What Do You Cherish?
A farmer was walking through the forest near his home one day when he came across a young eaglet that had fallen out of its nest and was struggling along the ground by the path.
The farmer picked up the eaglet, took it home and left it in the barnyard. And soon, the eaglet learned to eat and behave like the chickens with whom it shared its new home.
One day, a naturalist from the nearby college was passing by and saw the eagle scratching in the barnyard along with all the chickens, and he stopped and asked the farmer why this magnificent creature was living as it was.
The farmer responded that, since the eagle had grown up with the chickens and eaten with them nearly all its life, it had never learned to fly. And, he said, since it now lived among and behaved like the chickens, it really was no longer an eagle at all.
“Still, it has the heart of an eagle,” the naturalist said. “Surely, it can be taught to fly.” And so, he picked the eagle up, lifted it toward the sky and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”
But the eagle did not know who he was, and he saw the only friends he ever had known scratching at the ground and eating their food, and so he hopped down from the man’s hands and began to scratch the earth along with the chickens.
Now, the naturalist was not going to give up so easily, so he picked up the eagle, climbed onto the roof of the nearby barn and lifted the bird high, saying, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”
And once again, the bird looked down, saw his old life laid out before him and hopped out of the man’s hands and down to the ground, where he started scratching in the dirt for bugs again.
Finally, the visitor took the eagle from the farm, hiked to the top of a nearby mountain, lifted the bird high and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly!”
Once again, the eagle looked down below to where the farm could be seen in the distance and saw the clearing by the barn where all the other chickens were being fed.
But then he looked up and saw the sky, and he began to tremble. And then he stretched out his wings and felt the updraft of a breeze on the mountainside. And with a triumphant cry, he flapped his wings and flew away into the sky.
It has been said that the eagle sometimes still thinks about his old friends in the barnyard, and some say that he even returns there from time to time.
But ever since that afternoon at the top of that mountain, no one would ever look at this magnificent bird and call it a chicken. (Adapted from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/i/identity.htm)
The moral of this story is that we give evidence of what we ARE by what we DO. And that’s kind of the theme of today’s passage from our study of the Book of 1 John.
As you’re turning to 1 John 2:29, let me remind you what we’ve learned so far in our study of this message from the Apostle John to his friends in the churches of Asia Minor.
You might recall that I said this book can be seen as a study of the three tests of the quality of a believer’s fellowship with God, presented in three different cycles.
The tests are righteousness, love, and belief. Last week, we concluded the first cycle of those tests, and today we begin the second cycle with another look at righteousness in the lives of believers.
And a key to understanding John’s presentation of righteousness is to recall what the Apostle Paul said about righteousness, quoting from the Old Testament: “There is none righteous; no not one.”
Indeed, whether saved or lost, not one of of is righteous in and of ourselves.
Even for believers, the only righteousness we can claim is the righteousness we have IN CHRIST, the sinless and perfectly righteous Son of God.
If you have, by God’s grace, put your faith in Jesus Christ, then God has justified you by virtue of the death and resurrection of His Son. God imputed the righteousness of Jesus to you; He credited it to you, because you had no righteousness of your own.
And if you are a follower of Jesus, God sanctifies you. He IMPARTS the righteousness of Christ to you. In other words, having declared you righteous, God makes you what you were NOT by giving you what you did not have.
But as we’ll see in today’s passage the quality of our fellowship with God in Christ depends on where we are walking at any given time. Are you walking in the light of Christ, or are you walking in the darkness of the world? Are you soaring with the eagles in the heavens, or are you scratching at the dirt with the chickens in the barnyard?
Where we walk is a function of what we do, and what we do demonstrates who we are. What we DO gives evidence of the identity we most cherish.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this today as we look at the passage from 2:29 to 3:10.
Now, John has just finished the first cycle by concluding his section on right belief with a call for believers to abide in Christ by refraining from things that would cause them shame when they stand before Him.
And so, we see him dive back into the theme of righteousness, beginning in verse 29.
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
Isn’t it wonderful to be called a child of God? Isn’t it wonderful to know that the Creator of the universe and all that is in it loves you so much that he wants you to call Him “Abba, Father”?
What a blessing we have been given in Christ, the eternal Son!
And there’s something instructive for us about the father/son relationship of God and Jesus.
Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” He meant that all that characterizes the righteous and holy Father also characterizes His Son.
The idea here is that a son or daughter — especially at the time when this letter was written — was expected to show the characteristics of his or her parents.
They would be known as Samuel’s son or Miriam’s daughter because they shared the characteristics of their parents — and not just the physical ones, but also the temperament and the morality and the ethics. And that’s just what Jesus did.
So, too, for we who have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. We have been given the righteousness of God in Christ, and it is, in part, by that righteousness that others can know that we are Christians. We’ll act like Jesus. We’ll act like the Father.
If your parents were eagles, you’ll act like eagles. If your parents were chickens, you’ll act like chickens.
Now, if you have not followed Jesus Christ in faith that He is the unique and eternal Son of God and that He gave His life as a sacrifice to save you from the just penalty for your sins, then what John is saying here is that you don’t know the Father. You don’t have a relationship with Him, much less have fellowship with Him.
You may not be as bad as you could possibly be, and you probably even do some good things here and there, but every part of you is stained by sin. Every part of you — including the good things you do — is tainted with sin.
Only by being washed by the blood of Christ — by believing that His sacrifice is your only means of being reconciled to the God who made you to be in relationship with Him — can you be saved from the just penalty for your rebellion against the perfect and holy God. And only then can you truly become a child of God.
