Summary: Our Christian identity influences profoundly how we live.
Sermon for 3 Easter Yr B, 4/05/2003
Based on I Jn 3:1-7
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
IDENTITY, IMAGE, GENUINE PERSONHOOD, BEING WHO WE TRULY ARE. That is one of the central themes of our second lesson today. Our identity, our true personhood all begins with God, God’s love and God’s grace has made us who and what we are, John says: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are." For John then, there can be no greater status; no finer identity than being called and named by God through his love and grace as CHILDREN OF GOD. As the writer goes on to explain, our identity, our true personhood is inseparable from how we live as Christians.
Phrenologists claim that they can tell what type of a person you are, or will be, by the bumps on your skull. Graphologists claim they can read your character through your handwriting. Physiognomists claim that they can read your character by the shape of your nose, the set of your jaw, the texture of your skin.
These are complicated ways of judging a person’s character, but I’d like to tell you a quicker method. Find out the consuming passion of a person’s life, their greatest love. Is it the love of money? Then no matter what the subject of the conversation, it will come back to money matters again and again. Or is it love of gossip? Then it will show on the face, and the eyes will sparkle at some spicy comment made about another. I could go on, for everyone takes on something of the countenance of the thing they love most.
That is why Faith is so important--get to know and love God the Founder, and that joy will shine through, no matter how we are being assessed. 1
Those of us who are parents know how the identity of our children grow out of our relationship with them. Children, especially when they are young, love to imitate their parents. They often try to talk and act the same way they see their parents talking and acting. As we all know, this can be a humbling as well as inspiring experience for us--since our children pick up both our bad and good habits. In our second lesson today, John is telling us the same is true for us as Christians. Our identity, says John, is influenced by fixing our lives on Christ. As children of God, we become more Christ-like by following or imitating Christ’s words and actions.
One of the words John uses in this passage to highlight the importance of our identity being rooted in Christ is the word see. In verse one he says, "SEE what love the Father has given us." Then in verse two he says, "What we do know is this: when he (that is, Christ) is revealed, we will be like him, for we will SEE him as he is." And again, in verse six he says, "No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either SEEN him or known him."
For John how we Christians SEE Christ is very important. Why is this so? Well, many biblical scholars believe that one of the groups that were influencing John’s faith community was the Gnostics. They were teaching something very different about Jesus than what John was teaching. The Gnostics believed that matter and therefore the physical human body were not important. What was really important was the soul. Therefore, the way one lived in this world really did not matter, since matter and the body had no influence on the soul. A person could do whatever they pleased, whether it was good or bad it made no difference. Therefore, for the Gnostics, Jesus really did not come as the Saviour to suffer and die on a cross for our sins.
John responds to this Gnostic view by emphasising that Jesus did come into the world to suffer and die for our sins and what we do with our physical bodies does matter. Therefore, John is instructing his community not to follow the example of what they see the Gnostics doing. Rather, they are to follow the example of what they see Christ himself did and accomplished for them. John says: "You know that he (that is Christ) was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he (that is Christ) is righteous."
Now John IS NOT saying that we no longer sin; he IS NOT saying we are no longer sinners. What HE IS SAYING is that everyone who is a child of God will be influenced by Christ’s love and grace; by what Christ has done for them. Thus, that influence of Christ WILL CHANGE THEIR HEARTS, MINDS AND LIVES. THAT INFLUENCE OF CHRIST CHANGES ONE’S WILL TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT. CHRIST MAKES US AWARE OF THE HARMFULNESS AND DESTRUCTIVENESS OF OUR SIN. THANKS TO WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US, WE ARE FREE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT.