By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
About a year ago, a friend of mine and his wife finalized the adoption of their son who is Ethiopian. The little boy was about five at the time, living in an orphanage with dozens of other children and had little more than the clothes on his back. Mostly, he lacked the love of a mother and father. It is an interesting picture to fast forward a year and see how the boy’s life is radically different. He’s healthy, loves soccer and riding bikes through the creek with his buddies, and is thriving in school. The most noticeable difference is the smile permanently affixed to his face. It is obvious he enjoys being loved. And from the look on my friend’s face, it is obvious loving his son brings him great joy as well.
This earthly expression of love and adoption is but a reflection of what we see in this passage of 1 John 3, and reveals three key items to note in these first three verses.
(1) Verse 1 reads: “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children.” Notice that God’s love for us originates in God, and it is something freely given — not earned. Think of other Bible verses that state the idea that He first loved us. This idea is significant because His love is the basis of grace and the slayer of legalism. Rule keeping to earn or maintain God’s love would be dependent upon us and John clearly states that our salvation is completely dependent upon Him.
(2) His love transcends time. Notice in verse two that something God has done in the past (loved us in Jesus Christ) is the basis for our “sonship” (adoption) in the present and secures His future goodness toward us both on earth and for all eternity. This is best described in Romans 8:29-30 where Paul writes about the Golden Chain of Salvation: adoption, justification, sanctification, and glorification — all extended to us as a result of His love toward us.
(3) His love towards us radically changes our response toward Him. Notice in verse 3 that our motivation is to strive for holiness because of His love for us exemplified through Jesus’ death for our sin. Our desire to “keep the law” is driven by gratitude and not obligation. Think about it; Romans tells us that we were once enemies of God, but now we are at peace with Him. His love freed us, changed us, and brought us into His family. This becomes the root of John’s ideas in verses 4-8. John is stating that God’s actions toward us in love should so impact us that we grow to hate our sin more and more as we grow in our love for Him. Notice verse 8. John isn’t claiming that we will no longer sin. What he is stating is that the original sin that separates us from God has been forgiven, yet those who have never asked for God’s forgiveness through Jesus remain spiritually lost.
The best commentary of the Bible is always the Bible itself and verses 9-10 offer an excellent explanation of verses 4-8. John categorically states that it is because of our rebirth through Jesus — God taking out a heart of stone and putting in a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) that we are able to have victory over the habitual sin that causes separation from God. Likewise, children of the Devil (our former state before receiving God’s love) act differently than God’s children.
This is a strong word for the children of God. We cannot expect spiritually lost people to act as if they know our Savior. They need to experience God’s love, and it is our responsibility to share it.