Meditations in 1 John : 17 : Are we Children?
1 John 2:12 I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I don’t know if when we get to heaven, we’ll meet people we read about in the Bible. If I meet John I want to ask him why he wasn’t more clear in these next three verses, having caused commentators to scratch around with a variety of interpretations. Some suggest ‘children’ means all Christians and then ‘fathers’ and ‘young men’ (in the next verse) mean different levels of spirituality. Others suggest all three indicate different levels of spirituality. We’ll we’re going to meditate on them one by one and see what comes out.
At the start of this chapter John addresses his readers there as ‘dear children’, (2:1) which is what leads some to suggest chapter 1 is a general introduction explaining the need for the Gospel while chapter 2 moves on to speak to Christians specifically. Whatever the truth, this aged apostle speaks to his readers there from an elderly, pastoral standpoint, with a heart of concern for all God’s people.
Of course in the opening chapter of his Gospel, John wrote, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) Belief, he says, brings about the right to be called children of God, and we are children of God because we are born of His Spirit (see also Jn 3:5) In the beginning of the third chapter of this letter, he writes, “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!” (1 Jn 3:1) so if you are a Christian, have no doubts, you are a child of God!
Now what is the definition of a child? It is a young, young person, possibly recently born. We have, we have already noted, been born again by God’s Holy Spirit; He made us anew when we received His Spirit. Jesus taught, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mk 10:15). What does that mean? Children are childlike in belief; they find it easy to believe. They are simple and straight forward in their belief. That is how we are to be. Take, for instance, that really challenging verse at the Last Supper: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) The worldly, humanistic, rational mind tries to reason how this can be. Simple, childlike faith, says, “Right, if that’s what you say, Lord, what do you want me to do?” The apostle Peter was the classic example of this when he stepped out of the boat at Jesus’ simple instruction, “Come!” and walked on water. “You can’t do that,” the rational mind argues. No of course you can’t – unless Jesus enables you to!
But sometimes children worry. They don’t have the big picture and so they worry. Young Christians sometimes worry because, like Peter on the Lakewhen he took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink. It’s a major learning curve being a young Christian, but young Christians also need reassurance about their behaviour, which is why John emphasizes, for “children”, your “sins have been forgiven.” Young Christians need to be taught and then reminded of the basics of faith and the most basic and fundamental issue of the Christian faith is that Jesus has died for all our sins, past, present and future, and we have been forgiven. This came up earlier in 1 Jn 1:9 with the assurance that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and (will) purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is the fundamental heart of our faith and it opens the door up for us to fellowship more fully with the Father and not give up when we fail, but to pick ourselves up, confess our failure, receive afresh the forgiveness and cleansing that comes through the Cross, and then get on with what He next has for us.
The young believer has to learn that it’s not a case of getting up and trying to be a better person in our own strength or trying to impress God with how good we are. No, instead we are honest about our weaknesses or vulnerabilities and recognize that we need the ongoing working of the Holy Spirit within is to enable us to walk out in faith – as children of God.
It is all about relationship with the Father. John continues a few words on, “I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” (2:13c) Not only have we been born of the Father but now our life is one of knowing Him. That, we as Christians, may take for granted, but the rest of the world does not know it. Appreciate it!
It may be worth distinguishing between ‘children’ and ‘sons’ for often in the New Testament we are called ‘sons’ (women included). The reason behind this is that culturally inIsrael, a son (and especially the oldest son) took on the work of the father, carried on the family business. ‘Children’ is just a recognition of our basic relationship to God our Father. When we start talking about ‘sons’ and ‘sonship’ we are talking about coming into a mature relationship with the Father whereby He shares his heart with us and we enter more fully into the ongoing relationship with Him whereby we perform the works of the kingdom, carrying on His business, as He leads us by His Spirit. That is the wonder of what we have entered into. We start out being little children, but the whole New Testament teaching is that we learn and we grow and we enter more and more into the purposes of the Father. Hallelujah!