Who are you? What defines you?
Identity is a buzzword.
And increasingly nowadays, for some, identity is derived from their gender identity, or their race group – the colour of their skin – or their cultural heritage, or language, or their qualifications, or relational or financial success.
All these things may describe us. Though they shouldn’t define us.
Ultimately true identity comes not from what belongs to us, but to whom we belong.
In our first year in Australia I asked each of my kids three questions before they walked out the front door on their way to school. In a new country, new culture, with strangers and strange things. Three questions. Remember, who do you belong to? I am a child of God. How much does He love you? To the moon and beyond. How do you know? Jesus died for my sin.
Our worth, our value, our identity comes from him to whom we belong.
And the Bible divides everyone into only two groups. And forgive me for being blunt. But John is blunt. And puts things starkly. In black and white.
We’re either children of God. Or children of the devil. One or the other.
Now if you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, I’d appeal to you to keep listening. And to perhaps see why God says that and what it means.
And John gives us a sure fire test to show which family we’re in. It’s not so much a test as it is evidence or proof. And it’s basically who do you look like? Who do you take after? ‘Cos it boils down to taking on the family likeness.
John’s big concern for these believers is that they won’t be led astray by wrong teaching. That they will not only know Jesus. But that they will know that they know Him.
So John writes, chapter 5 verse 13, to those
5:13 “who believe in the Son of God [Jesus] so that you may know you have eternal life.”
That these believers may be assured of the truth about Jesus. And rest assured in their salvation.
John wants believers to be comforted and confident. And so urges, verse 28.
2:28 “dear children, continue in him”
In Jesus. Continue. It’s the same word in verse 27, that’s translated remain.
Though the English words ‘remain/continue’ don’t quite capture the meaning. ‘Abide’ is closer though not quite there. ‘Cos the word means a deep sense of:
Abide. Remain. Continue.
‘Cos continuing breeds confidence. Assurance.
Now it’s believing in Jesus that saves. But abiding in Jesus shows we’re saved. It doesn’t save. It shows we are. It’s proof.
So, verse 28.
2:28 “continue in Him, so that when He appears [returns] we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.”
Before God, in His presence, on judgement day. We won’t cower. We won’t hide. We won’t shrink in fear. We will stand confidently, not arrogantly, confidently, without shame ‘cos we belong to Jesus.
Now I wonder if you may be here and you’re unsure. You lack confidence. ‘Cos You’re not sure what to believe about Jesus? Or perhaps you’re unsure of your relationship with Jesus? Or maybe you’re plagued with doubts as to whether you’re a real genuine Christian? And not a fake!
Well, John says you can tell. Which may be somewhat confronting. Though, for believers, will ultimately be comforting.
So how do we know we belong and abide in Jesus?
Well, in this letter John basically gives 3 proofs. You believe in Jesus! You live in the light, righteous living. And you love God’s family.
Those 3 themes are repeated as we climb the spiral staircase of John’s letter.
Here, in this passage John spotlights the evidence of being righteous.
Which is introduced in verse 29. You know you’re a true believer, how? ‘Cos
2:29 “you know that everyone who does what is right [is] born of [God].”
True believers do what’s right. Righteous.
An argument which John unpacks and then wraps up and frames in verse 10.
3:10 “This is how we know [verse 10] 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, [and then John segues into the next passage spotlighting ‘the love proof’] nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”
That’s for next week. But this week.
Verse 29. Verse 10. Framing and unpacking the proof of being righteous. A tell tale sign you’re a Christian. Doing right. Living righteous.
Which raises lots of questions doesn’t it? ‘Cos if you’re anything like me you don’t feel righteous. In fact, you know you’re not. I’m sinful. I do wrong. I don’t always, even often, get things right.
But I know Jesus. And I know John writes this to comfort people like me, and give us confidence. So, how are we to understand these verses.
Well, John couches his argument for this ‘righteous proof’ very much in the context of God’s love and God’s family. So let’s paint that canvas before examining the ‘proof’.
Got home Thursday. My youngest Dougie and I share a love for lego! We’re groupies when it comes to ‘Lego masters’. Now little 10 year old Dougie was bouncing off walls with excitement. He’d been home all day sick in bed. And he wants to show me something. ‘Come and see this Dad!’ he says.
And he shows a Lego car his modified. Pretty cool. A day off school well spent. And I marvelled at his handiwork.
John invites us ‘Come and see.’ Verse 1. ‘Come and… ‘
A word translated, originally used when ships were arriving in the harbour. An invitation to come explore. To search out. To discover. To see.
Though John isn’t excited about boats. He wants us to come explore. Verse 1.
3:1 “what great love the father has lavished on us”
Extraordinary love. Extravagant. Inexplicable. Mind-blowing, marvellous, amazing. Great love.
