Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he 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. (1 John 3:2-3)
“Like God.” That’s an audacious claim. Absurdly so? Will we be omnipotent and omniscient? What can you do with such a claim? Water it down? “I’m like God because we both have a ‘g’ in our names.” But even “like God” isn’t a big enough claim for John. According to John, that’s what we know now. What we will be has not yet been revealed.
It seems to me that one of the great weaknesses of Christianity in this time and place is a lack of hope. How, exactly, do you hope and expect to be different in ten years from how you are today? Realistically, do you figure you’ll be about the same? Live your life faithfully, do your best to serve God according to your current practices, and when you die he’ll overlook your flaws and lacks and sins, seeing instead Jesus’ righteousness?
That’s not hope speaking. It’s complacency. Or lukewarmness. That attitude won’t win any races, or lead to seeing God, let alone becoming like him. Where is the hope in God’s power to transform here and now? What kind of gifts would an omnipotent and omniscient great giver of gifts give?
Fortunately there is a test for hope. Test yourself: according to John, if you have this hope, you are doing all you can to purify yourself. This goal drives you. You consider what goes on inside you. You look for ways in which you can improve. You may feel the need to add practices of self-control to your life, like watching and praying and fasting. Your biggest fear is that you will fail the one that you love—though in your heart of hearts, you trust that he will carry you safely.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:16-20)
Unfortunately, what we can do to purify ourselves is not enough. We see that we fall short. I expect that none of us have yet laid down our lives for others. But, fortunately, there is also a test for love. Test yourself: do you in fact help when you see a brother or sister in need? Of course you do. How could you refuse if God’s love abides in you? Look at the Spirit in you. Look at the love in you. You do in fact seek the good of your brothers and sisters.
If our hearts condemn us, we look at our actions. By this we know that we are from the truth. And God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. (1 John 3:17-24)
God commands that we should love one another and that we should believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ. We live in him and he lives in us. But how can we know if we are “abiding in him”?
Fortunately, there is a test for faith: we have boldness before God. We obey his commandments. We do what pleases him. We receive whatever we ask for in prayer. We know that his Spirit lives in us.
Well, that’s the hope. But we have faith in what love accomplishes.