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First John

Children of God

1 John 3:1-3

Most of us blithely toss off the phrase, "I'm a child of God." It sounds warm and fuzzy, but we tend to view it as kind of a buzz phrase - no real meat to it, but a nice thing to say. In three short verses John enlightens us:

(1 John 3:1-3 NIV) 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. {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} Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

How great is the love

One of the great changes in attitude between John's time and ours is our view of mankind. We think of people as being wonderful; they saw the insignificance of man in comparison of God. As the Psalmist put it:

(Psa 8:3-4 NIV) When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, {4} what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

But here we see God's great love in that we are now his children! The very word used in the Greek, teknon, gives us the clue to the meaning. It is the root of our word "technology;" it means something that was produced. We are children, made so by God. Indeed, we know that we are children of God purely because of what Christ did at the Cross. It is essential for our understanding of this that we know grace; we need to understand that this is God's work, not ours.


One reason John sounds so amazed and joyous is this: until the Cross, the idea that we could be children of God was unknown. But there is an interesting progression:

We are, of course, the servants of God. It is a title that King David used of himself; a title given to Moses, and one we share. For most of the time before Christ, this was the highest position a man could have. It meant that God did not need to explain anything - just issue instructions.

There was an exception to this: Abraham was called the "friend of God." It is unique, but as Hebrews teaches us, this is because of his faith. Interestingly, on the night before the Crucifixion, Jesus "promotes" his disciples from servants to friends.

But then, after the Resurrection, he calls his disciples his brothers. Only after the Resurrection can we become children of God, joint heirs of the kingdom.

How can this be? We are in the family of God because we are led by the same Spirit.

The world does not know

One result of this is that we are now divided from the world. The world does not "know" us, because it does not "know" Jesus. The Greek word for "know" in this sense is ginosko, which means a particularly deep knowledge. They do not have this deep knowledge of Jesus - and therefore they do not have that deep knowledge of us. How can this be?

First, God arranged it that way because it is fitting. No servant is above his master, and if they don't know him, it would be unfitting if they really knew us.

This is caused not by our actions but by their ignorance. Hey, we're willing to talk about it.

This is the root cause of what Paul refers to as the "hidden" life:

(Col 3:1-3 NIV) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. {2} Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. {3} For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

This is why the Christian so often appears inconsistent to the world. One minute demanding righteousness, the next offering forgiveness. We should be inconsistent to principles and rules - and always consistent to our Lord.

We shall be like Him

The passage touches upon the resurrection of the dead, and the heavenly body we shall someday have. Much has been written about this, and we can say but a few things here:

There is little to say - for it is not yet revealed

(The implication of the Greek phrasing is that we have not yet been told the answer). "Through a mirror darkly" as the old King James put it - that is how we see what we shall soon become. Why, then, did God choose not to reveal this to us, except in tantalizing hints?

The time is not ripe. We know that we must endure suffering in this body. We also know that the suffering is trivial compared to the glory. Perhaps God is making sure that the comparison will be appreciated!

It's beyond our ability to comprehend. We know that no one has seen what it will be like, and we know that it will involve all of creation itself. If - as I suppose - the "laws of nature" may indeed be completely changed, then we would have no way of imagining what things might be like.

We shall be like Him

We do have some hints, however. We shall be like the risen Lord. We have a couple of hints as to what this will be like.

We are told that we shall be transformed. The word in the Greek (summorphos) means to be molded into an image. So it's still "us" - but remolded.

We are told that the image is the likeness of Christ. The word for "likeness" used is the root of our word "icon."

What a collection of hints! Based upon our Lord's appearances after the Resurrection, we can gather the following:

We may be able to be superior to time and space. Our Lord appears inside a locked room, without use of the door.

We will be recognizable as ourselves - at least sometimes. The disciples recognized our Lord, when he permitted it.

One thing is certain: it will be a totally new thing.

We shall see Him as He is

The word used for "see" in this passage means "to gaze wide-eyed," as if in amazement. We should be amazed; the Old Testament Jew was taught that no one could see God and live. What do we know about this "seeing?"

We shall do it with our own eyes - this is a physical resurrection.

But there is also a spiritual transformation, for it is the pure in heart who see God.

Perhaps we need to be transformed before we will be capable of seeing him. Who can say?

Implications in our lives

All this sounds so wonderful; yet one might say, "so what?" It hasn't happened yet; until it does, what possible effect could it have? John gives you one reason here immediately - and there are others.

Personal purity

The word for "pure" in the Greek, hagnos, is related to the same root word that is used for "holy." It is instructive to look back into the Old Testament to see what purification involved:

It began with cleansing. In our experience, this would equate to two things: confession and repentance. There we have the practical side that we need.

It ends with sacrifice. After the Cross, this can only mean the sacrifice of Christ; if we try to perform our own cleansing, it will fail for lack of acceptable sacrifice.

Dealing with others

Should such a hope change the way you deal with others? Indeed yes!

Suppose you met someone who had been through this transformation. Someone to whom walls were no barrier, for example. You would react in fear and awe. That someone could be sitting right next to you. View them with "forever eyes," and then ask if your treatment of them would be different. Someone who is cold, dirty and hungry today could - if the Lord chooses to come so soon - tomorrow be like an angel of light. So how should you treat such an angel?

That very same someone is, as we would say, "well connected." It is considered a sign of influence to have your picture taken with the President - as if to say, "I'm a man of influence, look who I know." But the person sitting next to you might be well connected - to the Lord of the Universe, the Sovereign Lord. How would you treat such a person?

Consider this: if you mistreat my child, do you suppose I would be unconcerned? Certainly not. If you fear me, how much more should you fear the Sovereign Lord? So then how should you treat one of his children?

Waiting in Hope

Hope is always a difficult virtue to explain; it sounds so impractical. But if you hold to the hope of the resurrection, your hope changes the way you act.

It changes what you think is important. If there is no resurrection, no hope, then grab everything you can in this life - for there is no second chance. But if you have that hope, should you not then reexamine your life, asking, "Is this stuff really that important - for eternity?"

It changes your view of "the possible." Some of us quit at our good works when it appears that we cannot see them accomplished before our deaths. But it is not so; if you have this hope, you pass the torch on to the next generation, knowing that God will bring it to pass - and reward you for your part in it.

Hope changes the way you view death. Is it the end - or is it merely, "God be with you 'til we meet again?"


By the grace of God, shown at the Cross, we are now the children of God. Like our brother Jesus, we shall rise from the dead in a new form, as yet unknown to us. Therefore, let us live our lives in this hope, purifying ourselves, treating each other in kindness and love, and waiting for our Lord's return in hope.

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