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That Is What We Are!

Sermon passage: (1 John 2:28-3:10) Spoken on: October 12, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Daniel Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2,3 John

Tags: 1 John, 约翰一书

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About Pastor Daniel Tan: Pastor Tan served as the youth pastor of Jubilee Church till his retirement. He is currently serving actively in missions.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on 1 John 2:28-3:10

Some children were playing out on the play ground at school, teasing each other as children often do. They began to pick on a child who was adopted. “You don’t have real parents,” they taunted. “You don’t even know who your real parents are! You are just adopted.” To that the adopted child responded. “Oh yeah? When you were born, your parents didn’t have a choice. They have to keep you. My parents didn’t just have me. They wanted me!” Yes, brothers and sisters, you are a child of God because God wanted you, He has chosen you to be His own. In the beginning of the text we read just now, John says “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!” Yes, God has called us to be His children and we can confidently say: that is what we are! This is the sweetest affirmation John has given us, “That is what we are!” is therefore the title of this morning message.

1. That is what we are: secured as God’s children

For John, that we are God’s children is evidenced of God’s active, measureless love for us. John expresses his wonder at the love that God has lavished on us as “how great”. In the original Greek, the adjective “how great” actually means “of what country”. In other words, John is saying that God’s love for us is so unearthly, so foreign to this world, that he wonders from what country it may come (John Stott’s interpretation). It means God’s love is foreign to humankind in that we cannot understand the magnitude of such love. For John, this amazing love is a divine, initiated love that is active, for it seeks to bring sinners into the family of God. The verb “has lavished” further expresses the permanent results of this divine love. It is a gift from God the Father that cannot be earned or bought; it is given freely and cannot be withdrawn. Furthermore, God has not just shown His love to humans, but He has given it to them in such a way that it becomes a part of them. God the Father lavishes, or imparts, permanent and abiding love to His children. The fact that God the Father would love us in such a permanent and magnitude way really astonishes the apostle John.

John further elaborates that God’s love provides the way for us to be “called” children of God. “Calling” is an act of “legitimation” in which a father names the child as his son, he acknowledges that it is indeed his child and thereby makes a permanent claim to identity and ownership. Hence the relationship this child enters into is not in his hands. His identity depends solely on the father who calls him to be his child. Thus, to be called children of God implies the adopting act of God. In the ancient world, an adopted son was fully a son and heir. This was true in the Roman Empire as in Israel. So, John is quick to add that in the act of God’s calling, those who believe in Christ they do not just take on a mere title as children of God, they actually become children of God. They now enter into a reality of a Father and son relationship. They are secured as members of God’s family. And that is what we are! As a matter of fact, the term ‘adoption’ is widely used by Paul. In contrast, John prefers using the expression of ‘being born of God’ to designate Christians. In fact this expression figures prominently in the rest of the Epistles (10 times altogether). The best clue to what it means to be ‘born of God’ as far as Christian community is concerned, is to be found in John’s Gospel 1:12-13: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. So, for John, to be ‘born of God’ is something quite distinct from natural human procreation, something that could not be effected by human action or desire, but only by God Himself. Therefore by God’s initiated act of love by calling us to be His children, we belong to God as surely and permanently as children belong to their parents. So, we do not simply look at a love that is external to us and marvel at its greatness; we know a love that resides within us, a love that seals our destiny as God’s children.

So, brothers and sisters, John tells us that we have a Father in heaven whose name we also bear. We are His true children and we also bear His image. By divine grace we have been adopted into God’s family, and by the miracle of the new birth, we have also been born again. It is in fact a double miracle: adopted into His family and born into His family. Have you ever wondered at this double miracle? But don’t for a moment doubt it or not believe it! Because that is what we are! “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!” It is an unmerited love, an unmerited adoption, a divine choice whereby we utterly become God’s possession. When we can hold this concept firmly in our lives, when we discover that our security with God is out of our hands and firmly in His, confidence in our Christian identity will come naturally. For we know that it is God who holds us secure, and He will never ‘unadopt’ us. If we do not feel like a child of God or if others say that we do not exhibit certain criteria confirming our status as God’s children, it makes no difference. Your status as a child of God does not depend on your feeling or others’ assessment on you. You are now a child of God and that is what you are!

