RPM, Volume 15, Number 15, April 7 to April 13, 2013

'The Pinnacle of Salvation'

1 John 2:28-3:3
(Series on 1 John: No. 10)

By Robert Rayburn

Text Comment

3:3 'in him' means 'in Christ'. The Greek might more literally be translated 'everyone who has this hope set upon Him, purifies himself.'

In the previous paragraphs of chapter two, John has set forth the three great tests by which we are to judge our own or another's salvation, the genuineness of my claim to belong to Christ and to have eternal life. John set out these three tests in an introductory way: the test of obedience, the test of love, and the test of fidelity to Christ as the Son of God come in human nature as the only Redeemer of sinners.

Now John proceeds to consider a second time those same three tests, beginning with the test of obedience in the verses we have read on through v. 10 of chapter 3. The test of love will be treated then in the remainder of chapter three, and the doctrinal test again in the first paragraph of chapter 4. But, of course, John does not simply repeat himself. He builds upon the remarks he has already made and gives us a still more comprehensive understanding of each of these tests of life.

So it is in the matter of obedience or righteousness. When John introduces this matter a second time he moves on to say, first, in the verses we have read, that the reason why this is such an effective measurement of spiritual life and reality is because the kind and measure of obedience or righteousness which will appear in any genuine Christian life, is directly contrary to the capacities and interests and tendencies of human nature left to itself. Human beings, by nature, will not and cannot live this way, loving the law of God and keeping its commandments. Men and women, boys and girls are born with a bent in the opposite direction, a predilection to disobedience, a love of sinning not a love of God's righteousness. Therefore, it is a rule in this cosmos that only those to whom God gives a new nature, only those who are born again, only those whose nature is refashioned by the Holy Spirit can or will practice the obedience and perform the righteousness of real Christian living. For this reason, John can lay it down as a rule, as he does in v. 29, that if a man or a woman is righteous, that is, if he or she practices a willing obedience to the commandments of God, loves God's law and seeks to obey it from the heart, you can safely conclude that that person has been born again, has a new and indefectible nature from God, and that, therefore, that person is a genuine Christian.

Now John is going to proceed to explain himself on this point in some greater detail in vv. 4-10. But, his mention of this new birth, the new nature, the new inner constitution which God's people have been given, out of which they now love and obey God's law, prompts a short outburst of wonder and gratitude and happy reflection.

In these few verses, John digresses from his main point, which is that real Christians will live righteous lives, to look us in the eye, and remind us that for those of us who are Christians, a still more holy and obedient life ought to be the great goal and effort of our existence. In short, what we have in the first three verses of chapter 3 is a heartfelt reminder of why you and I ought to be seeking to practice obedience to God in every part of our lives, ought to be striving to grow in righteousness and holiness day after day, and why these goals ought to be uppermost in our minds and hearts always.

John's argument and his exhortation to us has three simple parts.

I. In the first place, says John, we have an enormous debt to discharge to God and can discharge that debt in no other way than by the righteousness of the lives we lead.

'How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!'

John began by saying that only those who have a new nature from God can really live a righteous and obedient life. But the thought of that new nature which God has given us takes his thought away from his main point to the sheer wonder of it all: ...that we should be called the children of God!

And it is extraordinary if you will only stop to think of it. It is a splendid thing that God should forgive our sins; all the more splendid that he should do so when for him to do so cost him and his Son such a terrible price. But it is still more amazing and breathtaking that God should not only forgive us, but should adopt us into his family and grant us the status of his children. He didn't have to do this; this is generosity surpassing itself.

It is one thing to know that God is no longer angry with us on account of our sins; but it is still much more wonderful to know that he now wants us to think of him as our 'Father' and call upon him and depend upon him and love him and trust him as our Abba, our Father.

It is one thing to be saved, grand as that is, but it is still more in that salvation to find that you have become a part of a great family, that you have suddenly got brothers and sisters everywhere, that hand in hand and arm in arm you are going not simply to heaven--what a not simply that is--not simply to heaven, as a splendid place to go to, but that you are all going home. Where our father and our brothers and sisters all live and where we will forever enjoy our firesides and our holidays and our family jokes and secrets and reminiscences.

A new father, a new and grand family and family life, and a new home. We can conceive, can we not, of salvation without any of these--simply being made right with God and being granted eternal life--other religions promise as much, however falsely. But isn't it just like the living God, our God, that he should not fashion a minimal salvation; that, instead, he should lavish his love upon us. He is love, and his salvation partakes of that infinite, immeasurable love. And so, not only do we get our sins removed, not only is God's wrath turned aside, but, in Christ, we have a new relationship with God of love, tenderness, and intimacy, like that of a father to his children; and a new family with all the blessings and all the benefits of that, and a new home where we will one day live, father and children as one big happy family for ever and ever.

Will you indulge me once more to illustrate this with one of my favorite passages from a favorite book? It is from Sheldon Vanauken's book, A Severe Mercy. And in this part of the book he is remembering what it was like to come home from boarding school for vacation; how much he looked forward to going home for Thanksgiving or for Christmas, especially for Christmas:

Glenmerle, he thought, had been a place to come home to, home from Kentucky or Florida or England, home from schools and home from college. He pictured coming home from boarding school, perhaps for the Christmas holidays, perhaps with snow all about--the woods full of snow. It would be winter dusk with the big blue spruce a-twinkle with tiny white lights like stars, the big car sweeping up the hill to the house. Then his mother's cries of welcome and her kiss, his father's handshake, and his brother grinning in the background. And of course, as always, the cheery fire in the drawing-room, and through the french doors the dining-room alight with preparations. Upstairs, waiting, would be his own room, just as he had left it. Heaven itself, he thought, would be--must be--a coming home.

Yes, it is just that, a coming home; because God has made us all his own children and one great family. That is, in my judgment, an exquisite picture of our salvation! Brothers and sisters, it is a great thing to have one's sins forgiven, but it is a greater thing still to belong to God's family! God could have justified us and kept us at a distance--he would have been within his rights--but behold what manner of love he has lavished upon us, that he should then become our father and we his children; that he should gather all of his people not only into a congregation but into a family, a huge happy family of brothers and sisters, and then spend all these thousand years preparing a magnificent home for us all to go home to, for an endless holiday there to live and love and be glad for ever and ever world without end.

And John's point, in this brief interruption of his main point, in this brief outburst of wonder at God's great love and goodness to us, is that if God has been so lavish in his love for us, then we certainly ought to be lavish in the love we return to him and, therefore, in the obedience, righteousness, and consecration of our lives which are the most important demonstration and measure of our love for him.

II. John's second way of reminding us of how zealous we ought to be in the practice and the cultivation of personal holiness and righteousness before the Lord is his drawing attention to our new nature.

This was the point he made in v. 29: viz. that a new life of obedience and righteousness can proceed only from a new nature, which we receive when we are born again. But he calls further attention to this new nature in vv. 1 and 2 of chapter 3. We, that is, we who are genuine Christians, John says, have this new nature. It does not manifest itself as magnificently as one day it will; it remains hidden to a great degree--indeed, just as the divine nature of Jesus Christ remained hidden while he was living among men--but it is really there and it has made us children of God.

When the Father adopts men and women into his family, he makes sure that they have, not only the status and the rights of children, but that they have a nature or disposition appropriate to the life of their new family. This is what he gives them when he gives them new birth. A child, an old writer once wrote, is simply a piece of his parents wrapped up in another skin. Well, so, in a way, are we--now that we are the children of God. We have been given God's nature so that we can be and can live as his true children, in family fellowship with Him.

Now, we must be careful here. We certainly do not mean to say that we share God's nature in any direct way--as if we become part of God. A popular minister in our area has said that when he looks in the mirror each morning, he sees a little piece of God. That, beloved, is blasphemy. The Divine nature itself will ever be high above us! But, we are by the new birth made like God in certain important ways; or, rather, some principles of the divine nature have been implanted within us and slowly have begun to come to expression in our lives. And chief among those principles which now lie within us, because we are born again, are such things as righteousness and the love of God's law and desire to conform our lives to it in every way.

John mentions this to encourage us to throw ourselves with a greater zeal and confidence into the work of putting on a holy life. You see, one of our greatest obstacles in growing in righteousness is just our own discouragement. John says that our new nature is in a great part hidden from sight. And we say, Boy! Is it ever; it is so hidden that we wonder sometimes if it is there at all. We are often so discouraged by our lack of spiritual progress, by the way we continue to be defeated by the same temptations, by our inability to do with any consistency that which we know we should do and that which we most want to do for our Savior's sake. We are dismayed by how easily we are sidetracked into sin, how cowardly we are before men, how weak our faith seems always to be, and so on. And in this discouragement, we lose heart and give up trying to put our sins to death.

But, John would have us remember that we are the children of God. That is what we are! He says it a second time. We do have this new nature, this godlike nature. We have the capacity to purify ourselves, or, better, to have the Lord purify us as we trust and follow him. Godliness, real holiness and obedience, does not lie beyond our grasp; it is, in fact, our native instinct, now that we are new creatures in Christ.

It may be that our new nature will not be fully manifest until Christ comes; but it can be much more manifest than now it is. You do not lack for the capacity to grow up very high in the things of God and down very deep in the experiences, and the practices, and the works of true Christlike living. God gave you a new nature precisely so that you could and would so walk and so grow and so become holy and righteous in all your ways.

You say, but the people around me don't see Christ in me; they don't see this new nature. No, they don't. And that is partly your fault. But, John reminds you, they didn't see Christ's true nature either. Men of the world are blind to the Godlike, even when it walks in front of them.

