1 John 3:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
3 1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Book of one John looking at how we should respond to Christ after Easter looks at this in belief and action today is looking at spiritual adoption and what it means to be children of God , specifically the righteousness this should bring
After looking at today’s reading for the first time in preparation for this sermon what really struck me was the clarity and confidence with which John declares we are Children of God. It reminded me of the song no longer slaves where it is declared again and again that I am a child of God, and that is what we are, we are Gods children. I don’t know about you but for me this is a mind blowing fact! Prehaps as in the song it this message has become a bit repetitive and we have come numb to its meaning. It’s a message we hear again and again in multiple places in scripture. But do we really understand what it means?
Today I really wanted to open up the amazement of being able to declare that we are Gods children by exploring the concept of spiritual adoption and then using this concept to help understand the somewhat difficult verse at the end of today’s reading.
The concept of spiritual adoption can be found in a few places in scriptures (Romans 8:14–17; Gal 4:1-7, Eph 1:3-10). Don’t have time to read all these verses but I would like to read the Galatians one to you from V4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. and because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
In the time that John was writing this letter adoption was happening. In Roman law there was arrangements made to guide the process of adoption and what the league consequences of this were.
One of the main forms of adoption in this time was that of a slave being adopted by the family they served. It was sometimes the case that a wealthy Roman family may be without Children and so without an heir to their estate. Yet as a wealthy Roman couple they had slaves serving in their household. While these slaves served in the family they had no entitlement to their inheritance. They were just the staff and if the couple passed and had no one to continue their lineage these staff would remain in slavery and if they were lucky find work in another household. However, in some instances a couple may choose to adopt a slave. In this instance everything would change, instead of having to find more work at the passing of the couple this slave was now an heir to their estate. But this adoption did not only the future inheritance to look forward to. Once adopted the legal status of the slave change to that of Roman citizen. AS we know from reading in Acts and hearing about Pauls trials, being a Roman citizen carried with it special privileges. As such, adoption at the time John wrote this was a concept similar to what we have today
So John is using the earthly example of adoption to help us understand the greatest adoption of all: our spiritual adoption through Christ. We as humanity were destine to a life of slavery to the ways of this world. We had no entitlement to Christ riches or the things of the kingdom. Yet though Christ death and resurrection we were adopted into Christ family. As such we became heir to the very same inheritance, resurrection and life eternal as well as the current benefits in this life, freedom from the law and sin. There are so many processes in the adoption process both in Roman time and today that draw a parallel with our spiritual adoption in Christ.
Firstly adoption isn’t cheap, today the adoption process is a very expensive process. Not just in terms of finances but also in terms of time and emotional energy. Again our spiritual adoption wasn’t cheap, Christ brought us with hos sacrifice on the cross. That sacrifice paid the ransom which was holding us as slaves to sin. It was ony through that ransom that we could be adopted into Christ kingdom. So our adoption was brought at a high price.
This price that was paid for us was out of a want not a need. Most earthy adoptions do not happen because the parents need children but because they want children. In many cases families that adopt already have their own biological children and so adoption is not the only means for them to have children. But even in cases where couples can not have biological children the desire to adopt comes out of a deep want for children not a deep need. With God this is the same case. He did not need to adopt us, In Matthew 3:9 it is declared how out of stone God could raise up children of Abraham. As such God did not need to need to adopt us, he would have been perfectly fine without adopting us. Yet he wanted to adopted us. Christ paid that price not because he needed you but because he wanted you. You, in all your imperfection is what Christ wanted. Christ wants you
Through the adoption process the adopted child gains equal right with the biological child. I know a family that has both an adopted and a biological child and they explain this to their children in such a wonderful way. Each child has a story book which explains how they became part of their family. For the adopted child it mentions the situation behind their adoption and how God guided their new family to adopted them. While for the biological child it explains how came to be part of the family. Yet in both books what is highlighted is that they are an equal part of this one family. As the book says, there are many ways in which families are made and just as you were adopted or conceived that does not make you any less a part of this family. And this is true for our spiritual adoption too! Christ is the “biological” child of God the father – to speak in earthy terms. Christ was with God from the beginning and a biological part of the God head. While we are the adopted children adopted into the body of Christ. And as adopted children we are fully a part of that body. We enjoy the same relationship with the father and we share the same future inheritance as Christ, resurrection from the dead and a life eternal in the company of the farther. This equal inheritance John has hinted at in the first part of his reading, that we do not need to fear what will happen at the coming of Christ as we are a part of Chirst family and by being part of that family we have been purified as Christ was purified. We are not strangers but heirs.
