15. No Longer Orphans

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

15. No Longer Orphans

Jn 1:12,13 to all who did receive 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.

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Me – Us?: I wonder if you were asked what aspect of ‘being a Christian’ stood out most to you, what you would reply? A believer? A church-goer? A good person? I want to suggest in this study that our starting and finishing point is that I am a child of God. That speaks of origins and identity, and it speaks of ongoing relationship, and it opens up thoughts about the future and our eternal destiny. Let’s browse together in this field.

Alienated: Psychologists talk about alienation, environmentalists talk about alienation, Marxists talk about alienation. It simply means being separated or estranged from some essential part of life. That counterfeit religion, Marxism, blames capitalism for isolating and dehumanizing people, psychologists blame relationships for human breakdown, sociologists blame society for human injustices that warp outlook. There is always a cause and always an effect. Sometimes in the context of his writings, the apostle Paul used the word ‘Gentiles’ to simply mean those who had no relationship with God. Speaking of this group he said, “For they live blindfold in a world of illusion and cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness. They have stifled their consciences and then surrendered themselves to sensuality.” (Eph 4:18,19 JBP) See the cause: ignorant of God, insensitive to Him, hardening themselves (their consciences) to Him. See the effect: they just live lives given over to the five senses – and that is all. They are alienated from God, separated and cut off from Him, and thus live in a world of illusion, of deception, of delusion, and it feels lonely.

The Big Picture: The truth is that God created and brought this world into being and designed us to be people who had a relationship with Him, but that was lost at the Fall. There may be a bundle of secondary reasons why we experience difference sorts of alienation – from ourselves (not facing who we truly are), from others (not being able to relate to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and so on, but the ultimate truth is that because we are alienated from God, the One we were designed to relate to as Father, all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. And that is how it would stay if God had not foreseen all of this and planned to counteract it by the work of His Son and His Spirit.

The Problem of Sin: Have you ever thought that when God said, “you must not eat from…” (Gen 2:17), the first and only prohibition, in their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers? Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects, and so on, so many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God’s wisdom in provision.

But then came, “Did God really say…”  (Gen 3:1) and behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. And that is how it has been for you and me ever since. We sin, we do wrong, we miss the mark, we fall short, and all these things alienate us from God. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid from God immediately after their disobedience (Gen 3:8), the deep-down sense of our failures, our inadequacies, our falling short, mean that we too feel alienated from God. We should be children of God but we lost our relationship, we became orphans.

Adopted? Which is what makes that verse in the first chapter of John so wonderful: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12) We ‘become’ – we weren’t but now we are adopted into God’s family, taken back into the family where we were designed to be from the start. Expanding that, as the Amplified Bible puts it, to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name.” See the new cause: believing, sticking to, trusting in, relying on Jesus – that is what brings about this new relationship. See the new effect: we become children of God, and when it says, “He gave the authority”, those other words explain that God conveys the right to be called a child, the privilege of being a child of God, and the power to be a child of God. Keep on turning those words over. I not only have the privilege of being able to be called a child of God, I have been given a legal right from heaven of having that title – and it doesn’t stop there – and I also have the power to live as a child of God.

Divine Act: But how and why? Because of what follows:  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:13) There is early warning of what was to come a couple of chapters later – “Children born…. Of God”Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn 3:6,7) So why, to use the language above, do I have the right to be called a ‘child of God’? Because I am a product of the work of God, Him justifying me, Him placing His Holy Spirit within me to indwell me. Why do I have the power of a child of God? Because His power indwells me.

Different! Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the second of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different – I am given the right to be called a child of God because I have been born of God – He has made me that when I surrendered to Him, and that is only possible because of the work of Christ on my behalf on the Cross, (It is for you also if you receive it as such!) and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in me for the rest of my life. How wonderful!

30. Aspiring to Sonship

Aspiring Meditations: 30.  Aspiring to Sonship

Matt 5:9   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Matt 5:44,45   Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Rom 8:14   those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

In what I believe will be the last in the series, we face the fact of who we now are as Christians, a term that does not always sit very comfortably with some but which is nevertheless a very significant term – sons.

We tend to be more comfortable with John’s teaching about us being ‘children’ of God, for example, “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) and in his first letter, “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.” (1 Jn 3:1,2)

So if we are comfortable with ‘children’, why not so comfortable with ‘sons’? I think there are two reasons. One if I was a woman, I would prefer to be called a daughter but, as we’ll see there was a special significance to ‘sons’. The second reason, I suspect, is that of course Jesus is THE Son of God, and he is unique and we don’t want to detract from that, yet the scriptures are quite clear that by our lives we will show that we are God’s ‘sons’, His offspring with special privileges.

