[A sermon based on 1 John 3:1-7 for the Third Sunday of Easter; this was also Children's Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA]
We have been privileged today to have our children lead us in worship; while we enjoy seeing them up here I hope that you join me in viewing this day as a step in their ongoing growth as followers of Jesus Christ—this day has been more for them than it has been for us; it is more about their development than it is about their performance.
It is fortuitous that our text today reminds us that we are the children of God; John says it is a sign of the love that God has given us that we can be called the children of God and furthermore, John reminds us, “children of God” is not just something that we are called—it is in fact what we are. Because we are resurrection people—because we have experienced the crucified and risen Christ in our lives—we are the children of God.
Given that we are talking about being children of God on this Children’s Sunday, I believe that we can with justification draw at least two comparisons between our desires for our children and God’s desires for us as his children.
First, we want our children to grow up—and God wants his children to grow up. Now, we parents are a little funny about this—we like our babies and maybe we wish we could keep them as babies for a long time; no one, after all, upon discovering that they are pregnant excitedly says, “We’re going to have a future adult!” Still, we know that it is the way of things that our children grow into adulthood and such growth is what we want them to experience. Our children cannot know what kind of adults they will grow into; there is mystery surrounding their future—but they will grow up and we want them to grow up.
We are the children of God but we have the blessing and the opportunity to grow up and to become all that our heavenly Father intends for us to become—we are to develop into his adult children, spiritually speaking. John tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (v. 2). There will come a day when Jesus will return and when that happens, we will be fully what we are supposed to be, fully what God intends for us to be, because we will then be like Jesus in that we will be possessed of complete integrity, absolute wholeness, and utter integration. Such is God’s intent for us and such we will be.
Notice, though, that while it is tempting to think of that maturity as happening in a snap, our Father expects us to make considerable progress toward being like Jesus here and now. And so John says, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (v. 3). In other words, we are to be becoming more and more like he is as we live this life, as we move toward that final maturity that we will achieve when Jesus returns.
Second, we want our children to be their best— and God wants his children to be their best. I have known parents who thought that their children could do no wrong and such parents raise children who, when they become adults, think that everything is always somebody else’s fault and so they are pretty hard for all the other adults to tolerate. God, to the contrary, knows us as we really are and God knows that we can do wrong and that we do wrong. That does not mean, though, that God does not want us to get better and to do better and to be better—indeed, God wants us and expects us and helps us to be our best and God will help us to be our best.
When I went off to college I was very anxious over whether or not I would be able to make the grade. I had always been an “A” student but I was not at all sure that my academic background had prepared me adequately for college level work. I was having a conversation with my father about it and he said something very wise to me: “Son, the grades don’t matter as much as knowing that you did your best.” It was very liberating to know that my father thought that I should judge myself not by my grades but by the sincerity of my effort and by my commitment to the process. Still, I knew that it was possible to do well and to make progress and to get better and to learn more—my goal was to be the best student that I could be, to be the best version of me that I could be; the one way to insure failure was to fail to try.
In this letter John was dealing with some people who thought that they had already overcome sin; in an interesting twist, they thought that because they were above sin what they did in this life—even if it was a sinful thing—did not matter. John reminds them of the truth that Jesus came and lived and died and rose to “to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (v. 5) and he goes on to say, “No one who abides in him sins…” (v. 6). In other words, while it is true that one day we will when Christ returns be all that God means for us to be we are now, as we abide in Christ, in the process of becoming the best we can be.
Now, the truth is that few if any of us would make the claim that some people in John’s day were making, namely that we have risen above sin and thus if we sin it doesn’t really count, but are we nonetheless living as if it doesn’t matter if we sin? It does matter because when we sin we act as if the work of Christ to take away sin does not matter and we settle for less than Christ has made possible for us. The question is, what is the orientation of your life or, put another way, what is the goal of your life? Are you taking seriously the fact that in Christ you can be becoming more and more Christ-like in the living of your life? Are you always, as you move along in this life, growing toward the ideal or are you settling for far less than God in Christ made available to you?
Elsewhere in his letter John makes clear that we do sin and that when we sin we have an Advocate with the Father, namely the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ. We want our children to know that we don’t expect them to be perfect and that when they do wrong that they can know the forgiveness of God who is gracious and merciful. But here in his letter John makes clear that we, because of what Christ has done for us and because we are abiding in him, can move much farther along in being the best we can be than we are usually willing to accept. We want our children to know that they really can, by the grace of God, live the lives that God intends for them to live.
So can we all.