This then has covered some of the major concepts within our spiritual adoption and what it means to be a child of God. So we can now turn to use this understanding to help us understand the latter half of today’s reading.
As we have just heard, We have been brought into the family of God at a price and no cheap price. Further we have heard how we are equal heirs with Christ and heirs which God wanted. As such we need to live in awareness of the facts of our spiritual adoption. As a part of God family we need to live in a way that uphold the family name.
Being a Christian, being one chosen by Christ is a privilege. Without our adoption we would be nothing, trapped to the ways of the world, but with our adoption we have life. As such we need to live in a way that acknowledges what a great and awesome things Christ has won for us. To speak in more theological terms, while we may be justified by faith, and outwork of our faith should be correct action.
This is the background to our reading as here from v John is emphasising this very point in extreme language: reading from the ESV. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness: sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. Those in the family of God should not make a practice of sin, this is lawlessness which John speaks of is lawlessness against the laws of Gods house hold, a house hold we have been adopted into. Christ came to abolish sin, so whoever carries on making a practice of sin is against Christ. Those who do not repent from their sins and attempt to reform their ways make a practice of sin. And this practice of sin is lawlessness against Christ. John even goes as far to say that those who keep making a practice of sin have no seen Christ while those who have seen Christ no longer sin.
As we know from last week, to not sin is impossible. AS we read anyone who says they don’t sin makes Christ a lier. SO here it would seem that John, when talking about sin is not referring to every sin under the sun. Rather he is referring to those who make a practice of sin and framing it in extreme language to get the reader’s attention. His point is that being Children of God means we should not make a practice of sin, that being part of Gods family and drawing our identity to that should mean we practices righteousness. But do we get that message?
How many of us today know people who claim to be Christian but make a practice of sin. How many of us even make a practice of sin? It seems that a bad attitude has developed towards the freedom with which Christ forgive which overlooks the price he paid to adopt us into his family. Forgiveness is seen as a get out of jail free card. Sure I may sin on the weekend but if I go to church on a Sunday and ask for forgiveness I’ll be forgiven. I’m already forgiven why should I change. This is the attitude I come across so often. OR on the other end of the spectrum, we don’t even recognise our sins. All Christian are part of one body and all humanity is created in the image of God. Yet how often to we bad mouth other believers and even more so other people. How often do we discriminate against others due to race, gender or sexual orientation. When we do this we discriminate against God, when we do this we sin. And when we do this we are doing is dragging the family name of Christ into disrepute. You wouldn’t drag your own family name into disrepute if you knew something was wrong and damaging your family image surly you would stop. If you knew your actions brought disrespect to your family why would you continue. But this is what so many Christians do. We are a family, brought by the sacrifice of Christ and bound together by the love of God. Yet we still drag the family into disrepute. As we belong to such a loving family we abuse that love, we know how freely we are forgiven so we don’t bother to change. Or we personalise that love and forget the wider family, we know God loves us but we don’t share that love with other.
Yet if you don’t bother to change or notice the way we sin, we are being lawless and making a practice of sin and lawlessness and Johns here is questioning if you are even fit to be classed as a Christian at all. Are you really fit to call yourself a member of the family of Christ? Those in Christ family practice righteousness, they do not give into the ways of the world, in fact the world does not even know them at time. Those in Christ family acknowledge that they are children of God and just as they have a responsibility to their earthy families for how they act, they also have a responsibility towards their heavenly family and this leads to a practice of righteousness. Righteousness is not the absence of sin but the presence of a lifestyle that consciously tries to do what is right. It is a way of life that is consistently trying to live within the laws of Gods family and not to drag the family name into disrepute
So in recognition of Christ death on the cross, the price which he paid to adopt us into his family, ask yourself and I living as a worthy member of this family. Am I truly grateful for what Christ brought for me, do I truly recognise the wonder of being able to call myself a child of God. OR am I making a mockery of my adoption and I abusing the love of God and dragging the family name into disrepute, do I make a practice of lawlessness?