I would like to consider with you a portion of the truth of God’s Word as it is given to us in I John 3:1-3. We read a very blessed truth in these verses. It is good to reflect upon them for awhile; and thus we shall through this meditation. First we quote the text referred to above: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.”
We read in our text that “we shall be like Him.” It is evident from the context that the pronoun “Him” is indicative of God. This of course does not mean that we will become gods, for this would be heresy, a heresy which some would follow today. However, by taking an earthly figure implied in our text we shall try to discern the truth of this clause. Let us look at a child in this life. A male child, one that has just been born, is a frail creature and certainly not the equal of his father who begat him. However, as this child advances in years, the resemblance between him and his father may be strong—so that beholding the child, men may say the child is the very picture or image of the father. He may have his father’s eyes, profile, mannerisms and character. In a word, the child takes right after his father. He is like him.
In light of the above figure we may grasp something of the meaning of our text when John says, “we shall be like Him.” The promise of God found in our text is precisely that when we, God’s people, shall have appeared with Christ in glory (and we will), we shall be like God, our Father, who begat us, according to His perfect will. Of course, the resemblance then will be perfect, as we are taken to perfected glory. So then, as God is righteous, so will we be righteous perfectly. As God is holy, so will we be holy perfectly. All vestiges of sin will then be wholly obliterated. We will love as God loves, desiring His desires, thinking as He thinks, and willing His will. We will speak and act as He speaks and acts, we will desire and love the things that He desires and loves, which is above all His own blessed self and His people redeemed in Christ.
In other words, we will take right after God in the true spiritual sense, being the perfect creaturely likeness of our God in Christ. In the likeness of God we will show forth perfectly the glories of God’s virtues as we are conformed to the image of His only begotten Son. What amazing love of God!
For He adopts us as His children. By nature, apart from Christ, we are not like God at all—in reality totally unlike Him spiritually. It cannot be otherwise, as by nature we were children of darkness, of disobedience, yea even of Satan. For we committed sin and were unrighteous, as John says in another part of this epistle: “He that committeth sin and doeth unrighteousness is of the devil and is not of God.” We have believed the lie and we partook of Satan’s nature. We did his lusts and with him pitted ourselves against God and hated Him. In the words of Paul we were dead in sins and trespasses: “Walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
But God has called such as we are by nature, His sons! No wonder the exclamation of the immensity of God’s love. Our God has adopted us! As rightfully as we belonged to Satan, in whose power we willfully placed ourselves in the way of our, sin and its guilt, so now we belong to God and are rightfully His, through His adoption of us and through His calling us sons. In the earthly figure a child, should you adopt one, becomes yours legally. This takes place by a judge pronouncing the child yours. This action of the court is put into writing, signed and sealed, and he becomes yours—heir to you.
So did our God, the judge of heaven and earth, pronounce such as we are His sons. His elect chosen in Christ He views in the cross of Christ, and on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work He adopted them, who were children of darkness, to be His children. Wonder of grace!
Let us return to the figure. The child that one may adopt may or may not look like us. We could take all the care possible to select a child that shall appear like us. And our hopes may be very high that the child will grow up to be like us. But, in fact, the very opposite could happen—that not only the child may not look like us at all, but also he may, in spite of our labor and instruction, manifest himself as rebellious and unruly, etc.
On the other hand, our God does not adopt us upon the basis of who we are, or what we look like. In fact, spiritually we were as unlike God as we could possibly be, being children of darkness, deformed spiritually, blind, naked sinners. By nature we were undone sinners, driven by the curse of the law—even headed to sure and eternal destruction, and that rightly. Totally depraved we were. But this did not deter God from loving us in Christ. For He is ever unchangeable, and in elective love He has adopted us, calling us sons. For God is not limited as man, nor by man, as the error of free-willism would teach. But God is able and desirous to remake us, and He does, so that we will look like Him. He in Christ raises us from our spiritual death, as He cleanses us from all of our sins by the blood of His only begotten Son. He creates in us a new spirit and inscribes the law of His kingdom upon our hearts, that we may live in its liberty. Even now God, by His Word and Spirit, impresses His likeness upon our minds and wills, so that we are become like Him. John says, “Now we are sons of God.”
