1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints’ Day—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 1, 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for this morning is the Epistle Reading for All Saints’ Day from 1 John 3:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
What does a saint look like? Perhaps when you hear the word “saint” you envision a stained-glass image of one of the Biblical heroes of faith—St. Paul, St. Matthew, St. John, St. Peter. Maybe your vision of a saint is what John saw in our First Reading from Revelation 7, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
All Saints’ Day is the day set aside on the Church Year Calendar to remember and give thanks for all of God’s saints, known and unknown. It’s really a day to celebrate and give thanks for the “whole people of God in Christ Jesus.” And that includes you and me, believe it or not! You and I are saints of God. The word “saint” simply means “holy one.” You and I have been made holy, or to use the words of our text, we are the ones who have been “purified” by the blood of Jesus. We have been cleansed from our sins and made right to stand before God our Father in holiness and purity forever as His children.
That’s the remarkable message that John points out to begin with today. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Despite all our iniquity, our selfishness and sinfulness, God has called us His own children through the waters of Baptism. Believers are not just named “children,” but are actually reborn as His children through the gift of saving faith. You and I are, here and now, God’s children, saints, holy people who have been purified by Christ. But we sure don’t always look the part, do we?
Where are the white robes? Where are the crowns of glory? We’re not waving palm branches in victory! We certainly don’t appear as the saints depicted for us today. So we are not recognized by the world as God’s children, His saints. The world sees that we are here and knows us as this person or that individual. The worlds sees us and defines us by this job or that family. But as to the fact that we are God’s children, that is completely foreign to the world because our heavenly Father is utterly foreign to the world. The world has simply no conception of what we are as those who have been born from God through Baptism and are God’s actual children by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
We would expect this result from the unbelieving world. I don’t believe that most of you found this information shocking in the least. But today God’s Word forces us to take a close look at how we see ourselves. The world doesn’t see us as the saints and children of God that we are because they don’t see and know the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. But do you? Do you see yourself as the saint and child of God that you are?
Sometimes we Christians face an identity crisis. We don’t always remember who we are. Perhaps we should call it spiritual amnesia. Our hope in Jesus is that we are no longer slaves to sin. Having been purified and made holy, given the sure hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, we seek that which is holy and right. Or do we? “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” Sometimes we don’t know Him because we succumb to temptation and fall back into sin. We seem to forget that we are children of God. Our spiritual memories lapse. In those moments our old selves, the sinful nature in us, wins out by pushing aside the new person which the Holy Spirit created in us through Baptism.
When we fall into temptation and sin, we step aside from our identity as children of God. Note that we step aside. God does not. We indulge the flesh in the pleasures of this world. We give our love and trust to idols; we give our worship to things that are only here today and gone tomorrow. We curse and swear, steal and cheat, lie and deceive. You and I hurt other people with our words and our actions. We alienate spouses and children, friends and family, co-workers and teammates because we are so selfish. And when we sin, we don’t recognize ourselves.
When I sin, usually after I have sinned and the Holy Spirit has called me to repentance because God’s Law has revealed my sin to me, I realize that I don’t know who I am when I sin. I was not living like the child of God I was recreated in Baptism to be. I was not aware of God’s love for me; in fact, I could care less about it. See how controlling temptation and sin are? It’s a whole lot worse than two pilots in a Northwest Airbus totally engrossed in their laptops instead of landing the plane. Their laptops distracted them from being pilots, what they were supposed to be on the flight deck of that jet. Our sin and temptation distracts us from what we are, too. It causes us to forget that we are children of God, saints of God who were cleansed in the blood of the Lamb.
How can children of God act like this? How can we be saints yet be sinners at the same time? “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” There is a now and a not yet. We are, actually, really, definitely God’s children now. But we are also still sinners now. Why? Martin Luther explains in the Large Catechism, “God’s grace is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian Church. Yet because of our flesh, which we bear about with us, we are never without sin.” Commenting on the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses,” Luther reminds us, “Although we have and believe God’s Word, do and submit to His will, and are supported by His gifts and blessings, our life is still not sinless. We still stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among people. They do us much harm and give us reasons for impatience, anger, revenge, and such. Besides, we have the devil at our back. He attacks us from every side and fights—as we have heard—against all the previous petitions. So it is not possible to stand firm at all times in such a constant conflict. There is here again great need for us to call upon God and to pray, ‘Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses.’”
The Holy Spirit calls us to repentance through the Gospel. We are God’s children now, simultaneously saints and sinners in this world who will always need the forgiveness of our Savior Jesus Christ given to us. God’s Word in 1 John 2 comforts us, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) This is the love that the Father has given us. Despite the fact of all our sins and our selfishness, God sent His only Son Jesus to be our Savior once and for all. While we were still sinners Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8) That is the love of God! What kind of love has the Father given? It is self-sacrificing agape love that took Jesus to the cross and the grave to win our forgiveness, to purchase our adoption as children of God, and to secure our eternal life as His saints who have been purified by His blood.
This is why we are God’s children now! Jesus forgives us our every sin. The Holy Spirit rejuvenates the new person is us to drown the old sinful nature daily by the power of the Gospel. Each time we do fail and fall, our heavenly Father is there to pick us back up, to forgive, and to empower us to move forward again in faith because we have a future as His children. “We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall see Him as He is.” When Christ comes again, He will reveal the glory that He has given to you now. On that day Christ will make a public display of the glory that belongs to you and me, the children, the saints of God! All of us will see and know the incorruptible, unstained, unfading inheritance reserved for us in His heavenly Kingdom. We will wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Our brows will be adorned with the golden crown of life everlasting. We will raise the victor palm branch in celebration of what our Father has given to His children through the merits of His only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This hope in Christ is what overcomes our spiritual amnesia. Our Baptismal faith in Jesus is what daily reminds us who we are—children of God, saints and sinners now who look forward to His Coming Again when we will still be the children of God, but no longer sinners, but His perfected saints who will reign with Him in holiness and purity forever. Then we will serve Him day and night in His temple, sheltered by the presence of our Savior. This is who we are in Christ Jesus. This is who we will be in Christ Jesus.
See what kind of love the Father has given to you, that you should be called children of God; and so you are. When temptation overcomes you, remember who you are. When sin wins a battle, remember that it has lost the war. Confess your sins to your Lord and receive His forgiveness. Look forward in joyful hope and expectation of the heavenly Kingdom prepared for you by Jesus Christ. And pray with all the saints in heaven and the saints on earth the prayer of His Church, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Amen.