“What We Are Now and What We Will Be” (1 John 3:1-7)
Last week we began a series of six straight weeks of Epistle readings from 1 John. Our theme last week was “Fellowship through the Word of Life”: We have fellowship with God and with one another through the Word of Life, enfleshed and proclaimed. Now today we want to find out more of what this fellowship with God means for us, both for now and for the future. And in today’s lesson the apostle John tells us: “What We Are Now and What We Will Be.”
What we are now and what we will be: Sometimes it’s hard enough to get straight in our minds who we are now, let alone try to imagine what we will be in the age to come. But let’s see what we can do on both counts today. St. John gets at both of these things in our text, the now and the not yet. Let’s start with what we are now: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now.”
“God’s children now”: That’s who we are! And that’s quite a statement, isn’t it? To be God’s children is quite an exalted status. What an honor, what a privilege, for God to call us his children! “And so we are.” If God calls us that, then that’s the way it is. Get used to it! This is a good thing. If God calls us his children, then we get to call on him as dear children ask their dear father. If we are God’s children, then he is our Father, and fathers take care of their children, they provide for them and defend them. “You fathers, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,” Jesus said. Now multiply that by about a bazillion, and that’s how much our heavenly Father loves and cares for us.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” What wondrous love is this? God’s love reaches out to embrace sinners who reject him and forget him and would be heading to hell. What kind of love is this? You see what kind of love the Father has when you see Jesus, his Son, living and serving, suffering and dying and rising again for you. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” “And to all who receive him, who believe in his name, God gives the right to become children of God, who are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God.” Yes, you and I have been born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism, and now we are children of the heavenly Father. See, that’s the kind of love the Father has given us!
Can you fathom this love? Can you feel it and know it? Yes, you can, even though the depths of God’s love are beyond our ability to fully measure. The Holy Spirit, whom you received in Baptism–the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. The Spirit does this faith-nourishing work through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament. And so we continually need to be fed by the Word to remain firm in our faith in the Father’s love. Because sometimes it may not look like we are such dearly loved children. It may look like our Father has forgotten us. Like when we don’t know where we’re going to get enough money to make it. We may wonder: Where is the Father’s love now? Or when I look at myself, and I don’t see such a great Christian, and I wonder how God can love a failure like me.
Or like when the world mocks and laughs at us Christians. You see, that’s what we are now too: Mocked and laughed at by the world. Not recognized. Often ridiculed. For example, when we hold a belief that is not politically correct but is biblically and morally right. Just the other day, a nominee for a Cabinet position was attacked by a liberal senator simply for holding the biblical view that homosexuality is a perversion. Another example: Your friends may not understand why you put going to church on Sunday mornings ahead of all other activities. Whatever form the opposition takes, the world does not know the children of God. John tells us why: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” The world does not know God, so they don’t know his children either. The world hates God, rejects Christ, and so they’re not going to understand Christians. They think, “What a bunch of poor deluded fools, falling for that religious hokum! A bunch of holier-than-thou hypocrites!” That’s the attitude of our culture. So don’t look to the world for approval. But do look to your Father in heaven for his love and approval through our Savior Jesus Christ.
What we are now and what we will be: What we are now is God’s dearly loved children. What we will be–well, John gets at that too. He writes: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” “What we will be has not yet appeared.” Notice, John says “has not yet appeared,” not “is impossible to know anything about.” We do know some things about the life to come. It’s just that that life has not yet appeared, been made manifest. The age to come has not yet arrived. You and I, the children of God and heirs of heaven, do not look any different than the children of this world. We still experience the aches and pains, the setbacks and heartaches, of life in this vale of tears. But we have this hope, you see, a hope that animates our expectations and enlivens our steps. We have something to look forward to. And even though that future reality right now is beyond our full comprehension, God does give us enough glimpses into eternity to whet our appetite. John himself was given an extended glimpse into the glories of heaven, and you can read about that in the Book of Revelation. But for now we’ll concentrate on what John tells us here in his epistle.
“But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Just that much, right there, speaks volumes. First, it tells us of Christ’s “appearing,” that is, his second coming, when he comes again with glory at the Last Day, to gather his church together unto himself from the four corners of the earth. What a glorious day that will be! “When he appears,” when our Lord returns to take us home to be with him forever. We look forward to that day, we pray that our Lord comes soon, and we will rejoice to see his coming.
Why? “We know that when he appears we shall be like him,” John writes. Think of that! We shall be like Christ! How so? Our bodies will be raised imperishable, no longer subject to suffering or death. Glorified bodies, fitted out for life everlasting. No more pain, no more sickness, no more sorrow to weigh us down. You will be you, you will have a body–you won’t be a ghost–but it will be a glorified body, kind of like the risen Lord Jesus had in his resurrection appearances to the apostles. We sons of Adam will experience none of the damaging results that came with the fall into sin. Paradise restored, and then some. All of creation will be restored. New heavens and a new earth. Just imagine!
“We know that when he appears we shall be like him.” Who are the “we”? Well, obviously, it will include St. John, and it will include his readers, the Christians in those churches in Asia Minor in the late first century. But the “we” will be bigger than that. It will include all the apostles, Peter and Paul and Matthew and the rest. It will include all the saints, old and new–Abraham and Sarah, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of our Lord, church fathers like Irenaeus and Ambrose, great men of God like Martin Luther and C. F. W. Walther. But then there will be an even larger throng of saints whose names are not written in the history books but are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. All the saints, the countless multitude from every language, tribe, and people, from every land and every century. They’ll all be there, all the children of God, including your father or mother or grandparents who trusted in Christ for their salvation. And, beloved, we will be among them! What a grand reunion this will be!
But here is the best part: “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” “We shall see him as he is.” Even better than seeing Aunt Tillie again, even better than getting to meet King David and St. Paul, even better than that is that we shall see, with our own eyes, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Can you imagine that? We shall see him as he is: exalted, enthroned, dazzlingly brilliant and yet still our gentle shepherd. Still bearing the marks of God’s great love for us in those holy wounds by which he redeemed us. “We shall see him as he is.” And we will see him face to face. My friends, the awe and the joy we will experience are beyond our ability to utter or to fully contemplate. But this gives us something to look forward to, doesn’t it?
“And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” That’s the other thing. What we will be is completely pure and free from sin. No longer will we have the old Adam hanging around our neck. No longer will we have the struggle going on inside us between the new man and our old sinful nature. In that day, and for eternity, we will be free from all sins and evil desires. But for now we’re not quite there yet. For now the battle continues, the struggle remains. So John encourages us to keep up the struggle, to not give up or give in. Christ appeared the first time to take away sins–he, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And thank God he has! Christ’s death on the cross took away all our sins. You are forgiven, clean and pure. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Therefore we the children of God now are called to put away the practice of sinning and instead live for righteousness. This will be a struggle, but God will strengthen us for the fight. We have God’s forgiveness as our refuge when we stumble, and we have God’s resources–the Spirit of his Son, the means of grace–to help us live as the children of God we are.
What we are now and what we will be. What we are now is God’s beloved children, dearly and deeply loved, so much so that he sent his Son to save us. We are God’s children now. What we will be is God’s children forever, raised to the glories of life everlasting, freed from sin, freed from sorrow, in the great fellowship of the saints, and seeing our Savior face to face. Yes, what wondrous love this is! “See what kind of love the Father has given to us!”