Meditations in 1 John : 31 : Be Pure
1 John 3:3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
Sometimes I find myself looking at the lives of Christians, especially young Christians, wondering what I could say when I see the things they do and allow in their lives. Now it is very difficult sometimes to know whether things being done are simply cultural expressions of life today with no great significance to them, or if they are sin. Theologians often struggle when it comes to exactly defining what things constitute sin; they can define it as lawlessness and so on, but when it comes down to particular actions at specific times, it is not always so easy to say “That is wrong.” I know there are parts of the church that are negative about virtually any sort of pleasure and so in some quarters going to the cinema or watching DVDs is even prohibited, but that sort of isolation simply cuts off from the rest of society and means it is especially difficult to communicate with the world and impact it for good, and has very little to do with God’s definitions of righteousness or unrighteousness.
Perhaps this verse, although not specific about specific things, is helpful. But let’s not rush it; let’s deal with it in an orderly way. John speaks here of “Everyone who has this hope.” What hope is he referring to? The hope spoken of in the previous verse: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In other words, the hope we have is that one day we will be like Jesus. Now I’m not sure, if I’m being honest, if lots of Christians in their present state relish that thought.
Consider: Jesus is completely given over to his Father’s will, at whatever cost – including that of giving up his life for humanity. Consider: Jesus put himself out to reach the poor, the sick, the destitute, the unbeliever, and even the blatant sinner. Consider: Jesus never got drunk, never over-ate, never had casual sex and never demeaned or spoke badly of anyone, except those in high places who were being hypocritical – and these he spoke fearlessly against. Jesus never lied, not even white lies, never sought favour, never pushed himself forward, was never violent, never competed with others and never sought to get to the top of the pile. Submit that ‘x-ray machine’ to many modern Christian lives and how will they show up?
Perhaps we don’t respond well to this sort of speaking because we don’t actually think much about Jesus coming back and us becoming like him. John implies that if we did think about this then we would purify ourselves. Perhaps part of our thinking might be, well he’s not likely to be coming back for a long time and I’ve got to live in this world while I wait, so what does it matter. I can always be cleaned up at the last minute. I would suggest that such thinking is second class thinking. What if Jesus wants to “turn up” not in the skies tomorrow, but simply in revival power by his Spirit? I am told that often in such times of revival, the first part of it is the Saints on their knees in floods of tears, as the things they tolerated are exposed by the purity of the light of the Holy Spirit shining with a power that is only seen from time to time in what we call ‘revivial’.
When John says this person “purifies himself” there is an echo there of the Old Testament, carried on into the New: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.” (Jn 11:55) There was an outer washing and also, as much as they could, a heart cleansing. Peter spoke of being cleansed when we came to Christ: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22) Coming to the truth and now obeying it meant that their lives were being cleansed from the contamination of sin that we suffered previously, before we knew Christ. John has already touched on this in what may be considered takes place when we come to Christ in repentance and when we confess individual later failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)
This cleansing or purifying makes us pure like Christ, part of the general process of making us like him: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28) So part of the thing of being remade in Jesus’ likeness means that the Holy Spirit is seeking to work the same purity that is in Christ, in us. When something is ‘pure’ it is being free of impurities. When we came to Christ, he declared us free in this way, but in terms of practical, daily sanctification it is an ongoing process. Part of that process is becoming aware of things in our lives that are not Christ-like, and then part of that process is making an act of will that we will change and no longer tolerate the things that come to light, and the final part of the process is with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, replacing those things with Christ-like things.
On the negative side, the apostle Paul said, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Those are un-Christ-like things. On the positive side he then went on to say, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Col 3:12,13) That is the purifying process. Let it work!