>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, April 26, 2009.  The text for this week’s message is 1 John 3: 1-7.

We have been challenged in some serious ways over the last couple of weeks.  We’ve been faced with the reality that Jesus rose from the dead.  We’ve been challenged to let our lives be different; to allow God to work in our lives and transform us in such a way that we’ll never be the same again.  What we are faced with today is what it means to be a child of God.  We become children of God when we place our trust in Jesus.
The phrase “children of God” is not particularly common as we read through Scripture.  In fact, it only appears 11 times, and 10 of those are in the New Testament.  The Old Testament appearance is found chapter one of Hosea, and it says, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’”  This is an important passage because it marks a significant shift that will take place in how a follower of God will be identified.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are often referred to as “children of Jacob”, or “children of Israel.”  You may or may not know that in the book of Genesis, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has his name changed to Israel by the Lord.  Jacob had twelve sons, who came to be known as the twelve tribes of Israel.  Every true Israelite would in some way identify himself with one of these tribes.  As a whole, the nation was considered to be children of Jacob, or Israel.  Sometimes, you’ll also come across references calling them children of Zion or Jerusalem.  Zion was the mount on which Jerusalem was built, so the words are used interchangeably in Scripture.  Okay, now that you’ve had your Hebrew name-changing lesson for the year, let’s get back to the point.
Like I was saying, throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are referred to as children of Israel, but here, the prophet Hosea says something significant.  He says that they will be known as children of the living God.  They aren’t going to be identified by their family heritage, but by their relationship to God.  And notice the adjective here as well – “living” God.  This isn’t just some inactive God who doesn’t care or doesn’t do anything.  This is a “living God” who is active and cares deeply about us.  No matter what you are going through in life, don’t ever think that God doesn’t care or that God is absent.
The God that we learn about in Scripture isn’t just some pagan idol that sits on a shelf at home.  No, God is so much more than that.  God is living and active in this world.  There is a view of God that is called Deism.  It was prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it still has some significant remnants in today’s society.  It is basically the belief that there is a God, but it is founded on the basis of reason and observation of the natural world.  Basically, it’s the idea that God has set the world into motion and sits back without ever intervening.  That’s not a living God.  That’s not a God that is active in this world.  That is not a God with whom we can have a relationship.  And ultimately, that’s not the God that is revealed in Scripture.
The picture that we get of God in Scripture is very large, and incomplete.  “Large” because there is a whole lot of God throughout the Bible, and “incomplete” because God is bigger than we could ever imagine.  But there are a few things of which we can be certain.  God is active in this world.  God does work through the events in this world.  God cares about every single one of us.  The God that we read about in the Bible is every bit a living God.  I’m not denying that there are times in our lives when God seems distant, or when it’s difficult to hear His voice in our lives, but that doesn’t mean God is absent.  In those difficult times in our lives, we need to remember Hosea’s words; we are children of the living God.  
We need to find ourselves, to recognize that our identity is bound up in our relationship with God – as part of God’s family.  Our God is a living God, and we are His children, and this is a change from what we read throughout the Old Testament.  Something significant is going to happen as we work through the narrative of Scripture that is going to alter one’s relationship with God.  No longer will we be identified by our physical family, but we will be known by our spiritual family.  And this change is found in the New Testament.
The first time that the phrase “children of God” is mentioned in the New Testament is in the gospel of John, which was written by the same person who wrote today’s Scripture.  In John 1, we find these words, “He (Jesus) came to his own (the Jewish people), and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:11-13).  Those who believe in Jesus have been given the right to become children of God.  That’s it!  The change that Hosea looks forward to has happened in Jesus Christ..  We can be children of the living God because of Jesus.  By placing our trust in Jesus, we have an opportunity to become children of this living, active, and caring God of the entire universe.  But why?  Why has this change taken place?  Why can we be considered children of God?  To find the answer, we turn back to today’s text.
Right away, when we hit chapter 3, we see what it was that has led to this change.  Why are we considered children of God?  Because of the love of the Father.  We are given the opportunity to live as children of God because God loves us.  Perhaps that’s something we don’t hear enough, so I’ll say it again.  We can be children of God because of God’s love for us.  This isn’t the only place in his writings that John tells us what God has done for us because of his love.  John 3:16, probably the most recognizable reference in all Scripture, tells us that He gave His Son for us because of His love.  “For God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever would believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  Because of God’s love for each one of us, He gave His Son and He gives us the opportunity to live as His children.
