Saint John writes to us today. He describes what the life of the saints is like. That’s you, the saints, or as John calls us, the children of God.
How amazing! What kind of love is this? asks John. What kind of father would do what our heavenly Father has done? Only He would. All other loves fall short.
We who were not His children He has adopted as His own. Now, we were not great children, so that He took one look at us and said, “I must adopt them! They are just too good!” No, we were children that were a nightmare. We were destroyers of homes, rebellious and foul-mouthed, constantly running away and getting into trouble. We were disrespectful and hurtful and hateful. If there were a social worker in charge of us, he would have long ago abandoned all hope of finding us a foster home, much less a home that would adopt us.
But God is not like ordinary earthly parents. Or we might say that when we see the very best in our parents, when they shine as amazing examples to us, that we are catching a little glimpse into the boundless love of the Father.
He selected us out of pure grace. His undeserved love did not wait for us to be lovable. He decided that He would invest His love in us and make us His own, and in time His love would transform us into something lovable.
This He has done. He loved us in a specific way. He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. His Son was the perfect Child in every way. Yet the Father was willing to sacrifice Him for us. What a poor trade from an earthly way of thinking! To exchange the very best for the bottom of the barrel makes no sense to us. But that is precisely the kind of love the Father has given to us.
Now we are adopted so that He calls us His children, perfect and favorite in His eyes. He does not only call us His children, but that is what we really are.
But that leads to problems. For instance, we may wonder, since the Father loves us so much, why do we suffer mistreatment in this world?
The answer is very simple. The world does not know us any more than it knows God. We were once like them, lost in sin and rebellion. Now that the Father has adopted us as His children, we are extremely different creatures than we were before. Although we do not at first glance appear strange to the world, we are indeed a different species, a new creation in Christ.
The sinful world learns this fact quickly. We are beginning to see the results of this chasm of separation between our new nature and the nature of the sinful world. Friction and hostility are sure to happen. The Roman persecutions in the forms of lions and torture and executioner’s sword did not happen by accident.
They do not know us. They cannot understand us. We are strange and alien to them. Realizing this makes it a little easier to understand the increasing pressure put on us saints.
In the end, our hidden nature as God’s children will become visible. What we will be is still to be revealed. That waits for the Day when Christ appears again to judge the world. He will appear in glory brighter than the sun, with the splendor of His holiness visible to every eye.
And we will be like Him. We will shine out with majesty. We will look like the children of God should look like, not like this present clumsy weakness and faltering sinfulness. No, in every way we will be perfect, like Christ. We will not be God, as Christ is, yet we will be at last worthy of the title that He has called us: Children of God.
Then we will see Him as He is. We will gaze upon the face of God in all His glory. We could not do that yet. Our impurity prevents us. But then we shall be cleansed absolutely, immaculately, so that not the least stain or blemish remains in us, body, mind, or soul. Thus, in righteous perfection, we will gaze upon the face of our Creator and Redeemer.
Since that is our sure hope and destiny, to be purified completely on the Last Day, then we also work to purify ourselves in this life. Of course, it is the Father who has first purified us by declaring us His children through His Son. Also it is the Father who works in us every good thing through His Spirit, so that every good impulse to purify ourselves is really from Him. Yet we must apply ourselves to the task. We cannot ignore it and say, “Well, God will do it. I may as well just relax and let Him get to work.” No, all who are purified and who are destined for purity must also work to purify themselves. Not that we earn anything by our efforts, far from it. Instead, our working reveals that we are, indeed, children of God. How could His children do anything else? We are His, so we naturally apply ourselves to the task. We do not like it when we fall back into the old ways. We feel sorrow, and we resist. In spite of our failures, we keep trying. That is because we are trying to imitate our Father. We are trying to be like Christ, our elder Brother. Even knowing that we cannot fully succeed, we keep working at it.
So do not give up. Your hope in Christ, your hope of glory, will most certainly come to pass. Do not forget to keep purifying yourself, even though the world will try to distract you and convince you to be the same as it is. No, keep focusing upon the incomprehensibly fantastic love of the Father for you. Keep focusing on the fact that He loves to be called your Father, even you who are still a sinner. For the sake of His Son, He is pleased to call you His child, even to all eternity.
In His Name, with the Son and the Spirit, the one God who is love. Amen.
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