Behold how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure, 1John 3:1-3.
We are the children of God, yet what we are, who we are, is not fully manifested, it is not fully expressed. We are in a process of transformation, of being changed “from glory to glory” as Paul writes in 2Corinthians 3:18. Our Father’s desire and design is that we be conformed to His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) and that just as the firstborn Son fully expresses the Father’s glory, that the many-membered Son also manifest the image of the invisible God (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:24-29; Revelation 21:10-11).
1John 3:1-3 is a paradigm of transformation that is antithetical to much of current Christianity. The passage focuses on who we are in Christ and who we are becoming in Christ, it is not on who we once were outside of Christ. While nowhere in the Bible are followers of Jesus Christ called sinners, “sinners” is what much preaching continues to call Christians – this is analogous to Moses calling the twelve tribes of Israel Egyptians as he led them to Canaan. Is it any wonder that the thinking and behavior of Christians doesn’t change when they are taught that their identity is that of sinner and not saint? This is not a question of positive thinking, this is a question of Biblical thinking.
A second element of this passage antithetical to much current Christianity is the dynamic of spiritual transformation, rather than have the reader (or listener) focus on his need and his shortcoming in order to motivate transformation, the passage focuses on Jesus Christ, when He appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (see also Colossians 3:1-3; 2Corinthians 3:17-18; Romans 12:1-2). It is not as we behold ourselves and our shortcomings and sins that we change, it is as we behold Jesus that we are changed into His image – yet one more reason why Jesus Christ must be Christianity and why Christianity must be Jesus Christ. Will the Holy Spirit reveal things in me that must change as I behold Jesus? Yes He will. Am I to be the center of my attention? No I am not.
How many church services have I been in which have sought to motivate change by weekly repetition of repentance, by seeking to convince one and all Christians that they are sinners, by not being satisfied until an atmosphere of guilt permeates the congregation – and of course there must be (depending on the tradition) the inevitable altar call – not so much for those who don’t know Jesus to bend the knee in confession of sin and repentance, but rather for Christians to once again deny their identity and birthright and start from the beginning once again – it is as if a baseball player never knows what it is to get beyond first base.
I am called to behold Jesus Christ, to adore Jesus Christ, to confess Jesus Christ, to speak of Jesus Christ; I am called to accept His evaluation of me and the Father’s evaluation of me in Christ – and that evaluation is perfect and complete (Colossians 2:10, Hebrews 10:10) and I no longer live as if I were under the Old Covenant with perpetual sacrifices and a conscience filled with guilt and sin (see Hebrews), I live as one in fellowship with the Trinity; as one becoming who I am in Christ.
Purification does not come about as I behold who I was outside of Christ, it comes as I behold the holy and pure and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When we preach Christ Jesus we need not manipulate to try to create change in ourselves and others, we need only proclaim with John the Baptist, Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!