And if you do, then listen to the promise that John reminds believers they have in chapter 3, verse 2.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
What we are as followers of Jesus Christ is unfinished works. We are not yet what we will be.
When Jesus returns in the Rapture to take the church home to heaven, we will see His glorified, risen body, and we will be transformed. We will receive our glorified bodies, free from the corruption of sin, free from the curse of death.
You see, every Christian has within himself or herself two natures. We still have the nature of flesh — what some have called the sin nature that still draws us to step off the well-lit path of righteousness.
But we have also been given the Spirit of Christ. We have received His righteousness within us.
We already have within us the essence of who we will be when we receive our glorified bodies.
The Christian “will not be anything essentially different [in the] hereafter, but he will be what he is now essentially more completely, though in ways wholly beyond our powers of imagination.” [Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 3:2.]
And John has us think about this glorious day in order to remind us of the central point of this passage.
Look at verse 3.
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
If you hold fast to the hope of eternal life with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, then your job in this physical life is to purify yourself, just as Jesus is pure. Your job is to practice righteousness.
And John is saying here that striving after purity is a test of the hope you have in Christ.
“‘We are too often content with the consciousness that we stand in some special relation to the Lord, and come to regard sin as an unavoidable evil which is not so very harmful as might be thought.’” [Robert Law, The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1909), 219.]
Are you comfortable with your sins? That’s a bad sign, according to John. Look at verse 4.
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
Sin is falling short of the righteousness of God. And lawlessness is a “rejection of law, flagrant opposition to God, rather than just breaking God’s law.” [Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 3:4.]
So what John is saying here is that sin isn’t just an action that’s opposed to God’s righteousness. In fact, sin reveals a heart that is flagrantly opposed to God and flagrantly opposed to the Christ who came to take away your sins.
So when we sin, we step outside of our fellowship with God in Christ. When we sin, we demonstrate that we don’t really have a true understanding and a right belief about the holiness of God and the righteousness of Jesus. When we sin, we demonstrate our own spiritual blindness and ignorance.
“The abiding believer never [forsakes] God’s authority over him by doing anything that resists God’s law or will while he is abiding in Christ. If he does, his fellowship with God suffers. He no longer ‘knows’ God in that intimate sense. He no longer ‘sees’ God because he has moved out of the light into darkness.” [Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 3:6.]
Do you keep falling into an old pattern of sin? John says here that the way to escape those old patterns is to continually abide in Christ.
“We need to confess our sins to Him and then concentrate not so much on avoiding sin as on maintaining our relationship with Him.” [Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1711.]
I hope what I just said is an encouragement to you, because what it means is that the answer to the Christian’s problem of sinful patterns and behaviors is not in trying harder but rather in a full-fledged pursuit of complete fellowship with God.
The answer to your sin problem is found right where it was from the beginning — in Christ.
And as you turn your heart toward Him — as you align your heart with His — you will find that sin no longer has the drawing power over you that it once did.
But the reverse is also true. As you step out of fellowship with Christ, sin will draw you deeper into its darkness, and you will not see Him or understand Him. You will fall ever further out of fellowship with Him.
The world — and even carnal Christians within the world — would have us believe that “little sins” are no big deal.
But that’s not what John says here. Look at verse 7.
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
If you are doing righteous things — good things — then you are demonstrating that you cherish the identity you have in Christ. You are demonstrating that you value what He values, that you are walking in the Spirit.
But when we sin, we demonstrate just the opposite. When we sin, we demonstrate that we cherish the identity we have in the flesh, that we value the things of the devil, who has sinned from the beginning.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came to take our sins away and give us a new identity in Him through the Holy Spirit.
If you have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ, then you have His righteousness within you. You are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to Christ and His righteousness.
And there is a very real sense in which, if you could abide in Christ continually, you would never sin again.
Look at verse 9.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
If you abide in the Savior who abides in you, then you CANNOT sin. And the simple fact that each one of us DOES sin reveals that each one of us fails at some time or another, to abide in Him.
Like that eagle in the story earlier, we are still eagles, but we fly back to the barnyard to spend time with the chickens every once in a while.
And when we do, we show that we do not hold our position as eagles in high regard. We show that we do not hold our identity in Christ in higher regard than our identity in the flesh.
“The sinless nature of Christ controls the abiding Christian, whereas the sinful human nature controls the non-abiding Christian.” [Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Jn 3:9.]
So, how can we tell the eagles from the chickens? How can we tell the difference between those who are controlled by the sinless nature of Christ and those who are allowing themselves to be controlled by sinful human nature?
Look at verse 10.
By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
There is a sense in which every Christian has two spiritual fathers. We have God, the Father of righteousness. And we have the devil, the father of sin.
When we abide in Christ — when we seek ongoing fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit — we abide in the Father of righteousness.
But when we stray from that fellowship — when we step off the well-lit path and into the darkness of unrighteousness and when we do not love one another — we align ourselves, however temporarily, with the father of sin.
This week, I want to challenge you to test the depth and the quality of your fellowship with God by considering what the things that you DO reveal about what you cherish.
Do you cherish your identity in Christ. Do your actions demonstrate that you do?
Or do you cherish the things in the world, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life?”
Are you struggling with those sins? Then turn back toward the well-lit path. Turn your eyes to Jesus, the Light of the world. Abide in Him, and you will practice righteousness. Abide in His beauty, and you will find that sin is no longer attractive to you.
Abide in Him, and you will find it easier and easier to love one another — and even to love your enemies.
Test yourself this week. Take a long, hard look at yourself and see where your attractions lie. And wherever you find yourself, turn back toward that well-lit path. There, you will find light and love and peace.