November 15, 2011

Revolution: Children of God 1 John 2:28-3:3

1 John 2:28-3:3
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

What great 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. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
John has great affinity for the members of this church. Several times in 1 John he calls them “my children” or “dear children,” not to belittle them, but as someone who loves them deeply. He is probably in his 90’s by this point, and served as their pastor for many years before being exiled to the lonely island of Patmos. So it troubles him to hear of false teachers who are not just trying to lead them astray, but really encouraging them to leave the Gospel...to leave the faith.

John knows that more is at stake than just a few misguided teachers. These disciples are struggling. The false teachers are proclaiming that they have the truth...they have it right...they know what they are talking about...and John is pointing out that they don’t. But it is so hard, and these disciples begin to doubt themselves and the message they have heard.

John writes to encourage them to hang in there. Hold on. He says, we are in the last hour, false teachers are coming, but if we hold on and continue in Jesus Christ then we will be able to stand confident and unashamed before Him when He returns.

I have to stop there in verse 29 when I am reading this passage, though. John writes, “...so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him...” So that we may be confident and unashamed before Him when He comes back? How do you get to do that? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel confident and unashamed when I think of my relationship with God. I often feel like such a failure. I’m sure there is a connection between that feeling and my legalistic church upbringing...but there is something more there than just that...I know how often I fail and falter. I know how much sin lurks in the dark corners of my life shying away from the Light.

But I want to stand confident and unashamed. I want to know how someone does that. There are times when I wonder how could God really love me, and what kind of mistake has he made to put someone like me as pastor over a church?

Am I being too open for you?

Openness like this make us uncomfortable. It makes me a bit uncomfortable when I hear others being so open about their lives...because it forces me to admit that there are times when I feel the same way. I know that if I had to stand before Jesus I would not stand there, as John says, confident and unashamed.

Family Traits

A few years ago I heard that my father was dying of cancer. He left before I was born, but resurfaced a few years later. He and my mom married for about a week when I was 6...giving that Kardasian girl a run for her marital money. But then left again. So I had only seen him 4 or 5 times in my life. The last time I saw him was when I was 24 years old, about 10 years earlier prior to hearing about his cancer.

They were only giving him a month to live, and I knew I needed to make one last attempt to bring healing in our relationship. The visit didn’t go anything like I hoped, but there is one thing that stood out from that visit...despite the distance...despite the fact that I had never spent any appreciable time with him in my life...despite the fact that he really was a complete stranger...we had similarities.

One of my flaws is an extremely low tolerance for when people don’t get what should be obvious. I saw this in my dad. He needed to take his medicine, medicine he had been taking for months if not a year or more, and he asked his wife to help him...who had helped him take the medicine many times before. But she acted like she had no clue how to do it...and then I saw the family resemblance. He rolled his eyes, shook his head, and gave a frustrated exhale...that I myself have done many times.

I thought that was mine, but it wasn’t. It actually made me angry for awhile because this man who had nothing to do with my life has still had influence over me...and I hated it. But I realized that no matter what we all carry a resemblance to our family.

My wife Lori looks like her mom or like her dad depending on who she is standing by. Your spouse has probably said this to you, “That is just like your father!” or “That is just like your mother!” Your children look and act just like you.

Like it or not we carry our families traits with us...but for John, he wanted those in the church to know they can and should carry the family traits of another family...they were children of God. We are not natural born children, like and earthly father would have, but we are adopted into the family of God because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Confident and Unashamed

Recently Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar, passed away. After his passing, more and more details of his life have come out...particularly about his adoption. You can read more about it online or in Walter Isaacson’s new biography, which I’m sure is going to be a great read. I like Walter Isaacson.

But this story came out about how Steve struggled with the fact that he was adopted...or not so much that he was adopted as much as that his parents had given him up. He was acting out in school and getting into trouble. He could not come to terms with it until one day his adopted parents sat him down and said, “You are special, we chose you out, you were chosen!" From that moment on Steve Jobs believed, maybe too much so, that he was special and that his life was a journey toward one big reward.

Just a few simple words of complete love and affirmation changed the direction of Steve Jobs life. If just those simple words could mean so much to Steve Jobs coming from an earthly parent...imagine what it must be like to hear those words affirming and validating us if they came from the God of the Universe!

Adoption in that culture was not just a legal formality. When you were adopted by a family you became as no different than a natural born heir. So to be adopted as God’s children was awesome. You were now entitled to all the things that being a part of God’s family entailed.

1 John 3:1 says, “What great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” We may not be God’s children by birth, but we can be so by adoption. God adopts us into His family, and says to us, “I love you! You are chosen! You are my child!” John is so excited about this prospect that he follows up that sentence with this interjection of a sentence, “And that is what we are!” He knows that this such great news!

When God says those words to us...it makes us confident and unashamed because now we are part of God’s family. We are His children.

Righteousness

But, you may say, John says right there in 1 John 2:29, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” I don’t do righteousness all the time. I struggle.

John wasn’t blind to what and who he and other sinful humans were. Remember this is the Son of Thunder who wanted to call down fire and burn a village worth of people alive just because they wouldn’t allow them to spend the night and get something to eat! He knows what can lurk in the dark places of a person’s heart. He has also been a pastor for years now...he knows the sinfulness of humanity. And yet he knows the awesome love of God and what it can do.

For some of us, this is the part that we need to let sink in...no matter where we have been, what we have done, no matter how sinful our lives have been...God’s love wants to overcome that and make us His children. He makes us confident and unashamed, not because we are so awesome and good and righteous, but because He is so loving. Being confident and unashamed does not come from whether or not we get everything right...it comes from the fact that God has lavished His love on us.

