“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such 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 just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Just as the children of Israel forgot who they were, so has much of the professing church forgotten their identity. Israel may have known that they were biologically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob), but they had ceased to understand that they had a spiritual inheritance, a covenant of promise that had been reiterated by Yahweh to their father Abraham, their father Isaac, and their father Jacob. In Egypt the descendants of Israel had become people of earth and straw, people of bricks, people building temples to idols and constructing palaces to honor the kings of the earth.
After Moses led the people out of Egypt most of the people could not leave their old identity behind, “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molded image. Thus they changed their glory into the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior…” (Psalms 106:19 – 21). Yahweh had a wonderful inheritance for the people, not just in Canaan, but more importantly in relationship with Himself. God was establishing His Presence in the midst of the people, He was building His Tabernacle, He was leading them, feeding them, revealing His Law to them – but “they exchanged their glory”. This is the story of mankind, it is the story of Israel, and it is the story of much of the professing church – we exchange our glory.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our glory; and yet He is not enough. While there are many ways in which we exchange our glory, in the context of the present passage one of the most insidious ways of exchange is the denial of our identity as children of God – just as Israel rejected its identity so we reject our identity. In spite of the fact that the Bible, and New Testament in particular, is replete with the message that those in Christ are sons and daughters of the living God, in spite of the fact that again and again and again we are called saints, we insist on rejecting the Word of God and overlaying it with our experience and with tradition. We allow our experience of sin and failure and falling short to shape and form our image of the Gospel, and hence we look at ourselves rather than at Christ – as this passage points out, transformation occurs when we behold Jesus Christ, not when we look at ourselves. Much of our preaching and teaching and thinking reinforces our old identity outside of Christ, rather than affirming in one another the glorious truth that we are the sons and daughters of the living God living in union with Him and with one another.
And so we have the “already not yet” of this passage. “Now we are children of God, it has not yet appeared what we shall be.” We can live by sight in the natural, or we can live by seeing the Word and believing it, affirming it, and looking unto Jesus. Our experience ought not to shape our identity, the Word God ought to shape our identity and from that our identity and union with Christ will shape our experience. We ought not to mold the Word according to our experience, we must submit to the Word and allow the Word and Holy Spirit to mold us.
We become what we behold. The Israelites had spent their lives with their fingers in mud and straw making bricks, their identity was in the earth and they couldn’t get over it. Presumably had they reoriented themselves, by God’s grace, through obedience to the living God dwelling among them, had their eyes been fixed on the unseen (a vision to be sure that takes time to develop), had they bowed their wills to God’s commands in obedience, had they believed the Word of Promise and Covenant that God was speaking to them through Moses, had their minds been fixed on the prize of Canaan – had they been looking forward and living in the “already not yet” – well, it is reasonable to think that the story would have been different.
Why do we fight the freedom we have in Christ? Why are we so uncomfortable with being the sons and daughters of God? What are we afraid of? Why cannot we call God “Abba Father” allowing the life He has placed within us in Christ to express itself in intimate familial ways, natural ways, ways which we would expect in a Father-child relationship? Cannot we not trust our kind heavenly Father and Lord Jesus to care for us? To shepherd us? To protect us? We are predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:30) and yet we deny our birthright and inheritance – exchanging it for a pot of greens. When we seek to live in the reality of Romans 8 the mob pulls us down into Adam – we ignore the great exchange of identity in Romans 5 that we are no longer in Adam but are now in Christ.
Now we are children of God. Do we believe it?