Children of God

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And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
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.

1 John 2:28-3:3

We come first to a section on the privileges of the children of God. Quite simply, those who are children of God have confidence with God, a theme that is repeated often in the First Epistle of John. Such repetition suggests that the readers may well have lacked this confidence, and John wishes to instill in them a vibrant conviction of their salvation. At the least, the return again and again to the theme of assurance points to the beliefs and experience of the author himself. He affirms that in Christ we can indeed have confidence with God, and he has experienced this in his own life.

If God’s blessings are sure and secure, why must believers be commanded to “remain” and to continue in their faith? Do these commands suggest that these readers can lose their status as God’s children? Are they in danger of facing God’s judgment? These various commands, which urge continued steadfastness, are not intended to frighten the readers or to suggest their inadequacies or failures to abide in Christ. Quite the contrary, these words encourage them to continue faithfully in the direction that they have been heading all along. The command admonishes them, but it does so by affirming them in their present course. They have abided; they must continue to do so. Encouragement and exhortation are joined together.

When we continue faithfully in relationship with God, we can be confident and unashamed before God when Christ comes. These two adjectives suggest opposing positions: one will either come into God’s presence confident or one will come in shame. The shame of which the elder speaks is not the shame that believers sometimes imagine that they will or ought to feel in the presence of one who is righteous and pure. It is not embarrassment for those things which we have done wrong. In fact, it is not something that believers are expected to experience at all. Rather, the “shame” that is spoken of here is the disgrace or rejection that unbelievers will experience when they come into judgment. And, in context, those who come into such “disgrace” are those who do not “abide.”

The command (“abide in Christ”) functions in two ways. On the one hand, it exhorts readers to continued faithfulness to God as God is made known in Christ. Yet, on the other hand, it is a promise. For it promises to those who continue in their commitment to God that nothing will bring them to shame at the judgment. In this light, the statement you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of God seems both out of place and possibly even at odds with the promise of confidence before God. For who truly “does right” just as Christ is righteous?

Two points must be noted. First, the statement serves to remind readers that righteousness is not simply an intention or feeling, but is manifested in deed and truth, in the moral quality of one’s life. Righteousness is the responsibility of those privileged to be God’s children. Second, righteous behavior provides confirmation of our relationship with God. Righteous conduct does not make us God’s children. Rather, such conduct is the consequence or expression of a relationship that already exists. Privilege carries with it responsibility. This leads directly to reflections on the designation children of God.

Three important ideas are inherent in the assertion that we are God’s children: First, it is by God’s initiative and power that we are born as the children of God. We do not bring about this relationship any more than a newborn baby caused its own birth and gave itself life. Second, that God calls us children of God inaugurates a reality that will be brought to its fruition at a future time. Again, as a newborn baby lies in its parents’ arms, they see it with eyes of hope, possibility and promise. A newborn’s birth is not the goal of its existence; its growth and maturity are. Third, that we are God’s children is evidence of God’s active and creative love for us.

The world’s failure to recognize Christians as God’s children could refer to a general lack of understanding on the part of unbelievers as to what Christian life and claims are all about. In the historical context it may also refer specifically to the failure of the dissidents to accept the claims of the early Christians. But John reminds his readers that such lack of recognition should not surprise them, for the world did not recognize Jesus’ relationship to God either. But even as there will come a time of public manifestation and recognition of Jesus, so there will be a full revelation of what the children of God will be. If we are God’s children now, even though the world does not recognize us, what we shall be someday is not known even to us. But since God’s children are to reflect God, and since we are promised that when we see God we shall be like God, we can assume that what we shall be someday brings to fullness and completion the identity that we now cherish as God’s own children.

As GLBT Christians, we are often not recognized as Children of God by many who call themselves Christians, but that does not lessen our faith. We must continue to follow God’s word and strengthen our relationship with God. God gives us the promise of eternal life in exchange for eternal faith. These promises give us hope. My most fervent hope is that one day all Christians will recognize the faith of GLBT Christians. Christianity will be a true rainbow faith that encompasses all who believe, and we will cease judging others, since only God may judge. I know it is not something that will happen quickly, but we must become more accepting of everyone for Christianity to be what Jesus established.

Hope can’t be hurried. Hope is like a baseball game. Once a runner gets on base, it may take several other hitters before the runner can make it home. The next hitter my strike out or be called out on first. The next may get on base and the first hitter will advance to second. And so it goes. We want a home run every time, but sometimes we must be patient. We want a grand slam every time the bases are loaded, but sometimes we are only able to hit one runner in. Hope can progress slowly. It can take time, but if you’re a fan of baseball, you know to never lose hope. God wants us to be like good baseball fans, no matter how slowly things progress, we must keep hope alive. As Children of God, hope is what abides our faith.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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