But John also cautions his readers that that is what they are (as children of God) does not mean they will gain any respect from the world, nor live a life free from trouble. It is because the world does not recognize them as children of God. And the reason the world does not know them is that it did not know Christ. In fact, the world hates the children of God (3:13), just as it hated Christ (Jn 15:18f). For the world is the unbelieving world—people who are opposed to God and to those who believe in His Son. For John, this very fact is a further proof that they are children of God: the way in which the world does not recognize them as being on its side is proof that they belong to God. John’s words of advice may seem out of place or irrelevant in reference to their position as children of God. But it has a part to play in strengthening his readers’ assurance. John wants them to know that the very fact that they are being persecuted by the world because of their faith in Christ, should strengthen them instead. For as children of God, their security is in God’s hand. Today, how does the world look at us? Some people may see us a nice group of religious people, gathered on a Sunday morning. Others see us as deluded fanatics who believe things that can’t possibly be true. But either way, we should not be surprised or alarmed. The world was wrong about Jesus. That’s why they are wrong about us, too. Even the world’s rejection of our Christian faith cannot cancel the reality that we are the children of God. Today, we may not face persecution in our society, but in life we may encounter difficult times or suffering in one form or another. We should not feel cut off from God because of this unpleasant situation, and be tempted to give up our faith. John wants us to be assured of our status as God’s children, which is initiated by God’s unmerited love for us, we therefore should have confidence in Him, knowing that He will guide us and hold us secure.

1. That is what we will be: transformed to be like Christ

Now that is what we are secured as children of God, can you imagine what is in store for us someday? John invites us to do just that as he says: “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 are now leads us to the second point of what we will be in John’s thought: that we will be transformed to be like Christ when He comes again.

What will happen to the children of God when Jesus comes again? First, John states that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming. The first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago was the revelation of the previously hidden Word of God in human form, so that those with eyes to see could confess, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Now, Jesus is again hidden from view, although He is spiritually present with His followers, but one day He will again be revealed from heaven. In His second coming, two opposite reactions will be produced. Some people will experience confidence, while others will experience shame. John’s warning about shame is not meant to threaten Christians, who are born of God. He is here addressing those who stand in opposition to Jesus that they will experience disgrace and rejection, when Jesus comes again in glory. So, the shame of which John speaks is not the shame that we believers sometimes imagine that we will or ought to feel in the presence of Jesus who is righteous and pure. It is not embarrassment for those things which we have done wrong. Believers who continue faithfully in relation with God through Christ (i.e. ‘abiding in Christ’), their confidence is the boldness to approach God openly when the second coming of Jesus signals divine judgment. They will not face separation from the presence of God. So, the second coming of Jesus means hope for those who now faithfully follow Him and in union with Him; it is the natural climax to their present relationship.

Secondly, John wants to stress that although our present status as children of God is wonderful, our future state will be even more extraordinary. John anticipates a threefold sequence of events: When Jesus appears at His second coming, we shall see Him as He really is and we shall be like Him. It is true that now as children of God, God has already begun a work in us to make us increasingly Christlike through His Spirit day by day. But such process will not reach full fruition until the second coming of His Son. John does not state explicitly in what new ways we shall be like Jesus at His second coming. He only mentions that by seeing Jesus as He really is, we shall be like Him. What is Jesus like as He really is at His second coming? It is definitely not seeing Him as He was in the days of His earthly ministry, nor seeing as He was on the cross—beaten and bruised, nor seeing Him with the eyes of faith after His resurrection, but seeing Him as He really is in heavenly glory. Such a sight of Him will be enough to transform us to share His glory and make us pure like Him as He is pure. In other words, the effect of seeing Jesus as He really is in heavenly glory will transform us to reflect His glory and holiness. And in that day, there will be an immediate and unmistakable unity between us and God the Father. We will know God more fully and intimately than is possible for us now.

