“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.”
It sounds simple, and perhaps because it sounds simple we ignore it and substitute the complex in its place; it is about an Other and not ourselves, and because of that we ignore it and substitute other things, especially ourselves, in its place. John writes in a time of falling away from the Gospel by professing Christians, he writes in a time of false teaching (which sadly all times seem to have), he writes, at least in part, to counter heresies. His first letter is a simplistic letter to many contemporary readers, it has redundancies, emphases and reemphases – and yet read as a whole, the point-counterpoint, the ebb and flow, the call and response, the weaving of primary-colored threads strengthens and reaffirms our fellowship with the Trinity and with one another (see 1 John 1:1-4) and exclaims to us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen,” (1 John 5:21).
We all have a primary idol within us, a deity central to our lives, and one which must be dethroned and put to death by the Cross of Christ, and that idol is “self” – it is an idol that does not go away without a fight, it is an idol that knows how to wage guerrilla warfare, it is an idol that seeks any and every opportunity to reassert itself. This idol craves attention, it want us to pay attention to it, and we in turn what others to pay attention to it. Oh if we could only orient the universe around ourselves all would be better!
When our sin is revealed to us we rightly recoil, when our selfishness in manifested to our hearts and minds we repent, and we often ask ourselves, “How can this not happen again? How can I change?” A church may ask, “How can we change? How can we grow?”
To be sure there are many dynamics to transformation, and perhaps nowhere in the Bible are these dynamics as systematically portrayed as in Romans; we are justified and reconciled, we were once one thing in Adam but we are now another thing in Christ, and now we work this new thing out in community in Christ. Central to all Biblically-based change is Jesus Christ – He is the Alpha and the Omega of change, of our lives, the Beginning and the End – the Foundation and the Capstone. It is into His image that we are being changed and when we lose sight of this, when we lose sight of Him, the idol within us rears its head, for we invariably substitute ourselves and our own self-improvement for Jesus Christ.
This is insidious to the point of often being virtually indiscernible. We are seduced into embarking on self-improvement projects that divert us from Jesus Christ, and the insidiousness lies in these projects looking so very good – how could anything so good be so bad? The Bible has one solution for the old self, and that is death on the Cross in Christ (Romans Chapter 6). God is not interested in renovating the old self, but He does desire us to live in intimacy with Him in Christ in and through the Cross and Resurrection.
Our passage tells us that when Jesus appears that we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is – transformation occurs when we behold Jesus Christ. Here again we have the “already – not yet”; for while Jesus will certainly appear in His fullness in the future, He is also most certainly appearing today to us, the question is “are we looking for Him?” When we see Jesus He transforms us into His image – we become more and more like Jesus in our life on earth.
Paul writes (2 Cor. 3:17 – 18), “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Our life in Jesus Christ is to be transformationally spiritually dynamic; we are to be presenting (as a way of life) ourselves to God as living sacrifices so that we will be transformed and renewed and live in the perfect will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).
There is a vast difference between seeking my own self-improvement to make my life better and seeking the appearing of Jesus Christ that will result in His glory as I am transformed into His image. The very reason we are told that “all things work together for good” is so that we might be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28 – 29) – rather than have our lives made better. Bluntly speaking, God is not interested in our lives being made “better” as we normally think of these things – He is interested in us knowing Jesus and becoming like Him so that we, in turn, can lay down our lives for others so that they can be like Him. This is a far cry from the heresy rampant in the contemporary church that God is passing out cotton candy and wanting us to have our “best lives now”.
At the risk of being misunderstood, if we understood and taught Romans 5:12 – 8:39 we would have a lot less self-improvement and self-help programs in the professing church and a lot more people experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. (Yes, we need to believe the finality of justification by faith as found in Romans 1:1 – 5:11 in order to enter into Romans 5:12 – 8:39, but we seem to fight that just as we fight Romans 5:12 – 8:39).
Colossians 3:1 – 4 encourages us to have our minds fixed on Christ above, and reminds us that that have died and that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. I cannot go to a graveyard and enroll its occupants in a self-help program. Paul gives us the same dynamic that John does, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” This is another “already – not yet” and ties into 2 Cor. 3:17 – 18, for as we see Jesus we are changed from glory to glory, yes, a greater glory awaits us (Romans 8:18 – 21) but we are (hopefully) experiencing a measure of that glory today – and if we are not experiencing it today it is not because it is not here for us, it is here in Jesus Christ and our Father deeply desires us to know Him and His Son in their glory.
Not to know and experience the glory of Jesus Christ today is akin to the child of a billionaire living in a dumpster and living off refuse – never tasting what is on the earthly father’s dinner table.
The desire of every child of God ought to be seeing Jesus more clearly and intimately today than yesterday, and ultimately beholding Him as He is in all of His glory and grace and love. Why should we desire this? Because of His great love for us. Oh, if we would only realize the passionate love of Jesus for us…for me…for you. Paul writes (Gal. 2:20), “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”! Well He loved YOU too and gave Himself for YOU too! Can you believe it? Do you believe it? It is true. How true? It is the story of the ages, of the cosmos; the story that will be told and retold when all other stories have run their course. It is a story sung by angels and the redeemed, the story written in the heavens, the narrative that stretches from before time to after the second hand has made its final movement.
You are deeply loved, and your Lover, Jesus Christ, says, “Behold Me, come to Me, let Me love you, let My presence transform you, let my glory envelop you, let My Word renew you.” Our Father says, “Come to Jesus and be like Him.”