Saturday, April 21, 2012

What We Are

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. (1 John 3.1)

Scripture can sometimes provoke a stray thought of such force that we hurry to put it away—not aside, but as far from us as we can send it, because it shows us something that changes how we see everything. Sunday’s New Testament reading, 1 John 3.1-7, triggered one of these thoughts. The shock came in the first three verses: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when He [Jesus Christ] is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And all who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.”

It’s obvious John isn’t writing to Sunday Christians—religious hangers-on and casual traditionalists. He’s speaking to people who’ve undergone total transformation, believers who’ve allowed faith in Christ to redefine their entire existence. They’ve experienced baptism in its truest sense, not only as a symbolic rite that identifies them as Jesus’s followers, but in a spiritually immersive manner that saturates their very lives. Their encounter with God’s love made manifest in Christ leads them to call themselves “children of God,” which they believe themselves to be—even though they’re not sure what it all means.

The lifestyle John describes is, in every way, unnatural. It’s a life founded on familial ties and resemblance to the Creator, a life unhampered by biological inevitabilities, worldly success drives, and survival mandates. Ageing, illness, security, death, and every other concern that naturally points to a hard stop are merely commas and semicolons to John’s readers. Something beyond present life calls to them—the hope in a day when the life they’re given and life they choose will come together and the truth of their faith-lighted existence will be irrevocably self-evident. As I pondered the ferocity of such faith, I wondered what it would look like today. The answer hit me with such a blow I may never recover.

Above the Mundane

Were we to live out John’s unnatural lifestyle to the fullest, many (probably most) would think we joined a cult. We’d been seen as radical extremists besotted by a starry-eyed Dreamer. If that were so, the modern version of Holy Week events we just revisited would be cast in inflammatory headlines: 


Somewhere in the flurry of the weeklong news cycle, cult “experts” would connect the dots: “Hardcore disciples of Jesus distance themselves from ordinary life by identifying as ‘children of God.’ They say God’s love for them is so great it literally alters them. They invest all their hope in their Leader’s supposed ability to release them from fear and death. So while their reality testing is very low, their faith in Christ’s promises lifts them above the mundane. And that’s why they’re dangerous.”

Because of God’s love, we can confidently say we’re God’s children. But John won’t leave it there. “And that’s what we are,” he stresses, adding that the reason why others don’t recognize us as children of God is because they don’t know Christ. Thus, being viewed as “different”—whether favorably or not—is in itself confirmation of the transformative power of God’s unconditional love; it is the sign that we do, in fact, belong to God. And we should own everything that’s different about us with the same intensity we observe in cult members who subscribe to the most outlandish philosophies and ideas imaginable. Nothing ever hatched by human minds can possibly compare to the outrageous truth of Christ’s gospel. No human cult leader has, or ever will, equal Jesus’s audacity to preach selfless love of God and others. No ordinary man or woman has, or ever will, promise new life and dare to do as Jesus did: demonstrably make good on the promise. Our faith not only secures our identity as children of God. It lifts us above the mundane and makes us dangerous.

Life Now Lived in God

Belief in Jesus testifies to blatant defiance of conventional wisdom and natural order. Jesus explicitly says this in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24.36-48): “’These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (v44-48; emphasis added)

What we witness in Jesus is what we hope for in us—the revelation of something bigger, richer, and purer than anything found in this world’s ways: the fulfillment of divine promise. Greater love. Truer honesty. Higher justice. Deeper commitment. Freer forgiveness. Wider acceptance. Eternal life that surpasses life hereafter to become life now lived in God, given by God, understood and pursued as a reflection of God. We witness all of this in Jesus, the perfect Child, and we follow His example as children of God. That’s why we’re dangerous. Living as God’s children, we devote our lives to hope that constantly pushes us over the line, that ignores manmade boundaries and definitions, that abides by principles and customs of what the Hebrews writer called “a building not made by hands.” (11.9)

We inhabit a divine state of becoming, of steadily growing into our resemblance to Christ. In 1 John 3.7 we read, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous.” We do what’s right because we’ve witnessed what’s right in Jesus. It’s what we do, regardless how others may view us, what they may say about us, and whether or not they ever acknowledge, accept, or believe us. What love God has given us that we should be called God’s children. If ever a scripture cried for an exclamation point, this one does. That we should be called God’s children!

And that’s what we are!

 Faith in Christ’s promises lifts us above the mundane.

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