The Sanctifying Power of Hope
In these passages John reveals the sanctifying power of the believer’s hope. Specifically, John is talking about the hope of the second coming of Christ. Notice in verse 28 we see the phrase “when He shall appear” and we see it again in 3:2. True believers look forward to the day that Christ will appear. We all look forward to going to heaven and we know that Christ is the One who will take us there. Therefore, we look forward to His coming. The “hope” that John is talking about is not some possible reality or some dream based on speculation or positive thinking. The word “hope” here means confidence, security. Believers know that Christ is going to return. We are confident of that. This reality changes the way that we live. Let’s look at how John tells us that our hope changes the way we live.
The confidence that Christ will return compels us to abide in Christ. “Abide’ means to continue in. John used that word in John 15. He told us that when we abide in Him we bear fruit, experience answered prayer, glorify God, experience the deep love of God, and have great joy. In layman’s terms, to abide in Christ means to continue to love and obey Him. There are some truths we can draw out of this.
We must abide in Christ. That is we are to have a personal relationship with Him. Many people abide in religion. Few people abide in Christ. To abide in Christ means that we are devoted to Him. We seek to please Him with our actions. We search the Scriptures to know His will. Being a Christian is far more about Christ than it is about us. One of the most searching things we can do is ask ourselves what we think about Jesus. Our response to the person Of Christ in our lives is more important than anything else. We should never out grow or get over Jesus. He should be the object of our affection. Speaking of the second coming Paul said that it was imperative that we love Jesus (1 Cor. 16:13).
There are some that do not abide in Christ. John tells us that such people will be ashamed when the Lord returns. I think we need to understand that John is talking about lost people here. He is contrasting the lost (those that are ashamed at the coming of the Lord) with the saved (those that are looking forward to Christ’s return with confidence).
Continuing in good works is proof of our abiding in Christ. We see that in verse 29. John says we know that He” is righteous. “He” refers to Christ. God is perfectly holy without any sin whatsoever. Believers are “born of Him”. That is we are recreated by the new birth (2 Cor. 5:17). John uses the idea of the new birth many times to explain that transformation that takes place at salvation (John 3:3, 1 John 3:9, 5:4). Good works are the result of the new birth. Therefore our works are not what justifies us. In fact we cannot even take credit for them. Phil. 2:13 says “For it is God which worketh in you both to do and will of His good pleasure”. The proof that we have been born again is the righteous life that we live. We live that life because the holy and pure nature of God has been communicated to us through salvation (2 Peter 1:4). Righteous living is the natural result of our union with a Holy God.
Those that abide in Christ are confident when He returns. John tells us that in 2:28. He also mentions the believer’s confidence in 3:21, 4:17 and 5:14. Believers can be bold in their relationship with God because we abide in Christ (Heb. 4:16). We can look to the heavens with joyful expectancy. There are people in the world that get uncomfortable when you talk about Christ returning. It is viewed as a thing to dread. To the believer, it is a day to delight in. Because we are abiding in Christ we know that we have nothing to fear when He returns. We will not be ashamed, we will be excited!
The confidence that Christ will return causes us to meditate on the deep love of God. We see this in 3:1. The phrase “Behold, what manner” is really a beautiful one. John is revealing to us that he is astonished at the love of God. He doesn’t even have words to explain it. Let’s consider some truths from this verse.
John is specifically talking about God’s redemptive love. He is amazed at the love that led God to call us His own children. It was God’s love that moved Him to save us. It was not our pitiful state, as pitiful as it was. It was not our constant effort to establish our own righteousness. It was not even our own prayers that moved God to save us. First and foremost it was God’s love that moved Him to save us. John expresses that greatly in 4:9-10. There is no greater manifestation of love than what Christ has done for sinners. Roman s 5:8 says “God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. 1 John 3:16 says “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us…” John saw the crucifixion with his own eyes. Understanding the meaning of the crucifixion put him in a state of awe. He was amazed that God loved the lost so much that He would sacrifice His only Son for sinners.
