Monday, November 02, 2015

Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, for All Saints' Day, "Purifying God's Children as He is Pure"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. God calls you children of God, and so you are! God also calls His children saints, or holy ones. God speaks these realities into existence by His all-powerful word, and through the salvation He has won for us in Christ Jesus. Today, let those realities sink into your heart and mind and life, so that you live in what God has given and done for you. God has made us His children, and made us pure saints, in Him—because He is pure. We live out that reality.
Talking about “saints” usually leads to some confusion and misunderstandings. One misunderstanding is that saints become so by virtue of their achievements and great example of godliness. This is to say, that they become saints because of their good works. The Bible, however, teaches the contrary view, that we become saints because God has called us to be saints, and because He has loved us (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). A saint means “holy one”. This is not a reality we create by who we are, but a reality that God creates for us by His love and calling us so. A second major misunderstanding, is that saints are a special category of believers, that exceed all the other believers in holiness and excellence of life. Again, to the contrary, the Bible uses the word “saints” to describe all believers in Christ Jesus—not a select group. “Saints” is interchangeable with “believers.” Finally, another major misunderstanding is that saints are perfect or sinless. To the contrary, believers and saints everywhere in Scripture are ordinary human beings, with their own sins, faults, and failings, but ordinary people that God has declared holy and blameless and forgiven, because of the holy sufferings and death of Jesus. Saints are forgiven sinners. So if Christ has called you, and you believe, then you are a saint, just as surely as you are a child of God.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!” The love of God did not come to us because we were first of all lovable or worthy of His love, or because we were already clean, pure, or worthy. But the love of God first retrieved us from our lost and broken condition, from the fear, guilt, and shame of our sins, and in His love, He sent His Son Jesus, to die for our sins, to bear our guilt and shame upon Himself, to the cross. To search as a shepherd for His lost sheep, and return them home. We are who we are, and have what we have, because of the incredible, redeeming love of God. His love makes us precious, worthy, and valuable, as He redeems and restores us.
The unbelieving world, that still remains as enemy to God, cannot yet understand or know this. They cannot yet know God or know us as children of God. Our reading continues, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Jesus said in His great prayer in John 17, that the world would hate His followers. They hate us because they also hated Him, because we are not of the world, just as He is not of the world. Jesus calls His disciples to forsake the world and its ways, and to follow Him. Christians are “in the world but not of the world”. The world perceives the way that Christians walk—choosing not to follow the world’s ways—as judgmental. To the world “saints” might register as: “holier than thou.” But children of God, saints or disciples of Jesus, by His own teaching, cannot rest on “airs” or sit with arrogance toward others—but rather Christians claim the lowest and meekest place before God—just as we heard in the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Bless are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Humility, not self-righteousness, is the true way of Christ’s disciples and saints. We acknowledge we’re sinners in need of Christ’s rescue. We bear a righteousness that is not our own, not earned, but ours by faith in 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.” While we already now are God’s children, the fullness of that truth is not yet realized. So we live in faith, in the promises of God that have not yet come to be fulfilled. In glory, as children of God, we will no longer have sin or struggles or temptations, but we will be perfect, as He is. But in the present, our sinfulness is still with us. The world can see that we are still sinners. We know it all too painfully, when we strive and wrestle against our own sinfulness. At times that struggle is so weighty, that we come to even doubt whether we are God’s children. The gap between that future, “not yet” reality, and the present “now” of our struggles, seems so great, that our faith is challenged. We can fall into the misunderstanding that “saints” are perfect Christians who never wrestle with sin and temptation, but who are “victorious” at every turn. The devil turns our attention to our sinfulness and causes us to despair of God’s rescue, and tries to keep us from fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The devil does not want us to see that there is a way back to God from our sin.
Our reading ends with a verse that carries a lot of weight, that needs unpacking. “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” First of all, notice that Jesus is the source and object of both our hope and our purity. Hope and purity come from Him. Cleansing and forgiveness is in God’s hands, not ours. This verse shows us that God receives everyone who hopes in Him. Put another way, God says that “whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).  So hope placed in God is never misplaced, it is never put to shame (Romans 5:5). Though we may doubt our worth, God give us worth and calls us to Him.
But what does it mean that the one who “hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure?” Before we give definition to what purity, and purify means, we should make two observations. One is that as children of God, this purifying, is an ongoing, present tense reality. It’s a continual thing, not something already complete. Secondly, this idea of purity is strongly connected to the idea of “saints” or holy ones. Christians live with the daily reality of being purified in Jesus, and that this is part of what it means to be God’s saints.
