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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Life of Children of God

If you really need good news, read Revelation 21-22.  Throughout the New Testament, the permanent joining in love of God and God’s people is described using marriage as a metaphor, and the bride is mentioned in Revelation 21.  After the final confrontation between God and Satan is concluded resoundingly in God’s favor, and Satan is gone, the bride and groom are joined. All who follow Jesus are invited into perfect fellowship with God. 

            He wipes away every tear.  Death is no more.  Mourning and crying and pain – each are gone (21:4).  The home of God is with human beings (21:3b).  At the end of Revelation 21 we see in the Heavenly city, there is no temple; God is the temple.  There is no sun.  God is the light (21:22-23).  All whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life see the face of God (22:4).

            That is coming.  Anyone need hopeful words today?  We’re 1st John 3, but if you need to, linger at the end of Revelation.    John of Patmos received that vision.  We read his accounting of it and we imagine …

            What about today?  We have a lot to deal with now before that future vision comes to fruition.  How does it help to know that we will one day be in God’s physical presence in unbroken fellowship and in pure joy?  It’s something to look forward to.  But what about right now?

            First John 3:2.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now.”  Though we cannot see God with our eyes, our relationship with God is made possible by His Holy Spirit.  In God’s view, His love and the death and resurrection of Jesus are what is needed to make us sons and daughters of God.  That’s how God see all people who receive Jesus.  Right now, not sometime later, we are children of God. 

            This week I was working on this message just before the voting on Tuesday and then right after it.  Outside the site where I vote, I saw some friends who were demonstrating with a placard.  They were peaceful and did not do anything unacceptable or unkind.  They definitively declared their position with the message on their board.  As we talked some who voted opposite them were visibly upset as they walked by and they voiced their displeasure. 

            The tension made me uncomfortable, but my conversation with my friends turned my mind to other thoughts.  The two women are committed Christ followers, and soon, one of them is going to live in an extremely repressive country where one can be imprisoned or killed for criticizing the government.  She’s going there as a visiting professor.  Secretly, she will meet with Christians and try to establish a small group or even, God-willing, an underground church. 

Overt Christianity in this totalitarian state leads to imprisonment.  If one of the citizens tries to escape the country, the government will kill his wife, his kids, and his parents.  Here we were in America openly expressing our views with our in conversation and with our votes.  And this woman I met will soon be voluntarily headed to one of the most repressive places on earth.

            How can she willingly do that, and do it with a joyful smile?  She is beloved.  She knows that she is a child of God.  It’s not sometime later.  It’s right now.

            Our nation’s political dialogue is locked in catch phrases.  People called my house repeatedly with recorded messages.  Their entire platform was “Get Obama out of Washington.”  None of the would-be congressmen offered a plan for affordable healthcare or job creation or any other pressing issue.  It was just a series of different voices repeating the same, tired, attack-dog lines with no positive alternative to offer.  I received the exact same calls in 2004: “Anybody but Bush.”  Really?  That’s the platform.  I am not saying this as a pro-Obama or pro-Bush stance.  The whole system is sick, and we voters act like lemmings, mindlessly following politicians completely void of conviction or honesty off an ideological cliff.

I was down about all of it.  Then I received some criticism on things I had written and said.  I became defensive and wrote words as mean-spirited and meaningless as those I hear from politicians.  I became what I hate. 

I had to remember the woman headed off to risk her life for the opportunity to share the Gospel.  I had to remember the spirit of volunteers from our church who go to Habitat for Humanity projects and similar works like A Brush with Kindness.  Why do these folks spend Saturdays helping people they don’t even know?  They do it because they are beloved children of God.  I had to remember just two weeks ago, I was with 15 amazing people in Ethiopia and we spent time with 160 incredible children sharing the love of Jesus. 

Being a child of God means something.  It give definition to our lives.  We live a certain way and our values are different than the world’s values.  Life is an incredible adventure when we live into our inheritance.

Verse 1 – “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.”  The Gospel of John, chapter 1 – “To all who received his name, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God who were born not of blood or of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (v.12-13). 

Malaise settled on my spirit as I depressingly mulled over the political state of things.  My melancholy spilled over and I fell into ridiculous arguments online.  Then the sense of purpose of being God’s child snapped me out of it – both the fact that I am God’s child and that I witnessed that sense of call and joy and meaning in others.  First John 3:2 establishes a certainty we can stand on and live from – we are children of God.

