After taking on the heretics directly in 2:18-23 and reassuring believers in 24-28, John pauses for the second time in the letter to celebrate our standing before God. In 2:12-14 he reminded us that our sins are forgiven and we know God and have overcome the evil one. Here he rejoices with us that we are born of God, we are His children, and we will someday be like the glorified Christ.
John began the letter by stating that his purpose in writing is for his readers to have the same fellowship with the Father and the Son that he and the apostles have. He has built the case that this fellowship is available only to those who walk in the light – and those who walk in the light keep Jesus’ commands, walk as He walked, love their brothers in the faith and do not love the world. Those who do not keep Jesus’ commands and do not love their brothers and DO love the world cannot claim to walk in the light; they have no fellowship with God. The one who walks in the light shows by his actions and affections that he is in the light. The one who does not walk in the light shows by his actions and affections that he is not in the light.
John now focuses on the unique relationship that underlies walking in the light. He takes his argument to a deeper level. We walk in the light and have fellowship with God not because we are His servants but because we are His children. We do not serve a Master, we walk with our Father. John wants us to understand and appreciate perhaps the single most glorious truth of the gospel.
John begins by stating a given, then stating the logical outcome of that given. In this case the given is that we know God is righteous. This is not open to debate, it is accepted fact. So if we know that, then it follows that we also know that anyone who lives a righteous life is born of God. The only ones who can practice righteousness – as Jesus did – are those who are born (or begotten) of God as Jesus was.
It is interesting that he says it the way he does. You would expect him to say, “Anyone who is born of Him practices righteousness.” But he says basically the same thing from a different angle – you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. Instead of focusing the statement on the individual he asks the individual to understand the concept by observing others. “When you see someone living like Christ, then know that they are born of God – if someone is not living like Christ, they are NOT born of God.” This may serve the dual purposes of making the statement memorable and offering another way for his readers to identify those who are trying to deceive you (2:26 & 3:7).
What does he mean by practicing righteousness? If he refers to morality or general goodness then the statement does not ring true. There are certainly people in the world who are good people but do not have a relationship with God. What he must mean is righteousness as Jesus defined it in the two greatest commandments – love the Lord your God with all your heart and being and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). He means righteousness as Jesus defined it in the Sermon on the Mount – not just keeping the law but keeping the spirit of the law. He means righteousness as Paul defined it to the Philippians – esteeming others higher than ourselves and doing nothing from selfishness or empty conceit (Phil 2). In short, he means a righteousness completely unknown by the world and completely unattainable by anyone not born of God and indwelt by His Spirit.
So when we see someone being conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) we know that they are born of God. The practice of righteousness as the Bible defines it is proof of lineage.
John expands on the idea that we are born of God. He expresses amazement at the love of God implicit in the truth that if we are born of God then we are actually children of God. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us and make us His children. God has bestowed His love on us – He grants it to us, He pours it out on us, He actually infuses us with it (He gives us part of His nature which gives us our family resemblance – His love in us makes us look like Him and identifies us as a member of the family). And because of His love we are not just in fellowship with Him and we are not just in relationship with Him – we are born of Him and we are HIS CHILDREN. WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD. It is as if John says, “Do you realize what being born of God means? It means we are His children! We are His children!” Note – he does not say we WILL be His children. He says we ARE His children. This is our status NOW.
As children we have all the privileges of family. We are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). We are partakers of the divine nature (II Pet 1:4). As branches we share the lifeblood of the Vine (Jn 15:5). We can be conformed to the image of God’s Son because we too are His sons and daughters. We are connected to Him in a way those outside the family cannot imagine. We are connected to each other in a way those outside the family cannot imagine (which is why we who walk in the light love each other). We are not slaves living in fear – we are children crying out Abba! Father! (Rom 8:15).
John makes sure to affirm his statement about our status. He says not only are we called children of God, but such we are. We are called His children and we ARE His children.
Because we are His children the world does not know us (The NIV and ESV do not include “For this reason” at the beginning of the second sentence in verse 2, connecting our status as God’s children with the reason for the world not knowing us. The Greek begins with “on account of this” and could refer backwards or forwards – the NASB assumes it refers backwards to the preceding statement). The world did not know Him and consequently the world does not know His children. This goes along with Jesus’ warning to the disciples that they would be hated by all on account of His name (Matt 10:22). It also directly echoes John’s words about Jesus in John 1 that Jesus came into the world and the world was made by Him and yet the world did not know Him. We cannot expect the world to embrace us if it did not embrace Him. The world is characterized by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life (2:16) – it cannot embrace a child of God walking in the light of His glory. Rejection by the world is so sure that John offers it as a proof of our membership in the family. Thankfully, the world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (2:17).
The converse of this idea is that if we are accepted by the world and suffer no ramifications for our family ties, perhaps we should examine whether we are truly in the family at all. The world should not know us and should not understand or embrace us – if it does, we may be fooling ourselves as to whose family we belong to.
As God’s children we can (and should) look forward to Christ’s return. As John said in 2:28, we will have confidence at His coming because we abide in Him. As His children we currently carry the family identity and are being conformed to His image to the extent possible in a sinful world. But when He returns we will see Him in His fully-glorified state and we will actually be like Him. No longer restrained by sin we will share in His glory (I Pet 1:7, Phil 3:20-21). What this will look like exactly is unknown (II Cor 2:9), but that it will happen is sure (We know that, when He appears…).
[Note the uses of know in this text. We know that He is righteous. We know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. The world does not know us because it did not know Him. We know that when He appears we shall be like Him. There is much certainty in the gospel John presents.]
This is blessing added to blessing. We are children of God now and we live connected to our Father because of His amazing love bestowed on us. But when Christ returns we will fully realize our status as children and share in the glory of His Son. We ARE His children. And we WILL be like Him. Incredible privilege now and amazing glory later.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Peace for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine and ten thousand beside!
(Great is Thy Faithfulness)
When our hope is placed on the expectation that we will be like Him when He returns, we purify ourselves (keep our lives free from sin) to be like Him NOW. We purify ourselves because He is pure. We will be like Him in a glorified state so we model His conduct in our present state. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God – II Cor 7:1. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God – Matt 5:8.
Note that we purify ourselves. We obviously cannot practice righteousness without His Spirit within us, but we nevertheless strive to live according to His commands and to live as He lived.
A mind singularly focused on meeting Jesus will discover a renewed power to pursue righteousness so that “when He appears,” our righteousness will resonate with Him. (Gary M. Burge, Letters of John, The NIV Application Commentary; 75.)
The Privileges of Belief According to John (2:12-14, 2:29-3:3)
We have our sins forgiven.
We know God.
We have overcome the evil one.
We are born of God.
We have God’s love bestowed upon us.
We are children of God.
We will one day see Christ as He is.
We will be like Him.
When we struggle to practice righteousness and the attractions of the world block our view of God, is it not a sign that we have forgotten the privileges of our redemption? Would the world be so big if our minds were consumed by who we are and where we stand before God? Can children forget their Father? How can anything the world offers compare to these eight truths? Our God has done it all! How can we ever be attracted to the darkness when these promises are inherent in the light?
We know that we are the children of God, we know that we are destined for glory, and we know that glory is to be ushered in by His manifestation. We know that then we shall see Him as He is, and, wonder of wonders, we shall be like Him! What blessed vision, what glorious hope, that I, small, insignificant, fallible, sinful, unworthy, shall be like Him, ‘the firstborn among many brethren,’ and made conformable to His glorious nature. Beloved people, let us lay hold on this hope and look upon it and meditate upon it day by day. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 101.)