What I find really neat in verse 1 here is that John says, “we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  “And so we are.”  It’s not just a superficial change that has occurred in our lives.  It is the recognition of a significant change that has happened in our lives.  I’m going to get a little goofy here, but, hopefully, it will make sense.  I can’t just go around calling myself a watermelon and expect people to believe that I am a watermelon.  I don’t look like a watermelon.  I don’t act like a watermelon.  I don’t smell like a watermelon.  There is absolutely no reason for anybody to believe that I am a watermelon simply because I start introducing myself by saying, “Hi, I’m Matt, and I’m a watermelon.”  It doesn’t work like that.  Now, if this were some kind of weird, alternate universe, and Katie wakes up tomorrow morning next to a watermelon, then you’ll believe me.  Y’all know the difference between a watermelon and a person.  That is what it is like when we become children of God.
There is a change in us.  And it’s not just a superficial change, it’s a change in the very core of who we are.  We don’t just call ourselves children of God, we ARE children of God.  We may look the same on the outside, but God is working in our hearts in a very real way and changing who we are.  We begin to carry the marks of a child of God.  In our actions, we look like a child of God.  In our interactions with other people, they notice something different about us.  We live out our faith as children of the living God.  And what does it look like to be a child of God?
Well, as John puts it, we aren’t really sure.  We have some idea, but we don’t fully know, and we won’t fully know until Jesus returns.  We have some ideas.  We can read through the gospels and get a sense of who Jesus was.  This is a picture of who we strive to be.  Our goal is to be imitators of Jesus Christ; to live as he lived, to care for others as he cared for others, and to be obedient to the Father, just as he was obedient to the Father.  We have a sketch of who we should be, and don’t expect it to take a day, or a week, or even a month, or even a year.  The process of becoming a disciple and an imitator of Jesus Christ takes a long time.  In theological terms, it’s known as sanctification.  It’s the process of growing more and more Christlike in our personal lives.
In verses 4-6, John talks a lot about sin.  He says that sin is lawlessness.  The life of sin is a life that disregards the will of God.  It either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the laws of God.  We allow sin to control our lives when we constantly make poor decisions, decisions that serve our own self-interests and cause us to disobey God.  Paul addresses this issue in Romans 6:16.  He says, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience [to God], which leads to righteousness.”  When we give up our self interests and submit ourselves to the will of God, we are on the right track.
And here’s the kicker, John tells us that Jesus appeared to take away our sins, and that in him there is no sin.  How can we know that we are living in fellowship with God?  What do our lives look like?  Are we living our lives in such a way that sin doesn’t have a hold on us?  I’m not saying that we don’t sin at all, but that sin doesn’t reign in our lives.  Sin is no longer our master; God is our master.  Yes, we occasionally mess up.  We give in to temptation.  But an occasional slip up shows us that we still have room for growth.  That’s the thing about being a child of God.  We are still children, and children make mistakes.  There is room for growth in each one of us.  And the key to our growth is found in verses 6 and 7.
John tells us that those who abide in Christ do not keep sinning.  That’s important – those who abide.  The Greek word here is meno, which means to abide, to remain, to dwell.  Don’t you just love that imagery?  The idea of living in Christ.  We’ve all heard, and even said, that we become a Christian by inviting Jesus to live in our hearts.  And that’s accurate to an extent, but the picture we get here is not Jesus living in our hearts; it’s us living in Jesus.  Do you see the difference?  In one sense, if it’s about inviting Jesus to live in our hearts, it is still a little focused on us.  But if it’s about us living in Jesus, we have a standard.  The focus is no longer us and our needs, but it’s on Jesus, and what it means to be obedient to God.  
This is tough stuff.  I mean, ultimately, we want this life to be about us.  We would really like it if the world revolved around our needs.  But it doesn’t, and that’s a hard reality for some people to accept.  But if we live in Jesus, our perspective changes.  We are changed from the inside out.  So, in some sense of the phrase, we do invite Jesus in our hearts, and it is there that he touches us; he heals our hurts; and he brings us closer to who we are supposed to be.  The key to not sinning is to know Christ and to abide in him.  And then this section closes with a second important part of our growth in verse 7.
John just comes right out and says it.  “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he [Jesus] is righteous.”  Once again, it’s about how we live out our faith.  Are you getting tired of hearing me say this yet?  I know that it is something that comes up every other week, but that’s how important it is.  It’s simple, really.  We know a tree by its fruit.  We can look at how people live their lives, and trust me, people are watching how you live your life,  but we can look at people’s lives and we can see the fruit.  Once we see the fruit, it is a small step in logic to figure out where they stand.
Don’t ever forget that this is what people are doing when they look at you.  For some people, you may be the only person they know that sets the example of what it means to be a Christian.  Is that unfair pressure?  Yes, absolutely.  But live out your faith.  Be a good example.  That’s all you have to do.  You preach the gospel every single day by your actions.  Are people seeing Jesus in you?  Are those who don’t know Jesus in your life seeing him by the type of life that you are living?  If you can’t honestly say “yes” to these two questions, then it’s time to step up.  You don’t have to force Jesus into every conversation to share the gospel.  Live it out.  Remember that you are a child of God, and as a child you are a reflection of the Father.  Be a good reflection.
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