The apostle John was an old man when he wrote his first epistle. Yet in spite of the fact that he had been with Jesus for the three years of his personal ministry and had been an apostle who had witnessed the establishment of the church and the spread of the Gospel for many years and who had, no doubt, assisted in the birth of many new children into the family of God by teaching them the truth, he still was amazed at the idea of being a child of God!
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3).
See. Behold. Look. Think how much. Consider this. Different versions state it differently, but each conveys the wonder, the awe, the amazement at this wonderful truth John had and wished to convey to his readers. The NIV reads at verse 1… “See what great love the Father has lavished on us.” To think that we sinful creatures would be considered by God as his children is an astounding truth. That is how great the love of God is for his wayward creatures.
What makes this so astounding is that we have done nothing to earn this kind of favor from God. There is nothing we could have done to make him love us. His acceptance of us is based upon his own goodness, not ours. It was by his goodness, his grace, that he has made it possible for us to be in this kind of intimate, family relationship with him and to know the blessings of being granted such an elevated status.
John says that we are called children of God because we are his children. He further emphasizes this fact, not only by stating this in the present tense, but by adding “now” to highlight the truth. We are his children now. This fact is not evident to the people of the world. They do not recognize the children of God because they do not know God. They may know the claim that Christians make, but are likely to pass it off as a kind of boast or fantasy. But John wants his readers to know the certainty of their relationship with the Father.
He then observes that even for the child of God it is not clear what he has in store for us in the future. “…what we will be has not yet appeared.” The public revelation of what we shall be awaits the revelation of God himself. At that time – the time when the inheritance of the children of God will be received – the time of the “revealing of the sons of God” – we shall “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21).
John says that we do not know just what we shall be, but as children of God, we will bear the family resemblance. “True children of God will bear the family likeness, both now, as our hope lends our lives a focused purity resembling His, and at the end, when “we shall be like him.” (BibleGateway.com/Resources).
We are given some idea of what it will be like for us at the time when the Lord comes again. Paul writes about the resurrection bodies of those who believe and who will be given bodies suited to eternal life. He says that like seed that is sown, what comes up is different from the seed itself, so it will be with our bodies.
“What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
We get a few glimpses of the resurrection body of Jesus in the accounts of his appearances before his ascension. By all the evidence it was the same body that was buried, but there were differences as well. He still had the marks of the crucifixion – the nail punctures, the pierced side (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). After the resurrection Jesus was able to eat (Luke 24:42-43). He was able to appear in a closed room (John 20:19-20). He had a physical body with flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Paul says that the resurrection body will be imperishable and immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-55). Just as he arose to die no more, so shall it be with us. No, we will not be disembodied spirits. Our resurrection body will be a real body – if anything, more “real” than the one we now live in!
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
To think that we will be like him in the body we will inhabit for eternity is a thrilling thought. But as important as that is, I believe there is something even greater the aged apostle has under consideration here. That which will be greater is the moral and spiritual perfection that we will receive when he appears. We are now children of the heavenly Father who is training and disciplining us toward what we shall be when he comes again. Then, we shall not only see him as he is, but we will be like him for he will have perfected us, restoring us to the image-bearing creation we were always meant to be. It is only when that is done that we will be prepared to live with him eternally.
In the meantime, what are we to do? What else would you expect – we are to purify ourselves “as he is pure.” That means that we presently are expected to be as he is. No, we don’t forgive ourselves, but we live pure lives as the blood of his Son cleanses us of all our sins. God’s children do not practice sin – that is, we must break the sin habit. We are to practice righteousness that shows that we are children of God.
Even now as we are “beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Do we now fully comprehend what this means and to whence it is leading? How can we? We are still in our mortal body and still subject to temptation. Yet we trust to the Lord that he will finally and fully make us into everything he intends for us to be. We each are indeed, works in progress. While we may catch glimpses here and there of the “finished product,” we must ever trust ourselves to the hand of the “master craftsman,” knowing, as Paul said, “…this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).