“God's Great Love”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

Sometimes, I run into people online who want to separate the grace of God from the good works that we are called to do.  We are saved by grace, they say, so the things we do don’t matter much either way.  We don’t get to judge anybody as being outside of grace.

These convictions simply don’t square with the both-and nature of the gospel.  Yes, we are saved by God’s love and grace.  No, we can’t save ourselves. 

However, our encounter with God is supposed to transform us.  We aren’t supposed to love wickedness anymore.  We are supposed to love righteousness and spend the rest of our lives showing gratitude for our salvation.  If, on the other hand, we are more drawn to the pleasures of sin than to our Savior, something has gone terribly wrong.

This is the distinction that John draws in 1 John 2:28-3:10.  We’re children of God, but if we don’t make our parentage evident in several different ways, we prove that our true father is somebody else.  Let’s see how this works out as we consider the implications of God’s great love.

First, John discusses ABIDING IN HIM.  Let’s read from John 2:28-29.  The idea here is simple.  As God is supposed to dwell in us, we are supposed to abide in Him.  If we do, we can confidently welcome Him at His return.  If we don’t, we will have to cringe back in shame.  In other words, the way we live has eternal consequences.

Abiding in God is vital, and we can know what we need to do by considering His nature.  God is righteous.  He loves even those who hate Him.  He sends His mercy on the just and the unjust.  However, He Himself never does evil.  He is perfectly holy.

If we abide in God, or, to use John’s alternate formulation, we have been born of God, that same behavior ought to show up in us.  The people who knew me when I was 10 would have no trouble recognizing Marky as my son.  He looks like I did, and he has the same smart mouth that I had!  Likewise, people can tell that we are God’s children when we look and act like Him.  They see the resemblance when we practice righteousness.

This doesn’t mean that we live perfectly and never sin.  Instead, it means that we habitually do good instead of evil.  Sin is the exception in our lives, not the rule.  If sin is the rule rather than the exception, we need to mend our ways before we become ashamed on the day of judgment.

From here, John explores the meaning of being CHILDREN OF GOD.  Look at 1 John 3:1-3.  Notice that we don’t become children of God by working really hard or being really good.  Instead, we are His children because His love has made us His children.  We had no part in His family, but He adopted us into it. 

Now, we are children of God, but when He appears, we will become something else.  When we see Him, we will be made like Him.  To use Paul’s language in Philippians 3, He will bring our bodies into conformity with the body of His glory. 

This is deeply meaningful to me.  Every day, I encounter the limitations of my body and feel the ways that it is failing.  Many of you are in the same position.  However, in the resurrection, we will have a body that is literally like Christ’s:  perfect, indestructible, and magnificent.  Oh, what a hope we have!

As John observes, this hope should lead us now to imitate His purity.  Wanting to be like God means wanting to be like God in everything.  We can’t seek conformity with His eternal, glorious body while rejecting conformity with His holy spirit.  It’s an all-or-nothing deal.

This means, then, that the resurrection should shape every spiritual decision we make.  Do we want to become like God, or are we catering to the desires of our flesh, which is frail, corruptible, and doomed?  In either case, whatever we are seeking is what we will end up with.

Next, John exposes the ugliness of PRACTICING SIN.  This appears in 1 John 3:4-6.  Notice the ways that he describes people like this.  They practice lawlessness.  They defeat the purpose of Him who came to take away sin.  They do not abide in Him.  They have not seen Him.  They do not know Him.

These are horrible things to say about anyone who claims to be a Christian, but we must soberly ask ourselves if they apply to us.  Most people who assemble on Sundays aren’t openly practicing sin, but the secret practice of sin is another matter altogether.  I’ve known Christians who showed up for services three times a week while they were cheating on their spouses.  I hope that nobody here this morning is doing that, but I also know that appearances can be deceiving and somebody here might be. 

Of course, adultery is not the only possible sin to practice, and in the Bible, there’s no such thing as a venial sin.  Even the sins that seem smallest and least to us will cost us our souls if we make a habit of them.  They will show that we don’t belong to God.

Now, if I were here in the crowd today, and I were practicing sin, all this would leave me feeling pretty low!  If that’s you, though, I’m not here to shame you.  I’m here to plead with you. 

Don’t be the person we finished reading about.  Nobody wants that for you, least of all God.  Recognize where you are, recognize how much is at stake, and make the change you need to make.

Finally, John calls us to ask, “WHOSE CHILDREN ARE WE?”  Let’s conclude our reading with 1 John 3:7-10.  Our analysis of this must begin with John’s first words.  He is warning us not to be deceived in these matters because it is so easy to be deceived.

Indeed, this is Satan’s goal for all of us.  He wants us to believe we’re good enough to inherit eternal life when really we’ve been serving ourselves for years.  To this end, he loves to get us focused on the things we’re doing right.  He wants us to say, “Yeah, I know this thing I keep doing is wrong, but look at all that I do for God!  Surely my good works will outweigh my sin in His eyes!” 

This argument is powerfully deceptive.  Two of those adulterers I mentioned above were deacons of the church, and I’m sure they minimized their sin to themselves in light of all they did for the kingdom.  The problem is, though, that when we think like this, we are treating our good works like something extra we’re doing for God when He already is entitled to our perfect obedience.

John’s words are unambiguous.  If we practice righteousness, we are righteous and children of God.  If we practice sin, we are wicked and the children of the devil.  The lives we live determine whether our initial salvation is of any account at all.