One of my darkest secrets is that I enjoy economics.
Even though I try to resist,
I cannot seem to avoid reading the business sections of the newspapers,
or going to economic websites.
And occasionally I get excited
- did you know that the Australia’s GDP grew by over 1% last quarter?
This has all sorts of implications for our current account deficit,
as well as the consumer price index
and the reserve bank’s monetary policy.
I am concerned, however, that the US government’s expansionary fiscal policy will lead to a deterioration in their budget deficit,
and will cause problems over the longer term for its trading partners.
Now if you were able to decipher all the technobabble that I just sprouted - good on you.
If you understood economics and economic terms,
what I said would have made perfect sense.
But because you have chosen a more pleasant life,
you probably found my language hard to understand.
Unfortunately, Christian theology can be just as daunting in its use of technobabble.
Of course, the further “in” to Christianity you go, the more those terms become familiar.
I’m talking about terms like Justification, Sanctification, Regeneration, God’s sovereignty, Predestination and so on.
So should we stop using them?
Some within Christianity are keen to make Christian language more easily accessible,
but some believe that this is merely a “dumbing down” of Christian belief.
You may have heard of the mathematical term pi.
Pi is a Greek letter that mathematicians use to signify the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter.
It is a term used by rocket scientists to determine the trajectory of missiles and space ships,
and I understand that it is also used by architects when they design buildings.
A short definition of Pi is that it equals 3.14159.
In 1998, it was reported that the legislature of the American state of Alabama wanted to redefine pi as 3.
One reason was a desire for simplicity
- they thought that pi’s value was far too complex for ordinary minds to comprehend.
Now fortunately this report was a hoax
- which is good news for the state of Alabama,
whose buildings would be falling down as a result.
Christianity, like most things, requires a level of complexity in order for it to define its beliefs more accurately.
However, it is also fair to say that this complexity should never obscure the simple facts of the faith
- nor should the intellectual elements destroy the joy and happiness that we feel as followers of Christ.
I’m saying all this because 1 John 3 verses 1-6 contains much that requires us to work hard to understand
- we need to use the God-given brains we have to sift through the various possibilities that these verses present us with.
But we must never lose sight of the fact that these verses contain some of the most incredible statements in God’s word
- and we should take time to bask in its wonder and the joy that it brings us.
1. The wonder of being in God’s family (3.1-2)
Let me read to you verses 1 and 2 of 1 John 3.
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 why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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.
So what we have here are verses that tell us that we are God’s children.
And that is my first point - the wonder of being in God’s family.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
The Bible is full of information on this subject.
The book of 1 John is also full of information for us.
John tells us that being a Christian involves being forgiven for our sins,
he tells us that Jesus died as a sin sacrifice for us
- which is the means by which our forgiveness is brought about.
John tells us that being a Christian involves personally knowing our Father in heaven
- of having friendship and fellowship with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ.
Being a Christian involves repentance - of turning away from our life of sin..
And of course a Christian is someone who follows Christ
- “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” John says in 2.6.
But now John goes a step further in describing to us what a Christian is.
A Christian is someone who is a child of God.
When a person becomes a Christian, they become God’s son or daughter.
Which is, of course, the reason why we call God our heavenly father
- we couldn’t call God father unless we were his children.
Now the theological term that Christian theologians have used to describe this situation is called “Adoption”.
Before becoming a Christian, we were living in sin - we were opposing God.
But when we became a Christian, we were adopted into God’s family.
It wasn’t just that we were forgiven,
or declared innocent and free from sin,
we have moved from being enemies of God to being God’s family.
Adoption is a word that has a lot of emotional baggage attached to it.
To many people, the fact that they were adopted has meant that they were “second class” members of their adoptive parents’ family.
More than that, there is an underlying unease at the reasons why they were adopted
- why did their real parents abandon them?
Now this is certainly not true for all people who were adopted.
But I do know of one man who had no idea he was adopted until he was in his late 50s,
and found out when his mother admitted it to him just before she died.
We need to understand that this is not what is going on here.