We see this in Paul’s writings: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:8,7) See the significance in what he says here. He has put into us His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and so as He lives and works through us, so we emulate THE Son and are, if you like, ‘little sons’, little replicas of Jesus, or at least that is what He is working towards (see 2 Cor 3:18). Earlier in Galatians he wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26,27) It was by faith we came to Christ and the other side of the coin, from the side that says he was put into us (his indwelling Holy Spirit), says we are (figuratively) put into him (baptized or immersed in him) and thus become one with him.

When he wrote to the Ephesians Paul said, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Eph 1:5), i.e. the long-term plan (from before Creation) was for salvation to mean that we were adopted into God’s family, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, to bring pleasure to God as His will is worked out in this way.

Now there are various scriptures that indicate that the way we live and act reveal to the world who we are, for example, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Lk 6:35) Our starter verse above says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9) In other words, as we behave with the same nature as God – being kind, loving enemies, and doing good to them, and acting as a peacemaker (do you see how the two verses fit together?) you will be acting as a child of God, no, a son of God. So what is so significant about the son?

To answer that we have to go back into the culture of Old Testament Israel. The word ‘sons’ comes up 883 times in the Bible, most of them in the Old Testament. Observe something in respect of Noah and his family after the Flood: “So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.” (Gen 8:18) but then a little later, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1) The whole family was saved but it was Noah and his three sons that God blessed? Why? Well look right the way through a concordance of the Old Testament and you see that it is the sons who hold and convey the family name, even as it is mostly today. Why? I can only make suggestions.

Childbirth, I suggest, is the most demeaned human activity when it comes to ideology. To say men and women are equal is often a meaningless comment. Yes, I believe at work there are still centuries of the world’s understanding to be overcome, so there should be equal pay for doing the same job, but a much more meaningful description of the sexes is simply to say we are different, and THE difference is that a woman bears children and then has the heart to raise them. Yes, I applaud men who share in that, but I observe the heart of my wife as she refers to our three children. They came out of her body and nothing can diminish that. She has a feeling, an understanding of them, if you like, that I cannot possibly have because she carried them, she birthed them, she weaned them and I did none of those things, and historically no man can ever do those things and if in our foolish world today we lose that, we are simply showing our folly.

But this is only one side of the coin but I’m afraid it needs saying in this world of distorted truths. The other side of the coin historically is, very simply, that while the wife was doing those three things, the man was out making a name for himself and making provision for the family. It has nothing to do with inequality but simply to do with giving the man status to earn in the world in order to provide for his family. So the follow-on from that is from pre-teenage years (age 12) the son was recognized for what he was to become – the earner – and thus followed in his father’s footsteps in work or business, so that he too could become established as the earner once his own father got too old to work or died. (It was Jesse’s sons who looked after the sheep and went out to war and it was Jacob’s sons who looked after his flocks – with the exception of spoilt Joseph).

Now here is the point, when we are called the bride of Christ (and that includes us men) that refers to the preparation of the present body of Christ (the church) for the return of Jesus. When we are called ‘sons of God’ it is to emphasise the life we have been called to, continuing the Father’s business and also recognising that one day there is an inheritance yet to be received in heaven. Present responsibilities and opportunities serving the Father, and a future hope of a glorious eternity with Him, that is what this is about.

But it is all about understanding (remember, seeing the ‘significance’ of it), and taking hold of it, appropriating it. Aspiring to all these various things in this series is an expression of being a son of God, wanting to enter into the fullness of the life or inheritance that is ours, towards more and more living out all those things, including growing into maturity and more fully being available to serve Him – following in the Father’s business, bringing about the kingdom of God on earth. May we each move more and more into the fulfillment of this aspect of our life with the Lord. Amen.

34. Heirs of God

Meditations in Romans : 34:  Heirs of God

Rom 8:16,17   The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I largely find, as I look around and listen to what I hear in church, an absence of the awareness of being God’s children. Indeed I believe some Christians would almost feel it presumptuous to call themselves children of God, but that is the clear teaching of Scripture and, even more, in the verse we finished on in the previous meditation, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit Himself testifies or confirms with our own spirit that that is what we are, so if we deny it, we deny what the Spirit within is trying to tell us – You are God’s child! We covered that already when we noted the words, you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (8:15) Every time we feel inclined to turn to God in prayer, it is the Holy Spirit reminding us of the relationship we have with the Father.

