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1 John 2:28-3:10: Remain in Him Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 29 November 2009

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I would hope that most of us took some time this past week to reflect upon what we are thankful for.  Your list may have included things like family and health.  It may have included spiritual realities as well: your salvation and your relationship with the Lord.  Of course, we all stand in need of remembering and being thankful for these truths more often.  In fact, as John is writing about what it means to be a child of God in our passage this morning, he seems to simply get caught up in the idea of the great love that God has lavished on us that we should be His children (3:1).  He is amazed that God would not just call us His children, but actually declare that we are His children.  Thus, John encourages us to be thankful that through our faith in Christ we can be the children of God.

The passage begins with an important imperative.  Look at verse 28a.  John tells us to abide in him, or remain in him.  Yes, we are to be thankful for the relationship that we have with God through Christ, but such a relationship will imply certain things about us.  It will mean that we are walking in the light (as Jesus walked), loving our brothers, and believing that Christ really did come in the flesh.  In the present passage, John returns to the moral implication of being a child of God.  Yet, he begins with the command to abide in Christ.  Thus, we need to note the tension between Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility even in this passage.  John begins with the imperative: remain in Him.  He will comment on the importance of remaining in Him in 2:28-3:3 and explain what it looks like to remain in Him in 3:4-10.  Thus, I want to break up this passage along those lines.

Reasons for remaining in Him (2:28-3:3).

After John gives us the command in verse 28, he goes on to give us reasons why we should be certain that we remain in Him.  I want to identify three of these reasons.

First, remaining in Him gives us confidence for the coming Day.  Going on in verse 28, John looks to the return of Christ.  Look at that verse with me.  If we remain in Christ, then we can be confident when He returns.  John contrasts this with the fact that some will shrink from him in shame at his coming.  As usual, John leaves no middle ground.  We will either remain in Him and be confident at His return, or we will not and be filled with shame.  Once again, John highlights the importance of perseverance.  We must persevere in our belief in Christ and our practice of the faith (see below for more).  If we do, then we can look to the return of Christ with great longing and expectation, as John will go on to explain.

Second, if we remain in Him then we have the love of the Father as His children.  We will come back to 2:29 in a moment, but first, look at 3:1.  I like the translation that speaks of the love that God has lavished upon us (NIV).  God has shown us such extraordinary love by sending us Christ to be our Savior, by redeeming us from our slavery to sin, by adopting us into His family.  John will make the point that we are either children of God or children of the Devil.  The Father sent the Son to die for the sins of the world so that His people by turning from their sins and believing in Christ could become children of God.  John notes that the world will not recognize us as Godís children because they did not recognize Christ.  He is implying that we will face difficulties and persecution in this world because that is part of what it means to be children of God.  So then, how many of us were thankful for even the persecutions that we face, since they confirm that we are a part of Godís family?  Just a thought.

Third, remaining in Him fills us with hope to actually be like Christ.  Look at verses 2-3.  John is again speaking of the return of Christ.  We do not know all the glories to come.  Yet, we do know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  O Church, did you hear that promise this morning?  We cannot see it all now, but there is coming a Day when will see Christ as He truly is and that sight will transform us into His likeness.  We shall be like Him.  We shall be like Him!  We need to meditate on this daily because of the connection that John makes in verse 3. 

As we make this our hope and our expectation, John says that we will purify ourselves.  We need to see the connection between what will be and what we are called to be now.  Our study of eschatology (end times) should cause us to live pure lives.  I fear we have lost this connection and I pray we recover it.  So then, meditate on what we will be in Christ so that you can even now become more like Him. 

All of these are great incentives for remaining in Christ.  I would dare say, that we would all want to do that.  Yet, how can we know that we are remaining in Him?

The test for remaining in Him: practicing righteousness (3:4-9).

John goes on in this text to explain that those remaining in Christ will practice righteousness.  Yet, why is this the test?  Why must a person be practicing righteousness to remain in Christ?  First, we must be righteous because He is righteous.  Look at 2:29.  If we remain in Him and we know that He is righteous, then it makes sense that we will be righteous as well.  All those who have truly been born of God will make a practice of righteousness.  Not only will be righteous because He is righteous, but second, we will be righteous because He came to take away sin.  Look at 3:4-5. 

