Paula and I recently read a book together about some of our brothers and sisters around the world today who suffer greatly simply because they are followers of Jesus. True stories of courageous faith among contemporary believers challenge some phrases common among Christians in America, including me at times, which imply that we see circumstances as the measure of God’s love. I am not saying I have never experienced my circumstances as a personal indication of God’s love; I have, and do—things as simple as the songs of small birds in the morning or a beautiful sunset. But I was reminded last week of the strong focus of scripture, that God’s love was demonstrated most strongly in sending His Son, Jesus, Who gave Himself for us while we were still hostile toward Him—and through Him we become sons and daughters in God’s forever family. God’s reminder came through Pastor Kevin Murphy (of St. Matthew Lutheran in Walnut Creek) in a message based in the first three verses of First John three.
The first verse of the passage calls us to “behold” the greatness of God’s love for us, “that we should be called the children of God.” Pause and ask God to let you experience the wonder of this. Who am I, that the God of all Creation would call me into His child? John isn’t just sharing “sound doctrine” (although it is that). John is sharing the personal relational experience of an orphan beggar who is now embraced as part of a family—and not just any family, but that of Father God, . . . Abba, . . . Daddy. The NIV says that Abba lavished His love upon us in taking us into His family. What image does lavished bring forth for you? For me, it brought back an object lesson I shared years ago: If our life is a bowl of fresh strawberries, is a single spoon of whipped cream lavish? How about two? What if we piled it on, scoop after scoop, until the whipped cream was dropping off the edges of the bowl? Contemplate the greatness of Abba’s love lavished on us in that we are called the children of God.
John didn’t want us to just hear this, he wanted us to join in His experience of Abba’s lavish love for His children, focused not in our temporal circumstance but in His work for and in us. Lest we miss any of the significance of this, John affirms that Abba doesn’t only “call” us His children, He affirms “and such we are”—we are actually born of God. We are no longer who we once were: Not only do we now belong to God’s forever family, not only do we have a new identity, He has actually made us new.
I hope to share more about this next time, but I encourage you to start talking with Papa now about your personal experience of His lavish love in being brought into His family. But since I try to keep each post short, I don’t want to conclude this one without at least touching on the next two verses—one looking to the future and the other to our present response.
As to the future—we will be like Him. Paula’s grandmother called this “the greatest promise in all of scripture.” The reality of our new family relationship, our new identity, and our new birth is the beginning of a profound transformation which God Himself will take to maturity—for when He appears we will be like Him, we will see Him as He is. Don’t run past this; ask Jesus to allow you to experience the deep emotion evoked in John by God’s lavish love, while also being made aware of the transformation He is effecting in you even now, and will bring to completeness: We will be like Him. For all who have this focus live differently, because lavish love coupled with confident hope produces purity. That’s what John shares in the third verse—all who have this hope fixed on Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.
May you live as God’s lavishly loved child, mindful of your future with Him, so that your life is characterized by purity.