Now this is important to follow through because of where Paul next takes us: “Now if we are children…”   He’s not saying ‘if’ in any derogatory, challenging way; he’s saying, “Now because we are children of God…” Accept it: you ARE a child of God if you are a Christian. The apostle John was strong on this: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (Jn 1:12) and, “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 John 3:1)

So, OK, let’s move on, “Because we are children of God…. we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  An heir is simply someone who has received an ‘estate’ (however extensive or small that may be). The ‘estate’ is simply whatever is being left by the deceased. We receive the property or rights or whatever, being left to us by the person who has died. It wasn’t ours beforehand, but it is now. It has been left to us and it now belongs to us. Now there is something significant in the words of this verse. Note: heirs OF God, co-heirs WITH Christ. God has left this to us and we share the ‘this’ with Christ.  This is where most of us come unstuck, because we’ve heard the teaching – you are an heir – but we are left wondering, “What is it I’ve been left?”

Well, let’s take a step back again: we are now children of God, “sons of God” (8:14) and we said previously that whenever in the New Testament there is this sort of wording, it harps back to the Old Testament concept of the eldest son who took over the father’s business and carried it on. What have we inherited? The Father’s business! What is the Father’s ‘business’? Is it not to love the world and draw it back to Himself? I am sure that God, being the Almighty Being that He is, does billions of things in the rest of Creation, but as far as this planet is concerned, the Bible reveals to us that God is always at work (Jn 5:17) and Jesus did what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:19) and now draws us into doing the same things (Jn 14:12). How can we do that, we ask in panic, and the answer is, by the Spirit he has put within us – HE is the one who does it using us as the vessels through which to move.

But then Paul has a further thought and it is as if he then says, “Look, you’ve got to be whole hearted in all this. I mean when you came to Christ you totally surrendered yourself and gave up your will to God’s will, and that means to all of it. So when it comes to sharing in the Father’s ‘business’ it means taking all that that involves, the bad as well as the good or, if you like, the bad to ensure we get the good as well.” Hence he writes, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” i.e. if we want to share in God’s business, sharing in Jesus’ ministry, we have got to realise that because we live in a fallen world and contend with an enemy, and have to cope with others who are not where we are, it is sometimes going to get rough!

This is not saying anything surprising. It’s a fact of spiritual life. Because we live in a sin-filled world and there is an enemy in the form of Satan, his demons and powers and principalities of darkness (Eph 6:12), there will be people who are against us just as there were people who were against Jesus and his disciples. This, unfortunately, (and we would prefer it was otherwise) is how it is living and ministering in a fallen world. Sometimes it gets difficult (to say the least!).

The apostle Paul was possibly the ultimate example of this. Listen to his testimony: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:23-27)

Now of course most of us are not called to do what he did but we may still suffer opposition at work or college or school or from neighbours, but whatever it is, the apostle Paul could go on a declare, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (8:18)  As his argument goes on, it does, we suggest, indicate that this glory to “be revealed in us” is actually in this lifetime but we will have to wait for the next meditation to consider that.

In the meantime, hold on to the thrust of verses 16 and 17: we ARE children of God and so we have inherited God’s ‘business’ which we share with Jesus, bringing His love and goodness into this fallen world to draw back to Him whoever will hear and respond. The wonder of it all is that we don’t do it on our own but we do it by Jesus’ leading and by the empowering of his Holy Spirit who he has put within us. Hallelujah!

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!

32. Lawless or…

Meditations in 1 John : 32 : Lawless or…

1 John  3:4,5  Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.

I once bought a fairly substantial book, a theological book I hasten to add, about ‘Sin’.  Although there are generalizations and even definitions from the Bible about sin, as I commented in a previous meditation, when it comes down to assessing individual thoughts, words or actions, it is frequently very difficult to know whether particular things are ‘sins’. Obviously there are lists of behaviour in the New Testament that are clearly things we are told not to do which must suggest they are sins, but in daily life it is not always easy to say this or that thing is a sin, and over the centuries Christians have often tied themselves in knots over these things.

When we come to our verses today, we find one of the fairly rare occasions where sin is defined. But we must, as always observe the context because one verse flows on from the other. In the verse before these today, we find John speaking about purity in the Christian life. This is just him expressing the same thing he’s said before in a different ways.

