We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s too late. We leave one job to take another and then realize how good the old job was. But it’s too late. We end a relationship looking for the greener grass and then discover that our old relationship was the greener grass. But it’s too late. Our kids move away from home and suddenly we realize how much we miss them and we wish we had spent better time together. A friend or family member dies and we suddenly realize how precious they were to us. And we wish we had given more time to building a relationship with them but that time has past.
I’m afraid the same thing happens too often to Christians. We stumble through life barely giving God a nod and then a crisis hits and the strong relationship we have with God is missing. Or worse yet, imagine crossing over to eternity at our time of death and suddenly realizing how we have squandered the years we had running after the trinkets of the world. I don’t believe a single one of us wants to be in this position at the end of our lives. This morning we are going to try to recognize what we have been given so we can make the changes we need to make so that we can live our lives with “no regrets”.
In our study of 1 John we have looked at a number of characteristics of a real deal disciple. Last week we were reminded that there is a spiritual battle going on in the world. False teachers surround us (in the church and outside the church) who seek to undermine our view of both Christ and Scripture. Some of this is blatant and some is subtle. John wants us to hang on to the truth because it is the truth that will set us free. There are people who tell us that truth is all relative. It isn’t that important. However, what we believe determines how we behave. Behavior dictates what kind of society we will live in. Believe me, truth matters.
As we move on to 1 John 2:28-3:3 John is of course continuing his discussion. He urges us to “continue in him”. To live in the truth so that we will be unashamed when Christ comes (either in our death or in the Second Coming). As we read this great passage there are two phrases that stand out: John uses the term “children” three different times. He uses the phrase “when he appears” twice. These observations help us see what John wants us to know.
Who We Are
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (3:1)
Let’s skip down to the first verse of chapter three and come back to the verses in chapter 2. When John talks about the Father’s great love in making us His children, we don’t know what John’s intonation as he spoke the words. I don’t think this was a flat monotone that sometimes comes with the dispensing of information. Instead I imagine John speaking with amazement and enthusiasm. Perhaps he was shaking his head in disbelief. Maybe, as John stopped to write he became choked up with tears to think about how deeply he is loved by God. I think these are words filled with emotion.
I need to clarify something. Not everyone is a child of God. We hear people all the time talk about the fact that we are “all God’s Children”. That’s not true according to the Bible. We are all God’s creation. We are not all God’s children. The true child of God is the one who has placed their faith, confidence and trust in Jesus Christ. They are the ones who receive the gift of life that God offers.
What does it mean to be a child of God? Perhaps we can understand better by asking, what does it mean to be the child of a loving parent?
- It means being loved more deeply than you can grasp. Loving parents love their children so much that they can’t begin to put that love into words. A parent aches with their child and rejoices with their child. Loving parents would much rather suffer themselves than watch their children suffer. In fact, many parents love their child so much that they are convinced they could never love a second child as much as the first. Then, when the second child is born they discover a whole new increased capacity to love. Children don’t understand how much their parents love them until they have children of their own.
- It means being loved with a resilient love. A loving parent loves their child no matter what mistakes or foolish choices they make. This doesn’t mean the parent isn’t disappointed, angry, or hurt. It doesn’t mean that they don’t discipline their children or let them live with the consequences of bad choices. It does mean that no matter what happens they continue to love their child. God has this kind of enduring love. Earthly parents are often inconsistent, God is not.
- It means Provision. A loving parent will do whatever they can to help their child (that doesn’t mean giving them everything . . . .sometimes the best help is to NOT give them everything so they can learn to take care of themselves.) Parents sacrifice to send their kids to college, to help them with financial difficulties and so much more. Many parents have re-mortgaged their homes to help their children in some crisis. God is the ultimate provider. He has promised to supply all our needs. He will not give us everything that we “want” but He will provide what we need . . . just like any good parent.
- It means an Inheritance. Whether you have money or not, parents do pass on some kind of inheritance to their kids. It may be old photos, a coin collection, a few shares of stock or even the family farm. God has given us an inheritance that we won’t even begin to appreciate until we get to Heaven.
