The past two weeks have been busier than I anticipated (California-to-Texas road-trip, Thanksgiving, what’s so busy about those?), which resulted in this week’s memorization going down slower than usual, which further resulted in my not getting this post out last week as planned. Ah, the best laid plans… Now that we have reached what some consider to be the official beginning of the holiday season, we can reasonably expect our days to be busier than usual, or at least running at a different—faster—pace than normal. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of allowing the voices of urgency to dictate our days, we took this time to slow down and focus on what is truly important? Let’s give some effort to slowing down and continuing to hide God’s Word in our hearts, even through the holiday season. As we are reminded by the Christmas season of the love of God in sending his Son to us, let’s memorize his word which assures us of this love!
Our passage this week begins with one of the most comforting and faith-assuring statements in scripture: that God’s love for us so moved him to act on our behalf that he not only saved us from our sins, but he has made us to be his children. He is not only the God who saves us, but he is our Father who loves us deeply enough to pay the highest cost to adopt us and call us children. Because we are his beloved children we can know for certain that we are secure in our salvation and assured in our faith. There are other things which we cannot now know, like, what exactly it will be like to live in our glorified bodies in heaven, but we can know that we will be like Jesus and we shall see him as he is. At least, John has written this to be a certainty, and his writing was inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we can take that to the bank.
Looking at our passage this week, remember that week 8 ended with the assurance that “everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (2:29). Straight from that John launches into the Fatherhood of God and our being his children—we who are born of him are his children. And not only “we” (meaning John and the congregation to whom he writes), but everyone who hopes in Christ shares in his purification. John then contrasts everyone who hopes with everyone who makes a practice of sinning. This contrast also reaches back to 2:29 and “everyone who practices righteousness.” Keep in mind that this is not describing the minutia of our daily failures to avoid sin, but an overview of one’s life in or outside of Christ.
Verse 5 gives us both a clear statement of purpose for the incarnation of Christ and a foundational doctrine of the nature of Christ: the precious baby whose birth we are celebrating this Christmas season was born to be the mighty Warrior-King who would vanquish sin once and for all, and though this child who took on human flesh shared with us a genuine human nature, he did not share our sin nature. Jesus is the sinless Son of God who came to take away the sins of his people. It therefore follows that, as our passage finishes, no one who abides in him keeps on sinning. It also makes perfect sense that those who do not know him would continue in their sin. John will continue his argument for the sharp distinction between those who are outside of Christ and keep on sinning and those who are in Christ and cannot keep on sinning for the next several weeks’ worth of our memory work.
For now though, let’s look for some memory aids:
3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to
us, that we should be called children of God; and
so we are. The reason why the world does not
know us is that it did not know him.
I just want to shout this with amazement and awe every time I come to it: See what kind of love the Father has given to us! That we should be called children of God! And so we are! He is our Father, we are his children, and we are so closely related that, the reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Notice that John includes himself with the pronouns “we” and “us.”
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what
we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that
when he appears we shall be like him, because we
shall see him as he is.
John repeats here what he just said, (we are) Beloved, (and) we are God’s children now (already!). Then he moves from what we know to be true in the present to what we know will be true in the future: and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. We have ‘appeared’ and ‘appears’ (these 2 appearances are arrivals, or reveals, not merely impressions or what something ‘appears’ to be on the surface), and we have 1 ‘will be,’ 1 shall be,’ and 1 ‘shall see.’ I have no idea what this means—but I can’t wait to find out.
3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies
himself as he is pure.
This is the first half of a contrast John is about to make. Everyone who thus (pointing back to verse 2) hopes in him (Christ) purifies himself as he (Christ) is pure. [We don’t purify ourselves all by ourselves; we purify ourselves in cooperation with the Holy Spirit through sanctification (Phil. 2:13), and only because we have been declared to be pure by imputation because the pure Lamb of God was sacrificed for our sins (John 1:29).]
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also
practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
Second half of the contrast plus a definition: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. [Making a practice is purposeful, intentional, and a way of life. Those who live such lawless lives are contrasted with those in verse 4 who hope in Christ and purify themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit because of Christ’s purity.]
5 You know that he appeared in order to take away
sins, and in him there is no sin.
To further the point, John emphasizes Christ’s mission: You know (we know this!) that he (Christ) appeared in order to take away sins, and (even further) in him there is no sin.
6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no
one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or
You could think a silent “therefore” as you begin this verse (Paul would have written one in).
(Therefore) No one who abides in him (Christ) keeps on (makes a practice of) sinning; (and, in contrast) no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Focus on the contrast set before us in these verses.
John tells us that it is blessedly simple to see the difference between who is abiding in Christ and who isn’t, and that difference is in the way we purpose to live. There are two kinds of people in this world, and John gives us the distinction between them right here in these verses: those who are children of God and those who do not know him; those who purify themselves by hoping in Christ and those who make a practice of sinning; those who abide in Christ and those who have neither seen him or known him. There is no third category. Abiding in Christ and purposefully, intentionally, living in sin are mutually exclusive conditions.
As you hide this word in your heart I pray that it drives you to meditate upon what it means to abide in Christ, to then purposefully avoid sin, and live in a manner increasingly marked by the purity of Christ.