John has used light and darkness (e.g. 1 Jn 1:5-7) to contrast godly and ungodly or righteous and unrighteous living. He’s an old man and he wants to ensure that the Christian community is living in reality and reality declares that when you come to Christ and are born again you will start living differently. It’s not theoretical, it’s practical, it’s about what you do. He doesn’t want us to sin (1 Jn 2:1), he wants us to obey God’s commands (1 Jn 2:3-6) as an expression of His love in us. You can’t be light and darkness at the same time (1 Jn 2:9-11). The world is self-centred (1 Jn 2:15-17) and there are many antichrists (1 Jn 2:18,19) but we are different and know the truth (1 Jn 2:20-27) because we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit,  and look forward to Jesus’ return (1 Jn 2:28). So now we are children of God (1 Jn 3:1) looking forward to being like him when he returns (1 Jn 3:2) and thus we purify ourselves in preparation (1 Jn 3:3)

Now John is a good teacher and he repeats himself many times in different ways to drive home the point. He also uses contrasts to make it clearer, so having just spoken about purity in our lives, by stark contrast, he now describes the life of non-Christians, a life that should not be seen in us! He’s already encouraged us to keep the Law or obey God’s commands, so now he declares that, “Everyone who sins breaks the law.” If you are trying to follow all God’s commands in the New Testament, you can’t sin, because sinning is breaking the commands. In fact, he goes on, “sin is lawlessness.” There’s the definition!

Let’s try and get a bigger picture. When God designed this world, we said in an earlier meditation, He designed it so that we work in particular ways and to work best, we have to work in one way and if we work contrary to that we will ‘break down’. But working contrary to God’s design is disregarding or rebelling against God’s design. It is us saying that we know better than God. All the Law is, or the commands of God that we now find in the New Testament, is an expression of God’s will or, in other words, the way He has designed us to live best.

To speak of us being ‘lawless’ simply refers to our tendency or disposition to do our own thing, disregarding God’s wisdom as revealed in His word. Sin, very simply, is anything that runs contrary to His will, to His word. It is us disregarding Him and what He has said. Now we must see that this is folly and must not be part of our lives. As we noted earlier, sometimes it is not always easy to discern what exactly is the Lord’s will. When it is specifically stated in the text of the New Testament, that is easy, but sometimes things occur which do not seem to be tied down so clearly. At such times we need to seek him, asking for clarity, and then listen to the witness of the Spirit, who will seek to convey and communicate His concern when we do stray.

If we do stray, we must realise that it is contrary to all that Jesus came to do, as John says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.”  Jesus life and death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension was all to deliver us from sin and enable us to come back into a right relationship with the Father. If we continue to sin, we are pushing all that work of Jesus aside.

But there is more than that for, “in him is no sin.”  If we are supposed to be ‘in Christ’ it is inconceivable that we can carry on sinning because there is no sin in Christ, it is alien to him and should be alien to his body. In all these ways, John is saying: you are different, so live differently!

30. Yet to Come

Meditations in 1 John : 30 : Yet to Come

1 John  3:2  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.

For some twenty plus years I have preached, “God loves you exactly as you are, but he also loves you so  much that He has something better for you than what you are at present.” John hints at this same thing. In his distinguishing Christians from the world and from the antichrists, he has noted that we are actually children of God, we are the ones who have a living relationship with the Father in heaven, by means of the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross.

Yes, we are actually children of God now, this very minute. We won’t have to wait for some future date or experience to be made children of God; He’s already made us that – but what we are at the present is not a finished work, but a work in progress. There are a number of hints at that in the New Testament.

One of the most obvious ones, in the light of our present verse, is from the apostle Paul: “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:15-18) Paralleling our experience with that of Moses whose face shone when he met the Lord in the Tabernacle, Paul says we are being changed bit by bit, more and more, as we too encounter the Lord. Notice the phrase “ever increasing glory”. That speaks about ongoing change.

Later in that same letter Paul speaks of, “as your faith continues to grow.”  (2 Cor 10:15) His expectation is that not only will we grow older but we will also grow in faith. To the Ephesians he wrote, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph  4:15,16) The growth he speaks of there is growing up into Christ, presumably becoming more like him, and that in turn will build and strengthen the Church.

