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1st John (2011)

Through A Mirror Darkly

1 John  3:1-3

Lesson audio

We now come to one of the most closely packed sections of Scripture:

1 John 3:1-3 NIV  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  (2)  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  (3)  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Children of God

It is profitable to take this one verse of the time, for it covers some extremely important concepts.

How Great the Love of the Father

One of the effects of the "me and Jesus in the telephone booth" theology of the 20th century is that we seldom hear of the greatness of God compared to the smallness of man. The book of Job is a difficult study in any circumstances; it's made more difficult by the central fact of the book: God doesn't explain anything. He is so much greater than we are that explanations cannot be demanded of the Almighty. This doesn't mean we don't seek them; it just means he's not obligated to tell us. This thought in particular comes from the Old Testament. Some thinkers hold the Old Testament is obsolete, and that only the New Testament really defines our relationship. It is not so; the New Testament is set in the context of the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is indeed God the Father; he is still the holy, awesome sovereign God.

In fact, we can see in the Scriptures a progression in the relationship between God and man.

·         Throughout most of the Old Testament, the people with whom God dealt (at least favorably) were usually referred to as his servants. You will recall Elijah on Mount Carmel; how he prayed that the people would know that God is God, and "I am thy servant." Elijah is the consummate prophet; but still only a servant of God.

·         The only exception to this is Abraham. Abraham is known as the "friend of God." In the Old Testament, the title is unique. Only the man to whom the world would be blessed was accorded this title.

·         But on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that he no longer called the servants, but friends. Please note that this is just before the resurrection; after the resurrection Christ refers to "my father and your father." The letters of the New Testament frequently speak of the children of God.

You see the point. We are all servants of God; only the best of us could be a friend of God — until the resurrection. The change is enormous. Such a change in relationship could only be made possible by the atonement at the cross; but you knew that. Is it too much to say that the essence of being a child is not how you were born but how you are loved?

Western Civilization

The core idea of Western civilization is simply this: the fatherhood of God over the brotherhood of man. In the last 60 to 70 years we have attempted to maintain Western civilization without this idea, and it's not working. Permit me two points:

·         The fatherhood of God implies the existence of a natural law — a natural law of right and wrong. This would have been sufficiently obvious to our ancestors as to be beyond question; however, today only one justice of the United States Supreme Court holds to this view (Clarence Thomas). If you abandon this concept, then there is no common code of conduct in your civilization. Unless, of course, you consider "get what you can while you can as fast as you can" to be a moral code. Having abandoned this, the closest thing we have left is the idea that "if it's legal, it's moral." I leave it to the reader to determine whether or not this is true progress.

·         The brotherhood of man[1] also carries its implications. In words particularly dear to Americans, it means this: it is self evident that "all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator were with certain inalienable rights." It is not a surprise that the abolitionist movement in America came out of the churches. It is not a surprise that the civil rights movement in America came out of the churches (skeptics will please recall that it was the "Reverend Martin Luther King" who was so prominent in this.) If this idea falls, our politics quickly degenerate into a rush for the public feeding trough to see who can get the biggest share for his people.

If there are any questions in your mind as to the causes of the collapse of Western civilization I suggest you ponder these two points.


The life of the children of God is frequently misunderstood by those outside the church. How is it, one asks, that these questions can lead such dull lives and still be happy about it? Permit me an analogy. It is my opinion that the game of soccer is exceedingly boring. From a spectator's point of view it consists of a number of men in little shorts running up and down the field chasing a ball. Most of the games are decided on penalty kicks, as most of the games end in a tie before that. Games with no score are not unknown; games with low scores are frequent. As far as I can tell, if you wanted to create a game for the specific purpose of being boring, soccer would be that game.

My oldest son would disagree. He would watch soccer games in Spanish on TV, and thought them quite exciting. The difference in our views can be attributed to the Fact that he played soccer for several years and I never played it. He sees what I do not see, and finds it very interesting.

The same thing is true of the Christian life. Paul calls it the "hidden life."[2] The secret to living the hidden life is to "set your mind on things above." When the rest of the world is chasing the prettier girl, the faster speed boat, the bigger bank account and the oldest bourbon, it's hard for them to understand that you are chasing something else. Those things cease to be important when the truly important things in our lives come forward. The secret is in knowing where your objective is: something on earth, or something in heaven.

It's also why we see Western civilization collapsing, and they don't. Without a moral code, without the brotherhood of man, greed becomes a necessity. Several other sins become not just necessities but moral principles. Arrogant pride is now a virtue; adultery is expected (otherwise you will never be fulfilled); acquisitiveness is now called entrepreneurial spirit. We have thrown away much and got little in return.