What does it mean to be pure? The opposite of pure is impurity, or uncleanness. To be defiled. This is the negative side, or contrast to purity.  It’s a deeply personal and emotional thought, that strikes down to the very core of our being and who we feel we are. Some people, either by sins that they have committed, or by sins that have been committed against them, have a deep and troubling sense of being dirty or soiled. They may carry a deep sense of shame, and feel that they have lost their innocence, by which they could stand unashamed. They feel they’re not worth anything. They are unlovable. They propel themselves further into self-destructive lifestyles and choices. If I can’t be clean, if I have no innocence, then I might as well indulge in whatever temporarily makes the pain go away, or makes me feel good. This is a picture of what sin and despair can look like. Despair, in particular, would keep sinners from seeing and knowing how God desires in Christ Jesus, to restore us to purity, holiness, and innocence before Him. Despair can keep us from hearing the Good News of what Jesus has done for us.
So positively, what is purity? To be pure is innocence or holiness. As we’ve already said, purity comes from God. The Psalmist prays to God to “create in me a clean heart”, and our verse says, “everyone who hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” We have to look to Jesus for that purity or the cleansing of forgiveness. In baptism we are washed clean by Jesus’ forgiveness. A cleansing wash, not of our bodies, like a bath, but a spiritual cleansing of our conscience before God. Since we are not pure in ourselves, we must seek Him who is pure Himself, to purify us. As we experience the ongoing purification of God, we recognize that there is a daily struggle. Just like our bodies need constant washing and showers, so also spiritually we need purification regularly, by returning to our baptism by repentance and forgiveness.
The verses in the New Testament that talk about keeping ourselves pure, talk especially about keeping our hearts and minds pure. Our thoughts and desires are a key weakness for sinful impurity to enter in. While purity comes from God, we introduce impurity and uncleanness into our hearts and lives, when we open ourselves to temptation and pursue sin. We live in a time where there are so many open windows and doors into the things that defile our heart, that opportunities for impurity are highly available.
The internet is accessible from virtually all of our homes, workplaces, and throughout our community. It provides unprecedented access to knowledge of both good and evil. There are many beneficial and useful purposes. But there are equally many if not more harmful and useless purposes. The temptation to sexual impurity and ruin, the temptation to financial loss and ruin, the confusion of truth and error, and the massive temptation towards wasting our time in idleness. How often do we think about guarding this avenue for impurity and harm in our lives or those in our families? We take often precautions to guard our health, our safety, and when driving—but do we take precautions to guard our purity? Do we leave temptation close within reach, or do we avoid those things we know will tempt us? What keeps us accountable? Our brothers and sisters in Christ, to begin with.
Jesus Christ is pure and holy, and when we hope in Him, He purifies us, as He is pure. Being a saint, or holy one, flows from living in Him. He leads us in a pure life. But we need to guard against impurity, and the things that would defile us. Impurity strikes at our heart and conscience, and the only way to restore a clear, good conscience before God, is to come to Jesus Christ for His forgiveness and cleansing. He creates in us that clean heart, and renews a right spirit within us. His forgiveness and cleansing makes us able to stand before God righteous in Jesus, and unashamed. Hope in Him, you saints of God! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      1 John 3:1-3. What is incredible about the love that God has given to us? John 15:12-13; 10:15; Romans 5:6-11.
2.      How do we become children of God? John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1.  How is God’s Word “performative” and calls things that are not, into existence? Give an example from Scripture. Genesis 1; Mark 10:52. How is this the same for the reality of being children of God?
3.      Why doesn’t the world know God or love us? 1 John 2:15-17; 4:4-8; John 17:13-18. How does true knowledge of God come to humanity? John 1:18; 8:19, 55; 14:6-7
4.      What challenges does it present to our faith, that we know we are children of God now, but we do not yet fully see what we will be, or how Jesus is? In other words, how is it hard for our faith, when those promises of God are not yet fully realized and visible to us?
5.      What is the beauty of the promise in 1 John 3:2? Who gets to see God? Matthew 5:8.
6.      Who is the source of our hope? 1 John 3:3. Who is the source of our purity?
7.      How does one purify themselves in Jesus? 1 Peter 1:22; James 4:8. Is repentance our work, or the work of the Holy Spirit in us?

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