Remember The Privileges Of The Christian Life
3:1-2 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God--and such we indeed are. The reason why the world does not recognize us is that it did not recognize him. Beloved, even as things are we are children of God, and it has not yet been made clear what we shall be. We know that, if it shall be made clear, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.
It may well be that the best illumination of this passage is the Scottish Paraphrase of it:
Behold the amazing gift of love
the Father hath bestow'd
On us, the sinful sons of men,
to call us sons of God!
Concealed as yet this honour lies,
by this dark world unknown,
A world that knew not when he came,
even God's eternal Son.
High is the rank we now possess,
but higher we shall rise;
Though what we shall hereafter be
is hid from mortal eyes.
Our souls, we know, when he appears,
shall bear his image bright;
For all his glory, full disclosed,
shall open to our sight.
A hope so great, and so divine,
may trials well endure;
And purge the soul from sense and sin,
as Christ himself is pure.
John begins by demanding that his people should remember their privileges. It is their privilege that they are called the children of God. There is something even in a name. Chrysostom, in a sermon on how to bring up children, advises parents to give their boy some great scriptural name, to teach him repeatedly the story of the original bearer of the name, and so to give him a standard to live up to when he grows to manhood. So the Christian has the privilege of being called the child of God. Just as to belong to a great school, a great regiment, a great church, a great household is an inspiration to fine living, so, even more, to bear the name of the family of God is something to keep a man's feet on the right way and to set him climbing.
But, as John points out, we are not merely called the children of God; we are the children of God.
There is something here which we may well note. It is by the gift of God that a man becomes a child of God. By nature a man is the creature of God, but it is by grace that he becomes the child of God. There are two English words which are closely connected but whose meanings are widely different, paternity and fatherhood. Paternity describes a relationship in which a man is responsible for the physical existence of a child; fatherhood describes an intimate, loving, relationship. In the sense of paternity all men are children of God; but in the sense of fatherhood men are children of God only when he makes his gracious approach to them and they respond.
There are two pictures, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, which aptly and vividly set out this relationship. In the Old Testament there is the covenant idea. Israel is the covenant people of God. That is to say, God on his own initiative had made a special approach to Israel; he was to be uniquely their God, and they were to be uniquely his people. As an integral part of the covenant God gave to Israel his law, and it was on the keeping of that law that the covenant relationship depended.
In the New Testament there is the idea of adoption ( Romans 8:14-17 ; 1 Corinthians 1:9 ; Galatians 3:26-27 ; Galatians 4:6-7 ). Here is the idea that by a deliberate act of adoption on the part of God the Christian enters into his family.
While all men are children of God in the sense that they owe their lives to him, they become his children in the intimate and loving sense of the term only by an act of God's initiating grace and the response of their own hearts.
Immediately the question arises: if men have that great honour when they become Christians, why are they so despised by the world? The answer is that they are experiencing only what Jesus Christ has already experienced. When he came into the world, he was not recognized as the Son of God; the world preferred its own ideas and rejected his. The same is bound to happen to any man who chooses to embark on the way of Jesus Christ.
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