The Body to Be

The most prominent example of the difference concerns death. The world's motto is "grab for all the gusto you can, for you only go around once." Death is the ultimate final end, which (using hope without reason) somehow will turn out all right. The Christian is taught that there will be a resurrection of the body, and then the judgment.

Through a Mirror Darkly

It's a tough thing to recognize, but essential: sometimes the answer "I don't know" is the right one. There is, of course, a difference when you get that answer is the result of a diligent search as opposed to a simple confession of ignorance. We should therefore begin this section by saying that none of us knows nearly all the facts. God has concealed them from us, perhaps because he knows we can't handle them. It is something completely beyond our experience. Military veterans might also remember the thought that such secrets are told only to those with a "need to know."

Be like Him

We are told that we will be like him. The word in the Greek implies something like being molded into a particular shape. We see a lot of that in our world today. If you've ever purchased one of these cheap little plastic drink containers shaped like (for example) Ronald McDonald, you've seen something that was molded to that particular shape. The image to which we are molded (the Greek word is the one from which we get our word icon) is that of Christ. In short, we will be like Christ in his post-resurrection appearances. What we know from this?

·         In some sense, we will be superior to time and space. Our Lord seemed to be able to go from one place to the next without anything in between.

·         We will be able to recognize one another, at least if the other participates and allows it.

Whatever it is, it will be a body of power.

See Him Face to Face

It is a common fact that both the Old and New Testaments that no one can see God. But we are told that after the bodily resurrection we shall gaze at him wide eyed. Somehow or other, we will be able to see him.

What's strange about this is that the resurrection is a physical one. From the book of Job onward the resurrection is spoken of as a bodily resurrection; people coming up out of the grave. There is no evidence whatsoever for a "spiritual only" resurrection, however convenient that might be for those who just can't understand why God would do such a thing. We will be there in the flesh, so to speak, and we will see him with our own eyes.

That's then; what about now? Seeing God in this life is simply a matter of using the right instruments. If you want to see stars, you use a telescope. If you want to see bacteria, you use a microscope if you want to see God, you have a pure heart.[3]

What to Do about It

All this is very interesting, I hope, but at this point I have given you know practical guidance as to what you should be doing about it. If there is a difference between the orthodox view and the common view of today, there should be some difference in your actions which is required. We must pass the test of Thomas a Kempis: what would you do differently if you knew the real answer? If the answer to that question is nothing, then you have a distinction without a difference. It's cocktail party conversation material only.

Hope-the Theological Virtue

In the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, Paul tells us that three things abide: faith, hope and love. Most of us understand faith. Most of us want to understand love. Most of us have no clue about hope. So let's be specific. Our hope is for eternal life. If you're going to have eternal life, you're going to do things differently here on this earth. Hope is not some dreamy thought for tomorrow, but it is a commitment to that hope. Christ tells you there are certain things you need to do to obtain eternal life; if you think eternal life as a fraud, there's no sense listening to him. But if you think eternal life is possible, and his words give you the path to get it, then you have some action to take.

Do not underestimate the importance of hope in the Christian life. Paul singled out along with faith and love; therefore it must be important. Consider his statement to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 6:17-19 NIV  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  (18)  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  (19)  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,

(Bold emphasis is mine, not the original). Hope is the anchor for the soul. Never is this more apparent than at the funeral of a Christian. The secular man dies, and his funeral ambles about, full of platitudes and praise. The Christian funeral talks directly of going to heaven, and being raised from the dead when Christ returns. What a difference!


Paul tells us simply that if we have this hope, we will purify ourselves. That makes sense; it is the pure heart that sees God. So how do we do this?

First, we need to know what purity is. We have exactly one example of the truly pure human being: Jesus Christ himself. The imitation of Christ is ever and always the first principle of Christian conduct. Peter is a little bit more expensive about it:

2 Peter 3:10-14 NIV  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  (11)  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives  (12)  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  (13)  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  (14)  So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Note that last verse. Spotless and blameless are other ways to put the word pure; if you are pure, and your sins are forgiven, you will be at peace with him. You cannot argue your way into heaven — but you can live your life so that you will be welcomed there. In other words, prepare yourself to go to heaven. Not just a little bit, but as Peter says, "make every effort."

Indeed, our Lord himself with the criteria most strictly:

Matthew 5:48 NIV  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

[1] In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female — which I assume makes man in this passage to apply to both men and women.

[2] Colossians 3:1-3

[3] Matthew 5:8

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