“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but tie 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.”
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons (or, the children) of God.”
Thus the apostle begins to unfold what lies in the astounding fact that we have been born of God. We, who by nature are nothing but poor sinners, we have been born of God Who is righteous!
And make no mistake about it! When the apostle writes, “Behold,” he is using no mere interjection, but an imperative. He means to say: “Be sure that you take a very good look at it, that you consider very seriously this great love of God. And when he says, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” he is reflecting both on the quality and the quantity of this love.
What glorious, sublime love!
If you see it aright, you will sink down in humble adoration and awesome wonder before it. It is beyond comprehension. And the marvel of it is, that neither we ourselves nor any one else in the world can find in us anything that could in any wise have called forth such love. It is a love which freely and sovereignly has been bestowed and given to us. Therefore also the very nature of that love is that it remains; it abides forever.
That we should be called sons (or better, children) of God!
To be called children of God implies, of course, that we are after Him Who is the Only Begotten of the Father, Who is the Son. Implied also is the truth of spiritual adoption. For you understand God has but one Son. Shall God have any other children, they must be obtained through the legal process of adoption. Also implied in this truth is the fact that we as God’s children in a creaturely measure partake of His life, glory, and love. That God calls us His children implies a certain fellowship between the Father and us; which the world cannot know. And it cannot know this because it does not know the Father.
In our text the apostle further develops this marvelous truth by setting forth the following facts: We are the children of God NOW. It does not yet appear what we shall be. We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. That if this is our expectation, then we will be walking in sanctification.
Really the apostle is speaking of: The Hope of God’s Children!
Pay close attention, first of all, to the rich contents of this hope!
What is it that the children of God hope for? What is it that they expect and constantly long for more than anything else? Is it perhaps that they may be completely delivered from sin and death, from the suffering of this present time, from the devilish howling of this present evil world? Oh, indeed, this constitutes a part of his longing; and of this there can be no question. Yet this is all so negative. There is something much more positive to the Christian’s hope. And that is that he may be near unto God, and be like Him!
And when we say this, let us be very careful that we do not understand this in the sense of essential likeness. You remember that in the beginning, when the devil approached our first parents in the temptation, he posited the idea that should they transgress the divine commandment by eating of the forbidden tree, they would be as God? Having denied the very Word of God which had forewarned them that in the way of transgression they would surely die, the devil then said unto Eve: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God knowing good and evil.” Besides the implication suggesting that God had a sinister purpose in forbidding the eating of the fruit of the tree, this statement also implies that man would become God in the way of transgression. Here we have not only a clear indication of the essence of the devil’s own sin and fall, namely, pride (see in this connection (I Timothy 3:6); but at the same time an indication of the true nature of sin. Sin, beloved, not only of our first parents, but all sin, has as its basic element the will to be as God. And that means, to be God’s equal. And it follows that if it were possible to be God’s equal, God would no longer be God. Man would be his own god. He would be sovereign. He would sit on the throne, while God would be dethroned. But to be as God in this sense is nothing more than the devil’s lie.
God only is essentially God!
He only has being in Himself. He is the being that must bring forth all other beings and sustain them, or they cannot continue to be. Never could it ever be possible that the creature becomes the Creator, or man becomes God.
Man must remain forever creature! Less than nothing, in comparison with Him Who is God alone. Forever there remains an impassable gap between God and man. Though it is true that God becomes man in the incarnation, He never lost His essential nature as God, nor did the human nature become divine. Very carefully the Word of God teaches that the two natures are never mixed or interchanged. As the church has always believed and expressed it: in the incarnation the unity of Person in two natures existed, which is unmixed, unchanged, undivided, and inseparable. Again, we say, nay, God says, that He ever and alone is God.
To be like unto God, therefore, can mean only in a creaturely sense. Man was created in the beginning in this sense in the image and likeness of God. And that meant that in a creaturely way man resembled God and reflected His image. This image man lost completely. Fact of the matter is that after the fall man took on the image of the devil. In the place of true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, came willful ignorance, according to which man held the truth under in unrighteousness; an unrighteousness according to which man in willful disobedience transgresses all of God’s commandments; and unholiness, according to which man is inclined to all evil and incapable of doing any good. Oh, indeed, man did not become another creature. He remained a man and image bearer; but he bore the image of his master, the devil.
