Sermons from 1 John
THE BELIEVER'S PAST, PRESENT AND
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul made the statement, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”(Phil. 1:6). He describes a “good work” that is has past, present, and future effects. It is a “good work” that commenced the day we got saved, continues at the present, and one day will be completed when the Lord Jesus comes for us.
The words “begun” and “perform” were technical terms for the beginning and ending of a sacrifice. The words were used in connection with a Greek sacrifice. A torch was lit from fire on the altar and then dipped into a bowl of water to cleanse it with its sacred flame. The people would sprinkle themselves and the sacrifice with the purified water. Then what followed was called the euphemia, the sacred silence in which the worshipper would make his prayers to his god. A basket of barley would then be brought and some grains of the barley scattered on the sacrifice and on the ground around it. These actions were the beginning of the sacrifice. The term for this beginning was the verb “begun” Paul used. The word for completing the whole ritual of sacrifice was the verb "perform" that Paul used. The ideal is that the believer’s life is a process of being a sacrifice to God and the work that God is doing in our life will cease, only when the sacrifice was completed.
In every believer there is a work going on that was started the day you were saved and will continue until the day you get to heaven. As we come to our text, we find John describing this same “good work” that is going on in the life of the believer. John describes a work that has happened in the past; we have been made sons of God. He describes a work that is going on the present; the purifying of our lives, and a work that will conclude when Jesus returns; we shall be like Him.
The aim and objective of this “good work” is to make us like the Lord Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells us that we have been predestinated, “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The word “conformed” means, “to be fashioned like,” and speaks of how God is working in our life to make us like Jesus. George Whitefield used to pray, “Lord, if I am going to be like you someday, help me to be as much like you today.” We are going to be like Christ someday and God is working in us to make us like Jesus today. It is a work that commenced in the past, continues in the present, and will conclude in the future.
Let’s look at verses 1-3 of chapter 3 and consider the believer’s past, present and future. First, we see:
1. THE PAST WORK OF SALVATION
We read in verse 1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” There was the day, when by faith, we became “sons of God.” John tells us in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” The moment we accepted the Lord Jesus we became “sons of God.”
As you look at the Gospel of John it would seem that John was overwhelmed with the thought that he was a son of God. As you look at the Epistle of 1 John it would seem that even in his old age he was still amazed by the fact that he was able to call himself a son of God.
In the work of salvation we have been given the right and privilege to call ourselves “sons of God.” How honored we are and how grateful we should be of this privilege. As we look at what John has to say about this work of salvation in verse 1 we see why we should feel honored and grateful.
First, notice that John speaks of:
A) The Love That Has Been Revealed
John, in his writings, thinks often of God’s love. In the beloved John 3:16 he records the words of the Lord Jesus, “God so loved the world” and reveals the measure of God’s love. In the giving of His Son, God revealed His measureless love. John now says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” In making us His “sons,” God has revealed the manner of His love and the matchlessness of that love.
The love of God is a wonderful subject and one that John calls for our careful consideration and contemplation. The word “Behold,” means, “To see and know.” J. Dwight Pentecost likens the word to a flashing light on a highway designed to get our attention. It calls for one to stop, to ponder, to consider the truth of what is being said. (The Joy of Fellowship – A Study of First John) It is a word that is telling us not to rush or casually pass by what is being said. Sam Gordon describes the word as saying, “Take a long lingering look until it really registers, until it clicks.” (Living in the Light – 1-2-3 John)
John is calling for an earnest inspection of God’s love so that we will come to a better understanding and appreciation of the “manner” of God’s love that has been shown to us. The word “manner” as used in our text would speak of something that we are not accustomed to and that which is beyond the ordinary in our life. In Matthew 8:27 and Mark 4:41 we find the disciples using the word when they saw the Lord Jesus still the storm and raging sea. They exclaimed, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” What they saw the Lord do amazed them. They had never seen anyone do what they saw Him do. His ability and power was not of the ordinary.
To be loved by someone is not uncommon. Our parents love us, our spouse and children love us and other family and friends love us (we hope). Yet, the love that God has shown to us is beyond the ordinary. The love He has demonstrated is not common. The kind of love that He has shown to us leaves us speechless and amazed. It is the kind of love that Sam Gordon says leaves us saying “Wow!” (Living in the Light – 1-2-3 John)
John describes this love as a love that has been “bestowed” upon us. The word speaks of that which has been “given” and “poured” out on us in a lavish and extravagant fashion. It is more than just someone loving us. It is someone loving us in an uncommon and extraordinary way. It is a matchless love! How amazed and grateful we should be of God’s love that has been “bestowed” upon us.
How has this love been “bestowed” upon us? We not only see the love that has been revealed, but secondly, we see:
B) The Life That Has Been Received
It is a love that enables us “to be called sons of God.” John says in verse 2, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” John tells us that God in His love has made us “sons of God” or children of God. The word “called” means that God has “named” us His son's. God claims us as His sons and He actually calls us His sons.
John says, “Don’t hastily read what I am saying. You are a son of God! Stop and think of what that means. Let it sink in and register with you that God loves you so much that He would let you be His child and call you His child.” We, who once were a sinner, are now a son of God. Now, you let that sink in for a moment. God! The holy and righteous One calls you His son! God loves us so much and has demonstrated His love in naming us His sons! When I think of that I have to say, “Wow!” Or better still, “Hallelujah!”
As Charles Wesley wrote:
And can it be that I should gain,
And interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God shouldest die for me?
There was a song that came out a few years ago that says, there is no other word for grace than amazing. There is no other word for God’s love than amazing. It is a love that leaves us standing in awe. It is a love like no other. It is a love that makes us a son of God. It is a love by which God calls us His son.
John adds in verse 1, “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” The word “knoweth” means, “to perceive, comprehend.” We stand in awe of God’s great love that calls us “sons of God.” However, the world around us does not understand or comprehend why we stand in such awe. To them, they wonder what the big deal is about being able to say we are God’s son. They cannot understand why we rejoice over the fact that we can call ourselves children of God. Just as the world did not understand Jesus, they do not understand us.
There was a time when I thought that being a Christian was a strange and boring life. But now, I stand amazed that God in His love would allow me to be a Christian, and even more so that He would call me His son. John Newton said, “If I ever reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had thought to meet there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.” The greatest wonder of them all is that we are called the “sons of God.”
Becoming a son of God is a past work in our life – the work of salvation. Secondly, John describes:
2. THE FUTURE WORK OF GLORIFICATION
We read in verse 2, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” It is like John is saying, if you think it is good that we are now the sons of God, you just wait. It gets even better in the days to come. We not only enjoy a past work of salvation, but we are going to experience a future work of glorification.
In verse 2 John speaks first of:
A) The Coming We Are Expecting
In our previous study we saw that John reminded us that there is going to come the day and hour when Jesus “shall appear” (2:28). Once again he reminds us that Jesus “shall appear.” He speaks of the Lord’s return as certain and definite. He “shall appear.” Just as He said He would come again, He will come again.
Each day we are live awaiting His return. We are to live with the expectation that He will come and could come any day and at anytime. Most Bible scholars believe with the utmost certainty that His coming is very near. As one has said, “I’m not looking for signs, I’m listening for the shout.” Another has said, “I am not looking for the undertaker; I’m looking for the uppertaker.”
John tells us that, “we shall see Him.” On that blessed day we will look upon the face of the One Who saved us by His grace. As Carrie Breck said in her great hymn:
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!
Also, John tells us that, “we shall see Him as He is.” Notice carefully that he does not say we will see Him as “He was” but as “He is.” We will not see Him as a Lamb dying on a cross, but as the Lion sitting on His throne. We will not see Him as the suffering One but as the Sovereign One. The first time He came to die. But the next time He comes it will be to reign!
There is the coming we await, but John also speaks of:
B) The Change We Will Experience
John says, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” There was a glorious change brought about in our life when we became “sons of God.” Yet, that change is nothing compared to the change that is going to take place in our life when Jesus returns. Each of us, if honest, would have to admit that we are not everything we should be. Yet, at the same time we can thank God we are not what we used to be. John reminds us that we are not what we are going to be.
