Monday, November 08, 2010

Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, for All Saints' Day, "Saints are..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Saints of God in Christ Jesus! Today we observe All Saints’ Day, remembering those Christians who have died and gone before us to their eternal reward with Christ. Using our epistle reading from 1 John, we’ll look at who the saints are, and what it means to be a saint. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saints are children of God. Does that strikes you as too ordinary and familiar a truth? Heard it too many times before? Then we need to have our minds refreshed to appreciate again this wonderful reality. John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” See what kind of love. John calls us to marvel at this love of God. Marvelous because we were not always children of God. Before God looked for us and found us, we were orphans, we were in darkness. Sons of disobedience and enemies of God. (Eph. 5:6-8; Rom. 5:6-10). Walking in the ways of the world, turning the good things of God into sinful pleasures, stuffing our ears to God’s Word. We were disobedient and unfaithful children of the world. How early does that start? From our very conception, as Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Far from the picture of Precious Moments dolls, the Bible tells us that our sinful inclinations start all the way back in our mother’s womb (Ps. 58:3). And as we grow into adulthood, those sinful inclinations increase, and the older we get the more resistant we are to believing in God.

If that’s what we once were, as unfaithful children who were separated from God, how marvelous, how amazing is God’s love, that He sought us out and brought us home to be His children? That Jesus came to bring the orphans, the runaways, the troublemakers and lost causes home? That all of us, who had no earthly right to call Him Father, have been washed and cleansed in our baptism, and presented as children fit to enter the kingdom of God. No earthly right, nothing in ourselves that made us commendable to Him, but a Fatherly outpouring of undeserved love for us lost children. The Father running out of his house down the dusty road to throw His arms around the Prodigal, the Lost Son—this is the Father’s undeserved love for His children. And it’s His love that presents us as fit to enter the kingdom of God. He clothes us with the clean robe of Jesus’ innocence. He cleanses our mouth from the disobedient and unclean talk of a child, and fills our voices with songs and praises and thanksgiving. He cleans the wounds of our life in the world, and heals us with words of forgiveness. Saints are children of God, who are fit to enter God’s kingdom, and so we are.

The world cannot know or believe this truth. We may be laughed at for believing that we are God’s children. As Luther wrote, “The world cannot understand that a man accustomed to sins and born in them has nevertheless been received by God into grace, so that he both is and is called a child of God.” Does it seem presumptuous? That we who were born in sin, are now received into God’s grace and called saints? But saints do not gloat or brag of their place as God’s children, but invite other lost children to join them. We cannot boast or brag, as we said last week, because our works or merits are excluded from the equation. Any good that we’ve done isn’t counted to why we’re saved—we’re fit to enter the kingdom only because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Saints and children of God do, however, cherish this gift of God as their greatest treasure, and they do boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, which is the whole reason we can be adopted as God’s children. We boast not in ourselves, but in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, which washes our robes and makes them white. We lift up God and Christ with our praises, not ourselves. As Psalm 115 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness!” Oh what kind of love God has!

Saints will be made like Jesus. “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.” There is a now, but not yet aspect to this. We are now God’s children, but in this life it is still partly hidden what we will be. The future state of heaven is something that we can’t fully know yet, but we await it by faith. Luther said that this isn’t because God isn’t near to us—for He is—but it’s because our sight is covered or veiled. He pictured the world, our flesh, and the devil as three layers or coverings that hide this full realization from us. Luther said, “I must force my way through all these coverings with faith, which is acquired from the Word. Therefore we are children of God not by seeing God but through faith.” By faith we press through those coverings that dim our vision, and we are given eyes to see God by faith.

So by faith we await the full understanding that will come when Jesus appears, or we die and go to heaven. But what we do know is that we will be like Jesus. Saints will become like Jesus, which is a transformation that begins even now in this life, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus, to be transformed to be more like Him. But the full realization of becoming like Jesus is something that “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a). The idea of being made like Jesus, was so incredible, that when one missionary was translating this for the native peoples, the native convert who was writing put down his pen and exclaimed: “No! It is too much; let us write, ‘We shall kiss His feet.’” To think that we will be made like the son of God was too amazing, and he balked at writing it. Instead his only thought was to worship our Savior by kissing His feet.

The amazing thing is that it is not too much! Worship and humble thanks are a true response, but God is preparing us for this transformation, so that in our resurrection, when our bodies are raised from the grave, we will be glorified and made anew after the pattern of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the third day after His death. Notice that it says we will be like Him. Not as the Mormon religion falsely teaches that we will become a god, but we will be like Him. There is and always will be only One True God, the Trinity. We will be like Jesus in that we will have the renewed image of God—holy, free from sin and death, free from the decay of an earthly body, alive and immortal in a glorified body. We haven’t been to heaven yet, to see how this truth will unfold, but as one pastor I know put it, the vision of heaven we heard in the reading from Revelation is like a postcard from heaven that God has sent us, with a glorious picture of the hope to be fully revealed. That heavenly postcard is to bring us hope and courage in this life, as we continue on our journey to that perfect heavenly destination.

