See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. 5 And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is. – 1 John 3:1-6
A family in the church I was serving in Utah had invited the local Mormon missionaries to come visit them. When I learned that was the case, I asked if I could come by to hear them too. The conversation was going well: Polite. Respectful. Non-controversial. Then the wife offered to get us something to drink (no coffee mind you!). While she was away, I set a trap saying, “Sure is terrible about that little girl who was found murdered in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City.”
“Yes it is,” they replied.
“Did your President really say that the person who did this can never find forgiveness – either now or in eternity?” [the LDS president is considered to be “prophet, seer, and revelator.”]
“Yes,” came their reply.
I knew I had them: they don’t follow the same Jesus I follow. My Jesus (who is not the spirit brother of Satan) died for the sins of the whole world. Whoever believes in him will be saved. Only God can judge the heart of the repentant convict in regard to faith. But we would never say that there is a sin beyond God’s redemption (except to deny the Holy Spirit, which is tantamount to willful unbelief).
“See? See!? See what I mean?!?” I cried. “They don’t believe in grace. Some sins cannot be forgiven. Which sins can be, and how?”
See? God has shown his love for us! We are children of God. We all sin; we cannot keep ourselves from it. Verse 6 is one of the verses the earned this letter of John’s the term antilegomena: one of the books of the New Testament that did not receive 100% agreement that it belonged in the canon in the earliest days of the Christian Church. In the context of the remainder of scripture we understand this to be a statement about willful, unrepentant, sin – not sins of weakness, or sins from which we repent – as gross and ugly as they may be.
That is, perhaps, helpful. But it is clear and comforting that we are children of God because of his love for us, and not because of our lack of sin. We who have be brought to faith in Jesus Christ will seek to honor him in all we do. And when we fail, we confess our sins, receive his forgiveness, and thank God that we are his beloved children. Our obedience to God grows out of our identity as God’s children. Our failures to do so gives witness to our continuing need for God’s redemptive love, and his goodness to us claiming us as his children.
See how much he loves us?!? Yes indeed. Thanks be to God!