How many of you played Little league baseball or the equivalent? How long did you play? What position? Were you any good at it?
Our 1 John text this morning brought to mind my own short-lived -- but meaningful career in little league baseball.
And when I say short-lived I don't mean that I dropped out after two weeks -- although I'm sure that some of my team mates wished I had. I stuck it out for the whole season -- even earning the highly coveted "most improved player" award at the banquet.
The LANCERS were a great team– although we weren’t really very good. We did win a game – once – or maybe twice. I can’t remember. There are some things that we repress because they are too painful to remember.
But I do remember that there were some downright discouraging games. We'd come trotting into the dugout after a particularly devastating inning -- not sure that we had enough confidence to even take our turn at bat. It's kind of that way when the opposing team scores 19 runs on you in one inning.
And our coach, Paul, would gather us around for a pep talk.
He never yelled at us for making immature and stupid mistakes – but he always encouraged us. "You can do it. I've got confidence in you--after all you're my team."
We'd get all pumped up and once again we were able take the field to face the opposition with confidence!
Well our text this morning is John's pep talk to a struggling team. He was concerned that they not lose their faith -- that they not lose their confidence and fail to take the field.
As undoubted you recall, these Christians were under considerable pressure -- not so much because of persecution, as was sometimes the case in the 1st century.
No, the pressure that these believers faced was because of false teachers that were trying to destroy the unity in their ranks --
- False teachers claiming that simple lives of faith and obedience were not enough.
- False teachers offering a new initiation into some kind of special knowledge that they were claiming to posses.
- False teachers that may have been confusing a lot of people -- undercutting their confidence.
1 John 2:28 – “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.”
Frankly, some of us here this morning are in need of a pep talk. Things aren't going too well in your life right now – you don’t feel at all upbeat.
Maybe you've been hit with some bad news recently -- about your health or your job or your friend who has been disloyal. And you're not so sure about your faith, either. Some of this turmoil is causing you to have some real doubts and discouragement.
Well, I want you to know that the apostle John is writing with you in mind. He wants you to see that in spite of the way things look – if you know Christ, if you have received him -- then you stand in a unique category in all humanity.
You are on a select team. You are a person of privilege.
Look at 1 John 3:1-2 –
“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”You can find confidence before God in the FACT that you have been born or perhaps we should say, reborn of him. If you have given your life to Christ then you are a child of God in the fullest sense!
All who have received him, according to the gospel of John -- first chapter, have been given a place in God's family. John 1:12-13 –
“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”You might think that, somehow you have to be perfect first or at least close to it. You might think that you have to somehow earn the privilege. But this isn't the way that parenting works, is it?
Ava didn’t do a thing to become a child of Fab and Alisa. You do not have to earn the right to become a child of your parents so there is no way that you can fail to be their child.
The term "children of God" has its roots in the OT where the Hebrews are referred to as God's children. It is a term used to describe the special parent-like relationship that God had with the Jews. It was intended to be a source of confidence for them. For children derive their identity from their parents.
How much more so with our heavenly father! Perceived and real. He has given us a title of privilege – "children of God."
You may be a child of a policeman or the richest parents in town. You may be a child of the president. But I am a child of God and that means something greater than all other status. What a privilege we have to be called children of God!
We used to teach the kids at camp to sing Behold What Manner of Love.
Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us
Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us
That we should be called the children of God
That we should be called the children of God
© 1978 Maranatha! Music. Words and Music by Patricia Van Tine
What a privilege we have to be called children of God! You know, though, this title of privilege sometimes leads people to think in terms of entitlement. But that's not really what it's all about. You see, with privilege comes responsibility.
Who remembers Uncle Ben Parker’s famous line in the first Spiderman movie: “With much power comes much responsibility.”
John is saying the same thing – with much privilege comes much responsibility.
The apostle is trying to encourage his readers so that they become confident in their position as God's children -- so that they -- we can begin to live as children of God.
So, what do you think it means to live as privileged children of God? Anyone want to suggest a responsibility that comes with the privilege?
One of the responsibilities that John highlights is that of purity.
Look at vs. 3 – “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”
Once again Eugene Peterson nails the meaning with his loose translation THE MESSAGE, which I commend for reading -- “All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus' life as a model for our own.”