Yes, brothers and sisters, when we see Him, we will be like Him. Ponder that thought for a moment. We will be like Jesus. As I have mentioned before, now as children of God, God has already begun a work in us through His Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ day by day, step by step. But for many Christians this process is slow and difficult, for it often seems as if we are going backwards and not forwards. If someone asks you, “How have you become more like Jesus in the last year?” I think most of us hardly know how to answer this question. We would even tremble to think of it. But on the other hand, who would dare to judge others as being more like Christ? If we know ourselves at all, we would rather refrain from asking this question. For God alone is the final judge. We all sin in many ways and fall short of God’s glory. As Paul mentions in Romans 7 that we often end up doing what we said we would never do and we fail to do what we promised to do. So, we become despair of ourselves and sometimes even doubt about our salvation. If the Christian life is a slow climb up the stairway to heaven, where does our assurance come from? John assures us that better days are coming for the children of God. God has determined to make us like Jesus: because we are now His children, we will one day be totally transformed to be like His Son. This family resemblance, which is today may seem so faint or even invisible, will in that happy day be so clear when we see Jesus face to face. So, brothers and sisters, let this thought encourage you in your long journey home. Do not be despair when you fall, God is not finished with you yet. As John urges his readers continue to abide in Christ, and so must we. So, if we are unsuccessful today to be like Jesus because we are weak, we will look to Him for strength and try again tomorrow, the next day and the next. That what we are now as children of God and what we will be in future of seeing Jesus should provide us a vibrant hope to live our everyday life, and to strive to be more like Jesus. We have hope in Him, not in ourselves. In God’s loving grace, we are not only presently secured by Him as His children, we are also promised that someday we shall see Jesus and become like Him, sharing His heavenly glory and holiness.

1. That is what we should do: live out a godly life

John’s words of encouragement about Christians’ standing as the children of God, and their future state of being transformed when they see Jesus as He really is, serve not only to reassure his readers’ wavering faith, but also to bring out the moral implications in their present lives. In other words, if Christians set their minds on the confident basis of God’s promise, they will feel differently, and this will renew the character of their living: “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure”. This leads us to the third point of John’s message: to live out a godly life in the present is what they should do as children of God with the assuring hope in God’s promise.

John wants his readers to pursue purity as they await the blessed hope of seeing Jesus as He really is when He appears. “Purity” refers to the absence of any stain. For John, it means freedom from sin as indicated in his later argument (3:4-10). In other words, John is saying that the genuine child of God must keep pure by seeking to remain free from sin. Although he makes clear in 1:7 that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses the believer from sin, he speaks here for self-purification. Both are true and essential to the lives of Christians if they want to grow into Christlikeness. The moral purity of Christians, their cleansing from sin, ultimately stems from God in Christ. But the children of God have an active and responsible part to play in this as well. We can do this by imitating the holy life of Jesus and through the resources God provides us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, John’s frequent instruction of “abiding in Christ” is crucial to this purification process. To be purified we must remain close to the One who is wholly pure. The completion of this ongoing purification process will then take place in eternity, when “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is”.

Having stressed the importance of abiding in Christ, doing what is right, and purifying oneself in anticipation of Christ’s return, John now proceeds to deal more closely with the negative side of all this, the need for believers to abstain from sin and the possibility of their doing so. John wants to show his readers how being a child of God is incompatible with the practice of sin. In the passage comprising verses 4 to 10, John uses two parallel arguments to drive home his point. Each argument contains three things: a definition of sin (vv4,8a); a statement about the purpose of Christ’s work (vv5,8b) in light of the definition of sin; and a statement about the implications of Christ’s work for the Christian life (vv6,9). Let us use the following table to illustrate his arguments:

(3:4-7) (3:8-10)

Definition (a) Sin is lawlessness (v.4) (a’) Sin is of the devil (v.8a)

Purpose of Christ’s work (b) Christ came to take away (b’) Christ came to destroy

sins (v.5) the devil’s works (v.8b)

Implications (c) No one who lives in Christ (c’) No one who is born of God

sins or keeps on sinning (v.6) will continue to sin, he cannot

sin or go on sinning (v.9)

The above table (illustrated by John Stott) shows that Christ’s work (b and b’) stands in opposition to the power and essence of sin (a and a’). Since believers are those who lives (abides) in Christ, their conduct (c and c’) should reflect the work of Christ and its opposition to sin. John’s absolute and inclusive statement, “no one who lives in Him keep on sinning,” poses a great challenge to interpretation. He does not say, “no one who lives in Jesus should sin.” He is stating a fact that the person who is in Christ does not sin and indeed cannot sin (v.9). But we know this is not possible within our human experience. And to make matters more complicated, his statement contradicts his earlier teaching about the possibility of sin on the part of the believers and its remedy (1:7-10; 2:2). It is also incompatible with the repeated injunctions to renounce sin and act righteously (1:8-2:2; 2:29). There are two common interpretations to John’s contradicting statement that the person who is in Christ does not sin and indeed cannot sin.

