"Who are really 'God's Children'?"
May 3, 2009 1Jn.2:28-3:10; 5:18-21
A tiny bit of DNA makes all the difference. This past week the so-called 'swine flu' virus (A H1N1) has stolen the headlines, starting out in Mexico, then spreading quickly around the globe, causing the World Health Organization to raise its pandemic alert to 'Phase 5'. A virus is a tiny clump of matter, 1/100th the size of bacteria; they often have a protein coat surrounding a simple strand of RNA or DNA. They don't actually 'live' on their own: a virus has to inject its genetic core into a living cell of, say, an animal, then hijacks that cell's machinery to reproduce itself; then all the many new virus particles are released from the cell, in many cases killing it by a process called lysis which destroys the cell membrane. So the 'active ingredient' in a virus is the DNA; its genetic information captures and controls the infected cell's processes. The 'swine flu' is thought to be a combination of four types of common flu virus - one from humans, one from birds, and two from pigs. At some point it 'skipped' or mutated from pigs to people, which makes it particularly nasty.
The effects of this little genetic twist, this mutation, have been disastrous. Hundreds of people in Mexico have been seriously ill, dozens have died. Non-essential services were shut down. Tourism has dried up; trips and cruises were cancelled or re-routed. Several countries even quashed airline connections with Mexico. In the United States, many have been sick, and hundreds of schools closed to avoid spread of the disease. While the 'swine flu' appears to currently result in mild illness, and nowhere near the 100 million casualties of the Spanish flu of 1918 or even the 25 million deaths due to the HIV pandemic, it's had a profound effect on society.
All because of a 'twist' or reassortment of tiny tiny genetic particles. Genes are a chemical record like a bead necklace of one's source, where one originated. The Bible hints that people in their spirit have a genetic-like connection to either Jesus or Satan. It distinguishes between "children of God" and "children of the devil" (3:10). 1Jn 3:9 says, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." What's this 'seed'? How is someone 'born of God'? Can't be like physical reproduction. How is God's spiritual 'DNA' injected into us? How does that get twisted or bent so that many are instead 'children of the devil'?
There is a lot of sloppy talk around about all people being 'children of God' by virtue of being human, but that's not true. Being a product of God's handiwork does not qualify one for a sonship-relationship. A cabinetmaker constructs a cabinet. But this does not make the cabinet a 'child' of the cabinetmaker. A birth process would be necessary for this. The unregenerate person who claims sonship with God 'because He made me' is basing his or her claim merely on the fact that they're a product of God's handiwork. Like the cabinet, they lack the new birth necessary for a sonship / daughterhood relationship.
John wrote in the first chapter of his gospel how people come to actually BE God's children: "Yet to all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [or power or authority] to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (Jn 1:12f)
Populations within a species consist of good genes and bad genes. In animal husbandry, livestock breeders try to select good genes and weed out bad ones as they manage their flocks and herds. Recently at the St.Jacob's Farmer's Market we slipped into a horse auction: young fellows led horses running back and forth in front of the largely Mennonite crowd, while the auctioneer's assistant told who the parents were, how the horse drove, and other background information that would be important to a buyer - who might pay up to $4000 for a good brood mare.
In my younger years in the 4H calf club, we were trained to judge Holstein cattle as to their breeding potential. You wanted a straight back, good udder, sturdy bone frame, and so on. You selected characteristics that would produce quality progeny, and eventually a good herd. Besides quantitative things, there were qualitative things: if the black-and-white lines didn't touch the hooves a certain way when you were drawing the picture of the calf, it couldn't be officially registered with the Holstein association.
In this passage in his first letter, John describes several desirable quality-characteristics in Jesus, and how these become reflected in His spiritual 'progeny' - believers. These markers ought to help us recognize God's true children, proving we're 'born' of Him, His seed, rather than Satan's.
SEVEN SIGNS OF THE SON
John outlines seven features about Jesus that fall broadly into two categories: three pertain to 'Being' and four to 'Doing'; who He IS and what He DOES. First, who He is.
Vv29 and 7: "If you know that He is righteous..." "He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous." What's 'righteous' mean? According to the lexicon - "upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God...innocent, faultless, guiltless". A person who always has the habit of doing the right thing, having a passion for what's just and fair in a situation, would be exhibiting righteousness. Jesus delighted in always finding out the Heavenly Father's will on a matter, then doing it - even if it meant drinking the bitter cup of crucifixion so our sins could be forgiven. Jesus is the only person who was absolutely righteous, through to the core; they couldn't entice Him or brie Him or threaten Him successfully to do anything other than what was good and just. Michael Ramsey has said, "The righteousness of Jesus is the righteousness of a Godward relationship of truth, dependence, receptivity."
