Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, for All Saints' Day 2020 (A), "Children of God"
Children loved by God: grace and peace to you! In a past sermon I talked to you about two different worldviews—a flat, 1D worldview, that revolves around us and what this world has to offer, and a 3D worldview, that revolves around Christ and what His kingdom offers. Faith is like our “3D glasses” to see the spiritual dimension behind things; that there is more to life. A God-centered way to live life, that helps and serves others. It’s the same world, but the believer sees by faith, eyes open to the spiritual struggle between good and evil. Today on All Saints’ Day, we can see something similar at work in 1 John 3:1-3. Believers with their 3D glasses are “children of God.” But unbelievers stuck in 1D aren’t seeing who God or Christ, or even who Christians really are. They may even be antagonistic to Christians.
Read 1 John 3 with our 3D faith glasses on: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” “See” is an invitation. Take notice, look! Check it out! How many things in your everyday surroundings are there staring you in the face, but you never notice them, because they blend into the background, or you weren’t looking for them. That store or mural that you never noticed before. The person who was always hanging around but didn’t catch your eyes. The hole in your wall that you just noticed needed fixing after who knows how long. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us”. Pay attention to God’s special love. Too easy to take it for granted. Will our minds ever slow down from the frantic 5,000 RPMs, with all the to-do lists and craziness of life? When do we stop and look appreciatively at the love the Father has given to us?
What kind of love is it? A love that He calls us “children of God; and so we are.” 1D vision can’t see this love or the children of God it creates. But it’s true nevertheless. So we are. 3D vision recognizes God’s children—and we can’t let those words become so familiar and tame that we forget their joy and power! Children of God! We have Him as our Good, Loving Father. We are not strangers to God, we are not shut off and shut out from access, but we’re in the family and loved by our Father who invites us to regular conversation in prayer. “Our Father,” Christ bids us pray.
We should prize this gift higher than any other. I might be “in” with a fitness club because I pay a membership; or I might be “in” with a group of businessmen for my success and achievements; or I might be “in” with my close ring of friends, because of our shared love for sports—but there is no greater “insider position” than to be a child of God. Not a club or membership, not earned or deserved, and not closed to outsiders joining—God invites all people through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to become children of God.
What do we have as a child of God? We have His covenant love, His promises, and His protection. In the waters of baptism, we’re adopted into His family and named by His Name. His Name on us means ownership, family, and connection. It means blessing and love, same as when a family gives their surname to their children. But the 1D world can’t see this. The world can’t “see what kind of love the Father has given us.” “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1D vision doesn’t register children of God because 1D vision doesn’t recognize or know God Himself. God has the exclusive market on the 3D vision of faith. John’s Gospel opens by saying that Jesus “came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
Humans have an in-built blindness toward God. Can’t see, can’t receive, can’t know or “will ourselves” to know Him, except He first gives birth to us as children born of God. You couldn’t will your natural birth to come about. Neither can you will your spiritual birth! In both cases, your involvement was simply on the receiving end of life! John was emphasizing that children of God come not by blood descent, or the will of flesh or of man—not by our design or foresight or planning—but by God’s design, His foresight, His will. God willed that we should become children of God, that He would gift us with life, and we would be given the 3D vision of faith to see and receive and know Him. To believe in His Name as children of God. Without His touch to our blind eyes, we would still see the flat world in 1D, and not know who God is.
And the world doesn’t know us or know God. Anything that breaks free from 1D and changes to 3D doesn’t fit the mold of the world anymore. That’s why Scripture warns us not to be conformed to the world. The world will relentlessly and mercilessly squash us flat back into the 1D mold we were born in. It’s no effort to acquire “worldliness” or sinfulness. We were born with it. The gravity of sin quickly pulls us back into that self-centered orbit. The gift of God is to be born as a child of God, to be given a new life that breaks free of the mold of sin and death and has the shape and form of a new life. To be pulled into the God-centered orbit of Christ’s kingdom. The world gets that we don’t fit in or choose to act or live differently. That’s not cool, popular, politically correct or whatever other boxes the world wants to label us with.
Children of God are meant to break the mold in the best way—not conforming to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. “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.” What are we going to be? What is God shaping us into? John tells us about the “now, but not yet” of our faith here. We are already now the children of God, but what we will be has not yet appeared. There is a present and future tension. God’s work of renewal is already underway in us, but it’s far from complete. The product is still “in the oven.” Our 3D faith vision can’t quite see what’s around the corner—but we’ve seen the preview.
We’ve seen the preview in Jesus Christ. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” We’ve begun, and we are continually headed toward Christlikeness. He lived and died on the cross for us and rose from the grave. His earthly body died and lay undecayed in the tomb, but rose in glory and new life, to never die again. Our present and future is bound up with Jesus Christ. His resurrection body is the pattern and example after which we will all be renewed. And we are waiting for His return when we will see Him face to face.
In life we mature from childhood into young adults, to middle aged, and eventually old age…always drawing nearer to our earthly death. Aging, disease, stress, responsibilities and demands…don’t you miss the simple carefree days of childhood? But that’s in 1D. In 3D, as children of God await Jesus’ reappearing, and the completion of our renewal in Him. We look forward to the great openness, joy, health and healing, and fullness of life that Christ is bringing us towards in heaven. Life in 3D doesn’t mean we ever outgrow our status as “children of God”. Rather it’s our permanent status sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism and the washing of the Holy Spirit. We strive for growth in spiritual maturity, but we always remain God’s children.
“And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Hope grabs on to the future-oriented aspect of our faith and pulls some of the future joys and blessings back to earth to experience already now. The whole “now, but not yet” of our faith. Hope grabs hold of Christ, and it savors the confidence that God doesn’t let us down on His promises. Hope is not the weak wishful thinking of the 1D world, it is the confident 3D trust in God’s unbroken promises. Eyes and hope fixed on Jesus, God renews and purifies us. Eyes and hope fixed on Jesus we are transformed for the better. We revolve in the orbit of Christ’s image, the very pattern by which we are being renewed children of God. And as we hope in Him, we are purified as He Himself is pure.
Purity is not part of the 1D world. We are not made pure in order to become proud elites—Jesus rejected elitism in the Pharisees and welcomed the humble. But God wants pure children of God setting aside from the ways of the world. He stretches our life out into that third dimension, into the fullness of life in Christ. When we hope in Jesus, we are purified as He is pure—imagine standing before the pure, holy light of His presence, and all the dross, the sinful impurities in us are driven out drop by drop in His purifying light. Melting away, dripping off us like sweat. Christ is the source of all purity. Sin is the source of all impurity. Thoughts, words and deeds polluted by sin are “detoxified” by Jesus. Cleansing and detoxifying products and diets are all over nowadays. We want to get rid of unhealthy chemicals and toxins in us, to be cleansed and restore our health. That makes perfect sense for our 1D world, but also in 3D, we need a spiritual detoxification and cleansing. We need to be detoxified from sin to restore spiritual health. And Jesus is always the ready answer, with His love and His gifts.
Once again, we’re purified as children of God by looking to Jesus, not for elitism but for spiritual health. Not for holding it over other people’s heads but holding out for them the hope of eternal life, so that any who draw near to receive may take hold of Jesus’ gift of life. God creates and gives it all on His own. What joy to receive it! So with eyes opened 3D wide to the world, let us joyfully “see what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God!” Amen!