Again, you've got to remember the background of the passage. reading between the lines we think that the apostle John was contesting a group of false teachers – Gnostics, technically speaking, who were teaching that the physical body is of little or no consequence – the only thing that really counts is spiritual, therefore, there was no harm in indulging the lusts of the body.
Scottish theologian William Barclay put it this way, "The truly spiritual person was so armoured with the Spirit that he could sin to his hearts content and no harm would come of it."
This is similar to the mistake that the ancient Hebrews made over and over again. They were so confident of their status as children of God that they figured there was nothing to keep them from living as lowly and crudely as they pleased.
- Party time! Make sacrifices to the Canaanite gods – no problem – we're the Children of the LORD – he has to bless us!
- Marry pagan women – no problem – we're the children of the LORD--he has to bless us!
- I'm saved! And I'm going to heaven so it doesn't matter if I replace my wife for with a younger more agreeable woman.
- I'm saved! And I'm going to heaven so it doesn't matter if I pursue a life of greed and opulence.
- I'm saved! And I'm going to heaven so it doesn't matter if I party with all the other kids.
"Sorry guys," says John. "You're missing the point – by a long shot." There is a purpose behind divine childhood.
The privilege of divine childhood must be followed up with divine purity. (Key point--repeat)
“And all who have this eager expectation [vs. 3] will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”
He is the standard. And because we've been born of him we strive to live up to his standard. Just as we all try to please our fathers. We want them to notice us so we tend to do things that they like -- play a particular sport that they like or take up a hobby that they like – skiing or four-wheeling. To one degree or another our parents become the standard. And this is true as well with our heavenly father.
The privilege of divine childhood must be followed up with divine purity. Now in case you need a little extra motivation, as occasionally we all do, John spells out three motives for living up to our status as children of God -- just a little extra nudge and reminder to keep at it.
The first motivation mentioned by John is the Promise – THE PROMISE OF CHRIST’S RETURN.
Last week we looked at 1 John 2:28 – “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.”
I like Eugene Peterson's paraphrase here – it really captures the feel for what John is saying.
“And now children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we'll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.”I wonder what constitutes a lame excuse to the Lord.
“Well Jesus, I had a Bible but my dog ate it. And I was going to get ready for your coming but there was this movie on TV -- and I lost track of time and it got late and I didn't have time to be ready... It's not my fault.”
Lame excuses never worked with your parents at home and they won't work with our heavenly father. If you seriously believe that Jesus Christ is going to return and that you are going to be accountable for your life before him, which is true according to the scriptures, then you will live your life in light of this fact. If you really believe that someday you will look Jesus in the eye and explain why you've lived your life the way you do, it will change the way you live your life.
When we know that we're going to have company it's amazing how our house cleaning patterns are altered. When we know that there will actually be friends walking across our living room floor and that they will actually sit on the couch -- something happens.
We're stirred to action as at no other time. Well, John is saying. Get your house in order the company is on the way. 1 John 3:2-3 (NLT) –
“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”A second motivation for getting our acts together is found in vss. 4-8, especially verse 8. (CEB)
“The person who practices sin belongs to the devil, because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. God’s Son appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil.”The second point of motivation is THE PURPOSE.
If Christ came into the world and endured the cross for the purpose of defeating the devil – which he did – how then can we as his children have any less purpose for our lives. This is the general gist of John's argument here. We have a purpose for life and that purpose is defined by the purpose of Christ!
It is an inherited purpose. It's a matter of family pride. Just as Hatfields are born to shun McCoys and McCoys are born to shun Hatfields.
Children of God are born to shun the devil. The point is that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. How then could you as children of God do anything that would put you in alliance with the one Christ came to destroy?
By definition you cannot.
Vs. 6 – “Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.”
Vs. 8 – “But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”
vs. 9 [CEB -- which is great here] – “Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them. They can’t sin because they are born from God.”
Pretty strong words--words that would seem to preclude any of us from being children of God -- for we all sin. Hey, isn't that what John himself said back in 1 John 1:8? -- “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.”
