CHILDREN OF GOD
The passage that I am going to preach from today is one that you will seldom ever heard preached. There’s a reason for that. It’s because it’s a tough passage. It’s tough because it says things that we don’t want to hear and it says things that on the surface seem to contradict some of the other things that the Bible teaches us.
So why am I going to do this? Because it’s important. Just because a passage is difficult, that does not mean we should avoid it. In fact, some of the most important passages are the ones that make us squirm just a little because they force us out of our comfort zones. So this morning, I hope that we all get a bit squirmish. If this passage makes you uncomfortable then just know that you are not alone. It made me uncomfortable too. 1 John 3:1-10 (NIV) says this:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
So what’s this passage all about? It’s about who we are in Christ and how we are called to live for him. John states that very clearly in 1 John 3:10 (NIV) when he writes, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are. Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” This passage is a contrast. It compares the actions of the children of God and the children of the devil. That’s what this passage is about. Its purpose is to help people separate the believers from the non-believers. Who is in Christ and who is not in Christ?
That is one of the uncomfortable things about this passage. If I were to ask you how you could identify the believers from the non-believers what would you say? You’d probably say that the separation is based on what they believe. If someone has accepted Christ as their Saviour, they are a child of God. If they haven’t then they aren’t a child of God.
I’d agree with that. What people believe is important. But there’s one problem. How do you know they’re telling the truth? You don’t. Someone might say they have accepted Christ but you can’t be sure of that. You can’t look into someone’s heart. You can hear what they say but you can’t see into the depth of their soul. Only God can do that. Only God is capable of knowing the depth of someone’s relationship with him.
But that’s not the issue that John is addressing. He is not asking how God knows who his children are. We can leave that up to God. In verse 10 it says, “This is how we know who the children of God are…” John is telling us how we can identify the true believers from the wannabes. How do we do that? It’s not based on what they say they believe but, rather, it is based on what they do. We are called to base our assessments on people’s actions, on their deeds. There’s a simple reason for that. It’s because that’s all we can know. God can see beneath the surface into a person’s heart and soul. We can’t. All we can see is the outside and so we have to base our assessments on that alone.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER TH AN WORDS
Actions. They really do speak louder than words. What people say is important but their words have to be backed up by actions. Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk. They go hand in hand. When people don’t walk the talk, do you know what they are called? They’re called hypocrites. People who say one thing and do another are hypocrites.
Now to be honest, on one level, all of us are hypocrites because all of us sometimes do things that are inconsistent with what we say we believe. All of us make mistakes. All of us have had those times when we reflected on something that we did and realized that it was totally at odds with our sense of right and wrong. Maybe you were angry. Maybe you were afraid. Maybe you were confused. But for whatever reason, we’ve all been there and we’ve all done that.
Remember Peter on the night when Jesus was arrested. In Matthew 26:31, Jesus told the disciples that they would fall away from him. But Peter said that would never happen. In Matthew 26:33 (NIV) he said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” But then Peter adds this in Matthew 26:35 (NIV), “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Strong words. But most of us know what happened. Just a few hours later, Peter did exactly that which he said he would never do. In Matthew 26:74-75 (NIV) it says, “Then [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Poor Peter. He could not walk the talk. In the end, after all of his bravado, he denied Jesus. Which one of us hasn’t been in Peter’s shoes? You know the right answer in almost every situation. You know what you should do but you just can’t find the courage and strength to actually follow through on it. We’ve all been in Peter’s shoes. We have all failed our Lord and Saviour. We have all failed to walk the talk.
That’s why actions are so important. I’ve heard it said that if you want to know a person’s character, don’t look at what they believe or think or feel. Look at what they do. that will tell you what you need to know about the person.
And here’s something else that needs to be said. Don’t even look at what people intend. The Bible never talks about our intentions. It only talks about our actions. Good intentions count for nothing if the actions are wrong. The old saying isn’t too far off: the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. There is a story way back in Genesis when Joseph rose to be second in command of Egypt. He saved the nation in a time of famine and he saved many of the neighbouring nations as well. Why was he in Egypt in the first place? He was there because his brothers sold their snotty nosed, spoiled brat little brother into slavery because they were sick and tired of putting up with him. So they tossed him into a pit and sold him to a passing caravan. Then they told their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. That was the last they ever expected to see of him.
Years later, his brothers went to Egypt to buy food and eventually Joseph revealed himself to them. Understandably they were afraid that he would take out his revenge on them. But listen to what Joseph said to them in Genesis 50:20 (NIV): “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In a strange kind of way, while their intentions were completely wrong, their actions were totally right because they were doing exactly what God wanted them to do. And nowhere in the Bible are they ever condemned for what they did even though their intentions were wrong. Having said that, I am not advocating that you go from here and deal with a sibling who bugs you by selling them off to a passing caravan. But it does make a good point. What we intend, right or wrong, is not very important in the Bible. The important thing is what we actually do.
So, back to the original point. How can you tell the difference between a child of God and a child of the devil? You can tell by their actions. You can tell by what they do. That’s the dividing line.
IS SINLESSNESS POSSIBLE?
Matthew 7:18 (CEV) restates this same principle in an interesting way when it says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” So here’s a question. What kind of fruit are you bearing? Are your words consistent with your actions? Do you walk the walk or just talk the talk?
The problem is that none of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes. And I think we would agree that all of us sin. But now comes the really tricky part of this passage because in 1 John 3:6 (NIV) it says, “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” What do we do with that? Listen carefully to what it says. It says that if we keep on sinning, then we are not living in Christ, that we neither see him or know him. Let that sink in for a few seconds.
Now do you understand why you don’t often hear this passage preached? Do you see why it is so difficult? We know that we all sin but this passage says that if we are really in Christ, then we will not sin. It says that anyone who continues to sin really hasn’t seen Christ and really doesn’t know him. Yikes! What do we do with that?
John Wesley was one of the key evangelists of the Great Awakening that swept through England and North America in the 18th century. He was an Anglican priest who eventually felt a warm stirring in his heart. That stirring led to a ministry in which many tens of thousands of people came to Christ and the church in England was renewed. John Wesley also began the Methodist movement of which this Church is a part. When this building was completed in 1914, it was the Methodist Church in Cottam. It became a United Church almost 100 years ago in 1925 but our Methodist roots still runs deep.
John Wesley spent much of his life struggling with this question of sin. At one point in his ministry he believed that he could become sinless. It’s called the doctrine of Christian perfectionism. Although it’s not something that we talk about much any more, in Wesley’s day it was a hot topic. Over forty or so years Wesley aimed at becoming perfectly sinless. But his attempts caused him to despair because as hard as he tried to be perfect, he realized that he just couldn’t do it.
As he aged and approached the end of his life, he finally understood and accepted that he would never achieve that which he so desperately wanted. He also realized that he was wrong in his previous thinking. Rather than thinking that perfection was an end state that could be achieve in this life, Wesley came to realize that perfection was a journey to be followed. Sinlessness was not about becoming perfect but rather it was about being on the road to perfection.
That, in fact, is a far better rendering of the passage from 1 John than we have in the New International Version of the Bible that I read from this morning. I want to read you another rendering of 1 John 3:6 from a translation called The Message. Listen to what it says: “No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backwards.” Isn’t that interesting? No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. This is a far better rendering that the NIV which says: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.”
If you were to go back to the original Greek, you would discover that the Message portrays a much more accurate understanding of the true meaning of the passage. That’s interesting because the Message isn’t really a translation at all. It’s paraphrase. The difference between a translation and a paraphrase is that a translation takes the words from the original language and seeks to translate them as much as possible word for word into English. A paraphrase doesn’t do that. A paraphrase seeks to relay the meaning of the text even if the Greek words don’t match up exactly to the English ones. Sometimes a direct translation serves very well but sometimes, like in this passage, the paraphrase can actually provide a more clear understanding..
When John writes that a person who lives in Christ will no longer keep sinning, he is not saying that a person will never sin. The tense of the Greek verb conveys more a sense of continuing action, that a person will not willfully keep doing the same things wrong over and over and over again. That’s what the Message indicates when it says that, “No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin.” There’s difference between committing a sin and making it a practice to commit sin. Anyone can make a mistake. All have fallen short of the glory of God. But as children of God we are called to renounce the habit of sin and to seek to live more closely to God’s will.
That’s the key feature of what John is trying to say. As children of God, we cannot keep lying. We cannot continue to hold grudges or abuse the rights of people. As children of God, we cannot continue to be unfaithful to our spouses. We cannot maintain addictive behaviors that may be ruining our families. We cannot continue to use profanity and take the Lord’s name in vain. Do these things happen among the children of God? Absolutely. But true children of God will recognize these sins for what they are and seek to break the sinful habit and begin to act the way that God wants them to act.