The apostle Peter spoke similarly: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2) His point was that if we yearned for the truth, the word of God, we would grow up spiritually.  At the end of his second letter he expressed his hope that his readers would, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18).

So there we have it: the Christian life is to be a life of growth and change as word and Spirit and the very presence of the Lord change us. We grow in faith and we grow in grace and we become more and more like Jesus as we serve the Lord. This is an ongoing process that will continue until the moment we die and leave this earth, or Jesus comes back.

And that brings us right back to our verse today. The end product of what we will become has not yet been made known.   We may think we have an idea but the reality is that we really don’t know what we are going to be like as the ‘end product’ beyond saying we shall be like him.  And why will we be like him? The answer, according to John is because we shall see him as he is.  That will be the culmination of that process that Paul referred to in 2 Cor 3 where we are changed in ever increasing glory because of our contact with him.

So, to put it right back into context, we are distinguished from the rest of the world because we are children of God who have embarked on a wonderful God-led life where we are being constantly changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and that means we will be exhibiting his character and doing, and been seen to be doing, the same things he did.   These are the realities that distinguish us; this is what the Christian life is all about.

29. Children

Meditations in 1 John : 29 : Children of God

1 John  3:1  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.

We have considered this earlier in this letter but it does bear considering again more fully. The focus is on us being ‘children of God’. Now nine times in this little letter John addresses us, the readers, as “Dear children”. This is simply, first of all, a sign of his elderly, fatherly, pastoral heart. Godly fathers look on their children with concern and affection. They understand what it means to very young. A good father doesn’t expect too much of its child. It knows the child is immature, he knows the child is subject to childish irresponsibility. He is aware of what it means to be a child and a good father is there to protect and provide. Bear all this in mind when you think of God as our Father.

But, beyond that, he also speaks of us as children of God, which is a far bigger thing. It will occur again later in the letter but for now he simply stamps this designation on us. Isn’t it wonderful, he says, that we should be called children of God. I have a feeling if we said to our next door, unbelieving neighbour, “I am a child of God,” they would think negative things about us – but that IS the truth.  Yet there is that division between our unbelieving neighbour and us; it’s just that we don’t like to accentuate it with such words.

Yet this is the thrust of these words in this verse, that it is wonderful being a child of God and it reveals to us how wonderful God’s love is that we should be so called. The apostle Paul helps us realise how wonderful it is by first focusing on what we once were: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:1-3)  That’s what we were like before God rescued us. We were spiritually dead, living out a life characterized by transgressing, breaking or ignoring God’s law, and therefore full of sins, a prey to the wiles, directions and temptations of the evil one, who was encouraging our disobedience, encouraging us to just focus on our own personal desires with little thought of the consequences. That was the mess that we were in previously.

Then Paul says similar things to John: “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ… raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4-7)  There you are, that’s what God did – He made us spiritually alive, gave the experience of the heavenly realms so that He could go on and on, throughout our lives here on this earth, pouring out His blessings on us.

And why did He do it? It was His great love and mercy. As John says, He lavished it on us. ‘Lavished’ is a very descriptive word. It means He poured it out in great abundance on us. There was nothing skimpy about God’s salvation. It fully dealt with all our sins, it fully cleansed us from the effects of them all, it put His Holy Spirit within us, it called us children of God and sons of God and friends of God, and it entered us on a course of blessing that would continue on throughout our time here on earth. It would mean that again and again God would forgive us our individual failures, again and again He would pick us up and restore us to Himself, again and again He would take us and use us again, and give us the joy of working within His master plan. And why? Because He loves us! It is that simple! Amazing!

But as we pointed out earlier, by the very nature of all of that, it provides a chasm between us and our unbelieving neighbours: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  Unless the Holy Spirit is working in them, drawing them to Himself, when we try to share these things with them, they look at us wondering whatever we are going on about. They may feel we are weird or freaky, certainly strange, and we show them up, for we have something they don’t have: peace, assurance and joy. Our unbelieving neighbours struggle on, often pretending they are coping, but stress, tension, opposition, anger, frustration, upset, hostility etc. etc. are words that describe their lives – just as previously they described our lives. But they don’t know, they haven’t ever come to Him in surrender and so both He and we are strangers to them.

