First John, chapter 3, part 2
Jan 17, 2018
1 John 3:2 says,
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that, when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
John says that we are NOW the children of God, and yet he qualifies this by telling us that we are not yet what we WILL BE. There is more ahead of us, because children grow. We will have much more when we reach spiritual maturity. Paul says in Galatians 4:1 that “as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is owner of everything.”
There are three levels of sonship, each having its own level of spiritual maturity. Maturity is measured in one’s ability to love. A baby starts out cute, but totally self-centered. As the child grows, he begins to learn the principles of justice—if, indeed, his parents instill in him such principles.
A child’s preoccupation with the idea of fairness and equality with his siblings must be shaped and modified, so that he learns justice. He must learn that age makes a difference, and that his older brother is given more privileges and responsibilities than he does as the younger brother. Being still self-centered, the younger brother usually thinks that this is unfair, but he must learn that his own view is wrong and submit to the authority of his elders.
When he reaches maturity, he fully understands grace and love to the extent that he is able to train children of his own and to deal with their self-centeredness and lack of understanding.
The Greeks had three main words for love: eros, phileo, and agape. These relate directly to three stages of growth among children. Eros is self-centered, phileo is “brotherly love” that is a judicial love, and agape is mature love that has the ability to extend grace along with justice. Paul best describes agape love in 1 Corinthians 13, but we are also admonished to phileo love the brethren by treating them in a lawful manner. Justice is good, but if the children of God do not learn the higher principles of grace and mercy, their relationships will never fully reflect the mind of Christ.
The children of God are all on a journey toward spiritual maturity. Some will arrive at their destination before others. Some will receive their promised inheritance in the first resurrection, others at the general resurrection a thousand years later (Revelation 20:6, 12). Overcomers in this life will receive a greater reward than other believers. We have been given great incentives to grow spiritually in this life and to “endure” to the end in the face of adversity. Yet whether we achieve the reward as an overcomer or not, all of us are God’s children, and so we are called to assist our brethren in their journeys in every way that we can.
When we achieve spiritual maturity, John says, “we will be like Him.” Jesus is the pattern for all of God’s children. Why? How? John says, “because we will see Him just as He is.” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
In other words, we are changed by beholding Him. When we look upon His face, we see the glory of the face of God. That glory is transferred to our face, so that we come fully into the image of God that was meant to be since the beginning of creation, when God said, “Let us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26).
Paul also speaks of a great hindrance that prevents many from beholding the face of God. It is the veil of the Old Covenant, which hides the glory of God and prevents us from seeing His glory as it truly is. When Moses’ face was glorified after beholding the glory of God on the Mount, the people were unable to look at his face, so Moses put a veil over his face to hide the glory that was upon him (Exodus 34:33). Moses’ ability to see the people was not impaired, Paul says, for the veil was meant to hide the glory from the carnal Israelites. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 says,
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
We see, then, that the people’s fear kept them from seeing the glory of God. As we will see shortly, John says that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Conversely, fear is evidence of a shortage of love. Many people become Christians because they have been made to fear divine judgment. Such people must, at some point, replace fear with love, or they will never come to spiritual maturity.
The Old Covenant, which places the burden upon men to achieve righteousness in order to be saved, brings fear when men come to realize the impossibility of this task. Those who are honest, understanding the condition of the human heart, are driven to despair in their attempts to be righteous by doing righteous things and thinking righteous thoughts at all times. Such fear prevents them from seeing the glory of God, for an Old Covenant veil “remains unlifted.”
To remove that veil, one must have faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant. The New Covenant places the burden upon God to make men righteous, for it is a promise, vow, and oath that God Himself has taken to do what men failed to achieve by their own vows to God.
There are only two kinds of covenant in Scripture. There are those which man makes with God, and those which God makes with man. The covenant in Exodus 19:8 is the prime example of man’s vow to God, by which (if he were able to keep his word) he might be saved. The second covenant forty years later in Deuteronomy 29:10-15 is a prime example of God’s vow (“oath”) to man, by which (since God is able to keep His word) men are actually saved.
Salvation, by the way, is to be released from the mortal, unrighteous condition that came upon all men through Adam’s sin. Full salvation is to be recreated in the image of God, complete with His glory, thereby achieving the original purpose for man’s creation. While the Old Covenant causes us to fear His glory, the New Covenant draws us to His glory with love. It is only by experiencing and understanding the New Covenant and its fundamental difference from the Old Covenant that the veil is removed from our eyes. Only then can we see His face and be changed into the same image.
See my book, The Two Covenants.
The Motive for Purification
1 John 3:3 says,
3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
Conversely, verse 4 says,
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
John says that “this hope” is the motive for purification among the children of God. It is the “hope” that “when He appears, we shall be like Him.” The children’s hope, then, is to come into the image of God. Paul defines hope in Romans 8:23-25, saying,
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is an expectation of something will surely come later. By definition, hope involves anticipation of something that is yet to be experienced at the end of the journey. When Israel was yet wandering in the wilderness, their hope was the Promised Land. In our own journey, our hope is to come into the image of God.
In fact, earlier, Paul said in Romans 8:19-21 that the entire creation is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed (apokalupsis, “unveiled”). When the sons of God truly appropriate the New Covenant, they will be fully unveiled and experience the glory of God. All of creation anxiously awaits this event, for they too have a stake in this outcome. God is not merely saving the overcomers. The glorification of the sons of God is a necessary step in the transformation of the entire creation!
So Paul tells us in Romans 8:20 that the creation was subjected to futility…
20 … not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Hence, not only do the children of God have “hope,” but the entire creation also has the same hope. The difference is that the hope of the children of God will be satisfied prior to that of the creation as a whole. The creation was subjected to futility apart from its own will, Paul says in verse 20. So also, the creation will be restored apart from its own will. This restoration is based on the New Covenant, where God Himself took the initiative and make Himself responsible by oath to make it happen. Creation could never achieve this on its own by means of the Old Covenant. Only through the New Covenant could the creation have any hope at all.
So also the children of God must appropriate the New Covenant in order to achieve their hope of coming into the image of God.
The laws of purification under Moses have been modified under Christ. Whereas under Moses, purification was by water or blood, under Christ we are purified by the word of God. The water was only a type and shadow of the word. So Jesus told His disciples in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” The blood of animals was a type and shadow representing the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
Hence, the laws of purification were not put away, but modified and elevated to a more effective level. Hebrews 9:13, 14 also distinguishes between Old Covenant purification and New Covenant purification.
Nonetheless, the basic laws of purification, though modified, are still relevant today. God did not put away any part of His law. Those who teach antinomianism are “lawless” (anomia), as John writes. Those who have this hope are purifying themselves. Those who do not have this hope—or those who only think that they have this hope—are evidenced by their lawlessness.
We will continue this next time.
This is part 14 of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.