“You are a child of God.” That’s what God tells you in 1 John 3:1.
What a wonderful way for God to greet us in the New Year!
Here is the source of St. John’s teaching about how we ought to love one another: it is that God first loved us. We know from this same John that God the Father so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. But what enraptures John here is that God has loved us so much that He has dared to call us His children.
There is a lot of talk these days about everyone being children of God. In some sense, since we are made in His image, this may be true. But biblically, the true children of God are those He has adopted into His family by their relationship with His Son. John does not seem to think that wicked Cain was a child of God. In fact, the presence of Cain and the clear denunciation of his wickedness seem to have spoiled the party and made it less inclusive for those who revised the lectionary for the 1928 Prayer Book. With the skill of a surgeon, they carefully cut out verse 12 and only verse 12 (but I have successfully restored it by mentioning it here!)
You are a child of God, if you have accepted His love by accepting His Son. But to truly be a child of God, and to remain a child of God, you must act like a child of God. Do you seriously think that God has made you His child (and sent His own Son to the Cross) just so that you could continue living the way you used to and continue sinning?
As God’s children, we are to be made like Him in all the ways in which it is possible for us to be made like Him. Since God is holy and righteous, we too are required to be holy and righteous. Yes, this holiness and righteousness come from the Son alone. Yet God, through John, commands us to purify ourselves. We have a role to play in acting like the children of God and being righteous. The Son of God was manifested (which we are still celebrating during this Christmastide) that He might destroy the works of the devil (verse 9). How can we go on sinning, then, if we are truly His children?
Of course it’s puzzling, and troubling, that John says whoever abides in Him does not sin (verse 6); that whoever sins has not known or seen Him (verse 6); and that whoever has been born of God does not sin and cannot sin because he has been born of God (verse 9). Knowing my own sins, in spite of loving God, where does this leave me? Obviously, John cannot be talking about us being without actual sins in this life, for “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8.) We also know that it is possible to love God and still sin, for all of you are presumably in that condition.
While John may not mean that we must be entirely without any actual sin, at a minimum he is speaking of the necessity of the child of God to be like God and to be holy. John is not teaching that we can be sinless in this life, but he is teaching that this is to be our goal. You are a child of God!
You are a child of God, and one of the sure signs of the child of God is that he wants to be like his heavenly Father. Is it your goal to be without sin? Truly? Is it your intention this New Year to purify yourself? Don’t you know that you are to be made like your heavenly Father and that this is why you have died to yourself and are alive in Jesus Christ?
I find this to be the highest motivation to want to purify myself this New Year: that God has chosen to call me His child. Children are naturally proud of their parents. For this reason, boys used to say, “My Dad can lick your Dad!” Naturally, sons want to be like their fathers. We all know, however, that this natural desire to be like an earthly father fades, sometimes because of the imperfection of us earthly fathers. How much more should the children of God desire to be like their perfect heavenly Father?
God has chosen me as His son. Me, who did nothing to deserve it. Me, who still sins against this loving Father. Me!
Here is my other motivation for wanting to be like God: that one day I shall be made like Him. One day, when this is all over and we are safely in heaven, we shall be revealed for what God has really made us: His children. One day, I shall be revealed as this most glorious creature that reflects the glory of God. One day, I will be far brighter than the angels. One day, I will be perfect as He is perfect. One day, I will be so closely united to Him that all of these things will be true. Since this is what it means to be a child of God, this is what I should be becoming even now.
The closer I am to God, the more I want to be like Him. The farther away I am from Him, the better the things of the world look. This is why we are so easily seduced by the world, because we are so close to it. Sometimes men and women fall into adultery not because of the intrinsic beauty of the person with whom they are sinning but only because they have allowed their lives to become closer to that person than to their own spouses.
The best way to understand what we shall one day be and to be made
like God in this life is to see Him as He is (verse 2). If only we saw God for who He really is, then I don’t think we’d ever turn away from Him. But we get only partial glimpses here. We see Him through a dusty, cracked, distorted lens. Even so, at times His glory is mesmerizing. But often only for a moment. And then some other bright shiny toy comes along, and off we go.
But if we would seek to see God the best we could in this life, to dedicate ourselves to the vision of God, I think we’d stand a better chance of being more like Him. At times, we catch a vision of God in our daily meditations, if we are faithful and persistent and give Him enough time and attention. But the best way of all to catch a vision of God that will make us more truly His children is to gaze at Him in corporate worship. It is here that we are lifted up into the heavens with all of the angels and archangels and all of the heavenly host and cry, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High!”
It is seeing God as He is that will help make us who we are to be.
In worship, we see a vision of who God is and who we are to be. And therefore, our worship of God ought to lead to our discipleship as His children.
Prayer: Father, thank You for Your amazing love to me in calling me to be Your child. What manner of love of this that is beyond my comprehension?! Help me to see Your face today that I might desire You and in desiring You be made like You. By the holiness and righteousness of Your Son may I purify myself and walk in love and holiness. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Take time to truly seek the face of God today. It might be by meditating on Him, particularly through Scripture; by spending more time in prayer today; by singing hymns to Him; by asking and receiving forgiveness; or by any other practice that will help you see Him more clearly today.
Resolution: I resolve to seek God’s face today.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson