Text: 1 John 3:1-7 NIV
1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Spirituality has received much attention in recent years. And with this renewed interest comes the practitioners of various forms of spirituality all claiming to have “the” secret formula to a happier life and spiritual enlightenment. They come claiming to have the elixir of life for peace, success, and meaning. There are many variants of this spirituality craze; unfortunately some of them exist in the church.
However, all of them are easy to discern. They all claim to be a better way, encouraging people out of the normality of life into an exclusive special experience. They encourage their pilgrims by over extending emotional hype. They become secretive and separatists in nature. And they all focus on the self—me—the ego.
So many leave the church to find this spirituality. But what type of spirituality really is it? Perhaps, junk food spirituality!
Some just leave and really go nowhere, thinking that they can have a spiritual life with God by themselves. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”, is their familiar mantra.
Then there are some that get caught up in new age spirituality born out of Hinduism or Buddhism; seeking enlightenment in the many variants of Eastern Meditation — seeking the god within, one would say. Unfortunately in the realm of new age/eastern thinking, there are a pantheon of gods, including Jesus Christ, deceiving many to believe Jesus can be worshiped at the same time as nature, or the self, or karma, or some other new age guru or fad.
And finally, there are those who claim to be Christian, but moved by the overwhelming mountain of spiritualities; and, their seemingly un-spiritual occurrences of everyday life; and, their desire to have an extraordinary emotional experience — they seek out organisations where likeminded individuals seek a divine encounter through the pampering and whipping-up of their emotions.
After these people have sought this spirituality they return, overwound and completely detached from reality. There is a real danger of them falling flat, as a result of the high to which they had previously been stimulated. Life full of hard knocks and troubles leads them to dwell on the climax of their heightened experiences. And then their addiction leads them on a dangerous path of deeds done to get back to the high place in which they once found themselves. And before they know it they find themselves working to feel holy, righteous, and justified before God. They find themselves completely bound by the Law; bound by what they must do or be to be a “hyper-Christian or a super-Christian”.
Or others come as advocates of this higher spirituality, telling people in the church that they have had an experience with the Holy Spirit. They espouse a superior knowledge of God and even a special fellowship and intimacy with him. They project themselves as special, free from the written word of God or above it. They become religious snobs, making others feel inferior — as if they haven’t really got the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, or salvation until they have the experience too.
Their so-called love makes others feel condemned rather than forgiven and built up in Christ. In their promotion of this “way”, wittingly or unwittingly, the logical conclusion of their newfound spirituality, wrongly encourages people to believe that the Holy Spirit, nor the Son, nor the Father are present in ordinary church services where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered.
John in his epistles addresses those who were in danger of succumbing to this type of spirituality. He addressed a small church in amongst a myriad of religiosities and spiritualities. And through John’s epistles God addresses us today as well. He calls you in his church not to walk away from him, having been made his child in baptism, and not to walk into the myriad of emotionally driven spiritualities of this age.
He calls you to walk free from sin; not to miss the mark and choosing a spirituality other than the one Jesus gives to us, through the bestowal of the Holy Spirit in his word, and, in the events Jesus himself instituted for us to receive the Holy Spirit and ultimately himself. He calls you to faith in his word, to repent, to receive forgiveness, to trust him, and to encourage others in his way and his means, the way and means of Jesus Christ.
And having called you to repentance, to be daily drowned in your baptism, and forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ who has risen from the grave, God calls you to believe that you are his beloved children. You may not see it, feel it, or have great experiences of it, but you are called to trust Jesus, to trust his word, to know he was crucified for you, to know he was raised to life — giving you life, to know he sent the Holy Spirit through the water and the word to gather us to himself, and to know that we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit into him, and he in us, as we kneel to eat his body and blood in the bread and wine.
John tells us, “…you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.” (1 John 2:20-21, 24-25)
So what do we do to those amongst us who are walking away from the Father’s love, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the true fellowship of the Holy Spirit? Do we tell them that it’s ok to stay away from the place where God’s word is preached and the means of receiving his free gifts are administered? Do we tell them they can be Christians without receiving the benefits Jesus gives us as we gather in his name? Or perhaps, we should slam the door behind them and never let them back in?
As tempting as these might be in our own sinfulness, the answer is: no! Rather we pray for them, asking God to open up opportunities so they might be brought back into his presence where they might receive forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation through the things Jesus himself has put in place for our benefit. We encourage them back under, or for the first time, into, the grace of the cross and resurrection. Either way we never shut the door, we allow God to keep it open so the Holy Spirit might use us to bring those in, who are outside for whatever reason.
Being a Christian is not about emotional highs and being accepted by everyone. Its central tenet is not about warm fuzzy feelings and being everyone’s best friend; as to not offend anyone. No! The work of a Christian is the struggle of standing by our wayward brothers and sisters in Christ; our estranged family members and our pagan neighbours; doing the hard yards with them, not becoming one of them, but interceding on their behalf, speaking words of love to them, speaking the truth no matter how much it hurts to do so, so they might be brought into the grace that God has apportioned for all of us. And in this grace there is true peace!
After all God has done this for you! You are the wayward child God has come to rescue, and is in fact still rescuing. He came to you and me in flesh and has saved us through his own death and resurrection.
He doesn’t find our motives, emotions, or thoughts very appealing. In fact Jesus cried tears of blood because he had to be crucified as if he was one who thought like you or me, as if he was one who did things out of sinful motives like you or me, and as if he was one like you and me who measured a loving relationship with his Father by how good one felt.
But, on the other hand, he obediently followed his Father’s will, out of love for his Father and us. He didn’t come to be your best mate; he came to condemn sin in all of us and take it to the cross. He came to love us, and that is what he did; not through warm and fuzzes, but through pain, suffering, and the loss of life!
He spoke the truth about us (not a pretty thing), bore our sin on the cross (not an easy thing to do), and sent the Holy Spirit to lead us to him, not because he liked us, but because he loves us. In the purity and truth of these gospel actions there is true spirituality, truth, and peace.
In these days we struggle with sin. We are God’s children yet we are not fully aware of who we are as his children. The veil of sinful flesh still covers our lives making it hard to see the extraordinary image of Christ, first implanted in us when the Holy Spirit came to us in baptism, and who continues to feed us every time we hear the gospel preached and as we receive his body and blood in the bread and wine.
It is difficult to see the image of Christ in others too. But we know that God is there amongst those who do the right thing. And the right thing is this: trusting Jesus’ word and upholding his way as “the way” and not departing from the means he has appointed, and not shunning the Holy Spirit who calls gathers and enlightens us as we gather to have our sins forgiven and receive the gifts of peace as we live in this noisy chaotic world.
So hear from John again, and trust the words God speaks to us through these verses in 1 John 3. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning (missing the mark, following other gospels believing they will get to God). No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right (who receives Jesus and his means of grace which you have heard from the beginning) is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:1-7) Amen.
John G. Strelan, 1985, ChiRho Commentary Series - The Epistles of John, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, page 9.
 My own emphasis added in brackets.