine now. Indeed, you will find that many would take it as possibly the last doctrine of all, the final doctrine, the one to which all the other doctrines lead up. They believe that the union of the believer with Christ is something that we only attain when we have arrived at an unusual degree of holiness and of sanctity and therefore would not include it here, comparatively at the beginning. Their confusion is entirely due to the teaching of the mystics. The mystics have their gradation of the manner in which one travels along the mystic way, and, according to their teaching, the ultimate end of the believer is to become absorbed in and `lost in’ the divine.
That is characteristic of practically all the mystics—and when I say `the mystics’ I am putting the term in inverted commas. The apostle Paul was a mystic but not in the sense of which I am now speaking. I do not want to call them professional mystics but I think you know what I mean by that. I refer to the mystics who are more philosophical than spiritual or the mystics who are more philosophical than scriptural. These mystics . . . have a view of these matters that is closer to philosophy than to biblical truth. And as I understand his writing, even a great Englishman like William Law has to go into this category. He was a man to whom John and Charles Wesley owed a great deal in the early stages, but they broke with him. They left him, and very rightly so, because they found that he was too philosophical and not sufficiently scriptural. All these philosophical mystics tend to think of the union of the believer with Christ as a kind of absorption into the eternal. This same kind of thing is also characteristic of the teaching of many of the eastern religions.
Furthermore, unfortunately, that kind of teaching has often influenced Christian people and even, indeed, evangelical Christians. So they tend to think that the only people who really experience this union with Christ are those unusually and exceptionally holy, sanctified people who, by tearing themselves away from the world and mortifying themselves, have at last attained this mystical union. But I want to try to show that that is an utterly false doctrine, and that the doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ must come at this particular stage in our consideration of the doctrines.
Why is this? Because, as I think I shall be able to show you, all the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work come to us through this union. I will go further and say this still more strongly by putting it negatively. We cannot receive any blessing whatsoever from the work of the Lord Jesus Christ unless we are joined to Him, unless we are in union with Him, every one of us. Let me give you one verse straightaway which will establish the position. Take this statement: `Blessed,’ says Paul, `be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3). That is it. All these blessings, all these spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, are all ours in Christ and we have nothing at all apart from that.
Let me give you one other verse, which I shall quote again later on, which says the same thing. John puts it in the very prologue of his Gospel: `And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace’ or `grace upon grace’ (John 1:16). We have all received His fulness. How? By being joined to Him. You receive nothing unless you are joined. You must be joined to the source before you can receive anything whatsoever. Therefore, you see, we are constrained to say that even regeneration itself, which we have already been considering, is, logically, an outcome of our union with Christ.
Chronologically, as regards time, of course, there is no doubt but that the two things happen simultaneously. The moment we are joined to Christ, we are born again. The moment we are joined to Him we receive this principle of life. If you look at it from the strict standpoint of time you cannot put one before the other; but, logically, you almost have to put the union before the regeneration. I have taken them in this slightly different order because starting, as I have done, with the whole idea of the call, it seemed to me that as we emphasised the effectual call, we then had to go on to regeneration, but then say that this union of the believer with Christ is the cause of the regeneration.
Now in many ways, of course, it can be said that the special and particular work of the Holy Spirit is to produce this union. Was that not what our Lord meant when He turned to the disciples and said, `It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you’ (John 16:7)? It is out of this union, you see, that all the blessings proceed. Here is a bit of homework, a task for Bible students! You will find that this doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ seems, in many ways, to be the doctrine of all doctrines given to the apostle John to emphasise. Of course it is elsewhere—you find it in the apostle Paul—but it does seem to be the doctrine particularly emphasised by John. Now work through his Gospel and note carefully the point at which he begins to talk about this union. I think you will discover that it is the point at which John specifically introduces the teaching of our Lord concerning the Holy Spirit. In other words, you will find it beginning in John 14. The moment our Lord begins to tell His disciples about the Holy Spirit, He begins to tell them about the union. In many ways, the classic passage on this whole doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ is to be found in that section of John’s Gospel which runs from chapter 14 to the end of chapter 17. What a glorious portion of Scripture it is! And yet, you see, it comes in precisely in connection with the doctrine of the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.
