Here are some words from the book we all love [I John 3:1 – 3]. How great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God – and that is what we are. The world does not know us because it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are the children of God and it does 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. And everyone who has this hope in Him, keeps himself pure.
First, God adopted us to be his children, his sons and daughters, made like unto his Son, Jesus. And if we are children then we are heirs, says St. Paul in Romans eight, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Jesus.
First, God adopted us to be his children – and calls us such, because of the finished work of Jesus on our behalf. But secondly God is making us – and is going to make us fully, like Jesus, Who although He remains eternally the Son of God, has also been exalted to a high place – the Highest Place in the heavens and spiritual realms of Glory. “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” As a Son, He learned obedience in the things that He suffered; learned such things on earth when he was revealed as the eternal Son of God. In the same way, we also must learn obedience – and trust in the Father, through the suffering that is graciously brought or allowed to enter our lives. No Cross – no Crown: Jesus had cross; each of his followers must take up cross as well, and follow.
God is revealed to us by Jesus as a Father – the ‘Eternal Father, strong to save.’ When you pray,’ says Jesus, begin with the words, “Our father.”
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus welcomes us as brothers and sisters. On the Great Day, He will say to the Father in the hearing of all gathered – “Here am I and the children You have given Me.” Jesus, the writer clearly states, does not despise (is not ashamed) to call us brothers and sisters. He identifies with us in our humanity, that we might be with Him in the Father’s Glory – restored and renewed and re-entering the Creation that has become New Creation. He brings us towards – and ultimately to, the Eternal Father, and to the purposes God has for us – has had them along time: before the foundation of the earth. The Eastern Orthodox Church has called this ‘divination.’ I think we in the Western Church ought to give more attention to this, to contemplate the heavenly possibilities and the grace that has brought us so near to the dance; that has invited us to join the dance of the Eternal Godhead.
As Jesus’ followers, we become – we now are, ‘the children of God’ – that is who we are. When Jesus the Son of God was here with our race walking on the earth He had created, revealing God amongst the children of God, he was not recognized as such, a Son of Man – not recognized as God himself come in the flesh [Emmanuel]. In all the ways that Jesus as God’s Son was not recognized, even “by his own,” in the same ways too, throughout history since then, till our day, God’s children are not recognized. As was true of Jesus is true of us.
This speaks first of all about the Church’s past and present reality: The world does not know us because it did not know him.” But in the same way, the present union and likeness will give place to a future and new reality where we shall continue to be like Jesus. He was not known; nor are we. But one day: — He shall appear and shall be known – and every knee shall bow. And then too, the true sons and daughters of God, His children – that’s who we are(!) – will also be revealed.
He is now the Son and we are now the children. Yet, He is also now exalted, has entered into the right-hand position of God, exists with God in eternal fellowship. That’s our hope too; hope, for it has not yet happened as it will one day, and it has already for Jesus. But we too shall be resurrected and we too will be brought into the places and positions God has chosen for each of us in the New Creation – to a deeper, and closer relationship with God the Father than we can now experience. Each one who is truly faith-full and a true Jesus apprentice will be brought fully into proper relationship with God and into the proper place of our eternal destiny, service and purpose, in the Life that is to come – a life that even now to some extent, can – though known imperfectly and seen ‘darkly’ – be glimpsed and to some degree entered upon now; that is, even before we die.
“It does not yet appear what we shall be. . .”
I used to think this verse led us to think only about the unknowable, the mystery and wonder of what would be ahead for us, in the life to come, but which at this point of human existence no one could fathom. I believe now that there is a clear comparison between Jesus and his followers in all stages: past, present and future, and that we are eternally linked together because of His identification with us (and ours with Him). God linked us with Him so that He might bring us Home to God, home to the Garden, home to the Promised Land, home to the Creation itself and to the Creation-purposes for which we were created. As we have repented and believed (changed our minds about living our way and started following Him and trusting His righteous acts on our behalf), as we have identified with Jesus in his death and burial and resurrection (signified in our baptism), so also will we be united with Him in His resurrection, and resurrection-life, and brought into the Life of the age-to-come, into the eternal future God has prepared for those who love Him. That identity and likeness has begun and will continue eternally, or as they say at church: ‘world without end.’
There will of course be that likeness made possible through our seeing Jesus in the future, when we shall fully see and know Him for Who He truly is. At this stage, we do not see rightly or very much, really. O, to to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly; follow Thee more nearly, day by day. One day we will see fully. However, there is enough for us now, each according to the measure of our faith, that we may see and know of Jesus – of his person and work, that we may begin at least to look at Him and to look like Him.
St. Paul in a letter to the Church at Corinth compares the Old Testament people of God who looked upon Moses as he returned from the presence of God revealed on Mount Sinai, and who had to cover his face because of the glory that shone from it, and who kept the veil on even when the glory had passed because he did not want the people to know (there’s a whole line of contemplation and hmmm, there for us) – a comparison with that old covenant story with the New Testament and Holy Spirited ability of God’s people to , with “unveiled faces,” behold the glory of the Lord. ‘As we behold his glory,’ writes Paul – as we look upon Jesus, ‘we are transformed more and more into His image.’ We become more and more like Jesus, more God-like (in Imago Dei once more), more conformed to His person, like Him in His ways.
The Lord who is the Spirit does this within the believer by a work of grace, for God pours out upon the Church and upon each believer the very nature of Christ and the same abilities of Christ’s Body to continue God’s work in the world. Of course we do not believe this, most of the time, Yet, to say it another way, the fruit of the Holy Spirit makes us look like Jesus – in our attitudes and motivations, in our compassion and in our care for God’s world and all things, and everyone, in it. The fruit of the Spirit does that within us and through us. The gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Church give evidence of the continuing presence of Christ in the world, and enable the Church and Jesus’ followers to continue doing the work of Christ. In short, the fruit help us to be like Jesus; the gifts help us to do like Jesus.
“Everyone who has this hope in him, keeps himself pure.”
The verse is not talking about mere morality, about a kind of rigid, puritanical morality that leads so often to Pharisaical miss-the-point comparisons, in excesses of put-down and fault-finding attitudes and abilities. (What if we have made our churches more in the image and ways of the Pharisees than in the image and ways of Jesus!)
The root and meaning of the word is linked to that of ‘holiness.’ Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus. It is not so much about our trying really hard to be as good as gold, and certainly not to being ‘goody-good.’ It has more to do with our knowing who we are in Christ, about our calling our reserving and preserving ourselves for such; about keeping ourselves for God’s intended purposes, which of course includes keeping ourselves clean or at least being cleansed as often as need be. Whether holy vessels in the Old Testament for sacrificial worship (kept clean but still used – and so they would have to be continually cleansed but still useful – as we do for our own household dishes), or the knowledge in the development of ourselves in our holy spirited vocations calling and purpose, all are givens, and are to be cleansed again and again and used continually as we serve the Lord. For, all things, every creature, every place, exists for God’s pleasure and purposes.
We are like flames that burn as brightly as each one can, in order to enlighten dark places. We keep the oil within pure – no flies in the ointment, in order that we might be the biggest and best flame that God intends us to be, according to how he made us and to what ends – whether as a wee candle or a brightly burning bush. A toaster oven does not burn bright; there is much heat because there is more resistance than, say, an incandescent bulb. It is resistance, rebellion, distractions, unnecessary things (sins) that get in the way of our being bright lights in the darkness around us. But sometimes even the restrictions God can use for purposes often unknown to us.
In discovering who we are, even now (we are children of God) and realizing the likeness we share with Jesus – even now as we do as He did then on earth, in hidden-ness, obscurity and in not being known, as well as one day (at His appearing and our fully knowing Him and being fully revealed and known ourselves), we receive hope and we must guard and treasure it, as inherent gift and joy of knowing and serving God. In the thrill of God shining in and through us, may there be unceasing resolve to be as ‘pure’ as we can be – not for show, but for tell.
Now – we are children, very much like Jesus, the Son. Then – still very much like Jesus and linked to Him still, we and He will be fully revealed. And we shall see all that God has planned for us, in Him.