God originally meant us to be his children,
but sin destroyed that
- when we became his followers, we simply became what God intended in the first place.
Adam is called “The Son of God” in Luke’s account of Jesus’ family tree.
In the Old Testament, Israel is referred to in many places as God’s children.
One of the most significant passages in the New Testament about this issue is in Galatians 3, verses 26 to 29.
Let me read them to you:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What we see here is that the promises to Abraham, found way back in the book of Genesis, have found their fulfilment in us - the church.
Paul says that if we belong to Christ, then we are truly descendants of Abraham
- which of course means that we inherit the promises given to Abraham so many thousands of years ago.
And of course, when we become Christians then we are sons of God
- and this sonship transcends all human conventions of gender, race and social position.
Well, so what?
We are sons of God, what does that mean?
It means that we part of God’s family.
God is not just our king and ruler, he is our father
- he loves us and we love him.
We depend upon our heavenly father for everything,
and it is his pleasure to give to us all we need.
We can be sure that God knows all our thoughts and feelings, our hurts and our fears.
He also knows our shortcomings and our sins,
but loves us anyway.
John, however, makes it clear that we who are sons of God are different from the rest of the world.
He says in verse one “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
We are different from the world
- the world finds us strange and unattractive.
The world constantly pokes fun at us, or, even worse, punishes us for fitting in.
Why? It is because we are sons of God, and they are not.
We know God, they do not.
It is not because of anything in ourselves that causes their opposition to us
- it is their opposition to God.
And what does the future hold for us as Sons of God?
In verse 2, John says “What we will be has not yet been made known”.
So even though we are sons of God now, what our future will be like is yet to be revealed.
Amazing, isn’t it, that an apostle of Christ, the apostle that Jesus loved, could say to us “I don’t know!”.
But he does give us a hint in verse 2, he says “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.
What John is saying is that while we are sons of God now,
our sonship will not be fully realized until Christ returns.
This idea - that we have yet to become what we are - is fairly strong in the Bible.
There are a number of applications for these verses that need to be discussed.
The first point of application is the link between our sonship and our obedience to God’s word.
All of us have been children and had parents looking after us, so we know that obedience to our heavenly father is required as children.
However, we must remember that even a disobedient son is still a son
- obedience does not make us God’s children.
So even when we sin,
even though we don’t do what our heavenly father wants us to do,
we are still his son or daughter.
The second point of application is on prejudice within the church.
Even though we are part of God’s family, this side of the return of Jesus we are still being influenced by the world
- and sometimes we take on ourselves the prejudices of our society.
We should never look down upon a brother or sister in Christ,
regardless of whether or not they are of a particular gender or racial background or a different position in society.
I visited a Bible study once where one of the members was an uneducated woman,
covered in tattoos, missing a few teeth and, when the Bible study had finished, needed to go outside for a smoke.
But she was a Christian.
Even though she doesn’t fit into the Christian culture we live in, she was my sister.
When we become a Christian, we cannot continue to hold prejudices against people,
let alone our brothers and sisters in Christ.
My third point of application concerns our time with the church Vs our time with the world.
We need to remember that the bond we share with those who sit with us today
is of greater importance than any family or social tie we have outside the church.
This doesn’t mean we ignore them,
but it does mean that any affinity we might have with these people is nowhere near as important as the affinity we have together as Christians.
My fourth point of application is the fact that Christians will always be persecuted.
The world doesn’t know us because it doesn’t know the Father.
We are incredibly blessed to live in a society where the worst persecution we can get is ridicule,
but others are not so lucky.
Just recently in India, there have been clashes between fundamentalist Hindus and their Moslem neighbours.
Well, it also appears that many Christians have been affected as well.
This is normal - the world hates us because it hates God.
Let’s not be surprised when Christianity is persecuted or ridiculed.
My final point of application is that some blessings have yet to be realized.
John says that “what we will be has not yet been made known”.
We need to remember that in eternal life there is no more suffering, pain or sickness.
Some Christians today believe that we can have health, wealth and prosperity if only we have enough faith.
