Bible Passage: 1 John 3:1-3 Pastor: Pastor Schlicht Sermon Date: November 5, 2017
There’s a well-known eastern fable about some blind men who come upon an elephant. One reaches up and feels the elephant’s side and he says, “Ah, an elephant is like a wall.” Another blind man feels the elephant’s leg and he says, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” Another blind man feels the tail and says, “I think an elephant is more like a rope.” The point being: There is a huge difference between an individual’s limited perspective and reality. We each have our own biases, influences, and experiences which skew our perspective, whether we are blind or not. We all think we are seeing the world accurately, but sometimes that’s not true. Because sometimes we don’t see things as they really are, but simply as we want them to be, or as we are told they should be. Our reality depends most on the way we choose to interpret the information our brain takes in. It’s why that person at work doesn’t like you, no matter what you do. It’s why your friend is blind to the destructive person they are in a relationship with. It’s why we all live in the same world but have a thousand different worldviews. The truth is that our perspective assumes reality.
That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired John to write what he did in chapter three of his first epistle. Today, John asks you to open your eyes and see past the limited perspective we have as humans. To see through the secular illusion that our culture has tried to pass off as reality, To set aside the narrative of this world, and fix your eyes on the one who created the universe, the only one who is big enough to actually have a world-view. John asks you to see, through Christ, what you really are, and to look forward to that day when you will see him as he really is. Because if you see his reality, you see things as they really are.
1 John was a letter sent to a group of believers who were deeply troubled. Many in their community had abandoned faith in Jesus. They made their rejection of Jesus emphatic by leaving the community of those who still had faith. Those left behind were shaken, uncertain in their view of themselves and God. And so John spends the first two chapters of this letter performing damage control, cutting through the fog of false, worldly, assumptions that had clouded their sight of God’s truth. But now, here in chapter 3, he can’t keep it together anymore.
John shouts in verse 1, “See the kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!” “See!” he says. What kind of love is this? What incomprehensible love is this? That we are not just called children of God, but through Christ that is what we are! John wants you to actually look at yourself. You have been changed! When you become a Christian, you haven’t just received a title. You don’t just have a fish bumper sticker on the back of your car and go to church on Sunday. You have been transformed. You have received spiritual DNA, your desires have been redirected. You have received a new heart that pumps with the blood of a different Father. Can you see it? This isn’t just an allegiance or a degree that adds a few letters to your name. This is a new birth. A resurrection from a spiritually dead corpse, to a living and breathing child of God. That is what we are! This is reality; this is the truth! John says, don’t’ listen to those deserters, they follow society and human assumptions, but not you, you are children of God!
You see those people who had left the church John was writing to had fallen under the illusion of the prevailing Greek philosophy of their day. In ancient Greece, Gnosticism was beginning to take root. Influenced by such thinkers like Plato, Gnosticism asserted that physical matter was inherently evil and only the spirit was good. Those ancient Greeks assumed that nothing physical, including the human body was meaningful. And this led some of those people who had left John’s church to conclude that sin committed in the physical body did not matter. So soon, immorality was permissible and one could deny sin even existed (1:8–10) and disregard God’s law (3:4). Does that sound familiar to any society you know? Just imagine the way this type of thinking would have distorted their view of Jesus, whose physical death on the cross mattered a lot for us. The funny thing is that today our culture tries to assume the exact opposite of Gnosticism. Today our society celebrates the physical body and finds great meaning in outward beauty and sex appeal, while nothing spiritual really matters. And yet, although the ideas seem opposite, we end up in the same place as the ancient Greeks, in a culture that denies sin as an offense to God and does whatever they want. Can you see how the Devil uses culture and society to create a false assumption of reality?
Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, speaks about these types of societal illusions or assumptions. He says that our perspectives are created through the stories we inherit. We are born into a society, into a series of cultural stories. And since we are born into these larger stories that precede us, we take these cultural narratives and spin our personal stories through them, naturally reflecting the ideology and viewpoint of our culture. Not that we actually articulate them very often, but they are sort of built-in presuppositions that run at a subconscious level. What am I talking about? Well, back in ancient Greece, Gnosticism was in and so from their perspective that was the underlying assumed reality. Right now in America, the most prominent cultural narrative is that of Humanism. That we evolved from an amoeba cell to the most advanced species of animal and through human progress and achievement have made our lives what they are today. In other words, we are born into a pervasively secular story; one that does not include God. And this secular Humanism has become the assumed perspective, that underlying story for so many Americans today. And it affects us all, probably already has in ways we are unaware of.
I mean think, for example, how we never see any reference to God in the public sphere except in the most diluted, ambiguous way. Or think about media: T.V., social media, movies, you name it. Media fills our heads with versions of all sorts of people—men, women, models, athletes, homosexual, heterosexual, rich, famous, etc.—living supposedly full and exciting lives in a purely secular way. And media has brought this cultural narrative to full bloom in thousands upon thousands of images and videos, flickering through our brains, that have no reference to God at all. Another thing I notice is that the “WELS bubble” is bursting for our kids earlier and earlier. If it hasn’t already happened, it will in their first 15 minutes at a secular university. Long gone are the days when people would simply be Christian out of hope for social ease. Christianity as just an option, one way to live, and a slightly foolish one at that. But if you see Christianity as a viable reality, then you’re being close-minded. Because the Humanistic narrative is based on the assumption that secularism is reasonable and mature. And so we live under enormous pressure to be able to ground belief in our own powers of reason, and, if unable to do so, surrender them entirely. If we’re unwilling to do that, then at very least, we are to keep our faith to ourselves, a matter of our own private inwardness, or as a sort of hobby, like knitting.
It’s why there are a lot of people who call themselves Christians but are still telling a secular story. What about you? Are you telling a story as a child of God? Ora child of Adam? Are your hopes and dreams, talent and effort all directed toward God’s kingdom, or is more focused on the here and now, on you yourself? Or perhaps you are struggling to reach a greater depth of faith, but a more deep and lasting trust in God still seems to evade you. Could it be that the underlying building-blocks of your perspective is still based on the greater secular story you have inherited? John is talking to all of us. He wants us to go down deep, beneath the skin and assess the level of our primary assumptions of the world. “See.” he says “You are a child of God.” You believe in a God who created this universe, you believe that you were born for a reason, that your actions matter, that you have an eternal soul, that the almighty God loved you enough to die for you. You are different than the world.
That’s what John means when he says, “The world does not know us because it did not know him.” The unbelieving world will never truly see the reality of God. The veil still covers their eyes, because they are simply following the assumptions that this culture dictates for them. In fact, by nature, no one can understand spiritual realities, except by the power of the Spirit. But the Spirit has worked faith in our hearts and so, as God’s children, we are supposed to be different, different on a fundamental level. We have a different set of eyes, different desires, and a different goal. John explains: “Dear friends, we are children of God now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he is revealed we will be like him, and we will see him as he really is.” John has just asked us to look at ourselves and see the incredible transformation that has taken place, and now he directs our eyes to a future transformation. A day when Christ is revealed as Lord Almighty in pure glory and we will be like him. What a day that will be!
I’m almost afraid to explain this because I know I’m not going to do it justice. I don’t think words can. But here goes. What will it be like to see Christ as he really is and be transformed at the last day? Well, maybe just to give you an idea, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul tells us that the Creation is subject to decay. A flower blooms one day and dies another. As beautiful as nature is, it is subject to decay and death just as we are. But Paul writes: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For…creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Ro 8:20-21).” Creation is waiting in eager expectation for us, for the children of God to be revealed! Creation will be brought into our freedom and glory! Just think of that! On judgment day, when we see Jesus face to face and when we are completely transformed because of that sight, the glory that will fill us will be so charged that we’ll take nature with us. We will be ground zero for an explosion of God’s glory that will envelop all of creation. And what will do that? Just seeing Jesus, seeing him as he really is.
Seeing that although he comes in power and majesty unimaginable, and although every knee will bow in heaven and on earth as he comes with authority to judge the living and the dead, you and I will still see him as he really is: our Savior. Our dearest friend and Lord whose glorified hands will still bear the scars which proved his love for us. To see that face which was beaten and crowned with thorns now shining with the light. We look forward with all of creation to that moment, when all the dead in Christ will rise and we shall be caught up with him into the air and taken to heaven forever. That has always been the believer’s greatest hope. King David wrote in Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.” Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25;27)”Even Jesus is looking forward to this! He prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” Jesus wanted us to have this sight so badly that he gave his life so that we might see his love for us and the eternal peace and joy he has won for us.
My friends, this world is trying to pull the veil over our eyes. The devil is busy with all sort of illusions, but don’t fall for it. Let the beams of Christ’s glory shine through the fog of these secular assumptions. See the truth that God in Christ has reconciled you to himself and made you his dear child. Not just in name, but in every way. See that! See things as they really are. See the color that faith brings to the world. See the miracles of his love and provision all around us. See the eternal soul residing in you, and your family, and all people. See every action as one that is meaningful, because God sees you. And see that no matter what you have done in the past, no matter how you have messed up, that Jesus blood purifies you from all sin. You have hope and a future, regardless of what this world may tell you. You are a child of God! Pray that the Lord would send you his Holy Spirit to go down deep and switch your default assumptions from secular to transcendent. Ask that he would give you the eyes of faith to see things as they really are and to grow in purity.
That’s the final verse of our text today. “Everyone who has this hope purifies himself just as Jesus is pure.” The Christian life is not static. It might be nice to think that once we become a Christian we cease to sin. That we could just believe and not struggle with any impurity. But we all know that’s not the case, and I don’t even think I would want that. I would rather that others can perceive love being perfected in my life, my sense of wonder in the reality of God’s grace ever growing, my vision, through faith, becoming clearer and clearer! Because, finally, purification is a process. If you have hope to see Christ on the Last Day then you will change, you will purify yourself. I challenge you. Just try it. Try to dream about seeing Christ as he really is; make him your greatest desire, and see if you aren’t progressing in purity. Stop regretting your past and look forward to what God has in store for you and see if you don’t grow into a more confident and faithful follower of your Savior.
Brothers and sisters, see things as they really are. Don’t let this world’s assumptions be your reality, their view is just the product of a limited, sinful perspective. Through faith, it is possible to see the truth–that you really are a child of God. And someday you will your Savior face to face. As Paul wrote, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) May this hope purify you and bring you abiding joy as fellow children and saints of God.