The Rev. Paul J Cain
1 John 3:1–7
Pure, Righteous Children of God
All Saints’ Day (Observed), 02 November 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A little girl was once asked which child in her family was her mother’s favorite. She had a ready answer: “She loves Jimmy best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny best because he’s the youngest, and she loves me best because I’m the only girl.” That is exactly how God loves His children. It is wonderful to know that God loves us personally, no matter what our experiences have been. Each one of us, His Saints, is most precious in His sight.
St. John the evangelist would agree. In 1 John 3 he writes: 1See 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. 2Beloved, 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. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
There’s a simple reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” Because of the Son’s appearance to take away sins, we all are His brothers. We all share the same Father in heaven.
That Christians are called children of God means something. Children are heirs of their parents. Your Lord has good gifts for you. Jesus’ last will and testament described these gifts very simply: “for you for the forgiveness of sins.” His death activated the will. His Resurrection was simply uncharted territory, legally. Christ is the executor of His own testament.
Christ’s Resurrection has consequences for you, the children of God. 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. Our bodies feel the effects of sin—daily. On the Last Day, suffering, sorrow, and pain will come to an end. No more uncertainty. No more worries. No more death. On that day of Resurrection, our bodies will be changed, glorified. What we will be specifically be has not yet appeared; but we know that when Jesus appears, we shall have glorified Resurrected bodies like His own. It will be good. It will be better than good. It truly surpasses all human understanding.
All of this is possible because of Jesus—bottom line. No one else could be good enough, holy enough, pious enough, sinless enough. When it comes to forgiveness, salvation, resurrection, and entering heaven, our thoughts, words, and deeds are as filthy rags. Those who enter heaven do so with Jesus’ passport, His entrance Visa, His heavenly citizenship papers, signed in His own blood. Fiction—print, web, and video—tends to lie about the afterlife. Beware. And just for the record, all those jokes about St. Peter and the pearly gates are just that—jokes. Even St. Peter gained heaven only as a gift from Christ.
We are blessed with the freedom to exercise our earthly citizenship this Tuesday, Election Day. You have the opportunity to compare your knowledge of the Scriptures and what they say about sin, righteousness, and life in this world with the statements, official positions, and votes of candidates for office or re-election. That is how we as Christian citizens may cast our votes. Please do not take the right to vote for granted. Many people around the world and throughout history did not have the freedom to cast a vote. You do.
Until heaven, we live in this life by faith, and not by sight. We are saved by faith alone. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
In the four verses after the three verses of today’s Epistle reading, St. John says everything perfectly clearly, but our ears are unaccustomed to this kind of language. Lutheran ears are used to hearing St. Paul. We have to admit, we’re a little confused. So, let’s find the basics of the Christian faith in the text.
Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man. What else are we taught here? “He is pure.” “In Him there is no sin.” The white paraments this All Saints Sunday reflect that purity, holiness, and divinity. Jesus was literally perfect. He needed to be to accomplish His heavenly mission. What was Jesus sent to do for you? “He appeared to take away sins.” That was the work of His holy life, His teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, passion, crucifixion, death, and burial. The Resurrection is the exclamation point!
Jesus appeared to take away sins. This work could be done only by One who had no sin of His own. Just how serious is this “sin” stuff? “Sin is lawlessness.” “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness.” “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you.”
St. John agrees with our favorite epistle writer, St. Paul. Sin is bad. Sin is worse than bad. All human beings sin, but the baptized do not make a practice of sinning. That is lawlessness. One cannot be a participant in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Sin kills. Sin deceives. Sin is lawlessness. Even one damns. No wonder we need a Savior from sin—Jesus.
We can be deceived. Sometimes the world leads us astray by contrary examples and encouragement to sin by denying that something is sin. The devil lies to us. Satan means “deceiver.” And haven’t you been surprised in the past how you can talk yourself things that you are horrified by in retrospect? Want a sign from the Lord to prove that you are a sinner? His Word is that sign. His Word says it so clearly to every single one of us. We don’t want to hear it, but that’s the truth. Sin kills. Sin deceives. Sin is lawlessness. Even one sin eternally condemns. No wonder we need a Savior from sin—Jesus.
Yet it seems like such a simple message, right? This is Sunday School 101 information to many, if not all of you. Good! Great! Wonderful! This we hear, believe, teach, confess, and do. But before we take this precious teaching for granted, remember how rare it is. This Gospel message is the common heritage of all Christians. Some say it is only for new believers. You know it is something for every Sunday and every sermon and every day. Some say it is old-fashioned, irrelevant, and small minded. You know it is eternally relevant, very practical, and that salvation is open to all who believe in Christ. Some allow the Gospel to be replaced by advice preaching that is only law, while others obscure the Gospel with man-made teachings of today or a thousand years ago. Still others ignore the uniqueness of both law and gospel and end up with a mixed-up “golawspel” smoothie. There are those who never hear. Many hear and never do.
The Christian life is a life lived in Christ, for Christ lives in you. He is the vine and you are the branches. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Faith is alive and breathing doing good works to serve the neighbor. “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone And rests in Him unceasing; And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living.” LSB 555:9 Or, as St. John wrote, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
Fellow children of the heavenly Father, Jesus appeared to take away sins. This could be done only by One who had no sin of His own. He saved you from the lawlessness and death of sin so that you may practice righteousness—not to earn heaven, but to serve your earthly neighbors, especially other Christians, until the Last Day. 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. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.