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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

Being and Seeing Like Children of God

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  

- 1 John 3:1-7 (one of the readings for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary)

This is a sermon preview for the second sermon in our series on 1 John. To view livestreams, click here.

Light and Dark. Children of God and Children of the Devil.

The book of First John often speaks in stark terms.

It can lead us with a lot of questions.

For example: how is it that the writer (the Elder) can say:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8).

And, then, also say:

“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (3:6)?

How can these both be true?

In fact, it might be tempting to leave off part of the passage because of the difficulty of making sense of the language 1 John uses. 

Sometimes, we at FBCM and other churches use something called the lectionary.

A lectionary is a list of possible readings tied to the church calendar. It encourages churches to read a variety of biblical passages; many churches also use these for preaching. Without the lectionary, I likely would not have chosen a series on 1 John. But I saw the lectionary went through a good portion for 1 John and thought it would be good for us to focus on the important message it has for us today.

At the same time, sometimes there are gaps in the lectionary. For space, or for other reasons, the pastors and scholars who edited the lectionary cut some verses. Unfortunately, I think the lectionary sometimes avoids uncomfortable texts, even when it would make sense, in context, to include them. I call these "lectionary hack jobs."

For example, 3:18-10 are some of the verses the lectionary leaves out completely, despite covering large parts of 1 John: 

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
The questions pile up quickly.

Anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child (Anyone! Ever?). Those who do wrong are "children of the devil" (is this demonizing those who do wrong?) If we do not love our brother or sister, we are not God's child (should every fight at church or at home cause us to panic about our salvation?)

One Biblical scholar even wrote on this passage in a Preaching Commentary: 

"Perhaps the preacher should take a hint from the lectionary and take a vacation from this text."
But we will do no such thing! 

The lectionary exists as a tool to help us preach a variety of passages and not ignore parts of the Bible. But we're going to, in turn, help the lectionary . . . not ignore some parts of the Bible it skips over either!

1 John emphasizes that sin is completely outside the character of God. He cannot be associated with it at all. And those in God should have no tolerant attitude toward it. 

At the same time, John says if we are in Christ, we are already children of God. We know this is not based on our actions, but in God’s grace and mercy. We should live as we are, admitting (not denying) our sins and seeking to be pure and purified.

John speaks in what we might call dichotomies: light and dark, children of God and children of the Devil. For modern people such “dualistic thinking,” might make us uncomfortable. It might even want to make us skip parts of this letter altogether.

There may be no simple solution here, because the Elder is not interested in resolving the tension we feel when reading this text. But he does acknowledge the reality that in Christ we are already children of God and not yet what we will be. At the beginning of the chapter, he says:

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3, NIV).

Perhaps keeping the message that Christians are already children of God, and not yet what we will be, will help us emphasize both God’s grace and holiness are inseparable in our salvation.

Such a message will help us to do several things:

  • admit the reality of sin,

  • confess our sins

  • to trust in God’s forgiveness

And to do so:

  • without becoming used to sin,

  • accepting of it,

  • or casual about sin in view of God's complete rejection of it.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you find yourself skipping over some verses or parts of books – even favorite books of the Bible? Why do you do this, and why might it be important for you to read some of the uncomfortable passages in context?

  2. How do you understand both God’s mercy and holiness in your own life? Do you tend to favor one or the other in your thoughts and conceptions about God?

  3. Watch this summary video about the books of 1st, 2nd, & 3rd John (Bible Project - [9:35]). How does this help you understand the “big picture” of 1 John?


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