What kind of change will we experience when Jesus comes back for us? We read in Philippians 3:21, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:51, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
At the moment of the Lord return our bodies are going to experience a transformation. We will experience a glorious change. How will we be changed? John tells us that “we shall be like Him.” The word “like” means that when changed we will “resemble” the Lord Jesus.
Exactly how will we be like Jesus? I think of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” He spoke of beholding the Lord’s face in “righteousness.” When we are changed we will stand before Him absolutely righteous. There will no longer be a tendency or propensity to sin. When the Lord takes us out of this world, as the songwriter said, “We’ll rise to sin no more.” Jesus was sinless. When we are like Him we will be sinless.
There are many things about our change that thrills our hearts. We will have new bodies in which there will be sickness, disease, and pain. The deaf will hear, the blind will see, the cripple will walk, and the dumb will speak. Yet, what is even more thrilling about our change is that we will no longer sin. We will live throughout eternity in a perfect body and in a perfect state.
I once heard about an old country fellow and his son that went to the big city for the first time. They had never been off the farm and were amazed at all the things they saw. But the thing that amazed the old farmer the most was an elevator. They were standing in the lobby of this building when they saw this old woman with wrinkled skin on a walker step into the elevator. The door closed and in a few minutes opened and out stepped this beautiful young woman. The farmer said to his son, "Wait right here. I'm going home to get your mamma and run her through that thing."
Thank God, one day we will be like Jesus! This is a future work of glorification. As we think of the change that awaits us, we say with John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
John not only speaks of the past and the future, but he also speaks of the present. We not only see the past work of salvation and the future work of glorification, but also:
3. THE PRESENT WORK OF SANCTIFICATION
We read in verse 3, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” The words “that hath” bring us into the present. We have at this moment “this hope.” The “hope” that John speaks of is not something we are “hoping” for, but speaks of something we expect. He is speaking of the return of the Lord Jesus and how we shall be like Him. John tells us that this “hope” or expectation has a present impact on our lives.
When we realize that we are the “sons of God” and that one day Jesus will come again, it results in the sanctification of our lives. John uses the word “purifieth” and “pure.” The word was used to speak of ceremonial cleansing. In Exodus 19:10 we read, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes.” The children of Israel were to prepare for their feasts by cleansing themselves and their clothes. We find a New Testament example of this cleansing in John 11:55 where we read, “And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.” The external cleansing was symbolic of an internal cleansing. As used in reference to the Lord Jesus, it speaks of being without sin.
The idea is of being separated from that which would defile us. When we speak of sanctification, we speak of being set apart from sin and set apart unto God. In the past God saved us and in the future He will make us like the Lord Jesus. Yet, God has already working in us to make us as much like the Lord Jesus in this life. This is the present work of sanctification.
John speaks of this work in verse 3. He describes:
A) Our Pursuit of Sanctification
He speaks of this purification as one “purifieth himself.” The believer takes upon himself, in a sense, the matter of being clean before God. He seeks to be clean, desires to be clean, and strives to be clean. We noticed that John said in 2:4-5, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” John tells us that one of the marks of being saved is that a person wants to keep the commandments of God. We saw that John is not talking about a perfect keeping of the commandments, for if that was the case, we all would have reason to doubt we are saved. Rather, he was speaking of a desire and hunger in our hearts to keep God’s word. Someone that has been saved wants to be clean before God. They have a desire and hunger in their heart to be “pure.”
The more we understand the manner of God’s love that makes us “sons of God” and the more we realize that Jesus could come at any moment, the more we will seek to be “pure” and clean before God. As we saw in 2:28, we do not want to be ashamed at His coming. There is the pursuit of sanctification.
John also speaks of:
B) Our Patten of Sanctification
John says we will seek to be pure, “even as He is pure.” The Lord Jesus was absolutely sinless. He was the spotless Lamb of God. He is our “example” (Cp. 1 Peter 2:21). He is our model and pattern for a pure life. We are learn of Him and live like Him.
God is always at work in our life to makes us as much like Jesus as possible in this life. It is the “good work” Philippians 1:6 speaks of. By His Word and Spirit, He is working in us and on us. This is the present work of sanctification.
I once again remind you of the prayer of George Whitefield, “Lord, If I am going to be like you someday, help me to be as much like you today.” That is a good prayer for all us.