Unbelievers do not understand the love experienced between God and His children. John says “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him Him not”. The world didn’t “get’ Jesus and it6 doesn’t “get” believers either. Christ was rejected by the world and believers can expect the same treatment. The love of God cannot simply be taught. It has to be experienced. It is experienced through the new birth. Those that are unsaved cannot comprehend it. The world will look at a person devoted to Christ with disdain. They will wonder why a person would give up the pleasures of this world for a God they have never even seen. What they do not understand is the relationship we have with God. We experience His love, we see His provisions, we see Him moving in our lives. More than anything we have felt His forgiveness in our lives. His love has been made evident to us. Those without Christ will think we are silly or superstitious. We shouldn’t be surprised at that. We are different because we are convinced that the God of the universe loves and cares for us. They are not different because they are not convinced of that.
The confidence that Christ will return causes us to look forward to the change that will take place when He appears. John says that we are the sons of God right now. That is, we are just as saved as we are going to ever be. We have already been adopted by God, born again, given a place in heaven, etc. However, there is still a change that is going to take place. Every true believer knows that this is not all there is. We couldn’t live forever with the body we have now. Let’s think about some things that will happen when Christ returns.
We will be completely rid of the sin nature. John says we will be like Jesus when Jesus appears. Jesus was without sin. One of the biggest battles we face is the battle of sin in our life. It causes sorrow and shame. There will be no sorrow or shame in heaven. That means that we will not battle with sin there. Our bodies will be changed to such that they cannot be influenced by sin. We will not have the ability or the desire to sin.
We will have a glorified body. Paul talks about that in 1 Cor. 15:49-57. He says we will have a body that cannot decay. He says that all believers will get it. Colossians 1:18 says that Christ is the firstborn from the dead. The idea is that He is the prototype. Our new bodies will resemble the body that Jesus had when He rose from the dead. Christ walked, talked, was tangible, ate and drank and even ascended to heaven with that body. When Christ appears we will be like He was when He rose from the dead. Revelation 21:4 says that with our new body we will never again experience tears, death, sorrow, crying or pain. What a blessing that is going to be.
We will see Christ as He is. Notice that John says that Christ will appear and that we will see Him as He is. We will see God face to face. We will see Him in His fullness. You and I have no idea how amazing that will be. We have Scriptures that show us shadows of how wonderful that day will be (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 1, etc.). But we can only scratch the surface when it comes to this amazing event. Thinking about how we respond might be more beneficial. When we see Him we will erupt in worship like we have never worshipped before (Rev. 5). We will be overwhelmed and overjoyed at His appearing. I believe we will shout, dance, prostrate ourselves, sing, lift our hands, jump up and down, be silent, stand in awe, etc.
The promise of our personal privilege of beholding God face to face gives us great hope. We shouldn’t think that seeing God means that we see Him one time and then it’s over. We will look upon God for all eternity. God is so awesome that despite the fact that we look upon Him eternally, He will never grow dim to us. He will always be intriguing and the most beautiful being we have ever seen. Knowing that we will eternally look upon God encourages us to live holy lives. He is the object of our affection; therefore we want to be like Him. To be like Him is to be holy.
The confidence that Christ will return impacts every true believer. We see that in 3:3. John says that every man that has the hope of Christ’s return within him purifies himself. “Purify” describes the process of sanctification. Sanctification involves both the believer and the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit leads us into righteousness, we follow Him. While it is the responsibility of the believer to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, John makes it clear that true believers will. That does not mean that all believers are at the same level spiritually speaking. It simply means that in the life of every true believer there will be a measure of purity. Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. If we want to rejoice at the appearing of Christ we must be pure in heart.
The apostle Paul speaks of this purifying process in 2 Cor. 3:18. He says “But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”. Paul perfectly illustrates what John is teaching in these verses. As we put our hearts and minds on the Person of Christ we will inevitably begin to experience change in our character. That change will lead us into a life of holiness. The more we think of and meditate on Christ, the more we will be like Him.
As we close let’s consider some verses that speak of the great hope believers share. Psalm 146:5 says “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord God”. Psalm 43:5 says “Why art thou cast down O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God”. Romans 8:24 says “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it”. Romans 15:4 says “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” 1 Peter 1:3 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. No one has hope like believers. That hope should urge us to Christ like Character.