And here is the wonder of grace, and of the eternal love of God—God would have children! Children, too, that would reflect in their creaturely way His likeness!
To which, of course, must be added the glory of the new creation! A creation that, negatively expressed, shall be delivered from all sin, misery, and deathy; and, positively, reflecting the very glory of God. Wherein righteousness shall dwell. And in the very center of which shall be the glorious God with His glorified children. Children, in whom God shall behold His own image, as it has been given unto them by His Son, Who is the exact and essential image of the Father.
This is the highest good!
This is the object of the Christian’s hope!
Hope here, and throughout the Word of God, is that grace in the children of God that expects and therefore longs for the unseen. According to it, they wait for something in the full confidence that they shall attain to it. Hope is realized in them now as a certain tension, a drawing power that pulls them ever closer to the object of their hope—when they shall be like unto God!
When He is manifested! That is, the God of our salvation in the face of Jesus! Whom we see now, as in a darkened glass in the Scriptures; but Whom we shall see then face to face. When He shall be manifested, that is, when He shall break through the clouds of our present time, yea, when He shall come on the clouds and every eye shall see Him as He is.
This hope of God’s children is a certified possession!
Already principally true!
For now are we the children of God! It is a present reality!
Not only have we been juridically adopted, and the adoption papers have been written with a pen of blood, the blood of God’s only Begotten Son our Lord. But we have also already been spiritually born again by the Spirit of regeneration. Not only are we declared to be the children of God now in the legal sense of that term; but we are already the children of God by the new birth. Born we are from above. Oh, indeed, it does not yet appear what we shall be, for none of us can possibly know all the implications of the final glory of the children of God. But this we know, that now, even while we are in the present world and we still dwell in this sinful flesh, that right now we are the children of God. Were this not true, we could never hope. The fact that we hope is the evidence that we are the children of God now. And it is the very nature and activity of the hope in them to long with confidence for the moment when, in body and soul, they shall be like God.
But this we know. . . !
And that knowledge, how great and wonderful it is!
Not only has God known all His children in love from before the foundation of the world, but He was pleased to reveal to them that knowledge; and in such a way that they also know, with the certain knowledge of faith, that they are the children of God.
Oh, indeed, there may be moments when sin seems to have the upper hand over us, and doubts may rise up in the soul whether it is true that we are the children of God. But those doubts are our infirmities. Doubt never speaks the language of faith. Faith says, “In spite of all my weaknesses, sins, and short-comings, I believe nevertheless, on the basis of Christ’s work for me, in me, and through me, that I am a child of God.”
It is also true that this knowledge we have while we look through a darkened glass. That is, we cannot yet see ourselves as standing actually before the face of God and reflecting His likeness. Because Christ is not yet manifested, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror of His Word. But looking into that mirror, as the apostle Paul expressed it, “we are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
What sanctifying influence this must have on our lives!
So the text also expresses it: “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
This can only mean that when we are the children of God, children of hope, then we will walk like that, even now. It means that everything in us as we now appear in the world that smacks of darkness, we hate. Every inclination to sin, every motion of our corrupt flesh, we will despise, and crucify,—put it to death. Purification, it should be remembered, is the link between the present and the future, between what we are now and what we shall be.
The only way sonship blossoms into perfect likeness is purification!
And Christ, God manifested in the flesh, is the standard!
Pure as He is pure we must be, and we must become!
This purification, you understand, is not our work. Not so is it, that God would like us to become His children, and now we must see to it that we become His children. Nor is it so that God would like very much that we should look like Him, and so we must see to it that we change. Oh, no! Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end!
We are the children of God! Don’t change that to read: We must become such children!
God has redeemed us, and we therefore live and walk as children of God. And God saves us unto the uttermost. The good work He has begun in us, He finishes it unto the end. But He does it in such a way that we hate what He hates, we crucify what He ordered dead, we love what He loves, we long for what He has promised. We work out what He works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Hope is not a cold expectation!
It is a living, vibrant activity in the child of God, that moves him to walk in the way, of sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord.