1 John 3:1-7 (EHV)
1 See the kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are! The world does not know us, because it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, we are children of God now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he is revealed we will be like him, and we will see him as he really is. 3 Everyone who has this hope purifies himself just as Jesus is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away our sins and in him there is no sin. 6 Anyone who remains in him does not sin. The person who keeps on sinning has not seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone deceive you. Whoever does what is right is righteous just as Jesus is righteous.
Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may live as your righteous children who have been adopted through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you’ve ever been to an animal rescue facility, you may have noticed some animals who have been badly treated in the past.
Perhaps you’ve seen cats or dogs cowering at the back of the shelter; shaking, whimpering and fearful. They may have had sores or scabs on their body. You might have easily seen their rib cages. Their coats may have been matted or bare. While they may have been in recovery, some of these signs gave an indication on how they’ve been abused or neglected in the past.
Out of compassion for these previously uncared-for creatures, many people have willingly adopted rescue animals, but to do so will sometimes test your patience, compassion and perseverance.
You see, what they’ve learnt in the past can take some time to undo.
If you approach an animal who has previously been abused or neglected with a loud and angry voice, or with a stick in your hand, or with a raised arm, you might see the animal shake, whimper, run away or soil themselves. On occasions they might get defensive by barking, snarling, hissing or biting. These are probably the behaviours they learnt for self-preservation under their previous masters.
However, with much care, gentleness, reassurance, compassion and perseverance, these animals might learn to be happy, obedient, and loving. Your persistent care and love and patience for these abused and neglected creatures might earn you their respect, obedience and loyalty. Through your gentle care, they might learn (or perhaps re-learn), how to relate to those around them in a much healthier and positive way.
Now, if this is how animals can respond when we adopt them into a caring, loving environment, what do you think our own response would be when we’ve been adopted by God as his dearly loved children?
As we live in the security and protection of our loving God who grants forgiveness of sins, cleansing from past abuse, rescue from our enemies, nourishment for our faith through his Word and precious Sacraments, peace and fellowship with himself and his holy people, and the promise of life after death, wouldn’t you think our own behaviours might change as we learn to live as God’s children?
We don’t live a new healthier way simply because this is the way we can earn our way into God’s good books. We’re already in his good books because of what Jesus Christ, his own dearly beloved Son, has done for us through his bitter suffering, his vicarious death, and his glorious resurrection. We’ve already been adopted into God’s own holy family and we’ve already been forgiven, cleansed, saved and promised life eternal. Nothing we do can make God love us any more or any less.
But, as God’s dearly beloved children who constantly receive his forgiveness, care and protection; as children who listen carefully and attentively to his holy Word which defines how God calls us to live in righteousness and holiness; and as children who receive grace upon grace, surely a bit of God’s goodness and graciousness would rub off on us!
Now you might be thinking it already does, and maybe this is so.
It could be that people can see how you’ve changed in the way you live and love and serve as a child of God. It could be that you no longer have any of those self-protective behaviours by which you would snap and snarl at those who threaten you. It could be that you no longer whimper or whinge or cry or throw tantrums in order to get what you want. It could be that you’re no longer selfish and self-seeking and will willingly and generously give of your time, energy and money for the sake of God’s kingdom.
It could be that you’re able to forgive all those who offend and trouble you. It could be that you don’t need people’s attention because you know you have God’s attention and that’s all you need. It could be that you’re not afraid of what people think or say or do to you because you already have all the love, approval and care from your heavenly Father, which is enough for you. It could be that you’re already living a righteous life just as Jesus Christ is righteous.
But it could also be that you struggle to live this way.
It could be that your old habits of self-protective behaviours, your selfish attitudes, and your desires for justice from those around you still keep rising from the dead to haunt you. You might still snap and snarl and bite back at those who hurt you. You might struggle to forgive your enemies. It could be you’re not as righteous in your actions, words and thoughts as God expects.
Just to show how serious this is, if we read a little further, we hear John say:
8 The one who continues to sin is of the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning. This is why the Son of God appeared: to destroy the works of the Devil. 9 Nobody who has been born of God continues to commit sin, because God’s seed remains in him. He cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how the children of God and the children of the Devil are obvious: Everyone who does not do what is right is not from God, along with everyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:8-10)
This means, if we’re struggling to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, despite what they’ve done which hurt us, then we’re not of God. If we’re not constantly doing what’s right and good according to God’s Word, then we’re not of God. If it’s not obvious that we’re of God through our righteous thoughts, words and actions, then we could be accused of being of the Devil!
And yet, how many of us continue to struggle to forgive those who sin against us? How many of us struggle to live according to God’s righteous ways?
If the choice is between being children of the Devil and children of God, the answer would be pretty obvious! But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all struggle to live as righteous children of God in all our thoughts, words and deeds!
How can we then live according to these verses? How can we live in righteousness? How can we forgive those who hurt us? How can we demonstrate we’re truly children of God by the way we live out our faith every day?
Well, let’s think back to the analogy of a rescue animal. If the abused or neglected animal is still controlled by fear, the animal won’t change its old behaviours. On the other hand, as the animal learns to trust the new master’s love and compassion, the animal will learn healthier behaviours.
Therefore, the answer for us is to no longer be led by the old masters of fears and desires, which always lead to sin. The answer for us is to trust our loving heavenly Father and be led by his love and righteousness.
While fear controls us, while selfishness controls us, while our desires control us, while past hurts control us, and while we continue to trust ourselves and our own well-practiced unhealthy protective behaviours, our faith won’t be obvious to anyone because the old sinful nature will continue to rule our lives.
On the other hand, as we learn to trust our loving heavenly Father who supplies all our needs for our body and soul, then we may learn to live as the righteous children of God whom he has called us to be.
You see, despite the fact God knows how deeply imbedded our sinful behaviours are, he still chose to adopt us as his dearly loved children anyway. Instead of refusing to forgive us in the vain and futile hope we’ll ever change our ways and repent, he willingly sacrificed his own dearly beloved Son as full payment for our sin. Even though he knows how much the abuses and neglections of the past continue to scar us, he still chooses to love us, and support us, and nourish us so we may live a new life of hope and peace and love.
Because God loves us, he adopted us as his children. In fact, it’s more than this. We’ve actually been born again as his children. We know this because this is what he tells us in his Word, and we can trust his Word because he never lies to us. What God says is true.
This means if God says you’re his children, then that’s who you are. If God says you’ve been reborn, then that means your old nature has died and you’ve been raised to live with him in righteousness, innocence and blessedness. If God says you’re forgiven and made holy through the blood of Jesus, then you’re now innocent and holy in God’s sight.
But, since the old nature with all its doubts and fears keeps wanting to entrap you in the old sinful nature, you need to constantly repent and believe. There’s a need to drown the old nature every day and there’s a need to look to God’s holy provisions to strengthen your faith every day.
As children of God, we no longer want our old selfish life of sin to rule our lives. As reborn Christians, we reject our own sinful natures and instead desire to grow in the righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us through faith in Jesus. As children of God we learn to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
We forgive, not because anyone deserves our forgiveness, but simply because this is how children of God love and live. We forgive those around us because this is the way God forgives us. Our new loving and forgiving nature isn’t dependant on anyone else’s words or works (or lack of them). Our loving and forgiving nature is totally dependant on the words and work of our Triune God.
Fellow children of God, if rescue animals can learn new behaviours based on their new master’s love and compassion, then how much more can we learn to live a new life! After all, we’ve been rescued by our heavenly Father so that we may live a new life of faith and hope and love in his eternal kingdom of grace, which is why…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.