But at some point we came to the end of ourselves and surrendered to Him and suddenly there was a transformation. If we were part of an unbelieving family, as many of us were, we sensed a division between us and other members of our family who just thought we had ‘gone religious’. None of this is intended to put them down, but it just shows the reality of the wonder of what we have now received and what they haven’t received. The truth is, of course, that it is there to be taken and received by them if they will heed Him, but for the moment, so often, that isn’t happening yet, and we have to learn to live with a new grace that still loves them and accepts them as they are, as we wait for God to do what only He can do, by drawing them, helping them question and face what they are and what they have, and be dissatisfied with it, until they too can come to the point where they say, “I believe, please forgive me, please make me anew, please take my life and lead it from now on.” Then, and only then, will the gulf between us be removed. Pray for that!

29. Live Righteously

Meditations in 1 Peter : 29:  Live Righteously in Freedom

1 Pet 2:16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

I wonder how many of us are really free?  The New Testament has quite a lot to say about freedom. For example James refers to “the perfect law that gives freedom.” (Jas 1:25). The context there seems to suggest the will of God, originally expressed in the Law of Moses but now fulfilled in Christ, the law of love, which brings freedom to its followers. The apostle Paul writing to the Galatians declares, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” (Gal 5:1) when he is speaking about no longer having to comply with Old Testament regulations. In fact throughout that letter he is suggesting a freedom from a rule-keeping mentality that still hung on from Old Testament times but which was no longer appropriate.

Why is it no longer appropriate? Because as Paul says, we are now freed children of God: “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21). Moreover because we have the Holy Spirit within us, He brings freedom: “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 4:17). Freedom is the outworking of the ministry of Jesus: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners …. to release the oppressed” (Lk 4:18). All the things of the past – a sense of failure in rule-keeping, shame, guilt, fear etc. – have all been swept away when we were redeemed and were adopted as children of God empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Our sins have been dealt with: “Christ … has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15). Part of this means we no longer have to fear facing God in eternity: “that by his death he might … free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14,15).  Paul, speaking of this was then able to declare, “now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Col 1:22) or as he put in to the Romans, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1). No longer are we having to worry about keeping the rules (and failing) and having to face God after death. All of our sins have been dealt with by Christ on the Cross and so we are free to live as children of God. We are free children of God and we can look forward to meeting Him!

But there is a danger that Peter has in the back of his mind:do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” Freedom that is unrestrained reverts to license. Here is the young Christian who hears these things. Before they were a Christian they used to drink too much. They were convicted about that, became a Christian and then heard the good news that they were no longer under the Law or having to adhere to rules, and so say, “Fine, I can drink as much as I like then.” Hold on, says Paul, that is silly; you’ll be leading yourself into greater temptation and the likelihood of a fall: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18)

“Just a minute,” I hear you saying, “that is a rule; you’re putting us under the Law again, surely?” Well yes, the Law is always there in the background. It acts as a safety factor if we are being insensitive to the Spirit. He will always be seeking to lead us in righteous living, that is ‘right-living’, living according to God’s design, that is not harmful to us or to others. If we are immature, slow of understanding, or insensitive to the Holy Spirit, then we find the Law being applied by God, or at least the teaching with which the New Testament is full. Freedom does not mean we are free to do anything. Too much food is gluttony and leads to obesity, sex outside the confines of marriage leads to promiscuity, adultery and a whole host of other damaging actions. Excessive use of alcohol leads to drunkenness and again, a whole host of harmful spin-offs. If we are unable to enjoy our freedom without falling into excess, it probably means that we have obviously not yet realised what incredible lives we now have, i.e. low self esteem still rules, which needs to try to boost itself in some harmful way.

Peter has a helpful motivating thought: “live as servants of God.” So how is that helpful? He is saying, realise the wonder of who you are and you won’t do these things, you won’t feel you need to do these things to boost your ego. You are a servant or representative of God; that is an incredible privilege. All of heaven looks on at the wonder of who you are: His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 3:10) Our lives make the angels gasp at the wonder of God’s love being expressed in us. How can we possibly live as anything less than the wonderful, holy, love-filled children of God who are salt and light to the rest of the world (Mt 5:13-16). Let’s live in the freedom that Christ has bought for us, with wisdom and understanding, avoiding anything that leads others to deride His name as they watch us. Let’s live with His grace and goodness that is called righteousness.

10. Be Holy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 10 :  Be Holy

1 Pet 1:14-16   As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Sometimes people have suggested that the call to the Christian life is not very clear, and yet the more I read the New Testament, the more I conclude the exact opposite: it is very clear! The first distinction that is made is the ‘before and after’. Being a Christian is something distinct. It is not trying to be good or trying to be religious, or belonging to a religious club.

