Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 2:28–3:3
Father God’s Love for Us
While on this journey that Apostle John has been navigating for us, we come to something he designed that we'll refer to as Epistle Bridge. This week's five-verse passage is a bridge that effectively connects two chapters. It begins at the bottom of chapter two, in vv. 28–29's encouraging words filled with confidence in Jesus' second coming; it continues to the top of chapter 3, vv. 1–3, all of which is an interlude in which the author reflects on what it means to be "fathered by God," a subject he's already mentioned at v. 29b. John states in the three opening verses of chapter 3 that Christians are sons of God, unappreciated and disapproved by the world. Nevertheless, we sons of our heavenly Father must continue to remain pure, thanks to our aspiration of becoming like Christ upon his return.
This "bridge" passage reveals the brighter side of the coming end of the world as God planned it. John will argue herein that, since we're in the last days, our hope of Christ’s imminent return should increase our expectations of the complete joy of godly living in Christ's presence. John first vocalizes how such an "end times" expectation will produce holiness for us. And stay tuned! In our next two studies and summaries, John will preview sanctification (3:4–10), after which he'll turn our attention to the reality and extent of eternal life (vv. 11–24), defining what love is not (vv. 11–15), followed by his definition of what love is, as viewed through Christ's lens (vv. 16–17). In closing, he'll remind us in vv. 21–24 that each of us is a child of Father God.
Hope Brings Confidence and Holiness (1 John 2:28–29)
Coming soon! One unbelievably life-changing event is about to happen in which everyone will participate in one way or another. The seas will roar and toss; there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. The event that will shake the entire world is... It'll be "The Second Coming of Jesus Christ in Power and Glory." See this event's sneak preview.
John had concluded his "fellowship" message in chapter 1; he's about to begin his "sonship" message in chapter 3, which is highlighted in next week's summary. Previously in this first epistle, he'd effectively presented three contrasts: light vs. darkness (1 John 1:1–2:6), love vs. hatred (2:7–17), and truth vs. error (2:18–27). He affirmed that a genuine Christian must be obedient to God's word, always walking in Jesus' light, not darkness; it's also essential to live by prioritizing love as well as truth. John's warning: It's impossible to live in fellowship with God if you're disobedient or hateful or untruthful; your life will become “artificial” instead of “authentic.” These two verses act as a helpful “bridge” on John's journey that will transport us from Fellowship Avenue to Sonship Street.
God’s Children and Sin
28And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
29If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him (2:28–29).
The first thing to note in this passage is John's written affection. His repeated use in v. 28 of "dear children" or "little children" (cf. 2:1) indicates John’s concern for the crisis his house-church members encountered. His "continue in him" or "abide in Him" implies a duty to maintain a personal relationship with Jesus that can prevent them from yielding to the false teachers' temptations. John was inviting his church body to develop and enjoy a vibrant spiritual fellowship with Christ. The benefit of continuing or abiding in him until that future day is revealed in v. 28b: ". . . so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming." Note therein how John included himself in this picture by using "we."
David Guzik writes this in his commentary on v. 28: "John brings up a challenging image. When Jesus returns, some people will be afraid because they never knew Jesus at all. But among those who know Him, some will not be afraid, they will be ashamed before Him at His coming. They will realize that they have been living worldly, unfruitful lives. In one moment, the understanding will overwhelm them that whatever else they accomplished in life, they did not abide in Him as they could have."
Remember that John wrote these epistles at a very old age; he's the last surviving apostle of his generation, maybe the last man alive who'd walked and talked with Jesus. (This "St. John in Exile" video presents John's last few days most realistically.) Despite his old age, he expressed a tenderness to his children in the faith, gently telling them to stop sinning. His opening address suggests the loving affection that a pastor would have had for those church-body members of his who might have yielded to false teachings.
Here's the really good news: Continuing, abiding, or remaining in God's Son, the Father's Advocate, enables believers to overcome the evil one (2:14), guarding them from being deceived and led astray by false teachers (2:26–27; 4:6), making it possible to enjoy a continued fellowship with Christ that will bring confidence about the future (2:28; 4:17). But make no mistake! God definitely disciplines his children when they go astray.
Regarding the practice of righteousness, in v. 29 John begins his discussion of how knowing God is connected to doing righteousness (2:29–3:10). In it, he'll enlighten us on how to distinguish God's children from Satan's. But he'll interrupt his discussion in the next three verses by focusing on three essential elements: (1) the significance of God’s love, (2) the privilege we have of being his children, and (3) the hope of becoming Christlike upon his appearance. John's "everyone who does what is right has been born of him," when put into context, is a conditional appraisal of whether one is abiding in Jesus. Those truly born of God will resemble Jesus in their behavior. "Thank you, Lord!"