The first interpretation is based on its grammar usage. The verb ‘sin’ is taken in a continuous sense, to mean that those who live in Jesus do not sin as a settled habit, that is to say they do not keep on sinning. In this way, occasional sin is a possibility and reality for all Christians, but the genuine believer cannot consistently be a sinner to commit habitual sin. But one just cannot base on its sentence grammar to derive such an interpretation. Most importantly, If God whose nature remains in Christians (His seed remains in them as stated in verse 9) and keep them safe (5:18), can be said to protect believers from habitual sin, why can He not preserve them as well from occasional sins? The second interpretation suggests that John is here describing the ideal Christian character: the believer ought to be without sin. As stated in 2:1, the purpose of John’s writing to his readers is to encourage them to attain precisely such an ideal Christian state: they will not sin. So, John is not saying Christians are sinless, but that they should not sin. His statement must be seen as an implicit imperative, a command. It is the statement of what Christians ought to be, and is an injunction to them to approach the ideal. But this interpretation fails to account for John’s assertion in verse 9 that the Christian cannot sin.

In order to arrive at the better interpretation, one must bear in mind the situation faced by John that caused him to write this letter to the members of his community. It seems most likely that his readers were being tempted to regard sin as a matter of indifference: to fall into sin was not a serious matter. At the beginning of the letter, we saw that there were heretical members in the church who claimed to be sinless, and that John had the task of showing them that they were not in fact free from sin, and that they needed to seek cleansing and forgiveness. Perhaps these people argue that even if they did commit sin, it was not an important issue since the truly “spiritual” person like them cannot be affected by the deeds of the flesh. So, they believed that they could engage in any and all kinds of sinful activities and still be in fellowship with God. In their line of reasoning, their acts were merely amoral. It was such licentious beliefs that John confronts. Sin is not amoral. It is not something to which one can be indifferent. On the contrary, sin is a willful disregard for God. It is a rebellious revolt against God’s will. That is why John makes it very clear to them that sin is lawlessness. Lawlessness is more than the absence of God’s law. For John, it is a willful rejection and an active disobedience against God’s will and moral standard, which is what the devil has been doing. John therefore writes that the devil has been sinning from the beginning. That is to say, the devil is characterized through and through, and has always been known to human beings, as one who challenged God’s will and His standard of righteousness. In addition, it tempted people to do the same. So, the devil’s identifying characteristic is sin. Therefore those who sin cannot be said to belong to God but to the devil, because they participate in the devil’s work and share the inherent character of the devil. They are in fact the children of the devil.

In short, for John, the decision to sin or not to sin is really a decision to reflect the character of Christ or the devil. So, the person who abides in Christ does not sin at all; in opposition to those who argue that sin is permissible. His conclusion is therefore Christians cannot sin. So, John here is not talking about Christian perfection or sinlessness, but that the Christian’s life is not characterized by sin, which is the mark of the follower of the devil. He is describing a way of life, a character, a prevailing lifestyle. Most importantly, his appeals to this Christian lifestyle emphasize not the impossibility of sin but the connection to Christ. No one who lives in Him sins or keep on sinning depends more on the understanding of what Christ has done for us than it does on what we are able or commanded to do. In other words, Christian life is to live out the nature of Christ’s life and what He has done for us rather than to focus on the impossibility of sin. Since Christ came to destroy the work of devil, sin no longer controls our lives. Christ then is the standard, the means, the motivation for the Christian’s godly living. This godly living is to do what is right as Christ is righteous, and to purify oneself as Christ is pure. By seeking to live such a life, one day at His appearing we will see Him face to face as He really is and be transformed to be like Him.

Yes, brothers and sisters, we need a renewed vision for who we are and what God desires us to become. It is through the renewal of this vision that a transformation will occur. We will discover greater assurance in our identity as God’s children and will begin to exhibit the righteous and the holy character of Jesus Christ. Although we still fall prey to sinful acts and our inadequacies to abide in Christ, John encourages us to continue faithfully in our relationship with God as we travel our life journey as Children of God. God’s work through Christ has already created a realm where the purifying and transforming power of righteousness and love are operative. This power is already at work in us. We therefore should not lose heart when we fall. We should look forward to the time when we shall be like Christ at His appearing. In the mean time, there is God’s seed indwelled in us. John did not elaborate what this seed is. But most commentators view it as signifying the Holy Spirit or refer to a divine principle of life which abides in the believer. This seed of God will enable and motivate the believer to live a sin-free life as the child of God. Finally, we must also remember that our holiness emphasizes not the impossibility of sin but the connection to Christ. This understanding will prevent us from becoming legalistic. At the same time, we become more tune to Christ’s work in us and our hearts will also be fueled by heartfelt response to the security that God’s love gives us.

1 John 2:28–3:10 (Listen)

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 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.