He pulls us aside and says, “I have chosen you! I love you! You are special and blessed and you are now my child and a part of this family!”

We need to hear that, but I would also challenge you to take a look at that verse again. It doesn’t say, “Be righteous and that allows you to be born of Him.” Nor does it say, “Those who are righteous get it right all the time!” No...it says that this is a family trait of those who are part of God’s family. Because we are born of God, because we are His children, righteousness becomes part of our lives. We will still wrestle with some of the sinful traits of our association with this earthly humanity, but we also begin to exhibit the family traits of being part of the family of God.

I don’t get it right all the time...but I get it right more often now than I did when I first started. I am farther along the spiritual journey today than I was in 1992 when I accepted God’s call to follow Him. I am farther along today than I was a year ago.

The Hope

For John there is great hope in the simple truth that we are children of God because we know that this world isn’t all there is.

The reason so many people feel defeated at the end of their lives is they believe this life is all there is. They have to get it all in now because this is all there is. People live lives of greed and accumulation of so much stuff...because they believe that this life is all there is to enjoy it. We are restless and angry because we feel like this world is all there is and get frustrated that things aren’t going smoothly. We refuse to be generous or forgiving because we believe that this life is all there is and they need to pay for what they have done.

And if we don’t take it to heart that there is something more...we get defeated about our “slow growth” in the faith or our lack of spirituality or our struggle to overcome sin. We forget that this life is not all there is to it.

1 John 3:2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Something really amazing is in store for the Children of God when Jesus returns. We don’t know what things will look like on the other side...what is coming in the future is so amazing and wonderful we can’t even imagine. We get glimpses of what is to come in this life, but it is, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

The great hymn writer Charles Wesley said it this way,
And if our fellowship below
In Jesus be so sweet
What heights of rapture shall we know
When round His throne we meet.

Or maybe we can hear it through the word of C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his book “The Weight of Glory,”
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Our greatest hopes and dreams of what lays ahead are nothing when compared to its reality. That is what God has in store for those who are His Children.

And out of this hope...John offers us a challenge. John challenges us to live out of that reality here and now. We cannot live in the fullness of that future reality, but God has made it available in part to us right here and now. This is why John can say, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” For John, those who are children of God don’t have to be told to act like their Father...they have this hope that one day they will be in His presence and they start living in the reality of that here and now. We are called to live Christlike lives in the here and now because we will be unhindered reflections of Christ in the life to come.

There is this tension in our Christian experience. One scholar says it this way,
“Christians who are in doubt about their standing need to be reassured that those who do what is right have been born of God and belong to him. They have all the privileges of God’s children. At the same time, however, they need to be warned against any self-satisfaction or feeling that they have achieved all that is possible in Christian experience.”

Conclusion

Being children of God should free us up to do unbelievable acts of love in God’s name because we know that there is more to life than just this life. Righteousness should characterize those who are children of God. Radical acts of love and sacrifice should be the signposts that God’s children are here.

The world will think we are crazy for giving, loving, serving, forgiving, and caring the way we do...but it is, in the words of John, because they don’t know the Father like we do. They may know about him. They may have some knowledge about Him. But we are His children. We carry the family traits into a world that needs to see Jesus reflected in us. We get to act out a Revolutionary love in the world around us.

For some of us...we need to first hear God say, “I have chosen you. You are special and I love you!” You need to take that to heart, and allow that to sink in this morning. Maybe you have been following Jesus, but you have never allowed yourself to hear God say how pleased He is in you...how much He love you. You have been working out of duty or guilt or fear.

Someone might be sitting here who is not living a life surrendered to Christ. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this doesn’t apply to you. It can apply to you, but if you don’t surrender your life to Jesus you are not God’s child. I know that sounds harsh, but it is the reality. God loves you and wants to adopt you into His family as His child, but You have to be willing to say, “I’m all in with you, God. I am a sinner. I can’t save myself. I want to follow Jesus.”  You have to make the decision, through the grace of God, to stop pursuing life the way you want to live it and begin pursuing life the way God wants you to live it.

I remember as a child hearing sermons about the End Times and Hell and God’s Judgment in an attempt to tell us about the horrors of that side so we would turn to Christ and want to go to heaven. While hell is a reality...Jesus never makes it the point. The only people he mentions hell to are the religious people who are self-righteous and full of themselves.

God knows we often live in our own private hell made up of the hurts, pains, sinful decisions, and stupid mistakes we have made. Most of us don’t need to hear about an afterlife of hell...because we have lived through a hell right here on earth. What we need is to hear that there is a God of love who cares infinitely, deeply for us. And He does. Fear and guilt are tools Satan uses...not God. John will point out in the next chapter that God is love. He functions out of love. He loves us.

That is what I need. I can guilt myself into my own private hell with no help from anyone else. What I can’t do is give myself the love and acceptance I need; the love that frees me to live a life of righteousness and Christlikeness and hope.

What I want you to do is to take a moment and experience this Revolutionary love of God for yourself this morning.

If you have never committed to living your life in pursuit of Jesus, I want to challenge you to do that this morning. You are invited to become part of God’s family...to be adopted into His family and have His love lavished on you.

For some of you...you just need to hear it all over again that you are a child of God. You have been pursuing God, but it is so easy to slip into the old ways and patterns and think you have to do it all yourself. I want you to hear God say, “I have chosen you. You are special and I love you! You are my child.” And then live out of that wonderful lavish love and all the hope that it brings!

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