Can We Know Who Belongs to God? (Question of Identity)

Do You Know Who Your Spouse Is?

Part 1 of Who are God's People?


If you were asked to describe a wide range of characteristics about your spouse, what would you write? You might put down something like “My spouse is a loving person, enjoys _____, has brown hair, weighs ___” etc.

Now what would happen if 1000 people who perfectly fit your description joined your spouse in an auditorium, could you identify your spouse? Of course you could.

Now what would happen if those 1000 people claimed that they were also married to you because they perfectly fit your description of your spouse? Does the fact that someone fits the description of your spouse mean that you are married to them? Would you be guilty of polygamy just because someone might perfectly fit the characteristics of your spouse? Of course you would not, but why?

Although other people might “act like” and even “look like” your spouse, these qualities do not make them your spouse for one important reason, the marriage relationship is not based upon whether someone might possess certain qualities. The essential characteristic for being someone’s spouse is whether one has entered into the covenant of marriage with another person. Marriage is determined by the marriage covenant, not personality traits, not physical characteristics, not the desire to belong to another, nor the mere verbal claim that “we are married,” etc. Identity revolves around knowing the essential nature of a thing. In this case, the essential nature of “being married” depends not upon the shifting sands of appearance, desire, time, health, personality, mental state, or verbal claims but upon the unchanging event of having been married at some point in time.

Today a lot of questions have been raised among our fellowship along the lines of, “who are God’s people?” Again the true answer lies not in my opinion of "what I might think sounds right" or "what you might think," but in discovering the essential nature of how people become God’s people.

Throughout history, the Biblical answer to "who are God’s people" has been the same. The first principle we might notice is that humanity is not capable of creating a path to God so that we might become His people by our own merit. Instead, humanity is dependent upon God in His grace to make us His people. As a consequence, those who are God’s people are His people not because of who they are, how good they can be, the fact that they desire to belong to God, or the fact that they worship God but because of God’s grace in extending His covenant love. Deuteronomy 7:6-10; 29:12-13; Ephesians 2:1-10; Hebrews 9:15

God has used covenant as the means by which people become His people. Not all of God’s covenants were intended to make someone His own people, but when God does make a person or a people His own, He has always done so on the basis of covenant. (Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 19:5-6; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 9:15; Ephesians 2:11-22;1 Peter 2:9-10 cf. 1 Peter 1:18-21; Matthew 26:28) Accordingly, God not humanity determines the conditions of His covenant extended by grace.

To know whether you are someone’s spouse, you need to know if you are married to that person. To know if you are a child of God, you need to know if you have entered the covenant relationship which God has offered. Both of these relationships depend upon covenants, not the qualities and characteristics one might happen to have or even deliberately pursue.

If a person could be a child of God based upon their moral and ethical qualities of “who I am,” then salvation would be based upon human works and merit. For example, although disciples should be loving and their love is even to be a hallmark that they have been born of God (John 13:35; 1 John 4:7), the fact that someone demonstrates loves does not make one a child of God or indicate that they belong to God's people.

But what about passages such as 1 John 4:7? Texts such as this are not statements claiming that “all you need is love,” rather they are contextually dependent affirmations about the one who is “in Christ” through dependence upon Jesus. See the context of 1 John - i.e.. 1 John 4:9-10; 5:3-5; 11-12. The context of 1 John involved a Christian community where some of those who claimed to "know God" actually did not belong to God. 1 John 2:4, 9, 26 In 1 John the author is not describing "what makes a person a part of the Christian community" or "how to be saved" rather, his purpose is to help the Christian community recognize the "children of the devil" who claim to be "children of light." 1 John 3:7-10; 4:1-8, 20 In other words, John is showing who should be understood as excluded from the community rather than attempting to delineate who should be included from the world as a Christian. When one understands the literary context, 1 John 4:7-8 makes a lot of sense. Everyone who claims to be a Christian and who loves has been born of God. However, everyone who claims to be a Christian but does not love does not actually know God.

Similarly, although confessing Christ must be characteristic of those who are God’s people (Luke. 9:26; 1 John. 4:15; Romans 10:9-10), the characteristic of claiming to follow Christ and God does not guarantee that one actually belongs to God. Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 4:20

Being a child of God is the result of entering into that covenant relationship which God has made possible. Since God offers His new covenant relationship through Christ, God is in the position to determine how one enters into His covenant relationship with Him. It does not matter if everybody claims that you are be a child of God or if someone’s pastor tells him or her “you are OK.” God has determined the necessary conditions for entering into covenant with Him and to thus become a child of God. John 3:5; Galatians 3:26-27; Hebrews 9:15 see Hebrews 10:22-23

If I show you a picture of a person, can you tell me if you are his or her spouse? How do you know? The covenant of marriage! If we talk about God, can you tell me if you belong to God? How do you know? Jesus' Covenant!


Other articles which might be of interest:

Part 2 is entitled "Converging Lines." It details how God has provided for us to enter into a covenant relationship with Him.

When God Says, "You Belong to Me"

Something More Than A Characteristic - The Source (Role of the new covenant in identity issues)


Barry Newton, Copyright © 1998