Monday, 20 April 2015

Being Children of God- 1 John 3

I would like you to close your eyes for a minute or so. … I want you to imagine Jesus in front of you. … Just take a moment to solidify him before you in your mind. Imagine different moments in his life- teaching the crowds, healing diseases, dying on the cross, resurrected and standing among his disciples. … Now I would like you to describe his character.  What is he like? What words come to mind? …   

In John’s first letter he says, 
“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him… .”
 The words you just used to describe Jesus is what God is wanting to transform us into- “we will be like him”. In Christian theology this is called sanctification, or theosis. It is becoming holy by reflecting something of God’s character. It is the broken image of God in us becoming whole and powerful. God wants us to learn to be like Jesus    

The church has often done a good job of naming what being like Jesus looks like. We say Jesus tells us to “Love our enemies” and “do good to those who hate you”. So we all have these teachings and expectations bouncing around in our heads. But, what happens when we actually meet an enemy, or someone who hates us? … We tend not to be very loving, or be very good to them. We often act in vengeance- you hit me so I’ll hit you. … And if we do end up doing good to those who hate us it is often through grinding teeth. … So then we come to church with our tails between our legs seeking forgiveness.

The church has often done a good job of stating Jesus’ teachings- like, love your enemies. What the church hasn’t done a good job of is showing us how we can become the kind of people that can love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, naturally, as a consequence of who we are at the core of our being. For Jesus, loving an enemy wasn’t hard because that’s who he was. He had become the kind of person that naturally loved people regardless of what they did to him. He didn’t have to love through grinding teeth and force himself to do good to those who hated him when he really didn’t want to. The hard thing for Jesus would have been to hate his enemies and spit curses at them because that would have been contrary to who he was (this was pointed out by Dallas Willard).  We tend to try to love our enemy by just trying hard. We don’t often think about the fact that first we have to become the kind of person that can do that. So we don’t prepare for the day when we will have to love our enemy. We just hope that when the day comes we will be able to. And that is a bit like entering the Olympics and never training, but hoping that on the day of the even we will be able to perform well. Or, it is like planning a trip to France and hoping that when you get there you will be able to walk off the plane and speak French without having taken any classes.   
The Church has given us disciplines or practices for just this task- to learn to grow to be more like Jesus. I’m just going to name off just a few of these practices: 
Celebration- to learn to enjoy the life God has given us. 
Confession- to bring our darkness into the light before another human being and know that we are still loved. 
Fasting- to learn to be kind even when we don’t get what we want. 
Deep and intimate fellowship- so that we know what it is like to live closely with people who we know will have our back if our lives fall apart, and they know we will have theirs, and to learn to get along even when we don’t always agree. 
Prayer- to grow in a deeper relationship with God. 
Sacrifice- to learn to trust God with our security rather than trusting things. 
Service- to learn to show love in practical and tangible ways. 
Silence and solitude- so we can learn to still ourselves to hear our own souls and God, and shut out the chatter of the world. 
Simplicity- to learn focus and to realize that our worth come from God and not from things. 
Study- so we can grow in wisdom, and in particular learn to internalize the words of the Bible. 
Worship- to learn to adore God and give Him thanks. 
These all help us receive God’s grace so that we can be transformed more and more into the image of Christ. It's like entering a room where God's Spirit works on us and transforms us. 

But, if we never study our Bibles, and never pray, and never spend time in silence and solitude, and never fast, and never celebrate, then how do we expect to follow the example of Jesus when the time comes to love our enemy? It will be like walking off the plane in France and expecting to speak French when we have never studied it. Those practices put us in the place to be transformed by the Spirit of God.

One of the amazing things about being a parent is watching your children learn to walk. First, they crawl and then they hold your hands and they start to take steps. Then they hold onto just one hand, and then they start walking along furniture, then they take off running all on their own. Then you go through a similar process when they learn to ride a bike. First, it is a tricycle, then a bike with training wheels. Then you take off the training wheels and you hold the seat as they learn to peddle and balance. And eventually (after a few falls) they start to ride their bike on their own. And then you start helping them to read. They begin learning to identify letters and sing the alphabet song, then they start associating letters and sounds and then start sounding out simple words.

Why do I care about them learning to read? Or riding their bike? Or learning how to walk? Would they be any less my children if they didn’t? Would I love them any less? No, of course not. Anyone who suggested I didn’t care about my children because they refused to learn to ride a bike would become a target of my wrath. I care about my children learning to read and walk and ride a bike because I care about their freedom. I would be sad if my child couldn’t walk because I want them to enjoy climbing trees and playing soccer. I want them to know what it’s like to ride their bike along the trails in the summer and smell the trees and feel the wind in their hair. I want them to be able to sit under the shade of a tree and get lost in a story. I want them to experience their lives to the fullest. I want them to be free.  

I think God sees us in the same way. Just as we step-by-step learn to walk, we step-by-step learn to walk in the way of Jesus. Our learning to walk doesn’t make us any more or less his children. We are His children because of His love for us, not because we earn it by getting good at walking in his ways. John says, 
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3:1). 
We are Children because of His love, not our abilities.  

We are learning to walk in the ways of His Kingdom. We are preparing for life in in the Kingdom of God. In that kingdom, sin is a handicap. It is the equivalent of having a crippled leg, and having to sit in a wheelchair rather than play soccer. Learning to walk in the ways of God’s Kingdom means to live in freedom. It means we are free to live in love and not be enslaved by anger. We are free to trust God rather than be controled by anxiety and fear. God’s ways are ultimately about freedom. We are learning to become more like Jesus, who (in his love of God and neighbour) was the most free human being that has ever lived.

            This idea of sanctification is found all over the Bible.  In John’s letter we are looking at today we read, “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure(1 John 3:3). In the great commission Jesus tells his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he is told, “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he instructs his readers “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Paul writes to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Rom 12:2), and “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).  And in The second letter to the Corinthians we read, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).  And in the letter to Ephesians we read “…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).  

                We are the children of God because of the love of our Father. He wants us to live into the fullness of life. He wants us to be free. Freedom looks like the life Jesus describes in the Kingdom of God. To receive this transformation we can position ourselves to receive God’s grace through the practices that have always been a part of the tradition of the church. God wants us to live lives of freedom, but this isn’t something that will be forced on us any more than you can force someone to learn to reading against their will.      

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