Easter 3 – Series B (April 19, 2015)
1 John 3:1-7
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” It’s a simple truth. But one we so easily forget. God the Father loves you. He calls you his child. You were made his child in Baptism. You were named there with the name your parents gave you. But then it took on a new significance. Your name was announced as a child of God.
John does not tell you here to “be” a child of God. You already are one. “And so we are.” It’s part of your identity. You had no choice who your parents are or what your last name is. In the same way, you had no choice in the matter of being a child of God. It’s all by grace … undeserved, unearned, unmerited. You have a Father who loves you and cares for you and wants you to be with him in eternity. This is why he sent his Son for you. To die for your sins. To rise to life again. To give you the Holy Spirit so you could trust in God and what he has done for you in Christ. To be his child. And if you are a child, then you are an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17). No matter what inheritance you have from your parents, nothing can compare with being an heir of God.
But John also says that we are unknown to the world. Contrast this with the desire people have to be known, acknowledged, recognized. Not many of us want to live our lives in complete anonymity. We want to be known, understood, appreciated. I’m not talking here about being famous. Fame carries its own unique drawbacks, always being in the public eye, with the temptation of thinking people owe you respect simply because you are famous. Once in a while you’ll hear about a TV personality getting in trouble and playing the “Do you know who I am?” card. But it’s not necessarily egotistical to simply want to be known, understood, and appreciated. That’s just part of being human and living in families and in community.
The world – the unbelieving world, that is – will never know, understand, or appreciate Christians, because it does not know the Father, his love, or his plan of salvation in his Son. People claim to know God. They claim to be children of God. But unless you have the Son, you will never have the Father. “No one who denies the Son has the Father,” John writes in chapter 2 of his letter (1 John 2:23). They attempt to please God on the basis of their own efforts, but in the end they earn his disfavor, because they do not trust in the means he has provided … the death and resurrection of his Son.
The resurrected life we share through our baptism into Christ has a hidden nature. You can wear all the Christian jewelry in the world and still not be a Christian. You can wear T-shirts that give a Christian message, and still not be a Christian. But true Christians can also give mixed messages to the world. We sin, too! That should come as no surprise. But more on that on a moment. Faith is hidden. The new creation that you are in Christ is hidden … although that new creation does work its way out into manifest works of mercy. Those cannot be hidden. But the new nature we have in Christ is not always clear to the world. When Jesus returns on the Last Day, it will be perfectly clear. “We shall be like him … we shall see him as he is.” Resurrected, glorified, immortal, sinless, perfectly righteous and holy. Face to face, with our own eyes, as Job confessed, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25). Until then, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). The world does not know you. But God does. And he loves you.
But what about this business of mixed messages that we send? It’s no wonder the world does not know us when we practice sin and lawlessness. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness.” “Practicing” sin. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need much practice at that. In fact, it comes quite naturally. I still bear this old sinful nature that rebels against my Father in heaven, even though he loves me so much and has demonstrated his love for me over and over again.
My old sinful nature wishes God never gave the Law. That way I could do whatever I wanted to do. But this would be “lawlessness.” Luther in his commentary on 1 John says that “lawlessness” includes sin which also causes your neighbor to stumble and lose faith. Can you imagine a world without laws? It would be anarchy! The world would look like a Mad Max movie. Maybe sometimes it does when people practice lawlessness.
My sinful nature also wishes that the cross never had happened, because the cross demonstrates that there is something real called sin, God hates it, and had to deal with it. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The cross is how God dealt with sin … with my practice of sin … with your practice of sin. “He appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Jesus always practiced righteousness. And he needed no practice. It came quite naturally. He is righteous. “In him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”
The Christian sins, no doubt. But he fights against sin. She struggles and knows that a change is in order. The status quo of sinful behavior is unacceptable. This is what John means when he says “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” St. Paul put it this way in Galatians 5: “[T]hose who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires” (Gal. 5:24). And Luther wrote: “Although it is difficult to avoid being wounded in war, yet it is an honor to stand up. But it is a disgrace to yield. Thus even if a Christian is surrounded by sin, yet he fights against sin.” You know it’s wrong. As a Christian, you delight in God’s Law and know God has given it to you for your good. You love God. You Abide in Christ … in his Word … in your baptismal grace … remembering your identity as a child of God. You eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior in repentant faith. You are purified in Christ, just as he is pure. You admit your sin and turn to the one who forgives your sin (1 John 1:8-9), relying on Jesus your advocate, not your own efforts. You are united to Christ in your baptism, in his death and resurrection, and “in him there is no sin” … therefore, as far as God is concerned, in YOU there is no sin. This is your practice of righteousness! And “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
“Little children let no one deceive you,” the apostle writes. John, by now an old man, speaks tenderly to his hearers. He reminds them of their identity as “little children.” Helpless, frail, dependent upon God for everything, especially in matters of salvation. Like us. But children, nonetheless, made children of God by water and the Word … all by grace. We are all easily deceived. Easily deceived by the God-hating demons, the lawless world, and our own sinful flesh that would make what is unnatural seem natural, what is immoral seem moral, what is harmful seem beneficial.
So John reminds us all of our righteous Jesus. Jesus practiced righteousness for us his whole life. All the way to the cross. All the way to the empty tomb. And he sends his Church to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins … in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
This is how we practice righteousness. Repent. Receive God’s forgiveness in Christ. Be refreshed by the presence of the risen Jesus among us today in his Word and in his Body and Blood. Go forth and do righteous deeds in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus … the pure and righteous one who clothes you with power from on high and who gives you his peace. See what kind of love the Father has given to you, child of God!