And it’s lavish love. Rich. Overflowing. Deep.
Here is love. Vast as the ocean. Loving kindness as the flood. No love is higher, wider, deeper, truer. Through the floodgates of God’s mercy. Flowed a vast and gracious tide. Grace and love, like mighty rivers. Poured incessant from above.
And in what way has the Father richly poured His love out on us?
I’ve got many many friends who’ve adopted.
The list goes on. Because of the great need, adoption is quite common among Christians in South Africa.
I remember a call from my great friend Kevin, a 6 foot 5 Welshman, reduced to tears of joy exclaiming, ‘I’m a father. I have a daughter.’
The papers were signed. Legally it was a done deal. This little girl was theirs. They loved her. They still do. She’s all grown up and studying at Uni now.
In fact, the legal adoption papers state the following words. And I quote: ‘your adopted child is now regarded as if born to you.’
Well, the papers are signed. It’s a done deal. God the Father has adopted you and me.
3:1 “what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
He says it again in verse 2.
3:2 “children of God”
And verse 10.
3:10 “children of God”
And he speaks in verse 29 of being
2:29 “born of God.”
And again verse 9.
3:9 “born of God”
You see, God doesn’t just adopt. He moves in. He takes up residence. Born again. Of God. By the spirit of God.
Now it’s so difficult for me to get my head around all that. To comprehend. To marvel. We are born of God. We are children of God.
Not because we earned it. Or deserve it. Not because we’re lovable. We’re not.
We’re God’s kids ‘cos of God’s lavish love. Who loves the unworthy. Who loves the enemy. Who loves us into His family.
Listen to how the author JI Packer puts it in his classic book ‘Knowing God’. “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity Find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, of having God as his father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new and better than the old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.”
Now perhaps you’re not feeling it! You feel unworthy. You are. You feel distant. You’re not.
Hear this. However difficult your childhood was. Whatever your human father was like. However much you feel ordinary and unimportant. Whatever mountain it is you can’t climb. Whatever burden drags you down. God the Father calls you his child. We are called the children of God.
3:1 “And that is [verse 1] what we are!”
That’s our status.
I remember being part of a conversation where someone was telling a story of how they had endured being bullied and abused over several years. It was heart breaking and hard to listen to. And another person said, ‘That must have made you feel worthless.’
To which the person telling the story looked genuinely confused and replied, ‘No. Not at all. I’m a child of God. I belong to Him.’
Our identity as God’s children gives us a security that defies circumstances and storms.
Wrap your head around this.
Psalm 29:3,8,10 “The [God who] thunders over the mighty waters. The [God who] shakes the desert. The [God who] is enthroned as King forever.”
We get to call Him dad!
In my wallet I keep a photo of those who are most precious to me. As do many others. A photo of your loved ones.
Wrap your heard around this! God carries your picture in His wallet!
He has us as the wallpaper on His phone.
What a privilege. God’s children.
It’s not everyone who is. Though it’s popular nowadays for everyone to think they are. To say nice sentimental stuff like, ‘we’re all God’s children’ And ‘all religions are the same’ And ‘God accepts everyone equally.’ That whether it’s Islam or Buddhism or Christianity, we’re all one big happy family. It’s all the same God.’
That’s not what Bible says. God’s children is a specific sub group in humanity. Exclusive to those who believe in Jesus as Lord.
Which means the world won’t like us. The world won’t ‘get us’. Christians will be misrepresented. Branded. Considered weird, or worse.
That’s to be expected as, End of verse 1.
3:1 “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
The world won’t get us ‘cos it’s a family thing. If they don’t ‘get’ Jesus, they ain’t going to ‘get’ us.
Now, the world might not know us, but there’s a new world coming. As God’s kids we’ve got an inheritance. In the future.
We’re God’s children now. Becoming like Jesus now. But that’s nothing compared to what we will be.
3:2-3 “what we will be [verse 2] has not yet been made known. But when Christ appears we shall see Him as He is.”
In all His glory. Perfect. Pure.
3:2 “we shall be like him”
God’s children now. Who’ll be just like Jesus then. When we see Him. Face to face.
You ever meet someone who says, ‘You’re looking good.’ I never got that until a couple of years ago. So I’ve worked out what people actually mean is, ‘You’re looking good for your age!’
Well, come eternity. Come glory. And we’ll be saying to each other. ‘Wow! You look better than ever. You look perfect!’ ‘Cos we will.
Indeed, the best is yet to come. That’s a massive understatement.
‘Cos we’ve got a glorious inheritance. We’ll be with Jesus. And we’ll be just like Jesus.
And it’s this hope. Verse 3. That moves us and motivates us to become more like Jesus now.
3:3 “[To become pure] just as He is pure.”
