Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All the best-known saints have their own feast days. These are usually the day they died. St. Valentine gets February 14th, and St. Patrick gets March 17th. But All Saints is a day to commemorate the unnumbered, unnamed saints across time and place. Today, many Christian congregations also remember their loved ones who have died during the past year in the faith. And we’ll also be doing that today. However, the Apostle John’s first letter reminds us that celebrating “all the saints” will include the living. All baptized Christians can be included in the same company as those who have come before. All of us. Hopefully, will gather before the throne of the Lamb to worship. So, this morning the epistle explains who we are now. John then talks about what we will be in the future. Finally, he mentions what we are to do in the meantime.
Who We Are Now
The first thing the Apostle John wants us to know is exactly who and what we are. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). It’s a remarkable display of God’s love that he forgives and redeems sinners. But our Lord went even further and made us his children! Astonishingly, God’s love is showered upon us—we poor, miserable sinners. We do not deserve God’s love, grace, and mercy. Yet, the Creator loves those who should be unlovable. God’s love towards you is lavish and extravagant. The Almighty Creator God, through Holy Baptism, adopted us as his children. Baptized Christians are children of God.
Why have you been adopted as God’s children? Because of the lavish love of God. This is not a love that you and I deserve. This love is a gift. There is a great word here, and it is the word “given.” God’s love is not simply shown toward us but “given to us.” This gift of God, the imparted love of God, makes us His children.
Consider how and what God does to make us His children. He sends His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be us, live as us, and do what we are supposed to but never can do. Jesus fulfils the righteousness to which we are called and never obtain. What is more, he reconciles us to the Father through his blood. In other words, the Father sent the Son so that we may also be sons and daughters.
John says that we are “called children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). But not only do we have the name; John says, ‘And so we are!’ We are what God calls us. “And so we are” God’s children. We cannot be called God’s children by him without actually being his children. You, God’s children, and members of His household, not only in name but also in fact. God relates to baptized Christians as a “Father” to his “children.” As our Catechism puts it, “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children” (SC III.2). Think about what it would be like to be adopted by the king of a mighty nation––or the president of a mighty country––or one of the wealthiest families in town. Dear Christian, you have a God who deeply loves and cares about you, and you have Him as your Father. That tells us quite a bit about God’s personal and loving nature and our own identity as Christians. We are God’s children and members of His family: not only in name but also in fact. To function well as a Christian, you must know who you are in Christ. No matter what problems you may be facing at the moment, you are his child. God has already given you the most important thing: you are a child of God. Already. Today. Now.
What We Will Be In The Future
First, John told us who we are: we are God’s children. But what will we be like in the future? The common answer today is, “Well, we go to heaven, of course!” However, John’s answer is a bit more complicated than that. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). Did you notice how he doesn’t mention going to heaven why you die? Instead, how does John want us to think about our future?
Think about how God sent the Son. He sent him to be a human being with a physical body. That is why Jesus was “Born of a virgin.” God did not save us by mere edicts pronounced in the sky or by waving a magical wand. It is important to always remember that Christ redeemed us in the flesh and, yes, even our flesh will be redeemed. Simply put, Jesus saves our bodies too. John tells us to look at the resurrected body of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saves all of us, body and soul. Our bodies will be saved because we know Christ’s human body broke out of a hillside tomb.
“Going to Heaven when you die” is not the main goal. Remember how our Lord told the thief on the cross he would be with Him that same day in “Paradise.” Jesus provides the exact pattern for what happens to us upon death. Our spirits go to paradise, which we like to call “Heaven.” But that is not all. Did Jesus remain a disembodied soul in paradise? NO. What happened after three days? He rose from the dead bodily. The bodily resurrection is still in the future for everyone except Jesus. If we want to talk about “going to Heaven when we die,” we should be clear this is only temporary. Heaven for the Christian is somewhere between death and resurrection. Your departed loved ones and the saints of old are in paradise with the Lord, waiting for the resurrection of their physical bodies. This is why we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
The goal is to be raised and transformed like Jesus Christ. What is that going to be like? John says we don’t know all the details. Perhaps we could say: we will be like we are, only much more so. More gloriously physical, not less. Embodied but not subject to sickness or death. Able to celebrate the joys of God’s world but no longer lured or seduced into abusing them, lusting after them, and worshipping them as though they were divine. We will be like Jesus. Think of the risen Jesus: the same, yet strangely different. That’s what we will be like.
What We Do In the Meantime
John first told us who we are. He then told us what we will be in the future. What do we do in the meantime? Being God’s children brings us into conflict with the world. John says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 Jn 3:1). It should be no surprise that a world that rejected Christ should reject his followers. The children of this world and the children of God are quite different. We have different ways of looking at the world. We have different value systems and priorities. The world is baffled when Christians insist that they be identified first and foremost as God’s children and not by anything else. The world cannot appreciate or understand Christians because what makes them tick is something the world cannot understand. Since the world has not accepted God or Christ, it cannot accept you for what you are, namely, children of God. That means you are in a hostile environment because others do not believe. The world will misunderstand, reject and persecute the children of God because it misunderstood, rejected and persecuted Jesus.
Our identity as God’s children does more than just bring us into conflict with the world. John writes, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:3). We are responsible for purifying ourselves. That means we need to rid ourselves of all those inappropriate actions and attitudes and live like God’s children. This is sanctification. In the end, the hope of being like Christ should inspire (and can produce) Christ-like behaviour even now. Claiming that we are God’s children who have hope of resurrection and yet refusing to live a Christian life is lying. Those who are uninterested in being like Jesus and unconcerned about sin should question their future, even if they claim to be Christian.
Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the stain and guilt of sin, but we have a part to play in purifying ourselves from its power. “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC IV.12). We are God’s children because of the Father’s extravagant love for us. He has given us the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. That should be changing our lives here and now.
Who are we? We are children of God right now. What will we be? In the coming age, we shall be like Christ in his resurrection. And in the meantime, that brings us into conflict with the world. Yet, this hope fills us with joy. It gives us power and purpose for living–this hope calls us to holiness, as God’s saints, as his holy people, and as the children of God. And so we are.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.