Second, Jesus is PURE. V3, "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." This can mean 'pure from carnality, chaste, modest;...pure from every fault, immaculate, clean.' You want Mr Clean on your team! V5 "In Him is no sin." Jesus kept Himself from sinning in any way, so that He could be the perfect sacrifice we needed to take our place on the cross. God made "Him who knew no sin to be sin for us"; Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, yet was without sin (2Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15).
Third, 3:20 describes Jesus this way: "He is the true God and eternal life." No ordinary man - this is God Himself, actually come amongst us! And He is the origin for believers of eternal life; we saw how He said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and "I am the Resurrection and the Life" - raising Lazarus from the grave in a miracle that would end in His own death and resurrection (Jn 14:6, 11:25).
Besides these 'being' qualities, John also describes four things Jesus DOES. V5, "you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins." The verb in the Greek there means 'to lift up and carry away'. Gone completely - Hallelujah! - and all by the shedding of His innocent blood. Have you thanked God lately you're forgiven? Colossians 2:13f, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." Gone!
Next, v8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." The Greek verb is luo, from which we get 'lysis' - hydrolysis, splitting the hydrogen atoms off a water molecule. A breaking or separating. When a whole batch of reproduced virus particles blast out of a cell's membrane, killing it, the scientific term for that is 'lysis'. Some of you use 'Lysol' disinfectant: kills germs, first developed and popularized during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. Jesus busts Satan's grimy projects to pieces.
It's not just a one-time thing; like Lysol, there's a lingering effect. V18, "the one who was born of God [referring to Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him" - literally, touch / lay hold of / grasp him. Jesus keeps us safe from the Devil's grasp.
And Jesus gives God's children understanding - clues us in so we don't repeat our mistakes, and so we start to get the big picture from God's angle, and an appreciation of who God really is in relationship. V20, "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true."
So, those are seven features of Jesus by which we may recognize Him and His 'begetting' effect in our lives. John also describes various characteristics of the devil; we won't spend time on these, just list them in passing. V4, "sin is lawlessness": Satan is the great rebel, the lawless one, tearing down what God has built. V8, "the devil has been sinning from the beginning": leading angels in revolt, suggesting to Adam and Eve they didn't need God, and so on. V7, the evil one 'leads astray', as through the Gnostic deceitful teachers circulating amongst the churches in John's day, spreading untruths and myths and discontentment with apostolic teaching. V19, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one": stop a moment and let that sink in! (Repeat) God created this beautiful planet but it's now in bondage to corruption on account of disobedience. Sound too pessimistic? Romans 3(12), "All have turned away"; Galatians 1(4) we live in 'the present evil age'; James 4(4), "Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?" Don't get too comfortable in Satan's territory.
PRIME PROGENY: THE SPITTIN' IMAGE
'Children of God'...Do you have any 'family resemblances' amongst the generations of your family tree? A widow's peak, a wayward toe, a prominent Adam's apple, or unique earlobes? The genetic material we pass on to the next generation recombines to produce individuals who are different but frequently have noticeable similarities. Recently I was talking with someone who had an upcoming procedure for a condition he said his grandfather also had; whereupon his wife added, 'and your great-grandfather' - something he hadn't realized before. We come by these things honestly.
So when John says believers are 'children of God', 'born of God', "God's seed remains in him" - it suggests our spiritual 'genes' as it were would produce in our lives traits similar to Jesus and our Heavenly Father. Again, I find seven - three about being, four more about doing.
Last week we talked about how God has revealed Hiimself to be a God of agape-love. Guess what the first characteristic is? We are love-lavished! 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" NLT, "See how very much our Father loves us..." So God's children have an awareness how deeply cared-for and loved we are - something unbelievers miss out on greatly.
Second, we have hope. V2Bf, "...we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him..." As God's children we have something to really look forward to - Jesus' return, seeing Him in all His beauty and glory and wisdom, and being with Him forever. That's a wonderful hope, no matter what troubles we may have in this world.