It is all about being a completely different person from who and what you were before your met Christ. Jesus spoke about it as being “born again” (Jn 3:3,7,8) or being born of the Spirit. Later in this chapter, Peter is going to use exactly the same language. John in his Gospel said: Yet 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) There is a distinct ‘God-change’ brought about in us when we come to Him.

There are often references to what we once were: “formerly you …. were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11-13) and “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13). There were major changes brought about when we came to Christ. It is all about change or transformation.

Now Peter speaks about, the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Before we came to Christ we were ignorant about God’s design for our lives and did not realise our state until the Holy Spirit convicted us. We were living in ignorance. But at that time all of our desires were godless and self-pleasing and were wrong. We didn’t realise it at the time but they were. That’s what we HAD been, but all that has changed when we came to Christ!

Now we have become children of God, as we saw above in John’s Gospel. Indeed John reiterates in his first letter: “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). The reason for this new designation is twofold: first because that is how God now designates us, adopted children but, second, because He has put the Spirit of Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit, and so we are made like Him by His very presence within us. We are actually different from what we were before because now we are temples or dwelling places of God: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:21,22)  and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)

It is because of this that we find Peter giving us two charges. The first is the negative leaving the past behind:do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance,” and the second is the call to be holy: “be holy in all you do.” and the latter charge is because God is holy and it is because He lives in us that we ARE holy.

To be holy means to be set apart and completely distinct and this is in respect of who we are and therefore how we live. The son of a rich millionaire does not live the life of a scruffy beggar. A prince does not (generally) live the life of a pauper. They are what they are because of their father. We are what we are because of our Father. Because He has put some of Himself into us, we now take on His characteristics. In fact Paul tells us that His goal is to change us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus: “we… are being transformed into his (Jesus’) likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

Thus this salvation that we are receiving is all about changing us into God’s likeness by the work of Jesus on the Cross (making it possible) and the Holy Spirit within us (bringing it about). The call upon us is to be utterly different because that IS what we are, yet the wonder of it is that God still gives is choice and so we choose to let Him bring about the reality of our salvation – or not! There are Christians who appear to change very little after the initial conversion, yet God’s desire is to bring continual change to us. He has got something better for us than we have at this present moment. He will keep changing us for however long we remain on this earth, and then will come the ultimate change when we are granted new spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44) in heaven.

So there is the challenge, will we let Him bring our salvation which means gradual but constant change in us? That is His goal; is it ours?

Coming of Jesus

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.9 of 10

John 1:10-13 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet 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.

Remember, all we are trying to do in these studies is provide a broad brush strokes overview. Now, at the end of the Old Testament, we have a nation, Israel, who have a history of revealing God. By the beginning of the New Testament, history has moved on some four hundred years and they are now under the rule of Rome. It is into this environment that Jesus Christ comes. Although he is born as a little baby, his arrival is surrounded by supernatural events.

At the age of about thirty Jesus starts preaching, teaching, healing people and performing miracles. He clearly has a power beyond anything known to mankind. He reveals himself as the Son of God who has come from heaven. After three years he is arrested, falsely tried and put to death by crucifixion. It was clear that he knew this was going to happen. More than this he had predicted that he would come back from the dead after three days. This happened, and in such manner he convinced his followers that he was who he said he was.

To all who believed in him he gave life transforming power and in the Acts of the Apostles, following the four Gospels, we see the power of God flowing through these followers of Jesus, who has now returned to heaven. It is so staggering that it would be almost impossible to believe if the same life transforming process were not observed in every new follower of Jesus down to the present day.

The New Testament teaches us that Jesus came to more fully reveal God, his Father. Thus when we look at the life and character of Jesus we see this same love that the Old Testament spoke about, a love which accepts us exactly as we are, and yet which loves us so much that wants to help us change so that we can more fully enjoy being who God has designed us to be. The work of Jesus on the Cross, for that was what it was, a purposeful ‘work of God’, was to deal with our guilt in the same way that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament had helped the people of Israel. That Old Testament sacrificial system, the New Testament teaches, was simply a picture of what the Son of God would come and do.

The end product is a people who can call themselves ‘children of God’ who are not ‘religious’ but who have been made whole or complete and able to live at peace and harmony with God. There is nothing servile about this, in the same way that a poor child adopted into a rich family does not have to be servile, only to enter into the fullness of a child of that family.