Father God’s Love for His Children (3:1–3)
Before we explore John's representation of Father God's love for his children, it's worth noting here that all three Triune members call us to be his children: Our Father in heaven says, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18); Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters in "Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters" (Hebrews 2:11); and the Holy Spirit declares, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:16).
3 1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (3:1–3).
When John tells his readers to "See what great love the Father has lavished on us," he was directing them to fully realize the value and importance to them of being believers who were God's children. Have you ever tried to consider, possibly quantify, the divine extent of God's love for you? . . . Can you imagine, perhaps right now, Jesus saying to you, Hello my child. How are you feeling today? . . .
While such reflections can be awe inspiring to us as true believers who relate personally and continually with Lord Jesus, John reminds us that people of this world don't know us as Christians because they don't personally know our heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus. As Professor W Hall Harris III writes in his commentary on 3:1, "The world’s treatment of believers is a reflection and outgrowth of its treatment of Jesus himself (because it did not know him). As the Master was treated by the world, so will the servants be treated too."
No sooner does John confirm that "we should be called children of God!" (note the exclamation mark he added), he immediately follows that with an emphatic "And that is what we are!" (with yet another exclamation mark). He left no doubt in his readers' mind that they were no longer children of the world but, through their belief in Christ Jesus, had become children of an almighty God who loved them without reservation. John Stott says this of this privileged designation that Father God gives all of his children.
Repeating his "Dear friends" greeting in v. 2, John confirms by his use of "we" that he and his church brethren were now God's children who would become something new at a future time or event. Harris says this about v. 2: "According to 1 John 2:19, the opponents have been revealed as antichrists now. What believers, who are God’s children now, will be in the future is to be revealed at some later point: What we will be has not yet been revealed. In light of the reference to Jesus’ Greek parousia in 2:28, that is probably the time when the true character of believers will be revealed — the time when they will be like him." That "we will be" likely suggests that believers really will become more like God than they are now, as a result of seeing him as he really is.
John's encouraging text in vv. 1 and 2, which accentuates "God's love for his children," turns our attention in v. 3 to our realizing that, when our hope and expectations of God are high, we can purify ourselves with Christlike purity. That is, with a future hope of entering the Father’s presence (“seeing him as he is” in 3:2), we must prepare ourselves, starting now, by living in a purified manner, the same way Jesus lived while on earth. Knowing that at our end time we'll be more like Jesus should behoove us to want to be more like him, starting today. How would you feel if Jesus returned right now? Excited? Relieved? Embarrassed?
So, are you prepared for the biggest, most amazing event in world history? It'll be the return of Jesus Christ! Jesus' parousia, his second advent. You'll know if you're ready for the biggest of all events by the way you answer this qualifying question: Yes or no, are you now abiding in Jesus as one of his little children?
If your answer is "No," today's the day to start "abiding in Christ" by doing all of these: (1) Open your Bible and ask Jesus to stay nearby; (2) sincerely confess your known sins to him; (3) regret your resistance to Father God's love for you and your reluctance to relate personally to Lord Jesus who died for you on the cross; and (4) accept his gracious forgiveness. Make an effort, daily, to implement these four basic steps to abide in Christ. Gradually, you'll become confident in your anticipation of his coming.
Closing Considerations (from Dr. Charles Stanley)
One of the most devastating failures a Christian can experience is the inability to embrace the pure love of God. What prevents a believer from accepting such a wonderful blessing?
Our own relationships. Ironically, the way we love each other can distort how we perceive the heavenly Father’s love. As imperfect people, we exhibit imperfect love. Conditional responses, wrong motives, and emotional highs and lows taint our understanding of God’s pure love.
Guilt. Our remorse over sinful behavior can subtly convince us that we are unworthy of God’s love. This is a trap of the devil. We have the assurance of Scripture that our Father loves us completely, regardless of our actions.
Legalism. Many people view the Bible as a simple rule book — a list of do's and don’ts. If you base your view of divine love on your ability to uphold every biblical precept, you are doomed to failure. God gave us His Word for instruction and inspiration, not as a measuring stick by which He distributes love.
Misinterpretation of divine discipline. Make no mistake — God definitely disciplines His children when they go astray. However, He is a trustworthy Father; His discipline and love are intimately connected (Heb. 12:5–6). He corrects our behavior when necessary for our benefit, not as a form of punishment. Jesus already paid the price for our sin; God will not make us pay a second time.
Is something in your life preventing you from experiencing the joy and exhilaration of God’s unconditional love? Lay it down before Him today, and receive the amazing grace He so freely offers.
- Q. 1 Why is the fact that “we should be called children of God” such a good demonstration of his love for us?
- Q. 2 What keeps the world from knowing God's children?
- Q. 3 Have you experienced God's lavish love this week? If so, how so? If not, why not?
1 John 2:28–3:3
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 2 narrated by Max McLean.]