Third, as Jesus is pure, so are we. Continuing on in v3, "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." How do we purify ourselves? Monitoring what comes in at the eye-gate, so we have light inside us not darkness; asking God to purge and wash the desires of our heart, so we're not longing for what's corrupt. Let His word, His principles, His teaching saturate your thinking. Find pleasure in His healthy outlets, wholesome activities that leave no tinge of shame. It says our sins are taken away; v6, "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." Note the 'keeps on' or 'continues to' sin; the King James version and NRSV miss the linear present active indicative tense some in this passage, as if to say those born of God don't sin, period; but we've already seen from chapter 1 the apostle is aware Christians do sin on occasion. But God's 'seed' in us, the divine life-principle given with the Holy Spirit who convicts us when we slip, won't let us brazenly keep on sinning. It moves us to confess and change.
There are four 'doing' factors mentioned here in which we resemble Jesus. 2:29 and 3:10: "If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him...This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God..." If we're born from above, we 'do righteousness' - fairly, honestly, with integrity. Paul could say on trial before Felix, "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." (Ac 24:16) Do we?
3:10 continues, "Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." This is a major theme we'll come back to in the rest of chapter 3 in later weeks: loving one another as Jesus commanded us. That's to be the distinctive sign proving to the world we're Jesus' disciples (Jn 13:35).
V20 says the Son of God 'has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true.And we are IN Him who is true - even IN His Son Jesus Christ." This speaks of maintaining our relationship with God, knowing Him, learning Scripture, talking to Him in prayer. That's basic. Those who are born again cultivate knowing Him who's true. Even if it means delaying the time when you turn on the box with its fanciful fiction.
Last, the apostle John's closing statement in his book: 5:21, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." What's that mean? What's an idol? We don't have fetishes scattered around like the animist religions. We don't set up golden calves or little household shrines with figurines. What are idols?
NLT puts it, "Keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts." Ahh - whatever might compete with God for attention, affection, devotion. For instance, what do we spend most of our discretionary income on? Jesus observed, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt 6:21)
One commentator interprets it this way: "Whatever takes our worship from God is an idol." To what do you give worth-ship in your life? What's most important? Do you spend hours waxing your Rolls Royce? (I think that's safe to say here - in a previous congregation someone did actually have a Rolls Royce!) The Life Application Bible has a good definition: "An idol is anything that substitutes for the true faith, anything that robs Christ of His full deity and humanity, any human idea that claims to be more authoritative than the Bible, any loyalty that replaces God at the centre of our lives." ...What threatens to come between you and your Lord?
FINDING SONSHIP WITH A NEW FATHER
Becoming God's child through trusting Jesus gives us a sense of being loved and valued that's so precious. David Meece is an outstanding Christian musician (we got to go to one of his concerts one time in Sault Ste Marie). By age 10 it was obvious he was a child prodigy at the piano. At 14 he wrote "One Small Child", now a favourite Christmas piece found in many hymnbooks. But his home life was scarred by a violent father addicted to drugs and alcohol. David recalls, "This guy could with his words just massacre everybody, and he seemed to delight in doing it.My mom always had bruises on her from my dad beating her.He tried to kill her on numerous occasions in front of my brother, sister, and I."
One night when David was 10 years old, as he was getting ready for bed, a car suddenly ploughed through his bedroom wall with a loud explosion. Stumbling out of the vehicle, his drunken father declared he was going to kill the whole family, starting with David. Grabbing him around the neck, the father stuck a gun between his eyes and said with an obnoxious sneer, "You're worthless." David felt the life go out of him and stood there, numb. The police came and took the father away, but from then on everything David did was tainted by those last words - "You're worthless."
He became a famous concert pianist, but no one could convince David he was any good. He recalls, "I could not stop those two words...I was constantly running, fearful that people would one day discover what I was really like inside, and they would reject me and know I was worthless." By the age of 17, he'd attempted suicide twice. when his father died, and David was unable to cry at the funeral, he began to ask God why. He realized he still hated his father. Two years of therapy didn't change that. David cried out to God for help with this unbearable burden of suffering; and God answered. "Suddenly I saw standing in front of me, my dad, but not as the abusive alcoholic - I saw him as a little boy, crying and terrified. I saw that he himself had been abused." David began crying uncontrollably - not for himself, but for his dad. When he reached out to comfort the little boy, the image faded, and he immediately felt God lift the heavy weight from his heart. He knew he had forgiven his father He began to see his true worth in his loving Heavenly Father. Rejecting the former lies, he discovered there's no other hope, or truth, but in God's promises. Meece says, "He sent His Son into the world to die - we are the reason - so that people like you and me, as messed up as we are, as dysfunctional as we are, as co-dependent as we are - can still go to Heaven."
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" Let's pray.