Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 30, 2010

Sermon on 1 John 3:1-2


  1. Right now
  2. For eternity

 Text: 1 John 3:1-2


Who are the most important people in your life?  Your spouse.  Your children and your parents.  Your grandparents and your grandchildren.  Your aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews.  I strongly suspect that the largest group represented in your list of important people comes from your family.  The bond we have in a family is stronger than most other friendships and connections we’ll make while we’re on this side of heaven.  Families can be broken and suffer dysfunction, but for the most part the closest people to our hearts are the people in our family.

One of the ways that the Bible describes our relationship to God is by calling us his children.  When a person is brought to faith in Jesus Christ, that person becomes a child of God.  Given the close connection that families provide, this picture should tell us how near and dear believers are to God.  But what exactly does it mean that we are a part of God’s family?  What does it mean to be a child of God?  That question will drive our sermon today, and the answers we discover will provide good food for thought as we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation today and as we begin our four-week stewardship program this morning.  Today’s sermon is based on two verses from First John chapter three; those verses will tell us what it means to be a child of God right now, and what it means to be a child of God for eternity.  Let’s listen to the words that the Holy Spirit inspired John to write and that we will study this morning.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  (1 John 3:1-2, NIV) 


One of the reasons the apostle John wrote this letter was to refute a false idea that had begun to infiltrate the early church.  This false teaching was called Gnosticism.  The word Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge.  Those who promoted Gnosticism claimed to offer a special secret knowledge that would lead a person into a supposedly deeper form of Christianity.  I won’t get into a complete discussion of Gnosticism here, but let it suffice to say that Gnosticism was not in line with the teachings of Scripture.

John wanted his readers to know that they were already the children of God right then and there, without additional secret knowledge or wisdom that Gnosticism supposedly offered.  Listen again to the first two sentences of our reading.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”

There are four features in the opening sentence that deserve our attention; each of them highlights the generous and gracious love God had already given John’s believing readers.  [1] Our translation doesn’t include the first word that John wrote, but we could translated it “Behold!” or “Look!”  You tell someone to look up when you have something important to show them, and the unique love of God for his people right now was something worth paying attention to.  [2] The second Greek word could be translated “what kind of” – “Look at what kind of love the Father has given us.”  John wants his readers to notice that the kind of love God shows to his children was out of the ordinary; God’s love for his children is unique and special.  [3] The third Greek word in John’s sentence tells us what kind of love God’s children receive.  The Greek word is agape, one of four Greek words that can be translated “love.”  But agape love is the highest form of love—love that someone gives not because you are lovable, but because they are loving.  Agape focuses on the loving nature of the person giving love in spite of whatever unworthiness there may be in the person receiving that love.  [4] Finally, John says that this is love the Father “has lavished on us.”  The actually Greek word is simpler—it’s simply “love the Father has given us.”  Built into that word is the idea that God had given his love to his people in the past and that those past actions extended God’s love into the present.  God sent his Son into this world and sacrificed him for the world’s sin on the cross, and that sacrifice still has relevance in the present.  God adopted the recipients of John’s letter through Holy Baptism, and their adoption in the past was still relevant and valid in the present.  All of this describes “the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”

Members of a wealthy family might stand out from the rest of society because their wealth makes them famous or causes them to get attention.  Children of God are rich in love and spiritual blessings from their heavenly Father.  Perhaps we assume that this means that believers will stand out from the crowd and get positive attention from society.  But John tells us that this is not the case.  “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  God’s children need to remember that the love they have comes from God, not from the world.  The world is not going to think much of believing Christians because the world doesn’t think much of Christ.  When the world rejects Christians and the Christian message, believers need to remember that that kind of response is to be expected.  Don’t bother looking for acceptance from the world; rather, cherish the love and acceptance that comes from being a child of God.

What does it mean to be a child of God?  I suppose that question could be used to describe the issues during the Lutheran Reformation.  The church of Luther’s day did not take the gospel seriously, and it failed to acknowledge what Scripture says about the way we become children of God.  The church of Luther’s day said that the way to become a child of God was through the good works you performed, the Masses you bought or attended, and the indulgences you purchased from the church.  The church of Luther’s day said that what you did was ultimately the way to become God’s child.  Faith in what Christ did – that wasn’t enough, despite the fact that this is what Scripture clearly teaches.

