1 John 3:1-6: Likeness is Evidence of Relationship
What phrases do we use to describe family likeness?
In the blood
In the DNA
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Like Father, like son
In other words, likeness is evidence of relationship. 1 John 2:29 tells us we are ‘born of God.’ Is there a family likeness?
Behold! A Relationship of Love With the Father (vv 1-2)
John addresses his readers as ‘beloved ones’ (agapētoi, v.2) This describes the same quality of love (agape) as God’s love. The KJV transmits the feeling well:
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us…” It challenges us to Look! See! It means take time to contemplate, let it sink in. It is a love that takes our breath away.
John asks, “What sort of love is this?” The word is potapos ‘of what country’ signifying something completely foreign to this world and our experience. The same word is used in Mt.8:27 when the disciples ask, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.”
God’s love is agape love, unconditional, generous, lavish, undeserved. In this love:
God gives us his name “called the children of God” v1
God gives us status “we are the children of God” v2
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal.4:4-5)
God chose us for love. He told Israel:
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you…” (Deut.7:7-8)
This is the love that reaches out for us in Christ. Samuel Crossman (1624-83) wrote:
My song is love unknown, My Saviour’s love for me,
Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.
O, who am I, That for my sake My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?
In this world we work for approval and acceptance, and worry we are not good enough. But, “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That he should give his only Son to make this wretch his treasure.” (Stuart Townend)
It is said that God accepts us as we are but does not leave us as we are. Our home is now that “foreign” country that knows full well God’s love and from which Christ came to save us.
“What we will be has not yet been made known, But we know…we shall be like him” (v2)
In the process of sanctification we become more like him who saved us, like Christ. We grow in family likeness. As we reach for that likeness in obedience we are no longer driven by a desire to impress, or by group pressure, but by love. What matters now is not what we do but who we are – children of God. A good question my wife often asks is, ‘Who do I need to be today?’ This works out in two ways:
It helps us cope with those things we may not yet understand, things perhaps not yet revealed: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Dt.29:29)
It helps us cope with a hostile world: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (v2) We are now citizens of that “foreign” land and though it is becoming more familiar with each passing day it remains foreign to this world. It is that place that defines who I need to be today.
Purify. A Responsibility of Trust From the Father (v3)
If heaven is our destination then we must be on the road that leads there. What does it look like?
“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (v3) Note:
Everyone – no exceptions
Purifies – continuous process
Like Jesus we love and obey the Father because God’s law is written on our hearts (Heb.10:16)
Like Jesus we learn obedience through suffering (Heb.5:8)
Finally, it is only God’s Spirit that can make us holy (1 Thes.4:3) and we cooperate with his work.
Law. A Reflection of the Father in our Lifestyle (vv 4-6)
It is important to understand that sin is not this or that contravention of God’s law but it is lawlessness (James 2:11) and betrays a bad heart attitude toward God.
Have my sins been taken away by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross? Look at your lifestyle. Do you keep on sinning? If we live in Christ we cannot cherish sin. We do sin in this world (1:8, 10) and God has dealt with that (1:9; 2:1) Christians fail and fall but we are forgiven. However, although Grace is free it isn’t cheap and if we truly know the cost we walk a walk of repentance and sanctification.
You cannot claim fellowship with a sinless Saviour and continue to cherish sin (keep on sinning) We cannot be confident when we meet him if we are complacent as we serve him. Christians live to please God.
1 John 3:19-24: Living to Please God
In our age of uncertainty where everything is examined and questioned how can we know we belong to God’s family and have eternal life? John helps us, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
We face two challenges to such assurance:
- A Condemning Heart
Satan’s accusations are false but our regenerate hearts tell us the truth now. We are not all we should be and nowhere near like our Lord. We are not meant to deny what our hearts tell us but,
“God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” (v20)
We meet the challenge of a condemning heart by remembering that God is Lord of our hearts. How do we know this? Our own concerns and dissatisfactions are the product of a spiritual life. We can say with John Wesley,
“Lord, cure me of my intermittent piety and make me thoroughly Christian.”
Active love is evidence of salvation life. Such a Christian can trust in God’s mercy even as he or she bemoans their falling short. God knows our hearts better than we do and when we look to him he loves and forgives, sanctifies and glorifies.
THIS THEN…What does John mean when he writes, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth…” (v19)
We know because we obey? (v18)
Some people don’t have a condemning heart so they have assurance? (v21)
“I do not think John is saying in verse 21, ‘Some Christians never have a condemning heart, so they can be confident before God.’ Rather, his meaning is that when we deal with our condemning heart on the grounds of God’s truth and love – even though it recurs a dozen times a day – we can become sure that the Lord accepts us in spite of all our faults, and that we can therefore come to him in prayer. We do not need to fear.” (David Jackman)
2. An Imperfect Obedience
Is God’s answer to prayers dependent on our obedience? (v22)
In his gospel John explains that all, even obedience, is based on relationship. (John 14:14-23) “If you love me you will obey…” (John 14:15) John tells us in his letter that we are to “ask according to his will” (5:14) and we know his will as we believe in the name of his Son and love one another. “This is his command.” (v23)
“There is a certain stress here on the thought of right belief: the readers are to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a stress that is demanded by the situation in which false beliefs about Jesus were prevalent. Belief in the name of Jesus means believing that his name contains the power which it signifies, so that the question is not simply one of right belief, but of trust in the one who is the object of the Christian confession.” (Marshall)
A true Christian is one who obeys both commands, to believe and to love. Out of these two comes what people think of when they think of “obedience,” i.e. the commandments; “if we love him we we will obey…”
John draws together key themes of his letter here:
A Christian has fellowship with God and this results in us walking in the light (1:6-7)
A Christian remains in Christ and this issues in believing sound teaching (2:24-28)
A Christian obeys his commands which results in our walking like Jesus (2:3-8)
The spiritual life and obedience feed and reinforce one other.
Two things evidence the authenticity of our Christian walk:
Our awakening to the need to repent and believe the good news because of the work of the Spirit testifying of the truth of the gospel, and the objective evidence of a changed life and a new concern that we should live righteously in obedience to Christ.
“The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s Children” (Ro.8:16)
Finally, it is always worth remembering,
“Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”