Establishing our identities in the household of God
In this passage, John will first establish our Christian identities in the household of God in vv.12-14. That we all have three identities: as children, as fathers, and as young men. After establishing our identities, he will tell us how these identities should play out in our lives in vv. 15-17. In very simple words, John will tell us that we should not love the world. First, as Children. Vv.12-14. It is addressing all the recipients. “I am writing to you” implies every intended recipient of this letter. V.12. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” The word “children” is used throughout the letter to address everyone who is in Christ. Children = those who are forgiven by God, and are welcomed into the household of God in love. V.12a. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven…” Adopted as sons of God. And now we call him our Father in heaven. Children also = those who put their trust in God. Matt 18:3. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” To become like children, not because they are innocent (we know they aren’t). But because they are naturally dependent on their parents. They receive their daily needs from their parents. To become the children of God is to humble ourselves, and understand that our life is entirely dependent on God’s grace and mercy. If God does not love us, we have no hope. The “children” who were being referred to, John says that their sins have been forgiven (v.12). This is true for all Christians. See 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Children here, refer to all of us, to you and to me.
But we are not just forgiven for nothing. God cannot overlook sin. God does not show mercy because he loves us so much to the point that he is willing to ignore our sins. That he cares about our relationship with him so much, that he cannot punish us for our wrongdoings. God cannot throw away his fairness for love. Just as he cannot throw away his love for fairness. 1 John 1:9 tells us that God’s forgiveness is just and fair! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How is God just and fair in forgiving our sins? He gave us humanity, Jesus Christ, to die on behalf of us. Isa 53:5-6. “5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Reminder on the Good Friday and Easter Sunday that will come. And this is why Chapter 2 V.12 says this, that we are “forgiven for his name’s sake,” Whose name? The name of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. What does it mean for us to be forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ name? The phrase “for his name’s sake” is an old way of saying that we are forgiven because of Jesus. But if that’s the case, John could have simply said that “We are forgiven because of Jesus.” So there must be additional reasons why he chose to mention the “name” instead. The reference of the “name” is because of two other reasons: We are “forgiven for his name’s sake,” because the name of Jesus Christ itself is a promise of forgiveness from God. The name of Jesus means “The LORD saves.” The name of Christ, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” means “The anointed one.” In other words, he is chosen to be our prophet, our priest, and our king. As our prophet, he will reveal God to us, so that we may know him. As our priest, he will cleanse us and make us holy, so that we too may live together with the holy God. As our king, he will rule over us and over our hearts. And these names are given by God the Father. In other words, the meaning of the name Jesus Christ, is the summary of the Father’s plan to save us from sin. The name is associated with glory. We know the saying “To make a name for himself.” Phil 2:9-11. “9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We are forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ name, because we are forgiven for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Summary: We are called little children, because God had chosen to bring us into his family. In this family, he shall become our father, and love us as our father. As children of God, we should look up to him with gratitude and trust. He will not give us a stone when we ask for bread. He will not give us a serpent when we ask for fish. He is our Father in heaven who gives good things to those who ask him! As children of God, we should look toward Jesus, to appreciate the depth of our sins. But even deeper than our sins, is the depth of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. Know for sure that you are forgiven for the sake of his name. You don’t own this new life that you have received. In fact, you owe this new life to Christ who had given it to you. Those who are saved for his name’s sake, must live for his name’s sake. As children of God, it is inappropriate for us to ask, “Why should I live for him?” Because the fact that we are living is because of him. Without Jesus, what awaits us is judgement and condemnation. The alternative of living for Jesus is not living for yourself; it is death in sin.
Second, as Fathers. V.13a. “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning..” Also V.14a. “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” “Him who is from the beginning” is mentioned in the opening of 1 John. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it…” Who is this “him” who is from the beginning? He is Jesus Christ, whom John had seen and touched. Knowing Jesus. This reminds us of V.3. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” Knowing Jesus Christ is a necessary condition for salvation. Phil 3:10-11. 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. But this “knowing” is not just knowing facts about him. For John, to know God means to love God. It is to have fellowship with God. It is to walk in his light. It is to keep the commandments of Christ. For those who know God, in other words, for those who love God and obey Christ, John calls them fathers. Why? Because they are the older brothers in the household of God. Older not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he opened his letter addressing Timothy like this: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Those who are more mature in church are called fathers. As spiritual fathers, they have an obligation to teach the younger brothers about the Christ whom they know. Eph 6:4. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Those who have been changed by the Holy Spirit, they also love to see others be changed by the Holy Spirit. For us who love God and obey Christ, we also want to see others love God more and obey Christ better.
Being a spiritual father is hard. Confess my sins of avoidance of my responsibility. Application: obligation to teach. Natural fathers. Cannot get used to saying “I don’t know.” Spiritual fathers. Not default to complaining. But default to praying and teaching. Third, as young men. V.13b. “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” Youth is linked to strength. Young lion analogy in Bible. Micah 5:8. “And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.” Also V.14b. “I write to you, young men, because you are strong…” But Youth is also linked to foolishness and uncontrolled passions.
2 Tim 2:22. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
1 Tim 4:12. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
The book of Proverbs is also generally directed at young men. King Solomon addressed his readers as “my son.” Younger men need wisdom the most. That is why in v.13, John follows by saying that the young men “have overcome the evil one.” By referring to the readers as young men, John acknowledges that the Christians have overcome temptations that are common among mankind, and have chosen to follow Christ instead of giving themselves into sin. “To overcome the evil one” is a phrase that points back to the wilderness temptation of Jesus. The devil tried to change his theology. In other words, the devil tried to change the way Jesus sees his heavenly father. But Christ overcame the devil with God’s words. In the same way, John wants his readers to reject the wrong teachings that were introduced into the community. How can we stay strong and overcome the temptations of Satan? By trusting in his word. V.14bc. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Ps 119:9. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” V.11. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” V.105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Why are we weak in wanting the things that we want to want? Imbalance exposure. Exposure reconfirms our reality. Constant exposure can indirectly shape the way we think, even though our brains may tell us that it’s wrong constantly. Maybe friends, esp. Those we keep closest to our hearts. Maybe forms of entertainment and media, esp. Those that we enjoy and put our guard down. Hence, Ps.1 tells us not to stand or sit among sinners.