That is what I meant when I said that the particular work of the Spirit does seem to be to unite us to our beloved Lord. There are those who would teach—I do not know to what extent they are justified scripturally, but at any rate it is a thought that is worth repeating—that that is the special work of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead, in the blessed Holy Trinity. They say that the third Person is, as it were, the kind of connecting link between the Father and the Son. That may be pure speculation, we do not know, but we do know that it is He who unites us to the Son and to the Father, and that this work of communion and of union seems to be His particular office.
Now, then, as we approach this great, glorious and transcendent doctrine, let us start again by considering some of the terms that are used in the Scripture itself. And first and foremost we have to put that expression which, alas, so many of us tend to slip over in our reading, whether in private or in public, but which, in many ways, is the greatest term ever used concerning anybody in the Scripture: `in Christ’, `in Christ at Corinth’, `in Christ at Colosse’. Paul uses it in that list of names which he gives in the sixteenth chapter of Romans, a chapter which so many people do not read because they say, `It’s nothing but a list of names!’ Read it again and you will find that Paul refers to Andronicus and Junia who, he says, `were in Christ before me’ (v. 7). And what a thing to say! The Christian is a man or woman who is in Christ. `The saints’, wherever they may live, are `in Christ Jesus’. The phrase varies but there it is, it really says everything; and the point I am emphasising is that there is no such thing as being a Christian unless you are in Christ. You cannot be a Christian just by believing certain things and saying, `Now if I keep on, one day I shall be in Christ and joined to Him.’ Not at all! You are either in Him now or you are not a Christian.
Let us take another passage. In John 15, our Lord compares this union to the union between a branch and a tree. He says, `I am the vine, ye are the branches’ (v. 5). That is something which will help us to understand this mystical union. It is comparable to that which exists between a tree, the trunk and the branches which are a vital part of that tree. That is a vital relationship, a union.
But then the Bible also says that this union is comparable to that between the head and the members or parts of a body. ‘Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular,’ says Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:27. And Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 4:15-16:
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Then in Ephesians 5: Paul has still another comparison—and, incidentally, the apostle has a greater variety of illustrations and analogies with regard to this question of the union of the believer and Christ than with regard to any other subject. In Ephesians 5 he says, `For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:30-32). The union, he says, existing between the believer and the Lord is the same as the union between a husband and wife, it is that kind of union.
But then we have another picture in 1 Peter 2:4-6 where Peter says, `To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house . . .’ You see the idea? The relationship is compared to a building, and in verse 6 Peter goes on to say that our relationship to Christ may be likened to the relationship between individual bricks or stones and the chief cornerstone: ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious.’ And that is a very important relationship in the erection of any building.
And then finally there is one other comparison. It is a comparison which Paul makes and it is a vital one from the standpoint of doctrine. He draws a contrast between the union of the unbeliever with Adam and the union of the believer with Christ. It is the great argument in Romans 5, which is repeated in 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 49. In Romans 5 the whole argument is that death passed on to all people because of Adam. Why? Because of their relationship to Adam; that is the whole doctrine of original sin. We are all condemned in Adam because of Adam’s sin. He was our representative, you remember,’ he was our federal head and, not only that, we are bound to him, we were in the loins of Adam when he fell. In Adam all died. In Christ all shall be made alive again. That is it. The relationship of the believer to Christ is the same sort of union and relationship as that old relationship of the whole of Adam’s posterity to Adam. We are all born in Adam and we are related, we are joined in that way. Yes, but, being born again, we are in the same sort of relationship to Christ. What a vital doctrine that is when we come to consider the results of the union! We shall see that it is the most precious truth we can ever grasp. Read it again for yourselves in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 from verse 21 onwards.
So I trust that I have made the connection between these things plain to you. Regeneration and union must never be separated. You cannot be born again without being in Christ; you are born again because you are in Christ. The moment you are in Him you are born again and you cannot regard your regeneration as something separate and think that union is something you will eventually arrive at. Not at all! Regeneration and union must always be considered together and at the same time because the one depends upon the other and leads to the other; they are mutually self-supporting. And now, as we have looked at the Scriptures, and on the basis of these Scriptures, we shall go on to try to consider something of the nature of this union, then something of how the union is established and then some of the glorious results of the union. May God give us grace and ability to lay hold of these profound and precious practical doctrines! There is nothing, I say at the end as I said at the beginning, that so strengthens my faith and fills me with a longing to be pure as He is pure, and to live even as He did in this world, as the realisation of what I am and who I am because I am a Christian. I am a child of God and I am in Christ.(96-107)