On Thursdays, I have been sharing a little bit about what I have been learning as I read through 1 John.
We have just finished reading a section of 1 John where John writes a lot about “remaining” or “continuing” in Christ. It is the same word in the Greek, menō. This abiding is central to a relationship with the Father and the Son, as well as the body of Christ. Those who do not “remain” are adversaries of Christ.
The next section in 1 John explores the idea of identity. John identifies that some are children of God and others are children of the devil. Key to identifying either has to do with conduct and relationship to sin.
“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. 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.” 1 John 2:29-3:3 TNIV
John begins, “If you know that [Jesus] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.”
There is actually a lot going on the Greek here.
There are two different words for know—oida and ginōskō. We have seen ginōskō before, here. There are two other words worth noticing—righteousness (dikaios) and “what is right” (dikaiosyne).
Essentially, what John is saying is that “If you “see or fully know” (oida) that Jesus “lives in a state of perfect agreement between His nature and His actions (like God), the standard of all men” (dikaios) then “you have come to know or understand”(ginōskō) that everyone “who has believed on Christ and has been brought into right relationship with God, becoming in Christ all that God requires a man to be” (dikaiosyne) has been born of Christ” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary).
Take a moment to read that again.
The righteousness of Christ is that of the character of God. When we come to know this, we have come to know that all who have believed in him and are becoming, in Christ, all that God requires a man to be. These people have been born of him.
When we come to the rest of this passage with a better understanding of this first verse, we can begin grasp the beauty of the picture that John is painting.
“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 word for children here is teknon in the Greek. It is used of a child “in both the natural and figurative senses. […] It gives prominence to the fact of birth” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary).
Do you see the beauty in this verse?
John has just talked about birth in Christ. Those who are born in Christ are given the title children of God. We are lavished with the love of the Father, as his children.
There is a deeper level to which it is difficult for us to understand what it is to be a child of God associated by way of the firstborn son, Christ. The cultural context of Israel at this time is very different from our own today. We are used to children being bestowed with equal rights and responsibilities in a family. Israel was a patriarchal and patrilineal society. It functioned differently from the way ours does today.
To be patriarchal "has to do with the centrality of the oldest living male member [the patriarch] of the family to the structure of the larger society. […] An individual would identify their place within society through the lens of their patriarch’s household first, then their clan or lineage, then their tribe and finally the nation” (Epic of Eden, 25-26). The family unity in Israel, called the bet ab or the “father’s household” would have included “the patriarch, his wife(s), his unwed children and his married sons with their wives and children” (Epic of Eden, 26). In the midst of the bet ab, the patriarch “bore both the legal and economic responsibility for the household.” (Epic of Eden, 27).
To be patrilineal "has to do with the tracing of the ancestral descent through the male line" (Epic of Eden, 28). It meant “the firstborn male child would replace his father in the role of patriarch upon his father’s death. Hence, the firstborn took precedence over his brothers during his father’s lifetime, and upon his father’s death he received a double-portion of the family estate. […] Much more was expected of him than his siblings. As the firstborn came to maturity, he slowly evolved to his father’s peer, until upon the patriarch’s death he was prepared to assume the weighty responsibility of directing and maintaining the bet ab. Obviously, the firstborn would need adequate resources to insure the survival of the family; hence, the double-portion. All firstborns are special to their parents, but because of his pivotal role in Israelite society, the firstborn in Israel was precious” (Epic of Eden, 29).
The firstborn son understands his responsibilities and is ready to take them up.
Consider Paul’s words in Galatians 3:26-28:
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We are God’s children. We have put on Christ. When God looks at us, he sees Christ, the firstborn son. We are firstborn sons, in Christ (for those of us who are women, figuratively speaking). We are heirs in Christ.
For me, as I read this, these ideas from Epic of Eden about the cultural context and remembering the idea of adoption and sonship from going through Story Formed Life come to mind.
When we are talked about as children of God, there is a beautiful picture that is larger than the words that John is using in this passage alone. It ties into the story God has been telling over the course of history.
John continues talking about the children of God: “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 will be like him for we will see him as he is.”
What will be we do not know yet. But we “have a fullness of knowledge” or oida that when Christ comes, we will be like him. That is what we know.
When I first read this, I was able to grasp that we would be like Christ. It made sense to me, because this is what our discipleship journey is about, being submitted to Christ and responding to him—becoming like Christ. Yet, as I have been thinking about the idea of being a child of God, it makes even more sense to me.
Families resemble one another.
If we are children, we are family. We will be like our family. We will be like Christ.
Yet, there is a sense where it seems that we have to realize and embrace our role in the family.
Just as the firstborn son knows his responsibilities in the family and embraces them, so we, who are clothed in the firstborn son, need to know and embrace our responsibilities in the family.
John writes, “All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
Jesus is pure. The word in Greek is hagnos. It means “pure from defilement, not contaminated.” It is from the same root as the word “holy” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary).
We who have hope, that we will be like him, purify ourselves. The word here is hagnizō. It means “to purify, cleanse from defilement” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary).
This is not done in isolation, but participation with the Spirit. Paul writes, “Therefore, […] as you have always obeyed […] continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
This is abiding.
This is what family does—communicating and relating, listening and responding.
Let’s embrace our role as children of God and relate to the Father the way Jesus showed us—recognizing our responsibility and walking in it.
“The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also.” John 5:19
Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we embrace our role as children of God. May we abide that we might learn from Christ the ways of our Father. May we give thanks for the gift of life in Christ. May we look forward in hope to that day where our identity as children is fully realized at Christ’s coming.