Exposition of the Text
Verse 1: See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God, and we are. Wherefore the world does not know us because it did not know Him.
“What kind of love” here has the meaning of “Where on Earth can you find this kind of love.” It is a love that cannot be compared to any other. There have been many great love stories written, but none of them compare to the love God has given to us. The words here remind us of the beginning of John’s gospel in 1:12 where we read: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” Is this not amazing grace that God would adopt us rebellious sinners into His family. We think of those who want to adopt children. Most of them look or hope for children with good genes whose birth mothers are not on crack or alcohol. And if this child has less than a stellar background or looks, or whatever, there is far less interest. But God shows His love to the “whosoever will” come. Therefore to snub this offer is the most deadly of sins.
John feels it necessary to reaffirm the fact that the believers in Jesus are indeed God’s children by adding “and we are.” It is almost too good to be true, so we have to pinch ourselves in a way to make sure it is real. Why would God so lavish this undeserved love on us? God only knows the answer to that question. What we have to do is believe it by faith that this is indeed the case. Did we deserve this? – Quite the contrary, we deserve Hell.
The last part of this verse tells us that even though we have this splendid assurance of being God’s children, we should not expect the world to affirm it. The world did not know Jesus, and even though He was God’s True Son, they hung Him on a cross. The world will mock and kill us. They will hurl hateful words at you like: “And what makes you think you’re so special?” We cannot expect to be treated any better than the Lord was treated. All this is because they have refused to know Jesus.
Verse 2: Beloved, we are already now the children of God, even though it has not yet been manifested what we shall become. But we know this, that whenever He appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.
A third time, John reminds the readers that their new status as God’s children is true here and now. It is more than just a reservation that someday we will be God’s children in the Kingdom of Heaven. This verse tells us also that we have not yet come to the full understanding of God’s promise to us yet. There is much, much more to come. The present condition is mixed with the sorrow that we remain in this world which hates and rejects us. And it is this promise that gives us the strength to endure. While Jesus was here on Earth, he had to face untold humiliation by the very people he came to save. But it was the desire to do the will of the Father that sustained Him. And this is the same thing which should sustain us.
We are also sorrowful that when we look deep into our own lives, we find so much which is not like Jesus. Instead of being perfect in love and truth like Jesus, we find so many faults. And our failures make us groan in despair. But it shall not always be so. There will be a time when our profession and our possession shall be in harmony. All hypocrisy and pretending will vanish.
Verse 3: And every one who has this hope in him purifies himself even as He is pure.
From this verse, we see the source of our purity. It isn’t in some kind of ritual or ceremonial washing, but it is the hope we have that when the Lord comes again we shall be found to be free from all sin and will finally be like Jesus. Hope gives us direction in our life. It points to the source of our hope, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note that is says “purifies himself” (or herself). The Greek verb for purify (ἁγνίζει, hag-knee-zee) is in the active voice and is completed by the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν, heh-ahv-ton (himself). It is important to note that John could have used the Greek middle voice of the verb to have said the same thing without having to add “himself” as the middle voice already includes the pronoun “himself”. However the middle voice in the present tense is spelled the same way in both the middle voice and the passive. If John had not uses the grammar he did, many would see sanctification as being a purely passive event. A passive event is one in which the subject is acted upon. In this context then, Sanctification would be interpreted as something God does in you to which you yourself do nothing. While this is true for salvation where Christ has done all the work for you, this is not true for sanctification. John makes it unmistakably clear that we have to do something, if nothing else to keep on hoping for the day of the Lord’s return. As Wesley notes, salvation is something Christ does for you, but sanctification is something the Holy Spirit does in you and with you. So it seems obvious that we have to do more than just claim the promises of God. We must act on them as well. It is important to start to appropriate the promises of the life to come even now. Yes we shall all be perfect when the Lord returns. But we must start working in that direction as well.
Verse 4: Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, because every sin is an act of lawlessness.
Commentators are divided over whether this is referring to every act of sin or the making a practice of sin. In this verse, the second half of it is pretty clear that every sin is an act of disobedience against God. Even a single sin is evil. But then when we actually look at ourselves we seem to find sin everywhere. It could be very easy to sigh in utter despair and give up all hope of ever becoming perfect.
We know that absolutely no one, except Jesus, could ever by justified by works of the law. We have all become disobedient. But is it any different after salvation? Are we justified by grace and faith and then sanctified by works? How many “Christians” could ever make the claim to be fully made perfect? Even John Wesley who strongly believed in Christians being made perfect in this life had to waffle a bit on this one in saying first it was the expectation for every true Christian but might only be obtained at the point of death to a less optimistic assessment that only a few would attain during their life and most only at the point of death, or even in the future life itself!
Verse 5: And we know that He was revealed to take away sin. In Him there is no sin.
Committing sin, even a single act of sin is incompatible to the Christian calling. Jesus did not die on the cross to free us to sin. He died to free us from sin. One cannot casually dismiss sin as unimportant. They were and are important to God, so important that Jesus had to suffer to pay the price. But this same epistle has an answer. “If any one sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” It also says if we confess our sin that He is just and faithful to forgive our sin. It is the blood of Jesus who cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
These verses are a restatement of the dilemma of I John 1:5 that God is the pure light without a spot of darkness. Sin simply cannot enter the presence of God. This clearly tells us that we are totally excluded from the presence of God. This would paint a bleak picture were it not for Christ. Only Jesus who is pure and sinless can come into the full presence of the Father. As we learned before, only those who are in Christ can come into the presence of the Holy God. So the only way out of this black hole is to be “in Christ.” And this is defined here as being part of the body of Christ. This is why church is so important. No one is the body of Christ by himself/herself. We are only complete when we come together as the body of Christ, and Christ as Head. As soon as we get away from this and try to do it on our own without considering the body of Christ, we can but fall from grace because without Christ we are naked and ashamed. In Him, there is no sin. Without Him, there is no hope. And without hope there is nothing but despair and fear of eternal judgment when He appears. And if this is the case, that there is no hope but only hell, we might as well have a good time while we are here. And this “eat, drink, and be merry”, has never driven one to living the holy life.
This holy life is not our own. It is something we all share as the body of Christ. Remember the plural occurs at the beginning of the chapter when it says “WE are the children of God.” Yes, all of us together, and not each of us by ourselves.
Verse 6: Everyone who is living in Him does not sin. Every one who sins has not either seen Him or known Him.
Here it is in a nutshell. If anyone is in Christ, he does not sin. But and if anyone sin, they are forgetting whose they are. Our only protection is in the flock, with Him as shepherd looking over us. Outside the flock, we are prey to the wolves who would consume us. It would have gotten to the Prodigal son as well except for the fact that he remembered the father’s house. So in a sense, sin is forgetfulness and taking one’s eyes off Jesus. But as long as our eyes are upon Him and He is in our thoughts, we are safe. In Him we have access to the Father and all the promises of the life to come. If we take the verse in this sense as well as the other verses we have studied this evening, they become more positive and hopeful. To be like Jesus, we must be in Jesus and apart of His body, the church. Salvation is not a race we run as individuals, but as a group. As long as we remain with His true church, we are safe from the enemy. We need to be building up each other in the true faith and encouraging especially the weak. We need to be sound in our doctirn, in our love, and in our walk.