This is one of those few instances where the English language can't quite capture the nuances of the Greek in which John writes, at least easily. The grammatical construct of these verses in chapter 3 -- verses which seem to indicate that true children of God do not sin... The construct is such that it is saying that it is saying -- "true children of God do not and cannot maintain a pattern of sin."
The NLT seems to have a good rendering of the passage – e.g. vs. 6 -- “But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.”
vs. 9 – “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.”
John is talking about the pattern that characterizes our lives. He is saying that because of the purposes of God – our family heritage no one in our heavenly family goes into the practice of sin...
- You may practice law...
- You may practice medicine...
- Or a zillion other things...
But you cannot make a practice of sin. First century people would have had a clearer picture of this than we. Remember that generally speaking a son would take on the practice of his father.
- If your father was a carpenter you were a carpenter.
- If your father was a blacksmith you were a blacksmith.
- It was a family profession or practice.
And as children of God we have been born into the family practice of defeating the devil and we do that by defeating the devil, says John. That's what we're all about! That's who we are! And if we're true children we can do no less! It's the family purpose.
The third motivator for purifying ourselves is THE PRESENCE. That is, the presence of God and his new nature in us. I don't think that we can ovestate this.
Look at vs. 9 again (CEB) – “Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them. They can’t sin because they are born from God.”
NLT – “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.”
John Stott, who by the way died last week, sums this verse up a lot more concisely than I could, so let me quote him here:
"The implication will then be this: the new birth involves the acquisition of a new nature through the implanting within us of the very seed or lifegiving power of God. Birth of God is a deep, radical, inward transformation. Moreover, the new nature received at the new birth remains. It exerts a strong internal pressure towards holiness."Just as our children tend to more or less look like us because they are born of the same gene pool -- we share our DNA -- so do we more or less look like God for we are born from his gene pool -- figuratively speaking. His life is in us!
Why, then, do we strive to live pure lives if we are truly children of God? Because of the presence of the new nature that has been implanted in us at new birth -- a new nature accompanied by the Holy Spirit power pack
which keeps it working.
When I was in college I worked part-time as an instructional aide in a junior high school in San Jose. One day I was walking across campus and I noticed a couple of books drop out the window of a second story classroom. That was peculiar so I looked more closely.
Then I noticed that there were students literally hanging out the window -- no exaggeration. So I quickly climbed the stairs and found the room. It wasn't hard. There was screaming and yelling. Paper airplanes were flying and students were standing on top of desks. It looked like it was right out of a teen gone wild movie.
And cowering at the teacher's desk, with a panicked look on her face was an older somewhat timid woman -- Mrs Crawley -- the substitute teacher who had lost control sometimes during the first two minutes of class and who was just trying to survive until the bell rang.
Well, even though technically I wasn’t authorized, I took over, used my best teacher’s voice, and established martial law, and sent for an administrator – which I could do because I knew who the kids were – and they knew that I knew. They were so totally busted.
The point being -- none of this would have happened if the real teacher had been present. If she had been with them, the students would have adjusted their behavior accordingly. She was a defining presence.
Furthermore, if the regular teacher had won a place in the hearts of her students before she had to be absent – none of the chaos would have happened because the students would be operating as though she were there with them.
They wouldn't have taken advantage of this obviously untrained substitute. Presence in whatever form, physically or in the heart, makes a difference. We're motivated to live pure lives because of the abiding presence of Christ in our lives.
We have been reborn with a new nature and a new presence in our hearts... and so we WANT to live sinfree lives.
It's not just another expectation in life which we try to live up to. It's an important objective for us. It is a passion. Holiness or purity is a passion for us! That is, for all who are truly children of God.
And John the coach is standing in the dug out – yelling out to us – You can do it! I’m confident in you!
Remember who you are! You’re the children of God.
And that’s the good news.
Let’s pray. God, you are our heavenly Father, and we’re so honored to be in your family. You sent your Son into the world to defeat the devil and his forces of evil. Thank you for the cross and the resurrection -- and the family business into which we’ve been called.
We know that apart from you and your presence in our lives we are not capable of becoming who we are. So once again we yield ourselves to you. We recognize that you are the coach and truly look forward to playing on your team -- and your team alone -- from this day forward. Amen.