Then we read, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.”  First John three moves from “We are children of God” to sin, mentioned 10 times in verses 4-10.  First John is among the most positive, hopeful writings in scripture, but in the midst of all this good news, sin is present.  In our lives – the lives of people who have put their trust in Jesus – sin lurks. 

In chapter 1, those who minimized or denied sin were called liars.  Chapter 2, the possibility of born-again persons sinning is accepted, and Jesus is named as the one who advocates for us.  He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (2:2).  Now in chapter 3, Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (3:5).

And there rises a problem.  We’ve already read that denial of sin is a lie.  We are all sinners.  But here we read “everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil.”  If we sin, does that negate our status as sons and daughters of God?  If we sin … what a thought!  Of course we sin.  The sins of our entire political system dropped me into an existential funk.  The sins of a nation under the heel of a megalomaniac make me fear for the lives of the people who live there.  All of us suffer pain because of the sins of those around us, many of whom are Christians.  We suffer because of our own sins. 

The literal definition of sin is to miss the mark. Disobedience is sin.  Foul language and mean-spirited words and deceit are ways we sin.  First John 3:8.  “Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil.”  First John 3:10.  “The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers or sisters.”  Failure to do right and failure to love lead us into sin, all of us.

First John doesn’t mince words.  Have you heard of the antichrist?  First John 2:18 says many antichrists have come and more are on the way, and First and Second John are the only books of scripture that even use the Greek word, Antixristos ’antichrist.’ Child of the devil; antichrist; how do we reconcile such straightforward teaching with equally definitive words that say we are children of God?  Can we have two Fathers – God and the devil?

First John 3:9 says “Those who have been born of God do not sin.  Because God’s seed abides in them they cannot sin.”  When we live into the gift we’ve been given, the gift of new life in Christ, we have no inclination to sin.  We are new creations.  But the old self, the one in constant rebellion, is at war with the spirit of God who resides in us.  The old self is egged on by the evil of Satan.  The old self is tempted by demons and spirits and antichrists all around.  The old self is satisfied by the flesh most clearly seen in greed, lust for power, and sins of a sexual nature, but also manifest in a 1000 other ways. 

First John 3 implies this tension of sin for children of God.  In Romans 7, it is stated directly.

I am made out of flesh,[f] sold into sin’s power. 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord![k] So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.

            Where do we go from here? 

A few faithful Christ-followers are called to put their lives on the line in faraway countries.  They go where the Gospel is violently opposed because they are children of God and He has sent them.  But what about us, living for Jesus in Chapel Hill, going about our everyday lives.  Are we children of God, living with purpose, or slaves to sin and children of the devil?  If we don’t attend to our relationship with God, the enemy will have great sway in our lives and we’ll easily fall to his temptations.

            What about the seed of God, planted us, as verse 9 says?  I believe that seed is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is the difference maker.  We go back to verse 2.  Now we are children of God.  What we will be – people of purpose or slaves of satan – has not been revealed.  Next it says, “What we do know is this:  when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see Him as He is.” 

            No, sin doesn’t win.  Satan does not reign.  The antichrist does not come out on top.  Jesus does.  We know he will return and be revealed and that will be the most wonderful day of history.  We can bank on that

Between now and then, we worship, pray, and stay in the Bible.  In these activities we meet God and stay connected to God’s church.  None of these activities save us, but, in worship, prayer, and Bible reading, we set ourselves so that we are receptive and ready when God enters and begins transforming us.

            With worship, prayer, and Bible-reading as regular life practices, we serve.  Mission trips, work in the church, volunteering in the community, sharing Jesus with friends and inviting them to church – these things make up our lives.  We heap love on hurting, discouraged people around us.  We walk through trials with people.  Good works do not save us any more than prayer, worship, and Bible study.  Jesus saves.  We work out of response to grace.  We love hurting people because that’s where Jesus is.  We’re likely to meet Jesus when visiting a hospital or a prison to give encouragement.  We’re likely to come face-to-face with Jesus while helping the poor, teaching kids, and doing acts of Christian service.  When we do for the “least of these” as Jesus say in Matthew, we do for Him.  Being where He is puts us in touch with the Holy Spirit who takes sin from us. 

            When He is revealed, He says to us, “Welcome, good and faithful one, enter into the joy of your master.”

            First John 3:2: “We will see Him as he is.”  Revelation 22:4: we will see his face and his name will be on us.  That hope gives us something to look forward to and something to live into today.  As we close, may each one of us imagine that day … and also imagine this coming week, how we will live with purpose as children of God.


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