Yet this is only very imperfect, for sin still riots in our flesh and taints the best of our works. Even the holiest of men confess that they have but the beginning of new obedience. Reading Romans seven we see the apostle Paul also so confessing. It is the experience of every child of God. The result of this is that the spiritual resemblance between us and God is in this life so very far from being perfect that John says, not that we are like God, but that we shall be like Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when it shall appear, we shall be like Him.” A child, when just born, is a frail creature, but a potential man. Looking at the child, all we see is a defenseless babe on its mother’s breast. But we know that when that child is full grown, he shall be like his father. Now it is concealed, but it shall appear that he is his father’s son.
In this life, God’s people are babes in Christ. We are now become sons. Yet, that babe in Christ is potentially a spiritual man, only that man does not yet appear. What we mean is that, looking at the child of God, you indeed see a babe in Christ. We are spiritually frail, weak and infirm. We walk only with great effort in the ways of God’s command. We speak the language of the kingdom of heaven only with greatest difficulty. However, we know that when it shall appear what this babe (what we) shall be, that that which is now for the large part hid shall be revealed in glory, then shall we be like our heavenly Father perfectly! This is the promise of the gospel! What amazing love of our God bestowed upon us in Christ.
It shall come to pass, and this without fail. John says, “We shall see God our Father.” Christ says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Understand that we who are finite, shall see God, Who is infinite and eternal. How? Our text says we will! We shall see God’s face, which is wholly adapted to our capacity to see and know. That face is Christ Jesus. In Him in heaven we shall see the glory of God and know Him. The infinite goodness of His invisible Being, the love, mercy, and compassion of God we shall see perfectly in Christ. Even as Christ said, He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father. Verily we shall see God as He is!
Already now in principle we are sons and see Him, only now not as He is, that is, not in all His fullness. Your child, when he is still young, often does not see you, his parents, as you are. As parents, you sacrifice and toil for your child. When your child is sick, you nurse him back to health. You share his joys and his sorrows. The interests of your child lie close to your heart, and often you bear your child on the wings of prayer to God. In love you rebuke, admonish, and chasten your child. In a word, you deeply love him. But this is often precisely what your child fails to discern. The child can be very critical of you and your actions with respect to him. He can be rebellious or filled with complaint. They may see you as too exacting, questioning even the justness of your guidance—so much so that he may even doubt your love. And it goes to show you that, because of sin and the lack of understanding, your child does not see you as you are. However, as your child grows into a man, he often looks back upon the way you led him, how that you instructed and corrected him, and now discerns that all you did was for his good and done in true love.
Spiritually, so is it with us, beloved in the Lord. Dwelling in us, that is, in our flesh, is no good thing. For we are still sinful—though children of God. Very much are we like that immature child. We too often murmur and complain to God, we even all too often become critical of God’s ways with us. Like Asaph we can become envious of the foolish and the prosperity of the wicked. And sometimes we will even question whether God loves us, while the fact is that He so loves us that He has us engraved in the palms of His hands. What great sacrifice God made for us. He gave His only begotten Son over to the accursed cross, that we might not perish but have everlasting life. Further, He washes us of all our sins in Christ and realizes in us the fruits of Christ’s atonement, and still further preserves us in His power unto the incorruptible inheritance. He cares for us each day perfectly, and this despite our murmurings and complaints. It reveals that now we still do not see God as He is. O! the darkness caused by our sin.
However, we are going to grow up spiritually. In fact, even now under the preaching of Christ and by His Spirit we are doing this. But when that spiritual man, concealed often in us as we are babes in the faith, shall have appeared, we shall be like God. Then the resemblance between us and our God shall be perfect. We shall be His friends and He shall be our God in perfection.
How we will bless God and sing His praises. We shall be like Him! Even now that hope is sure in our hearts. For we are now sons in Christ. O! How great the love of our God!