- It means an inescapable imprint on our lives. Just as we hear the voice of our parents (good and bad) in our heads, so we also hear the whispers of God’s Spirit in our conscience. Just as we have certain personality traits/quirks that come from our parents (often to our horror!), so God places His character traits into us (fruit of the Spirit).
- It means security. There is a safety in the love of a good parent. You know you can always run to your parents when the bullies of life come your way.
Welch preacher, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
Let us never again think of the Christian as just someone who is trying to live a good life, trying to be a little bit better than somebody else, a person with a belief in doing certain things, going through certain forms and ceremonials and keeping certain regulations dictated by the church. Christians do all that, but before all that is this vital fact that they are children of God. They have been born again, born from above, born of the Spirit; they have received something of the very nature and life of God Himself. They are transformed people, they are a new creation, and they are thus absolutely, essentially different from those who have not experienced that. That is the very basic thing which the New Testament everywhere emphasizes concerning the Christian.
We have been given an incredible privilege. Unfortunately, like many children, we often don’t appreciate what we have been given. At times, like a child we actually feel deprived and feel God hasn’t “given enough”. We should all pray that we might grow up and see the truth in perspective.
Where We are Headed
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. [3:2]
In 2:28 and here in 3:2 John referenced “when he appears”. It is a reminder that the story of Jesus is not over. The Bible clearly and persistently teaches that Jesus will return. He will return to get His children and He will return to Judge the earth. At times we feel like the little child (or maybe the aging parent) who waits for a parent or child to return. Sometimes parents walk out of our lives and never do come back. Because of that reality it is tempting for some to think that Jesus will not return. Jesus does not disappoint. He will return. For some it will be at our time of death when He comes to get us personally. Perhaps, many of us will still be alive when He returns to the earth to call this chapter of life to a close.
John wants us to know that only when Jesus returns will we fully grasp the greatness of His love for us. He wrote, “when he appears, we will be like him.” He is already told us that “what we will be has not been made known” so it is impossible for us to fully understand what this means. However, there are some things we know from the Bible.
- We will not become God. We will always be the created and will never be the Creator. Those who claim we will become gods diminish and degrade the Almighty. There is none like Him.
- We will live beyond the grave in body and soul. We will have everlasting life and we will be more fully alive than we have ever been in this life.
- Our body will be transformed. There will no longer be aches, pains, limitations, diseases, suffering. What age will we be? Paul tells us that the body that dies is like a seed that is planted. The body that comes from that seed will be unlike the seed itself. (1 Corinthians 15) Just as it would be hard to imagine an ear of corn, an apple, a beautiful flower from simply looking at a little seed, so our new bodies in Heaven will be just as astounding.
- We will be freed from the curse of sin. This is a blessing that is more wonderful than we can begin to imagine now. I don’t know what it would be like to be a person who no longer was constantly bombarded with sinful thoughts. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be delivered from that desire to “be my own boss” and to instead willingly and joyfully submit to the Lord.
- We will know the Lord. God will no longer feel distant and unknowable. We will know Him. In knowing Him, we will finally know what it means to live.
- Our definitions of joy and life will change dramatically. We will discover great new dimensions of both.
How This Changes the Way We Live
28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
One of John’s favorite words is the word translated “continue” in verse 28. In some translations it is the word “abide”. John uses this word 24 times in this little 5 chapter letter. I think John uses the word so often because he wants us to realize that the genuine believer continues, abides, walks with and remains in Christ. The true believer is one that is committed to Christ for the long hall. Their relationship with the Master is not a passing encounter but it is an intimate and enduring relationship.
If you will, true salvation is “multi-dimensional”. When we truly place our trust in Christ for our salvation, we are immediately saved. We are made new. We are declared not guilty before God. However, we are also in the process of being made holy (or Christlike). The author to the Hebrews says it perfectly,
by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Christ’s sacrifice made us perfect in terms of the law. We stand before God as those who have not sinned. This is the negative part of our salvation . . . our sin and stain is taken away. However, we are learning to live in the positive life of Christ. We must learn to become holy.
