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Living as Children of God

Our week’s lesson title has it right! John understood God and His plan of salvation primarily in family terms; Paul in more legal terms. The phrase, “sons of God” (1 John 3: 1, KJV), should be translated “children of God” because the Greek word is τεκηα (children) and not υιος (sons). John never uses “sons of God” because he looked at new Christians as a relation of “nature” while Paul looked at new Christians as a result of “adoption.” Both, of course, are correct but from two different viewpoints.

John’s epistle reads like a father talking to his children. He talks out of many, many years of living experience with his best Friend, now in Heaven. And He wants everyone to know Him as he does. Hard to rush through John’s epistles, beginning with the first few verses of 1 John 1!

But this third chapter is full of colossal insights, so full of deep simplicities:

  1. Those who shall meet Jesus face to face will be pure “as He is pure.”
  2. The reason why Jesus came to earth was to “take away our sins.”
  3. Those who make it a habit to “abide” in Him “does not sin.”
  4. He who does righteousness is righteous.
  5. Those “born of God” does not sin.
  6. Practicing “righteousness“ distinguishes the children of God.

Is John really living in this world that we live in? Has he gone senile on Patmos? How would his understanding of the gospel play in Peoria in 2009?

Well, it doesn’t take more than a high-school junior to see the clear parallels in John’s Gospel! What we see in this Patmos veteran is the mental and experiential clarity of a battle-field veteran, worthy of our Lord’s CMH.

But let’s take another look. What is he really saying that first-century Christians could understand without the help of a lexicon or a Greek teacher?

When he writes, “whosever commits sin,” “whoever abides in Him,” “he who practices righteousness,” he who sins,” “does not sin,” “does not practice” most English readers shudder and quickly turn the page. Or, fall back on hundreds of years of becalming pulpit heroics that cool the brain—“don’t worry, Jesus forgave your sins on the Cross, just believe it!” And the half truths of a limited gospel save the day! But not really!

First-century Christians knew instantly what John was saying. And those who read NIV and GNB, etc., understand what early Christians understood. The verb used in those examples above is in the present linear tense: “does not sin” mean does not make a habit of sinning. “Does righteousness” emphasizes the habitual habit of “doing right,” and not doing wrong. “Born of God” does not continue to contradict the will of God.

Which leads us to how habits are formed! John speaks to us as veteran disciple who has learned his lessons from the Master Teacher. He is our Grandfather who uses plain language to encourage us, yet not afraid of hurting our desire for self-esteem that most educators feel today must be the first law of the classroom. Tough for high-school graduates who suddenly discover that life grades all of us and no one gets a pass.

Such is the law of the universe. Jesus came to work out what the practice of sin has worked in—He came to “take away our sins.” No passes, no mulligans, just help in developing those habits that say No to sinful lures and satisfactions and Yes to magnificent consequences.

We call that progressive linear in John’s wise choice of verbs—sanctification. Old-fashioned word these days. We learn how to type on a typewriter or a computer keyboard by practice. We learn how to tie our shoes or ride a bike by practice. Mistakes, wow! Just think about the many rules we had to implant in our nervous system to get keyboard proficiency or driving a car! Automatically, we forget the rules, although unconsciously they make success possible.

Which of course leads us back to 1 John 3:3—“even as He is pure.” John raises the bar over our excuses when he highlights the equation in reference to one of the reasons why Jesus came to earth. He not only gave us a clear picture of what God is like, He was unambiguous regarding what He promises to do for His disciples, even here in the 21st Century—for all who link up with Him, He promises forgiveness for self-centered sinfulness and a cleansing of those habit patterns that lead to continue self-centeredness.

The NT, with trumpet clarity and emphasis, promises amazing results—overcomers will be “pure as He is pure.” No shadow of secret lust, no taint of envy, no wisp of uncertainty or laziness. Just pureness of thought and act. Please Jesus work on us, don’t give up on us.

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