John answers this plainly in these verses - not yet.
This side of the return of Christ we will not yet see the blessings that await us.
2. The Characteristics of God’s family (3.3-6)
So what we’ve been looking at is the wonder of being in God’s family.
Now we are moving on to my second point - the characteristics of God’s family.
Let me read to you verses 3 to 6 of 1 John 3:
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law, in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him there is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
I have to say that when I was a young Christian, these verses confused and frightened me.
Look at verse 6 again.
“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him”.
Now for a young Christian, these words were very discouraging.
They seem to say that Christians no longer sin.
And if Christians no longer sin, then I mustn’t be a Christian because I still sin.
More than that, how should we purge ourselves from sin?
Verse 3 says “Everyone who has the hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure”.
So if this understanding is correct then we can deduce that a Christian has to purify themselves of their sin,
and then no longer sin in order to be a true Christian.
If this is correct then we can safely say that no one is a Christian.
But of course it’s not correct.
In verse 5 John clearly says
“You know he appeared so that he might take away our sins”.
So how should this verse be understood?
We need to remember that when John talks about sin here he is not talking about the bad things we say or do or think or fail to do.
He is talking about an outright rejection of God.
He calls this lawlessness.
And so what he is saying is that those who reject God have neither seen or known the Father.
So what we have here are the two different ways of relating to God.
The first way is to stop rejecting God, to repent and to be forgiven.
The second way is to continue living in sin,
to be living in lawlessness,
and to not know the Father.
We have Christians and we have non-Christians.
So let’s first of all look at those who are Christians.
Verse 3 is aimed at us.
There, John says “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure”.
This is not talking about our works saving us
- we don’t get rid of our sins, Jesus does when he died on the cross.
But what it does refer to is an attitude of godliness that makes us want to give up sinning.
What this verse tells us is that we have the obligation to live pure lives for our heavenly Father.
We are to look at ourselves,
to look at our lives,
and to identify the sin that we do.
And we are then to obey Christ, and sin no more.
But this is not salvation - this is just obedience.
Obedience doesn’t save us, which is why John reminds us in verse 5 that Jesus came to take away our sin.
When John tells us to purify ourselves, he is not asking us to save ourselves.
Rather, he is saying that now that God has rescued us through Christ,
we must now obey him and show him the love and respect that we, as God’s children, should by our nature give.
John goes on further to point out in verse 6 that “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning”.
If we are God’s children, we no longer reject him.
But what about those who are not Christians?
Those who are not children of God?
John says of these people that they are lawless
- they reject God as their ruler.
John uses a logical argument here
- everyone who sins breaks the law.
And of course, is there anyone who is not sinful?
No, everyone is sinful - therefore everyone breaks the law, and everyone is living in opposition to God.
And if you live in opposition to God, you do not know him
- he is not your heavenly father.
So we Christians have made a good move haven’t we?
Good on us for repenting and serving God!
Aren’t we wonderful?
Let’s not kid ourselves.
If it were up to us, then the passage should start at verse one to say
“How great is the love that we have lavished on the Father, that we have chosen to become children of God!”.
But it doesn’t say that.
It says that God loved us,
and that our sonship is not something that we earn or achieve,
but it is something that God grants to us because he loves us.
In Ephesians 1.5, Paul states
“In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”.
This verse, along with the verses in 1 John we have looked at today,
point out that our sonship is not something we deserve,
it is not something we achieve,
it is something granted freely to us by a loving Father.
Unfortunately, when we think of love, we think of our own human experiences.
Love is something a person deserves, or something a person wins.
You know “He finally won her heart” sort of thinking.
And unfortunately, this incorrect understanding of love is transferred to our understanding of God’s love for us.
We start to think that God’s love is conditional
- that God will love us more if we do more for him.
Or we might like to think that the reason why God loves us is because we deserve love.
None of this is true.
We can do nothing to deserve God’s love.
There is nothing in us that forces God to love us.
But God loves us anyway.
And more than that, he loves us so much that we become sons and daughters in God’s household.
