There are some universal mindsets floating around in Christianity and the western world today that rarely go unchecked. Our cultural dispositions unintentionally color understanding of Scripture, and sometimes we hear opinions stated as Biblical fact and absorb them into our belief system without ever weighing them against Scripture. One such belief is the simple statement, yet extremely weighty belief that all human beings are children of God. It is true that the human race was created in the image of God (Gen 1.27). But being an image-bearer has nothing to do with our status before God or our salvation.
Scripture is quite clear, in fact, that all non-believers are actually children of the devil. Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and tares, explaining that even within the Church there are true believers who are children of God and tares – people who look similar to wheat until the end, when they are proven to be weeds. These tares, these people who do not truly believe even though though attend church regularly and look like believers on the outside, are sons of the devil:
And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.”
– Matt 13.37-39
Paul teaches the simple fact that all unbelievers are under the influence and direction of the devil:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
– 2 Cor 4.3-4
Paul also teaches us that everyone – including believers before salvation – is dead in sin, and walking according to the will of the devil and are children of wrath:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
– Eph 2.1-3
To state it most simply and clearly, everyone who makes a habit of sinning is of the devil, a child of the devil:
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”
– 1 John 3.7-8
The final nail in the coffin is Jesus’ assertion that anyone who does not believe Him is not a child of God, but a child of the devil. If you are a child of God, you believe Jesus and obey Him. If you are a child of the devil, even if you are part of a family of strong believers or of Jewish heritage, you are a child of the devil:
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
– John 8.42-47
So what is, exactly, a child of God? It is a person who believes, loves and obeys Jesus (Gal 3.26, John 1.12). They are a part of His family. They are fellow heirs with Jesus (Rom 8.17-19). They are those whom the Father knows, loves, welcomes, disciples, and saves. Children of the devil were indeed created by God, but they do not believe, love or obey Jesus and therefore have the nature of the devil. Before Jesus offered salvation to the world, the Jews were considered children of God by nature of their birth line through Abraham. But Jesus and Paul blow that worldview and misunderstanding out of the water. It is through the promise and by faith, not through bloodline. Thus Jesus radically shook the Jewish world by declaring those most pious of people to be of the devil.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
– Rom 9.6-8
Ultimately, the apostle John makes this terrifying statement:
“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
– 1 John 3.10
Anyone who makes peace with sin in his life, anyone who does not love his brother, anyone who does not submit to God’s authority and practice righteousness is a child of the devil and not of God.
What does this mean for us? Does it mean that we start hating nonbelievers and keeping our distance from them? Absolutely not! Jesus has commanded us and taught us by example to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt 5.44, 28.18-20). We also must remember that until our eyes were opened in belief and we began following Jesus, we were all children of wrath and of the devil (Eph 2.1-3). As long as we made peace with sin and did not follow God, we ourselves were not of the family of God but were of our father the devil (1 John 3.10). This is why we understand that God adopts us as sons. We were not physically born into His family, but Spiritually. We were dead men walking who required a new birth, adoption and salvation.
Therefore, we must remain humble and remember that faith is the free gift of God (Eph 2.8-9). And He wants to utilize us as His mouthpieces to bring about faith in others who have not yet been adopted and are still children of the devil. Thus we love. We share. We intercede. We admonish. And we hold accountable those around us to be sure that there are as few tares in our midst, and only true wheat.