Ok, with that context, it’s gonna be much easier to tackle the righteous proof issue.
‘Cos it’s all got to do with being in the family. And bearing the family likeness.
We’ve all seen those spot the difference pictures.
You tell the difference between children of God and children of the Devil.
How? Verse 29 and verse 10. You look at their lives. God’s kids do what is right. The Devil’s don’t.
That’s the proof, the evidence.
In other words, they bear the family likeness. Like father, like son.
There’s an Aussie, whose name is Simon, who looks decidedly like Prince Charles. And who claims to be his son.
Prince Harry doesn’t look anything like Charles. And bears an uncanny resemblance to James Hewitt, a close friend of his mother.
One way to clear it all up would be a simple paternity test. Or a DNA test.
Which is for this purpose the ‘righteous’ test. The proof or evidence of righteousness. Bearing the family likeness. Like Father, like son.
Now these verses are difficult. Though I fear we may overcomplicate them. Step back. Get the context. And I think the point being made is simple.
Note the repetition of the same idea. Verse 29.
2:29 “everyone who does what is right [is a believer] born of [God].”
Then verse 6.
3:6 “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has [knows Jesus]”
Believers don’t sin. And the flipside. Sinners don’t know Jesus.
3:7 “[Believers, the righteous] [do] what is right”
But verse 8.
3:8 “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil”
Believers do right. Flipside. Sinners are of the devil.
3:9 “No one born of God [no believer] will continue to sin, they cannot go on sinning”
Believers won’t sin, can’t sin.
All framed by verse 10.
3:10 “[Believers, God’s children] [do] what is right”
In the light of all other scripture this can’t mean believers don’t sin. Sin. And you’re not a Christian!
Now that’d also fly in the face of John’s purpose to comfort and re-assure. Instead we’d all be anxious and troubled.
No! The key to understanding what he means is his definition of sin in verse 4.
3:4 “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.”
Lawlessness is code for rebellion. Rejecting Jesus as King. Living as your own boss.
It’s not a momentary slip-up from time to time. It’s a settled attitude, a deep seated, wilful, determined, rejection of God’s authority and rule.
On the other hand. righteous, without sin is short-hand for A settled decisive attitude that submits to Jesus as King, And seeks to live God’s way.
And that’s John’s argument here. Simple. Uncomplicated.
Friends of ours are farmers in a small town an hour from Stellenbosch. Fruit farmers. Apples and peaches. We’ve got some lovely memories from staying there. Walking the dirt roads among the orchards. And picking the fruit.
And you can tell which trees are the apple trees ‘cos they have apples on them! Apple trees bear apples. It’s not rocket science.
Believers. Those who are in Christ. Who remain in Him. Continue in Him. Abide in Him.
They bear Christian fruit.
Believers. Children in God’s family. In Jesus’ family tree. They take on the family likeness. Like father, like son, like daughter.
But you got to ask, how’s this all possible? One word. Jesus.
Jesus who is pure. Verse 3. Who has no sin. Verse 5. Who is righteous. Verse 7.
The perfect sinless Son of God
3:5 “appeared [verse 5] so that He might take away our sins.”
“take away” is a violent word. Meaning to purge or blast.
Like Glen Maxwell or Chris Lynn to smash it out the park. Into the parking lot.
Jesus smashed our sin out of existence. Out of mind. Out of sight.
Psalm 103:12 “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
And in so doing. Verse 8.
3:8 “the Son of God appeared [so as] to destroy the devil’s work.”
To smash the devil’s work out the park.
Destroy sin. Destroy the devil’s work. And Jesus achieved all that on the cross. Taking upon Himself our sin. Bearing the penalty of our sin. The death we deserved. And breaking the power of sin over us. Defeating the devil.
Freed from the Penalty of sin. Justified. Power of sin. Sanctified. Presence of sin. Glorified.
That we may be forgiven. Receive life eternal. And be adopted into God’s family. Indwelt by His Spirit.
So let me close as I begun. By asking you the question. Who are you?
I hope your identity is defined by belonging to Jesus.
And if you’re not yet accepted God’s invitation to join His family. That you would. The Father has made room at the family table. He is longing to welcome you.
And if you do, and for those of us who have we can know I am a child of God. I am deeply and profoundly, extravagantly, loved by God. Jesus Christ died for my sins. Such that I need no longer live for myself, but live for Him. Live in the light. Live with Him as King, under His good loving rule.
So, in line with John’s concern, don’t be led astray. Led off the path. Taken away from Jesus.
God is either your father or your judge.
And so, instead, run to Jesus. Abide in Him. Continue, remain.
‘Cos as God’ children we belong to Him, And are becoming like Him.
And we can be confident of our final destination. Blessed assurance. Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.
Jesus is mine. We are His.