Text: 1 John 3:1-3
St. John the Evangelist wrote in the Epistle text, “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.” (1 John 3:2, English Standard Version) St. John speaks of the grace we have received in Christ; that, for His sake, we have been made children of God. In Him we have the free and full forgiveness of our sins and the joyful expectation that, at the Resurrection, we will see Jesus with our own two eyes, just as the angels and saints behold Him now in heaven. We will behold Him joyfully, as we are made pure from sin through faith in His sacrifice. Just as those who have gone before us were made pure through faith in Jesus, so we, too, are purified through the same one faith.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, which falls on November 1st. This is an ancient holiday, first celebrated officially in the 4th century as All Martyrs’ Day, a day to remember and give thanks to God for those Christians who gave witness to the truth even by their deaths. In the 9th century, the date was set to November 1st and its name changed to how we know it today, All Saints’ (or, The Feast Of). Today we thank God that, out of His great love for us, He has made us to be His children. And so we are, both in this life of death and in the eternal life to come.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. John was caused to write the words we heard already, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (v. 1) This epistle was originally written to Christians under the spiritual care of St. John as their pastor. He wrote, in part, to remind them of the calling to which they were called, their new status before God in Christ. They are God’s children now, John said, implying that they were previously children of something or someone else. Earlier in the Church Year we heard from St. Paul to the Ephesians that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ – apart from works. This is a good thing because, in the sentences before that part in Ephesians 2, St. Paul named what we all once were, children of wrath. (Eph. 2:3)
With those words, St. Paul reminds us of the consequences of the Fall. In confirmation, we recently learned about Creation and the Fall and we noted how, although Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, their children were born in their image. It says that in Genesis 5, and that’s the Holy Spirit’s way of telling us that something changed in the Fall. Now, we are born sinful. We are born at enmity with God, hating the things that He wants us to do and only desiring to please ourselves. That is what it means to be children of wrath by nature. What’s more, we have so behaved. We are more concerned with ourselves and our earthly happiness than we are devoted to God’s Word. We have made, do now, make choices that reflect that in our lives. We know what God commands, and when we desire to do something against His will, we push His Word to the back of our minds and carry on with what we were going to do, anyway. This is what we are by nature; in a word, sinful.
St. John says, though, that this has all been done away with through an incredible showing of God’s love. We heard last week that the Father saw our wretched and sinful state and chose to put forth His own Son in our place. We are wicked and corrupt sinners, yet Christ willingly died for us. God the Father put His own Son, Jesus Christ, forward as the payment for our sin and so that we, who by nature were children of wrath, might be God’s own children. By our Baptism into Christ, through faith in the Word which is revealed to us, God the Father clothes us in the robes of Christ’s righteousness which covers all our sins. And so, we are His forgiven children now, as John said. But, “what we will be has not yet appeared.”
With just a short turn of words, the Apostle speaks very well to our present experience. In theological jargon, this is called the “now, but not yet.” That means, we are – as the Spirit says – God’s children by our baptism into Christ. We are united to His death and resurrection and have received (and will yet, today, receive) the forgiveness of our sins. We have this joy now, but our joy is neither yet full nor complete. We have the forgiveness of our sins now, but we are not yet where there is no sin. And, we can tell this in our lives.
Let’s use John as an example. He was a young man when the Lord called him from mending the nets. He followed the Lord but, only a few years after the Ascension, his brother James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred. Still, John continued in the faith. One by one, all the other Apostles were either matyred or otherwise died, until John only was left. He suffered greatly under various persecutions, enduring both torture and exile, along with the persistant slander of false teachers and heretics. Nevertheless, St. John remembered and taught through it all, that he and we are God’s children now.
Time doesn’t allow for us to speak of all our afflictions. Some of them may be similar to John’s, but many not. We suffer in our health and in our personal lives. Some of us have only made it this far in the faith and remain in it with great difficulty. We are looked down upon, as Christians in whole, by the world; our own church body, in particular, is increasingly an object of derision in the world’s eyes. We should expect this, however, as St. John said, “The world does not know us [because] it did not know Him.” (v. 1) That doesn’t make it any easier, though. This does: John said, “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 will see Him as He is.” (v. 2) St. John offers this as fact: We are God’s children now by Baptism and faith. We have the forgiveness of sins now. When Christ returns, all things will change.
This is our hope, it is our confidence; and, not just ours, but also of those who have gone before us here. St. John said, “Everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” (v. 4) He’s saying that, by our union with Christ in Baptism – God the Father calls us His children. To be His child is to have the forgiveness of sins. To have the forgiveness of sins means to be no longer beneath the shadow of sin and death. Though our bodies die as the punishment of sin, yet the souls of those who believe continue to praise God in heaven. We heard some of their song in the reading from Revelation. Those whom we have loved and lost from among our fellowship this last year, are now in that choir singing.
So, will we be. We are God’s children now. The Father has shown His great love for us, adopting us – who by nature are sinful and unclean – into His own family. He puts His own robe around us and rings on our fingers. He sacrificed the true fattened calf for us, and we feast at His own supper. Though our experience now is filled with hardship and affliction – that is only because what will be has not yet appeared. But, it will. Soon, the last trumpet will sound and our Lord will return. All evil and all death will be forever ended and we will live forever with Christ in everlasting light. Should it be the Lord’s will that we depart before that time, then we will be with Christ, too, just awaiting the Resurrection. We have this hope, and are purified by this hope, because He who promised is faithful. Today, we give thanks to God that, out of His great love, He has made us to be His children. And so we are. Amen.