Sin is rebellion and lawlessness.  It is rejecting the reign of God.  Yet, Christ came to destroy such rebellion.  He came to take away sins.  He, who did not sin, but obeyed the Father in every way, came to deal with sin.  He died so that the sin of Godís children could be forgiven.  He died so that Godís children could free of their rebellion and lawlessness.  So then, if Christ was sinless and He came to destroy sin, then we as the children of God remaining in Christ will not make a practice of continuing in our sin but of continuing in righteousness.

You may be thinking: ĎWell, that all makes sense, but does this mean that we have to live completely sinless lives as Christians?í  In one sense, it is easy to answer that question Ďnoí, after all, John has already said that we will still sin (see 1:8-9).  So then, what is he saying?  I think the best interpretation is that John is referring here to repeated, habitual sin.  The ESV reflects this with the translation of makes a practice of sinning in verse 4 (see also verse 6: keeps on sinning, and verses 8-9).  These are accurate translations and seemingly reflect what John is communicating. 

Any person who continues in sin and makes a practice of sin is not remaining in Christ.  Likewise, anyone who practices righteousness is righteous (v. 7, see also v. 10).  Thus, John is not describing sinless perfection for the Christian.  Rather, his point is that our lives should be characterized by consistent obedience.  Do not make the mistake of explaining this away.  He is not teaching sinless perfection, but he is definitely not teaching laxity towards sin either.  If we are remaining in Christ then our lives will be characterized by obedience to Him.

This may seem like a daunting call.  How are we ever going to keep this command to remain in Him?  I mean John has clearly given us the call to practice righteousness.  It is our responsibility to abide in Him.  Yet, this is not all that he says.  He goes on to say that something, or better Someone, remains in us.  Look at verse 9.  The reason why we can remain in Christ and practice righteousness is because Godís seed abides in us.  He has given us His seed, which I see as a reference to the Spirit, like the anointing of 2:20 and 27.  The Holy Spirit remains in us as Godís children so that we might practice righteousness. 

Godís sovereignty (the giving of the Spirit and the abiding of the Spirit) enable us to be responsible (abide in Him).  We need to do our best to see all of this together.  John does not tell us to abide in Christ apart from Godís help and strength, as if we could do it on our own.  Likewise, John does not tell us of the Spirit abiding in us so that we can grow lax in our fight against sin.  No, we are called to put our sin to death, to fight it with everything that we are, to walk in the light, to imitate our Savior.  It is our responsibility to be faithful in these areas.  At the same time, we labor in all of this knowing that it is only by Godís grace, by His abiding Spirit, by the strength which He provides, that we can have any victory over sin in our lives.  We do not pit these ideas against each other.  No, we let them stand and we let them encourage us in our following after Christ.

Once again, our passage comes to a close with John drawing a line in the sand.  Look at verse 10.  John states that we can know who is a child of God and who is a child of the Devil.  How can we distinguish between the two?  Whoever practices righteousness (and loves his brothers as we will look at more next week) is a child of God.  And whoever does not practice righteousness (or love his brothers) is a child of the Devil.  As we have noted before, these contrasts may be too simple for our tastes, but John wants us to be certain about where we stand.  We can know that we are a child of God, that we are remaining in Christ, that we have eternal life, if we practice righteousness.  Likewise, we can know that we are not a child of God and do not have eternal life, if we do not practice righteousness.  We do not practice righteousness to become a child of God, but as a child of God, as one in whom Godís seed abides, we continually obey.

Let me close then with a point of application.  The passage calls you to examine your heart and life and make certain that you are indeed a child of God.  If you see no practice of righteousness, if you see indifference to sin, then repent and trust in Jesus and what He did at the cross.  I am not asking if you prayed a prayer or walked an aisle or even got baptized.  Those things have their place.  But a person can do them all and still not be a child of God.  Thus, do not base your assurance on those things.  Rather, examine your life based upon what John tells us here.  Look for a practice of righteousness. 

If you do see a practice of righteousness, a longing to follow after Christ and be like Him, then be thankful and press on in obedience to Jesus.  He took on flesh, lived a righteous life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, to take away sins.  That was why He came the first time.  And one Day He will appear again and we shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him.  This is why He will return.  As we begin our Advent Season, may these two ideas cause us to stand in awe of our Savior.  May the hope that we have in His first and second Advent spur us on to faithfully following after Him.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 December 2009 )

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