Like Father, Like Children
1 John 3:1-3
It’s wonderful to be part of a family, to know we’re accepted in the family circle. As someone once said, “Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” I guess that’s sort of a backward statement, but there is reassurance in it. We know we’ll be welcomed by those who love us even if we feel we’re unlovable.
We can be part of more than one family at once. We’re part of our “born-to” family, of course. There’s no escaping that. We know we can pick our friends, but not our relatives. We may also be part of other families through marriage or “informal” adoption. The mother of one of my oldest friends is a second mother to me, and he is closer to me than any brother I might have had. We frequently speak of our home congregation as our “church family,” and many of us have such close ties to a community that it becomes like family to us.
John wants us to know that we are part of God’s family. “See how much love our Father shows us, that we should be called God’s children—and so we are!” (my paraphrase). We are indeed God’s children, all of us—whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not. In his letter to the Romans (and elsewhere), Paul speaks of us being adopted into God’s family. He is writing from a Jewish perspective, as one of God’s chosen people. Paul says we Gentiles have been adopted in (or, as he says elsewhere, “grafted in”) to the family tree.
We are part of God’s family even from before our inception, simply by being part of God’s creation. We may deny our family membership, and many of us do. That does not mean we are not God’s children, but that we are estranged, having removed ourselves from the family. We know that God is always ready to welcome us back. Prodigal children we may be, but God waits for us to return to the family home and take up our rightful place in the family circle.
God wants us to have a future that involves eternal life. In that future, we will always be in God’s presence, always be part of the family. John believes this future will involve some sort of transformation. He says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared….” We have no concrete knowledge what this transformation will involve. We can speculate, we can get some idea from Scripture, but we don’t know for sure exactly what will happen.
What we do know is that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” It makes sense. If we have been created in the image of God, then when the transformation is complete, the family resemblance should be clear. Notice that John doesn’t say we’ll look like God, but that we will be like God. When we see God face to face, we’ll recognize our relationship to our heavenly Father.
How can this be? We know we have been separated from God because of our fallen, broken state. God welcomes us back into the family not because we have become faultless, but in spite of our faults. Even now we are imperfect children, as likely to make mistakes and do the wrong thing as we were when, in our time as children our behavior disappointed our earthly parents.
The clue as to how this will happen lies in the concluding sentence of this passage. “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” To claim our inheritance we must purify ourselves. God loves us and claims us as God’s children, but we must constantly strive to be pure as God is pure. Only then can we take our rightful place in the family circle.