You are prone to see the vastness which separates what you are from what you know you should be, and you are discouraged by that.

But I can also see the vastness which separates your lives from the lives of the worldly people all around you. Until the great day, we cannot know how marvelous, how noble, how pure, how good, how fine we will be; until our new nature comes to full expression when we see Christ, we can only imagine what it will be to live as those who have been conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. But, and this is John's point, I can see the faint outline of that tremendous life in the most of you here this morning. I can begin to see what you will be like because I can see the beginnings, the bare shape and form of your future life in the life you live now.

You have the nature already. You have the spiritual capacity, and the Lord stands ready to help. You can do so much more than so far you have done. Don't be discouraged; don't permit yourself to think you have come as far as you can. That is the Devil speaking! Take hold of this fact: you really are a child of God! and determine that you will begin more and more to live like one!

III. Third, and finally, John exhorts us on in the practice and the pursuit of righteousness and obedience by reminding us of our own interest in doing so.

We are sometimes troubled by the fact that the Bible is willing, many times, to appeal to our own self-interest. But, it is a self-interest which is also intimately associated with the Lord's own interest in our lives. It is not a selfish interest, even if it is indeed a self-interest. He wants us, he appeals to us to remember that the great day is coming, a day when we will want to stand before the Lord unashamed, as he says in 2:28. The thought is virtually repeated in 3:3.

The Lord Jesus is pure, and he saved us that we might be pure; the Father saved us, Paul says, that we might be conformed to the image of his beloved Son; and Peter says that Jesus left us an example that we might follow in his steps. The day is coming, when we will have to give an account of our lives to the Lord, an account of our purity, an account of our following in the Savior's steps, an account of our Christlikeness or lack of it. And on that day, everything else we will have loved instead of holiness, everything else we will have done instead of acts of obedience to God will appear to us the filthiest of rags, and we will regret with the purest bitterness that we did not, every day of our lives, care for nothing else but a righteous, holy, and godly life.

If, says John, you are a real Christian and your heart does in fact reckon with the coming day of Judgment (only genuine Christians really do reckon with it); if, John says, you behold the Lord in his purity and see how right and how good it is to live as he lived, and how necessary that you should fulfil your Savior's will, then urge on your own heart and soul with these thoughts, fix the great day before your mind's eye until you never live a day without reckoning with the fast approaching Day when your life as a Christian will be accounted for. Live for that day; live, as John says, in hope of that day and of seeing Him, and you will, you cannot help but grow in righteousness and obedience far beyond what you have now attained.

Your beloved Father in heaven, whose kindness to you is beyond belief, beckons you, his child. He has equipped you with a new nature that you might live such a life, and has told you in advance what awaits you both in the Day of Judgment and beyond, when your new Christlike nature comes completely into its own.

What do you care if this labor to be holy is often agonizingly difficult, if this pursuing righteousness if often exquisitely painful, even if it requires you to die many deaths every day.

Then out spake brave Horatius,
the Captain of the gate:
'To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late,
And how can man die better
than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his Fathers,
And the temples of his God?

Death cometh soon or late; and sooner almost always than later. Which is only to say that for us all, that hope of seeing Christ and being made like him looms before us and we must cast aside every other interest in order that we might purify ourselves, mortify our sins, put on obedience and righteousness, and do the works of God.

And so we must live and strive and work until the very last breath we take--and our greatest reward will be that on the great day we will be confident and unashamed before our Redeemer, and before our Father, and will be able to enter fully into the joy--the indescribable joy--of finally...coming home.

Thomas Taylor was a godly Methodist minister in England several centuries ago. One Sunday evening, preaching in his church, he declared that he hoped to die as an old soldier of Jesus Christ, with his sword in his hand. He died suddenly that very night. James Montgomery, the great poet and hymnwriter, had been in church that last night of Taylor's ministry. And wrote this poem to celebrate the fact that Taylor had died as he had wanted, with his sword in his hand:

Servant of God! well done;
Rest from thy loved employ;
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master's joy.
---The voice at Midnight came;
He started up to hear:
A mortal arrow pierced his frame.
He fell,--but felt no fear.
Tranquil amid alarms,
It found him in the field,
A veteran slumbering on his arms,
Beneath his red-cross shield:
His sword was in his hand,
Still warm with recent fight,
Ready that moment at command,
Through rock and steel to smite.
The pains of death are past,
Labour and sorrow cease,
And life's long warfare closed at last,
His soul is found in peace.
Soldier of Christ! well done;
Praise be thy new employ;
And while eternal ages run
Rest in thy Savior's joy.

Our Father, who has loved us through thick and thin, our elder Brother who saved our lives, our brothers and sisters, and our eternal home...are they not worth whatever it takes, Beloved. See what love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! Purify yourselves!

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