So now that the Lutheran Reformation took hold and is seven years shy of its five hundredth anniversary, we have the way to become God’s child all straightened out now, right?  If only!  To be sure, there are no Lutheran campaigns to bring back the sale of indulgences.  But there is a default setting in every person—yes, every Lutheran, including us today—that likes to look at the things we do for God.  There is a default setting inside our sinful hearts that likes to think that our church attendance, our offerings, our generally respectable reputation, our knowledge, our skills, and our Christian education earn us at least a little bit of credit before God and help us gain status as his children.  There is a default setting inside our sinful hearts that thinks like the self-righteous Pharisees of Jesus’ day and the church of Luther’s day.

Then reality hits.  The reality of God’s law says that your so-called righteousness is no better than dirty laundry before God.  The reality of God’s law says that if you think you have made yourself his child, you have all but shut yourself out of his family.  If for even a moment we think that we have some spark of worth or merit that secures our membership in God’s family, God’s law will come down on us with all its crushing demands to reveal a life filled with failures to follow our heavenly Father and the eternal punishment that accompanies our sin.

This is why biblical truths rediscovered in the Reformation were—and are—so important.  Behold!  Look at what sort of tremendous love God has shown us in spite of our sinful state!  How great is the love of the Father who sent his Son into this world to be our Brother!  How great is the love of the Father who commissioned his Son to take our place on Calvary’s cross and be our sacrificial Savior!  How great is the love of the Father who raised his Son from the dead and proclaimed him to be victor over our sin and our grave!  And then behold again!  Look at the ways that God has delivered that love to you so that you are a member of his family right now.  In Holy Baptism you were declared to be his adopted child without conditions or restrictions.  In the Word of God, you are told again and again that you are his redeemed and loved child.  In the Sacrament of the Altar, you are fed Sunday after Sunday by Christ Jesus, who was sacrificed once for all and who now nourishes us with the body and blood he gave for us.  These tools from Christ—Word, Baptism, Communion—are what keep you in faith and what make you a child of God through faith right now!


In verse one, the apostle John told his readers what it means to be a child of God right now.  But the story about God’s children doesn’t stop now.  In the second verse of our reading, John goes on to describe what it means to be a child of God for eternity in heaven.  “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Believers in Jesus are children of God right now, but that status now does not bring perfection or paradise into our lives right now.  That will come with the return of Christ on the Last Day.  John tells us that on that day we will be like God.  We won’t become a divine being, but we will share in the holy and perfect existence that God first gave human beings at creation and that will be finally restored in heaven.  And so for the first time, we will be able to see God in all his glory and power and might—something that sinful people cannot do, but with sin removed forever, we will finally be able to see God for who is truly is!  That’s a very small but important part of what it will mean to be God’s child for eternity in heaven.

A college student just finished her degree.  Her parents threw a graduation party to celebrate her accomplishments.  When she arrived, her father gave her an unexpected graduation present—a new car!  He handed her a set of keys and said, “It’s yours!”  But it wasn’t there.  The dealership was taking care of final details on the new vehicle.  In a couple of days, when the car was ready, it was hers.  Even though her new car wasn’t in the driveway and she couldn’t step into on graduation day, there was no doubt that the car her father bought as a graduation present belonged to her.

Even though we are not enjoying the perfection prepared for us in heaven, there is no doubt that the eternal gift God purchased for us through the death of his Son belongs to us.  God handed you the keys to heaven on the day of your baptism.  As his adopted and redeemed child, you know that your place in God’s family only becomes greater in heaven—where sin forgiven becomes sin removed, where earthly problems become ancient history, where joy and peace and perfection are the norm forever!  Your Spirit-given faith in the resurrection of Jesus assures you that you are God’s child for all eternity.


Today is Reformation Day.  For us at Gloria Dei, it is also the first Sunday of our annual stewardship program.  Perhaps you wonder what kind of mental gymnastics it’s going to take to connect Reformation with stewardship.  But the connection is quite simple.  Today we focus on the message of God’s no-strings-attached grace.  Today we give thanks to God for the gospel that forgives us through Christ’s work apart from anything we have done.  That beautiful gospel message not only forgives us, but it enables us to serve God with grateful hearts and manage the blessings he has given us to his glory.  Stewardship results from being a child of God.  What great news to celebrate again today!  What inspiring news to compel our stewardship every day!  Amen.



%d bloggers like this: