Adopted Into God’s Family

The Point:  We are loved by God, our perfect Father.

Living in God’s Family:  1 John 3:1-10.

[1]  See 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. [2]  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. [3]  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. [4]  Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. [5]  You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. [6]  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. [7]  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. [8]  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. [9]  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. [10]  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.[ESV}

[1-2]  A relationship of love with the Father.  John addresses his readers again as beloved [2], those whom he loves with the same quality of love as God’s love for him. It is an especially appropriate term here since we are about to be re-introduced to that divine love and all that it has already accomplished in and for God’s people. John is wanting us to grasp how radically different from all other sorts of love God’s agape really is. There is an aorist imperative at the beginning of verse 1: See! The force is that we need to take time to contemplate this love and allow its reality to sink down into the depths of our being. It is meant to take our breath away; to startle and amaze us so that we are left gasping, ‘What sort of love is this?’ The Father’s love for us is in a different category from anything we have come across before. It is a love in which He takes all the initiative to make us His children; a love that gives lavishly and freely to those who are utterly undeserving. When we contemplate our sin and rebellion against the background of God’s unapproachable light, His total holiness, we begin to sense something of John’s wonder that He should ever bother with people like us. Yet the love of God delights to change rebels into children who belong to the family. Not only does He give us His name (called children of God) but He gives us His status (we are God’s children now). This is no wishful thinking, no legal fiction, but an eternal reality. Rightly to understand this concept of adoption, we have to remember that the choice lay entirely with the Father and was motivated only by His nature of love. Adoption is a legal action by which a person takes into his family a child who is not his own, who has no rights within that family, in order to give that child all the privileges of his own children. What might motivate someone to do that, potentially at considerable cost to himself? In our case there was nothing attractive or even deserving in us to draw out that love, but God chose to love us, because He is love. This has always been so. Way back in the Old Testament, it was the same principle on which God acted towards Israel, when He reminded them, It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you [Deut. 7:7-8]. Every Christian knows that it is that sort of love which has reached out towards him through Jesus Christ, lifted him out of sin and brought him into the family of God. There are many Christians who cannot really accept this lavish love of God for them personally. They are always trying to be good enough to persuade God to love them, rather than accepting the fact that He already does. So they embark on a ceaseless treadmill of Christian activity, always trying to prove to themselves and others that their grades are good enough to pass with God. If we put in sufficient effort, surely He must bless us, we think. But actually we pervert the grace of God into a religion of works, and what should be a delight becomes first a duty and then a drudgery. God’s grace is not conditioned by whether or not we have scored B+ for our Christian lives this week. He lavishes love on all His children. That does not mean that He spoils us by giving us more than He knows would be good for us, nor that He is undemanding about our service for Him or unconcerned about our failings and weaknesses. He loves us too much to let us get away with them! But it is a Father’s love, perfect in its understanding and compassion, and exactly suited to the child’s personal and individual need. If He has chosen to make us His children, then He is going to bring us home to heaven. 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 [2]. That is the process in which He is involved now with every one of His children. He is making us more like the beloved Son, and we must not take things into our own hands as though we can earn that love. It is given. It is pure grace. He establishes the relationship, and to live in this relationship is to grow in the family likeness. We need to stop our busy Christian lives from time to time, to assess honestly how much of our activity is an expression of love for the Lord who loves us, and how much comes from being driven along by a desire to impress, or by group pressures. We need to remind ourselves often that it is our love relationship with the Father that matters most, that what we are is far more significant that what we do. Security comes through realizing that our identity as God’s dearly loved children depends not on our activity, but on His electing grace. Our loving Father wants each one of His children to develop to the full his or her unique potential; to be like Jesus. This confidence will have two practical outworkings, which John mentions in these verses. It will help us to cope both with those details of our faith we cannot yet know and also with the hostility of the world. There are aspects of God’s truth which have not yet been revealed, and it is no part of our discipleship to be trying to probe them with our imagination. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever [Deut. 29:29]. We do not know all the details of what heaven will be like, and we do not need to know. We do not know how the resurrection body will be raised, or what it will be like. All that will be revealed when Christ is revealed, when he appears [2]. What we do know is that He is coming, that we are going to see Him as He truly is; and in that moment, by the same grace that has made us His children, we shall be made like Him. At that moment the process which began when first we trusted Christ will come to its fulfilment, and the image of God in His children will be fully restored. [3]  A responsibility of trust from the Father.  John returns to a theme which he outlined in 2:29: the new relationship brought about by God’s love through the new birth will show itself in the practical evidence of a righteous life. So here, the conviction that we are God’s children leads to a practical program developing personal holiness. If all our future expectation is centered on Christ, then we shall want to be as much like Him as we can be now. If heaven is the destination, we must be travelling the road that leads there. Notice how carefully John rules out any exceptions. This applies to every Christian (everyone). The present tense, purifies, is significantly chosen too, indicating a continuous process which is to be taking place at this moment. That present tense also guards against any incipient perfectionism, which might want to claim that we can reach a stage in this world when we no longer need to grow in holiness. In linking holiness to our hope, John is seeking to stimulate our motivation to live differently. To claim the hope of heavenly glory and yet be unconcerned about sin in our own lives, by disobedience or not practicing the truth, is in fact to be walking in darkness. How then are we to fulfil the responsibility? John points us to the Lord Jesus. Not that He purified Himself, for He is pure. It is His inherent quality. But He demonstrated that purity in the same hostile world in which His children are called to develop theirs. He set Himself always to do the Father’s will even though He knew that it would frequently and ultimately be a path of suffering. Should we not give ourselves to a similar daily, disciplined obedience? Only God the Holy Spirit can make us holy, and this is God’s will [1 Thess. 4:3]. But our cooperation is essential, and that is seen in the dedication of our lives to our Lord and our readiness to respond to Him in loving obedience at every turn of the way. [4-6]  A reflection of the Father in our lifestyle.  Again John returns us to his insistence that living as children of God means a clean break with sin. Every time we sin we break God’s law, which is a reflection of His perfect character and will. Any deviation from God’s instructions is an act of lawlessness, which shows our heart attitude towards God. The false teachers seem to have been claiming that they lived on a super-spiritual plane, well above any sort of law or rules, and so the Christian was free to ‘know’ God, without keeping the commandments. John goes behind the idea that sin is the contravention of this or that specific law, to show that it is an attitude towards God, of which every sinner is guilty. The first coming of Jesus is seen by John to be God’s remedy for the problem of human sin [5], by taking our sins away. Only in its death could the lamb become a sacrifice for sin, though it had to be spotless in order to be acceptable to God. In the same way, John reminds us of the sinless perfection of Christ, but sees that as a necessary element in His atoning death. Only someone who was sinless in Himself could atone for the sins of others. The glory of Christ is that He was able to bring a sinless human will and to offer that in the place of our rebellious sinful wills, as His blood flowed for our sins at Calvary. That is why the cross is the heart of the Christian message. It is God’s answer to man’s deepest need. God longs to bring men and women back into His family, but sin is inconsistent with sonship. So God comes in the person of Jesus, the Son, to uphold His own moral law, throughout His life and eventually at the expense of His own life, in order to take away our sins and make forgiveness a reality. The important question, in the light of the cross, then becomes, ‘Have my sins been taken away?’ Verse 6 tells us that the answer lies in our present experience. Do I keep on sinning, or is my life distinctively different? ‘Look at your lifestyle,’ is John’s message. John simply asks, ‘Do you keep on sinning?’ The person who does has not yet seen or known Christ, in that personal way that is described in verse 6 as one who abides in him. If Jesus was sinless and came to this world expressly to take away our sins, how can sin be cherished by anyone who is really living in Christ? It is important to remember that John is not for one moment saying that a true Christian never sins. He has already warned us against that error [1:8,10] and reminded us of the means God has provided for our cleansing and restoration [1:9; 2:1]. Although Christians fall and fall, Christians can be forgiven. But we are to remember that such forgiveness is at the expense of the life-blood of the Son of God. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. The mark of true gratitude is that we do not keep on sinning. The implications for us are clear. Fellowship with a sinless Savior and continuance in our sins (keeping on sinning) are mutually contradictory. No compromise is possible. And the logical conclusion we are to draw is that we cannot expect to be confident on that day when we see Christ, if we are complacent about sin in our lives here and now. [7-10]  Be what you are.  What is a real Christian? Many people have their own answer to that questions, but it is vitally important that people find out God’s definition, since on this our eternal future hangs. This is John’s over-riding concern in this part of his letter. The false teachers who had infiltrated and divided the churches laid great claim to be true Christians, but were they? Doubtless there was a good deal of ferment and discussion among the churches regarding their true position, since they had seemed to be so much a part of the Christian fellowships [2:19]. From 2:29 through to 3:10 John is drawing a series of pictures of two contrasting groups of people; a series which come to its climax in verse 10. There are those who do right [2:29] and those who keep on sinning [3:4-5]. There are those who live in Christ and those who have neither seen nor known him [3:6]. There are those who do what is right [3:7] and those who do what is sinful [3:8]. There are those who do not continue to sin [3:9] and those who do not do right and do not love the brothers [3:10]. By 3:8 the two groups can be more closely defined and identified as two families of people, with two heads – the children of God and the children of the devil. These very practical facts, which must be applied if we are to know we are truly of God, all center on the way we live. In establishing this criterion, John is following not simply the logic of common sense and experience, but also the teaching of his Master: Beware of false prophets…. You will recognize them by their fruits [Matt. 7:15-16]. [7-8a]  A principle that distinguishes.  Little children are easily led astray. Their trusting nature and comparative inexperience of life make them vulnerable targets for those who want to exploit them. John can see this danger among the new generation of Christians in the churches he knows. The problem is that we tend to use the wrong standards by which to assess false teaching. We look at the personality of the teacher rather than his character. He seems such a nice man, so pleasant and affable, so caring and concerned, so ready to share his exciting new visions or ideas. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves [Matt. 7:15], Jesus warns us. Without doubt the gnostic teachers had great appeal. Their system of truth was an intriguing intellectual construction that seemed to build beyond the rather simple approach of the apostolic message. They were doubtless accomplished orators and attractive personalities, or they would not have had such rapid success. But by adding to God’s truth their own imaginative fictions they were destroying the gospel. The extra knowledge they claimed was not a divine revelation, because it did not produce a life of righteousness. John’s principle here is that if the teaching does not lead to righteous living, then it is a false teaching. John insists on the principle that actions are an infallible guide to character. It is a principle that we desperately need to apply to teachers today. This means testing our lives and those who claim to teach God’s truth by the infallible Word which God has already spoken in Scripture. Anyone can make extravagant claims to have received special knowledge through an experience of divine enlightenment, just as anyone can claim to have become a Christian. The test of a person’s genuine salvation is in that person’s life. To which family does he show himself to belong? So John warns his dear children not to be led astray by mere words, but to look beyond them to the actions which reveal the speakers’ true identities. [8b-10]  A power that destroys.  John defines the purpose of the incarnation as destructive. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. The verb destroy means, at root, to untie and so to set free, and is used of the colt on which Jesus made His kingly entry into Jerusalem [Matt. 21:2] or of Lasarus’ grave clothes being unwound when Jesus raised him up [John 11:44]. But it also came to be used of breaking something up into its component parts, tearing down a building, for example, and so destroying it. This gives us John’s meaning here in terms of doing away with the devil’s works, demolishing them and bringing them to an end. This was why Jesus came. God came in the person of the Lord Jesus to shoulder the moral guilt of a world that has gone awry and is on a course of self-destruction. On the cross He suffered, bled and died, in place of sinners like us, so that we might be forgiven, reborn, transformed. God had a greater purpose on hand than snuffing evil out, and with it all that He had created; He meets it face to face, conquers it in Christ’s death and resurrection and transcends it by His grace and love. So the coming of Christ, culminating in His cross, spells God’s total triumph over all the hostile forces which have tied us in knots and bound us in chains of sin which we cannot loose. Christ not only sets the captives free, but destroys the captor. He shared our humanity that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery [Heb. 2:14-15]. Why then do we see the devil still at work today? Here again the rest of the New Testament helps us. The victory has been won, but its full implementation awaits the completion of God’s purposes in bringing every son and daughter home