This is the transformative nature of the cross. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Day by day, week by week, year by year we seek to live more faithfully, more righteously, more purely in Christ. And let’s be clear about something. It’s not something that we do on our own. We can’t change ourselves. All we can do is open our hearts to Christ. The transformation of our lives is a work of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is the Spirit that puts our feet on the right path. It is the Spirit that encourages us to walk a straight line. It is Spirit that shows us where we have fallen short. It is the Spirit that picks us up, dusts us off and enables us to try again.
YOUR LIFE AS AN ADVERTISEMENT
The final question comes down to this: What are the implications for us? Why is it so important for us to act faithfully and righteously? It’s important because people are watching. There is a hunger in our world for an authentic display of spirituality. People are looking for something to believe in. And one of the places they look is toward us. John was quite right; if you want to know if people truly are children of God, all you need to do is look at the way they lives their lives. Let’s be clear about something. People look at us to see if Christianity is worth considering. Each of us is a living advertisement of what it means to be a child of God. If you live your life faithfully, you may plant seeds for others to come to Christ. But if you live like a hypocrite, saying one thing and doing another, you will turn off many, many people who may never again seek Christ in their lives. That is why it is so important to live well and act faithfully.
Your life may be the only thing that God has to touch the life of another person. You may be the only advertisement for Christ that someone will ever see. What kind of an advertisement are you? Are you a good one or a bad one? Are you faithful and true? Do you love others and seek their good? Do you forgive those who wrong you and try to be reconciled with those whom you have wronged? What kind of fruit does the tree of your life bear. Pray that it is good fruit and pray that the Holy Spirit will use you to bring others to Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
O God, you walk beside us, nurturing and teaching us from the beginning to the end. You are the Alpha and the Omega. We celebrate the life that you have given to us.
Holy One, in all that we do, every word, every thought, every decision, help us to always have pure and unconditional love as our only motive. We know also that as we sow love into the lives of others, we will reap an abundant harvest of love in our own lives. Thank you for the love you have extended to your children, even though we had done nothing to merit it. Help us to love others as you have loved, without condition or requirement.
You are the God of Peace and Compassion. You show us the way that we should go but sometimes we prefer the ways of war and conflict. Nations bicker and fight one another. Family members abuse each other and fail to find reconciliation. We pray for your healing touch upon this world of your creating. We pray for lasting peace and understanding.
We remember Prince Philip, a man whose life was of service to his community, his nation and the world. We give you thanks for his life and the example that he set for us. Be also with Queen Elizabeth and she mourns the death of her husband of seventy-three years. Give her and her family your peace.
We pray for the sick of our congregation and community. We remember Richard, Angela, Rachel, Pattie and Gary and pray for a special measure of your Healing Spirit to bless them with wholeness and love.
You, O God, give meaning to our lives. You fill us with delight. You sent you Son, Jesus to be our brother and friend and to teach us your way and word. We pray for the Church, for one another, and for ourselves that we may be your hands, your feet, your heart and your voice. We raise our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 18, 2021 / Easter 3
Psalm 4; Luke 24:36b-48; 1 John 3:1-7; Acts 3:12-19
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come to you in worship, O God.
We call to you with our deepest needs.
We sing our praise to glorify your name.
We seek you presence in our lives.
By your Spirit, rejoice with us and fill us with life anew.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
You, O God, are a God of joy. What joy we have when we come to you. What joy is ours when we trust in you to provide for our every need. Rejoice with us, O God, on this anniversary Sunday. Remind us of your constant presence. How great and gracious you are. When we consider the stars and the moon and the greatness of the sun, who are we that you care for us. What significance do we have as such small creatures in such a huge creation? But your promise is that you know each of us by name. You know our every action, our every thought. We are blessed because you are our God who lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
In the midst of our praise, we are also mindful of our propensity to sin. We often fall away. Sometimes we do in knowingly. Other times, we fall by mistake or carelessness. We have failed to follow your word and been unable to stand in your presence for you cannot abide sin. You love us so much that you rescued us by sending Jesus to give his life on the cross for us and for our salvation. Remind us of his life and his sacrifice as we confess our sins to you. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The unconditional love of God is open and available to everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus Christ and puts their faith in him. Hear the Good News and receive it into your hearts. Through faith in Christ, we are right with God and made one with the Heavenly Kingdom.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
These gifts, these offerings are from you hand, objects of your creative power and imagination. Give us the imagination to risk using them for new and exciting ministry. Enable us to dream of better and more faithful ways to serve you with all that we have. Amen.
God calls us to gather in worship. God also calls us to go back into the world. It is time to return to the rest of our lives and to be the hands, the feet and the voice of Jesus