Post Series on 1 John 2:28-3:10:
- Because Truth is So Much More Than Just Being Right (1 John 2:28-3:1)
- We Shall Be Like Him (1 John 3:2-3)
- Whoever is Born of God Cannot Keep on Sinning (1 John 3:4-10)
In 1 John, there are perhaps no two verses with more densely packed theology than 3:2-3:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
In these two verses, John sets up a tension that he will carry all the way through the rest of this passage (i.e., through 3:10). The tension revolves around these two statements:
- We are God’s children now. John has already stated that we are God’s children (3:1), but by insisting that we are God’s children now, John does not relegate our adoption to an uncertain future day. In effect, John is saying, “We are God’s children now (and that status is not in question for those who remain in Christ), even though we are not fully righteous.” It is toward our not being righteous that John turns his attention next.
- What we will be has not yet appeared. The significance of this phrase cannot be overstated. In 3:4-10, John will claim in very strong terms that no one who sins has been born of God, but is of the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning; however, this phrase in v. 2 demonstrates that John does not have some kind of Christian perfectionism in mind. What we will eventually become (one day, some day, when Christ returns) is not a complete reality today. To insist on perfection is to ignore what John actually says.
In the Christian life, there is a constant tension between the already and the not-yet. Already we are children of God, and already we resemble him, just as children resemble their human fathers. But not yet are we fully transformed into the image of Christ, who bears perfect resemblance to his Father. What we will be has not yet appeared.
The remaining phrase in v. 2 in many ways resolves this tension:
- We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. The good work that God has begun in us (for we are God’s children now) will be completed (that is, when we become that which has not yet appeared) only in the day of Christ Jesus, and not before.
Although this phrase informs us when the already/not yet tension will be resolved, notice how we become what we shall be: “when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Somehow, in some way, the mere sight of our Lord Jesus Christ will effectively transform us to be like him.
Paul hints at something similar in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Beholding the glory of the God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) is the catalyst for bringing the not yet into the already.
But of course, all of that is one day, some day kind of stuff. What about now? What about today? How should we live in the middle of the already/not yet tension in the present time? John gives the answer:
- And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Because we are already God’s children, but not yet fully formed into the image of Christ, we move in that direction through daily, ongoing purification. That is, through seeking (by grace and through faith) to become more and more like Jesus.
This gradual sanctification, by the way, is what John means when he speaks of “practicing righteousness” (2:29, 3:7, 3:10), a lifestyle that John contrasts with “practicing sin” or “sinning” (3:4-6, 3:8-10). But we will look at that in the next post.
For now, little children, abide in him–by which John means that we should seek God’s grace to purify ourselves as he is pure. We are God’s children now, and God intends for us to live lives that are wholly, completely given over to anticipating the day when what we shall be will appear: the day on which we shall become like Christ, for we shall see him as he is.