to glory, and of building His church in every place. Until that time, God extends His grace and mercy to all mankind, and today remains a day of salvation [2 Cor. 6:2]. But what are we to do about the devil’s continuing activity in our own lives, through the temptations of the world and the flesh? If the test of real spirituality is the way we behave, Christ must enable us to live differently. And this is the force of verse 9. Christ came to destroy the devil’s work in us, so that we might live lives that are distinctively different, lives that are not given to sin, but which become increasingly like Jesus. That potential is in Christ and is available to everyone who has been born of God. As a father’s seed is within his child, so, when a person is born again, the life of God is implanted within that life. God’s nature abides in him, and this is the power by which Satan’s work in our lives will be undone and ultimately abolished. The new birth involves such a radical change at the heart of our experience that, whereas sin used to come naturally to us, now it is unnatural to continue to sin. Again, we need to understand very carefully just what John is meaning when he states in verse 9b that the Christian cannot keep on sinning. We must not forget what John has already taught us about the fact that no Christian is sinless. We must balance that truth with the equivalent understanding that no Christian is a habitual sinner either. While we are not to expect perfection, on the one hand, neither are we to settle for a mediocre level of Christian experience on the other. Here is a man with a foul temper who becomes a Christian. He finds that he can no longer go on losing his temper without concern. He does lose it from time to time, but he is always convicted of his sin and led through confession to Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness. Gradually he begins to gain the victory over his temper. The life of God within him begins to expel and destroy the old habits and characteristics. He is being changed. The speed and depth of the change will largely depend on the extent to which he allows the Holy Spirit to control each area of his life. What is true for something outwardly visible, like a fiery temper, is equally true for those more common but hidden sins of criticism, jealousy, bitterness, greed, and impurity, which dog so many of our lives. If we are unconcerned about them, excusing them as our little weaknesses, we can only be grieving and quenching the Spirit [Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19]. We are denying our new birth. No real Christian can rest content with that state of affairs. We cannot be happy to go on sinning. Indeed, we need not! For the warning of verse 9 is also a great encouragement. The Spirit wars against the flesh in every believer’s life, but we are not involved in an unequal struggle with evil. The Lord is going to win. We are in living contact with the Conqueror, and all His resources are always available. If it is true that only Christ can live a righteous life, it is also true that His life is implanted in us, when we are born again. When we sin it is because we are failing to allow Christ’s risen life in all its power to flow into our thoughts and motives, our circumstances and experience, bringing us his victorious resurrection power. Verse 10 both summarizes what has gone before and, in its final clause, leads on to John’s next topic. The righteousness that demonstrates our membership of God’s family is not cold and clinical. It is inseparable from love. The God who is light is also love. Love is righteousness in relationship with others – not primarily an emotion, but an act of will. It is not feeling warm towards other people in a general way, but doing good to specific individuals. Love as a feeling only is useless. No marriage can survive on feelings. Love has to be expressed in caring and sharing, in hard work and loyalty, in generosity and long-suffering. That’s the love without which we have no right to claim to be God’s children. Of course it is superhuman. It does not grow naturally in this world’s soil. It is the gift of God. But where it exists, there is positive proof of the life of God in the soul of man, and so of authentic membership of God’s family.”  [Jackman, pp. 80-96]. 


Questions for Discussion:

1.         John begins verse 1 with a command: See! What does he want us to see? Who does he want us to see? In verse 3, what does John tell us we must do in order to see? How are we to fulfil this responsibility?

2.         Look at verse 6. Memorize that verse. Meditate on that verse. What all-important challenge is John giving every believer in that verse? How do you need to change your lifestyle in order to meet this challenge?

3.         Verses 7-10 present two, and only two, contrasting groups of people. Every person is in one of these groups, but not both. What are these two groups? What distinguishes one group from the other? What does John mean by practice righteousness? (Note how in verse 10, John connects practice righteousness with love his brothers).

4.         What does John mean by the following statements: no one born of God make a practice of sinning; he cannot keep on sinning [9]? Is John teaching here that a believer can reach a state of perfection in this life where he no longer sins? Why or why not? What other verses in 1 John can we look to for help in answering this question?


1-3 John, Robert Yarbrough, BENT, Baker.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter Varsity.

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