And how does God show his love for us?
He shows it by sending his son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus appeared so that he might take away our sins, because in him there is no sin.
The world of the non-Christian finds this sort of thinking offensive.
The non-Christian world finds it hard to understand God.
Many non-Christians I have meant have rejected the gospel because they believe that our God is so petty that he would send to hell people who simply didn’t choose to become a Christian.
But that is because they are blind to their sin.
The gospel is offensive because it does not reward good deeds, because God’s love is unconditional.
But these people are sinful - they reject God as their king.
The reason why they don’t know us or understand us is because they do not know God.
If there’s anything that we should learn from this passage today,
it is that we are not the world - we are God’s family.
And because we are God’s family, we cannot link ourselves too tightly to the world around us. Christians from the United States have seemingly forgotten this fact.
No other nation in the history of the world has been so influenced by Christian thinking and Christian faith as the United States of America.
Yet it has led to some very unhelpful thinking.
For some American Christians, being American is synonymous with being a Christian.
Now I have no problem with a Christian loving their country,
but I have a problem when their country becomes their faith.
Now I don’t want to indulge in anti-American behaviour
- that’s just another form of racism.
And of course many American Christians hold to their faith first and their country second.
But we must remember that the nation we end up living in is not the same as the faith we have in God.
We need to remember that our nation is, in effect, a large group of unbelievers.
And because they are unbelievers,
they do not act or think the way God wants them to think or act.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that a nation like Australia not only accepts sins like adultery as being normal,
but has laws ensuring that the practice of adultery goes unpunished.
So what does the New Testament say about this situation?
It acknowledges that people are sinful and have rejected God,
and for that they live under God’s death sentence.
But does it say anything about changing a nation’s laws to reflect Christian morality?
That is something that happens within the context of the church.
So what is the solution?
Do we merely ignore the world
- to tell them to go to hell because they deserve to go there?
If we love the country we find ourselves in,
then we must tell them about salvation.
If we are concerned that our nation has accepted too much ungodly thinking and behaviour, then we should tell them the gospel.
Nothing else will work.
Because the world does not know God
- and until the world knows God, they will continue to sin,
they will continue to treat our beliefs with disdain,
and they will ignore anything that doesn’t fit in with their faulty understanding of what is true. And this is true of all unbelievers
- from big businessmen to radical unionists,
from the most respected politician to the most despised criminal,
and from any family or friends we know who don’t know salvation.
The solution to the world’s problems is not through adjusting the law to ensure that Christian beliefs are taught.
It is through the supernatural process of salvation
1 - that because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.
The world is a mess precisely because it rejects God.
Only when people turn from their sin and become sons and daughters of God will they be forgiven and begin to purify themselves.
John starts off in verse 1 by saying “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!”.
What does it mean to be God’s child?
It means that God loves us regardless of who we are or what we do,
but it also means we have the responsibility of purifying ourselves
- of working out how to love God and avoid sin.
1Being a child of God means we have been forgiven through Jesus Christ.
Being God’s child means that we have the hope of eternal life.
Being God’s child means that we no longer reject God as our ruler,
or ignore him and his commands.
Being God’s child means we are different to and separate from the world
- a world that lives in darkness and sin and a world that cannot understand who we are as God’s children.
We live in a world that is passing.
We are merely passing through ourselves.
Although there is much to interest us here,
the fact is that our destination is far more important than the route we are taking to get there.
We are God’s family
- but not because of anything we have done,
but because of God’s great love for us.
Let me pray.
We praise and thank you that you are our Father. Thank you that, through Christ, we are forgiven and have been made into your sons and daughters. Thank you for your great love, which is a result of your greatness, not in anything good within us.
Give us the desire and strength to purify ourselves so that we may please you in the way we live. Give us the insight to understand the world we live in without compromising our faith. Give us sensitivity in listening to those we know who are unbelievers, and give us courage and love to speak to them the gospel of grace. We ask that our nation be transformed by your love, that your church may speak your gospel clearly and fearlessly, and so transform our world.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.