Perhaps an analogy will help. If you were born in the United States, you are already a citizen with all the attending rights. But there is a sense in which we have to work out the implications of what citizenship means. There are also responsibilities. Suppose a person declared themselves to be a citizen of the United States. Having been born here, it is a legally true fact. However, suppose this person sold secrets to enemy countries. Suppose they refused to pay taxes and lived in disregard for the laws of the land. Suppose they treated the flag with contempt and were abusive to those who served our country in the military. Would you still consider them a citizen?
People are citizens by birth but there is a sense in which they must also become citizens by practice. Both are necessary. A true citizen learns that they must contribute to the country. They pay their share in taxes, they express themselves in elections, they are part of the democratic process, they engage in dialogue designed to strengthen the country and they defend the country in times of attack. True citizenship is not simply a piece of paper (though it is that), it is a commitment and a lifestyle. True citizenship has implications.
In the same way, John is arguing that a true believer . . . one who understands that they have been greatly loved by God and belong to the family of God, will seek to work out holiness and purity in their lives. They should desire to pursue purity, holiness and Christlikeness. How does this express itself in our lives?
- We hate the sin of our lives. We still sin but it is not something from which we derive lasting pleasure. When we become aware of specific sin we mourn over it and repent. We are completely honest with God about our struggles and our fears.
- We work to live by Biblical standards. We don’t do this because we want to “obey the rules” or “keep out of trouble”. . . we do it because we trust and love the rule giver. We are convinced that God’s wisdom is superior to our own. We read the Bible looking to mine practical wisdom for everyday living.
- We want to represent God well in every area of life. Suppose you lived as part of the President’s family. Even though your dad may tell you that he was the one elected, rather than you, the fact is, his election does affect you. Your actions will reflect upon him. Sometimes Presidential children take a little while to learn this lesson, but eventually they do. They understand that what they do reflects not only on their father but also on the country. It is the same thing with the Royal Family in England. It is true of every family. The behavior of children reflect (right or wrong) on their parents. When we wear the name of Christ but live like children of the Devil, we dishonor His name.
So let’s tie all this up into some general principles. First, since we are loved so greatly by God, we should trust Him with our lives. Let’s face it, for most of us, every time something hard or difficult comes into our lives we immediately think God is punishing us. Please hear me: God is not an abusive parent! God is perfectly consistent with His love. We can and should view the difficult times of life with the calm assurance that even though we don’t know why things happen as they do, the things that come into our lives are filtered through the nail-pierced hands of love.
Second, since the full blessing of being a child of God won’t be fully revealed until He appears, we should be longing more for that day. I’m not saying that we should long to die but we should continue to fight the idea that this life is all that there is. We know better! Jesus has risen from the grave and has promised we will do the same. We should be eager for the day when we see Him as He is.
Third, If we understand our privilege and position, we should rearrange our priorities and reassess our values. We are children of God and we should be trying to live up to the privilege we have been given. We should push away from a faith of mere convenience and enthusiastically pursue a real and vital relationship with God. This is a relationship that impacts the way we work, the way we relate to our family, the way we treat the frustrating times in life, the things we value, the way we use our time, It’s not about obeying rules, it is about cherishing the one who cherishes us. It is about showing respect to the Ruler of the Universe.
Fourth, we should live with the confidence and joy that comes from being a child of God. Confidence and joy is not the same thing as arrogance and self-centeredness. Confidence and joy are both anchored in a humble awareness of who we are and who we are becoming through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have been given a great blessing in being made a part of God’s family. We have before us an inheritance that is so great we can’t even begin to wrap our minds around it. These truths are not for our notebooks, they are for our daily lives. They should energize us, captivate us and motivate us. Our challenge is to try to appreciate that blessing now rather than look back some day with regret at the time we squandered.