In most religions one must “do” in order to “be.” That is to say, most religions are works-based – you have to do things in order to become a new person or gain a reward. The Christian faith, however, is the exact opposite: one must “be” in order to “do.” That is to say, according to God’s Word, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And then, only after we have been made a new creation, are we enabled to do good works – out of thankfulness for what Christ has already done for us.
That’s the message of the gospel. You can’t do anything in order to make yourself a better person and earn God’s grace and please Him. You must first receive God’s grace and be made new; only then, are you enabled to do good works that are pleasing in His sight. “Be” then “do” – not the other way around.
If this is a little confusing, perhaps it would best to see how the Apostle John speaks about this. This week, we’ll consider how John describes the Christian’s present circumstance and position. Next week, we’ll consider how the Christian’s present circumstance and position (who we *are* in Christ) defines the Christian’s present practice (what we are called to *do* in Christ).
First, let’s consider the Present Circumstance of the children of God – those who are born of Him. Now, our present circumstance is defined by the work of God in Redemptive History. And, by Redemptive History, I mean the acts of God that are revealed in history that He does in order to accomplish our salvation. In our passage, John speaks of two acts of God in history that define our present circumstance as Christians: the first and second coming of Christ.
Looking to the future
The first act of God that John mentions is actually a future event – the second coming of Christ (1 John 2:28):
28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
God’s Word tell us that we ought to abide, or remain, in Christ so that when Christ returns, we will have confidence and not shame. Now, in the previous verses – as we saw last week –“abiding in Christ” had the connotation of abiding in His truth – abiding in God’s Word. Here, the act of abiding takes on an additional connotation of abiding “in righteousness” – we are to live according to God’s law – to walk as Jesus walked – to abide in righteousness.
The point is simply this: Children of God are to live their lives always looking forward to Jesus’ return – living our lives such that we may have confidence, and not shame, at His return.
We see this illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). A man was about to go on a journey, and he entrusted his possessions to his slaves. To one slave, he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent. The first two invested the possessions of their master, and were rewarded when he returned from his journey; however, the slave who was given one talent, dug a hole and buried it. When his master returned, the miserly slave was judged and put out of the master’s house for being wicked and lazy. You see, the slave who buried his talent – the possessions of his master – did so, because he was afraid. In Jesus’ parable, the slave even says, “I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:25).
In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis says this about shame: “I sometimes think that shame, mere awkward, senseless shame, does as much towards preventing good acts and straightforward happiness as any of our vices can do.”
The lesson is this: The child of God looks forward to Christ’s return with eager anticipation and confidence, not with fear and shame because He knows that his righteous King is coming for His own. The King is coming for His own people.
The Apostle John also calls us to look to the future coming of Christ with hopeful and joyful expectation because on that day we will be made like Jesus (1 John 3:2):
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.
Again, we are told that presently we are children of God, but at Jesus’ second coming, we will be made “like Him.” There is a future glory that God’s children look forward to – a future glory in which we will be made perfect in righteousness and holiness. In the present life, we are not yet perfect. That’s obvious…but we have this future glory to look forward to. And so, we live confidently and unashamed, knowing that He who began a good work in us, will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Looking to the past
As followers of Christ, we must also remember to look back to remember Christ’s first coming and what He did for us (1 John 3:5):
5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
Too many Christians dwell on their own past, focusing on their own failures and sins, but the Bible calls us to look to the past of what Christ has done for us! In Christ’s first coming – in His life, death, and resurrection – He took away our sins! Indeed, in Him there is no sin!
So, that is our present circumstance: the children of God live their lives between Jesus’ first and second coming. In Jesus’ first coming, He took away our sins. In Jesus’ second coming, we will be made like Him. Therefore, we may live with confidence and not shame.
Our Present Position
Now, here’s the thing: our present circumstance (living between the first and second coming of Christ) defines our present position as Christians. Specifically, John mentions two aspects of this present position.
First of all, with respect to our present position, as God’s children, we are loved (1 John 3:1):
1 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.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, puts it this way (Ephesians 1:4-6):
In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
And from God’s love flows forgiveness (1 John 3:5):
5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
You are loved, and you are forgiven! See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us! See how your sins have been taken away when Christ appeared and bore them on the cross of Calvary!
As God’s children, if we only would begin to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love! If only we would fathom the lengths to which God went – not even sparing His own Son – in loving us! If we truly comprehended God’s love and forgiveness in His Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:17-19), we would no longer no shame or be tempted to wallow in our own sin.
It’s the devil, the father of lies, who whispers in your ear: “Don’t think that you’re making any progress; after all, you’re still depraved, you know.” It’s the devil who says: “Remember your sins. Remember your sin nature. Remember: that’s who you are, and you’ll never amount to anything more! How could you? You’re a despicable, sinner – a creature of habit! Don’t even begin to think that God could ever love or forgive you!”
If you’re a child of God, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard the voice of the devil in your own mind, and from other people.
But, that is not the voice of God. The voice of God comes to you in those moments and He says: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” God declares to you: “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” He says to you, “You will no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely, afraid. Your new name will be: confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God, one who seeks My face” (“I Will Change Your Name”).
One of my favorite passages of Scripture which succinctly explains this so well is found in the book of Titus (Titus 2:11-14):
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
In these verses, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the two “appearings” of Christ:  In the past, He brought salvation to all men (v 11) and gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed (v 14a);  In the future, He will come as the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (v 13). As believers look to these tow (past and future) “appearings” of Christ, believers learn how to live: to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age (v 12) because the Lord has purified us for Himself – a people for His own possession, zealous for good deed (v 14b).
So, as a child of God, remember that “be” comes before “do.” Remember that because you live between the first and second coming of Christ, your sins are forgiven and one day you will be made like Jesus. That is how you are as one who has been born of God. So, having considered our present circumstances and present position (who are in Christ), next week we will look more closely at what God calls us to “do.”