Application: how to hide God’s word in our hearts? Reading. God’s word speaks to our situations. Search online for relevant Bible verses and good articles on our situation. Praying. Wrestle with God’s word honestly, until we are changed while we kneel down. Look to our spiritual “fathers.” The implication of being in the household of God. After knowing who we are, what next? Heart’s separation from the world. Vv.15-17. “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” V.15a. “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” Not saying that we should not care for the world, or seek its goodness. The true love of God is Christ-like. It is focused on the well-being of others. It is self-giving. But the love mentioned here is not the love that is seen in Christ. 2 Tim 4:10. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” This love is selfish. It is focused on gratifying the pleasures and desires that we defined for ourselves. To love the world or anything in the world, is to tie our joy to the world and anything in the world. What does “the world” refer to in v.15? The world refers to the sinful values and attitudes that are opposed to God’s values and attitudes. It is to agree with the world. It is to prioritise the things in life according to the value systems of this age. What does “anything in the world” refer to? It is the things that are considered valuable by the world. Fame, money, comfort, recognition, security, love. Note that these are not wrong things to desire. But it becomes wrong when we seek them in the wrong place, or when we say that we can’t live without them.
V.15b. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I think this is not just warning us of the result of loving the world. But, this is also a diagnostic tool for us to perform a self-examination. To see if we have loved the world. We cannot love both together. Any love that decreases our love for God. If we dig deeper, we shall find in it a spiritual tumour that is cancerous. What are the things of the world? 3 things, verse 16. The desires of the flesh. This refers to all things sinful in itself. Pride and jealousy. Hatred. Any forms of sexual gratification before or outside of marriage. The desires of the eyes. Good things, but turned into an obsession. Illustration. When young, taking more food than I can eat. Mom saying to me, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Matt 6:24. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Tie back to v.15b. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Surprising context of Matt 6:24. What comes after this line? What do you think? For me, what I think is something like this: “Therefore, do not love money, but rather love your God with all your heart.” But what is the actual line that follows? “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Worry. Meaning there is nothing wrong in desiring these things. And these things that we desire are not evil things! About what we eat or drink, about health and clothing. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these things are the most basic, most fundamental human needs! Because Maslow sees mankind as animals, physiological needs are the most basic.
But because we see ourselves as children of God, our relational needs are the most basic.
Pride in possessions. Present. Pride in what you currently have. “I am something because I have this thing. My value and honour are defined by this thing. And I am willing to compromise my obedience to God to keep and to multiply this thing. In fact, if God ever takes this thing away from me, I will leave him immediately.” Grew up learning a lot of things, e.g. piano. Self worth is built on ability and comparison. “At least I can do all these things, and nobody else in my circle can.” Future. Pride in possessions that you don’t yet have, but you think you will soon have. “I will get that thing no matter what. I will allow nothing to come in my way toward achieving it. In fact, my hope is built on the fact that I will acquire that thing in the future. I can almost reach it. It is mine. Once I get it, I will be free. I will be content. My life will be meaningful.” Illustration. How should we see the good things of this world? Like a child walking in the toy store. One hand is held by his parent. With the other hand the child touches and plays with the toys on the shelves. The child loosens his grip on the parent’s hand, because he wants to engage more with the toys, but the parent does not let go. But as he is playing, he feels a slight pull. The parent is starting to walk away. The child, then, asks his parent, “Can we buy this?” The parent says, “No.” And the child learns to let go. Then, the parent and the child walks to the next isle. And he sees another toy. The parent stops, and the child plays with the toy. The child asks again, “Can we buy this?” The parent this time says, “Yes.” And the child takes the toy from the shelf happily. We are like that child. One hand, holding on to God, and never let go. The other hand, we can hold on to the things of this world, but we can also let go of them anytime. V.17a. This world and its desires are passing away. Good things, bad things, everything. What is our destiny on earth? We are not here to gather things that will pass away. But when this world passes away, what will be left? V.27b. Those who do the will of God abide forever.
1. The passage tells us that we Christians are children of God. As children, we are fully dependent on God, our parent, for daily needs and for guidance and truth. This means that we as Christians do not grow spiritually to become more and more independent from God, as if we needed more grace to combat a certain sin in the past, and now we need less grace to combat the same sin because we’re grown ups now. No; instead, Christian growth as children of God is growth in dependence to God.
a. How does greater dependence look like in our Christian life?
b. Reflecting on your daily struggles, how can you depend on God more as a child?
2. The passage also tells us that we Christians are fathers. In other words, we all have spiritual responsibilities over younger brothers and sisters.
a. How should this “parenting” in the Christian community look like, realistically?
b. One of the greater challenges in this “parenting” is to show the younger Christians what sanctification means in the Christian life. To do it, it is necessary that we must confess our sins, share with others our struggles with sin, and how to overcome sin in Christ. Are you ready and willing to do this and place yourself in a position of vulnerability? (Not a discussion question, but a self-reflection)
3. Lastly, the passage tells us that we Christians are young men, strong against the foe, but prone to foolishness at times.
a. Can you identify your strengths and weaknesses living as a Christian for Christ?
b. How do we strengthen ourselves and avoid foolishness?
If you have any questions regarding the sermon, please feel free to send an email to me to this address: [email protected]