As the saints will be like Jesus, they will also see Him as He is. We will come finally to see God face to face. How do we get to see God? In the beatitudes, Matthew 5:8 which you heard also today, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This leads us to the last main point about the saints. Saints are pure. If anything that we have said about being saints today is incredible to us, surely this is it. Jesus says the pure in heart will see God. The postcard of Revelation shows saints gathered in worship around God’s throne in heaven, dressed in white. Our reading from 1 John ends with the verse, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as he is pure.” The question that demands to be answered then is this—how do saints become pure? If we want to see God one day in heaven, how do we become pure in heart?

Like we said earlier about being children of God, presented as worthy to enter His kingdom—purity is not something we arrive at on our own. It’s by hoping in Jesus that we’re purified—He’s the source of our purification, as He’s pure. But at the same time we’re called to purify ourselves in several ways. The language of purification is the language of a person purifying or cleansing themselves when they went to the Temple for worship. But we no longer go through the Jewish rituals of temple purification. So how are we purified? All of our purity flows from the blood of Jesus, which Hebrews says purifies our conscience, and His blood purifies us from our sins (Heb. 9:14, 22). Jesus’ death is once and for all time complete in paying for our sins. His blood is what washes the robes of the saints in heaven, to make them pure.

Saints and children of God are called to live differently from the world. We’re told not to live in darkness and impurity any longer, but in the light and purity of Christ. We falsely call ourselves Christians if we believe that once we believe in Christ, we’re free to remain in the pollution of our sins. That’s to be unconcerned to continually drag the clean garments of innocence that we have been given, back through our sins. As saints, we are not dressed in Jesus’ innocence in order for us to intentionally soil it again. This is to live in impurity, it is to walk back into darkness and become disobedient again. This is very serious for saints, because the Bible teaches that without holiness, without purity, we will not see God (Heb. 12:14). A Christian does not willfully continue in sin and disobedience.

Hear some of the Bible passages that call us to purity, and away from impurity: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). We purify our souls by obeying the truth, and showing pure love to each other. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:5-10). Impurity is often mentioned in connection with sexual immorality and covetousness. In our bodies we become impure by sinning, and the call to purify ourselves is to set ourselves apart from sexual sin, and to keep ourselves from greed and idolizing the possessions of others. Purity is a matter of putting on our new self and living in that new identity. Purity is a matter of our speech as well, as we keep our mouths from malicious and hurtful words, or obscene joking.

Purity is a matter of how we as saints use our bodies, and that it’s God’s will that we use them in self-control and holiness, not in disobedience and sin. The Bible says that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7). Or as Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Our purity should be outward in our bodies, but also inward in our heart. Whenever we see or recognize impurity in ourselves, whenever we have stained our garments with sin, we are to purify ourselves by repenting of our sins, and hoping in Him. Hope in Jesus purifies us not because of something in ourselves, but because like a purifying light and fire, Jesus cleanses those who look to Him. His purity is actually transferred to us, spreading through us to our words and actions like the heat of a fire warms cold fingers and hands. The warmth of His love spreads through our lives so that we live and act with His obedience, and the love of a pure heart.

So we’re saints—saints who are children of God, waiting to be made like Christ in heaven, so that we can see God one day face to face in purity. We’re saints who strive to purify ourselves daily by putting away our sin and hoping in Him who is pure. Saints and children of God—a title that we don’t earn or deserve, but is given us by the remarkable love of God. Oh what kind of love is this! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Read in Scripture for yourself that living Christians are indeed called saints: Acts 9:41; 26:10; Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph 1:1 How does it make you feel to be called a saint?

2. What is the significance of being called children of God? What were we before? Eph. 5:6-8; Rom. 5:6-10. How early did this sinfulness develop? Psalm 51:5; 58:3. How does that make the love of God all the more amazing?

3. Why can’t the world believe this truth? 1 John 3:1-2; John 17:14-16. Why must Christians not boast or brag of their status as children of God? Eph. 2:8-10; Rom. 3:27-28. What are we permitted to boast about instead? 1 Cor. 1:31; Gal. 6:14; Psalm 115:1

4. What does it mean that we will be made like Jesus? 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 Cor. 2:9-10. While we will be like Jesus, what do we not become?

5. How is purity and holiness necessary for one to see God? Read Matt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14; Psalm 24:3-4. How are we called away from impurity? 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Thess. 4:7. What things cause impurity? Col. 3:5-10; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3-5.

6. Where does purity come from? Hebrews 9:14, 22. How do we purify ourselves of sins we commit, and cleanse our robes? Revelation 7:14 How should we live as saints?

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