We Shall Be Like Him
From Gospel Translations
By Tom Steller
About Glorification (Resurrection of the Body)
Part of the series Let Us Walk in the Light: 1 John
1 John 2:28-3:3
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
One of the overriding concerns that John has in this letter is for Christians to be confident that God is for them now and will be for them forever. Later on in 1 John which we will be covering in the weeks ahead, John tells us that we are to have confidence that God hears our prayers; which means that right now God is for us and is working on our behalf. But John is also concerned that when we look to the future—to that great day of judgment when Christ returns in his glory—even then we are to be filled with confidence that all will be well.
Confidence at the Coming of Christ
It is this future confidence that John is aiming at in our passage this morning. John's admonition to us in v. 28 is this: "And now, little children, abide in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming." Notice that not everyone who darkens the door of the church should have this confidence, but only those who abide in Jesus and who, according to v. 29, do what is right. John knows that there are some people in the church who will indeed shrink back from Jesus in shame when he returns. He is aware of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." And Jesus goes on to say, "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'" And then Jesus will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me you evildoers."
John does not want this to happen to his readers. He doesn't want us to shrink from Jesus in shame when he comes. But he wants us to be filled with confidence—and not a false confidence but a true confidence.
And this is my prayer for us this morning: that we who abide in Jesus will experience the confidence that John is writing about; that it will be more than words on a page; that it will be a real experience of the heart. And if any of you in this room are not abiding in Jesus, my prayer is that you will want to begin to do so because the promise that awaits those who do abide in Jesus is extraordinary. And the prospect for those who don't is terrifying.
Abide in Jesus
John wants us to be filled with confidence when Jesus returns. And so he charges us "Abide in Jesus, so that you may have confidence." To abide in Jesus means to live in Jesus; to make Jesus the center of your life; to take your cues from Jesus as to what is right and what is wrong, and then to rely on his strength to do the right. Or to use Jesus' metaphor in John 15—to abide in Jesus means to be like a branch that is attached to the vine. Jesus said, "I am the vine, your are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing." To abide in Jesus is to so attach yourself to him that you become like him in your day to day living; that his character flows into your life and through you for the good of others.
It is this character, this Christlikeness, that is the focus of our passage today. Verse 29, "If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one who does right is born of him." Or look ahead to 4:17 where John again speaks about this future confidence. He writes, "We have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world." Without Christlikeness in our daily living there will be no confidence on the day of judgment. Only those who are Christlike will not be put to shame.
The Ultimate Ground of Our Confidence
But our doing what is right and our abiding is Jesus is not the ultimate ground of our confidence—it's an essential signal but it is not the foundation of our confidence. Thank God that the foundation of our confidence is not what we do, but rather the ultimate ground of our confidence is in what God has done for us. In v. 29 we read "Every one who does what is right is born of God"—or more literally, "Every one who does what is right has been born of God." What has God done for us? Let's read the next verse: "See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and so we are."
The fact that we are learning to abide in Christ and do what is right is an evidence, a signal, that something supernatural has happened to us. John calls it being born of God. Out of the Father's free and boundless love he calls a person to be his child and then he causes this person to be born again. This new birth God has given us precedes any inkling of love for him on our part. In 1:13 of his gospel John says that becoming a child of God does not originate with us, but with God: "We are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." In 1 John 4:10 it says, "In this is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Then again a few verses later in 4:19 it says, "We love, because he first loved us." We love, we do what is right, we abide in Jesus as a result of God causing us to be born again.
What Happens at the New Birth?
So what takes place at this new birth? What happened to us that is now enabling us to abide in Jesus and do what is right and thereby have confidence that God will be for on Judgment Day? We have confidence because we do what is right. We do what is right because we have been born of God. What is this new birth? What powerful thing happened to us when we were born of God?
Look down with me a few verses to verse 9 of chapter 3: "No one who is born of God commits sin, because his nature (or literally his seed) abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God." When we are born again, it is as though God implants a seed in us—a seed of Christlikeness. He gives us a new nature that starts out in seed form and grows and develops until one day our old sin nature has been totally eradicated.
At first appearance it seems that no sin is possible after the new birth. Well, one day sin won't be possible. But John bends over backward elsewhere in this letter (1:8–10, 2:1, and 5:16, 17) to show that perfection will not be experienced by the believers in this life. The point of this verse is that the new birth brings about a fundamental transformation at the very core of our being. A new dimension enters our life that brings with it new longings and actions aimed at exalting Jesus. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life still have power to allure us, but this new dimension, the love for the Father, is winning us over. A basic dissatisfaction with sin rumbles deep within us. A growing thirst for God is emerging. A contented sinning Christian becomes a contradiction in terms. Yes, there will be lapses where we seem quite content to continue in some specific sin, but then a word will be spoken, a loving gesture from a brother or sister will be performed, God's Word will come alive, a pang of conscience will spring up within us, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will become loud and clear. A true Christian, then, will respond and repent and confess and start over with the slate wiped clean and with a deeper resolve to abide in Jesus and to do what is right.
And as we are abiding in Jesus and doing what is right, we will have confidence in the day of judgment and will not shrink away from him in shame at his coming; because our Christlikeness—even though it is now very imperfect—will be evidence that we have been born of God.
The New Birth Is Only the Beginning
But this confidence goes even deeper. The new birth is only the beginning of our transformation. Abiding in Jesus and doing what is right is the continuation of our transformation. But there is a day coming when our transformation will be completed, perfected, finished.
Let's look at 3:2. "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be." Right now those of us in this room who have been born again, evidenced by a growing Christlikeness—right now we are children of God. Right now we have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe, right now we have the assurance that God is our Father and is for us, right now we possess eternal life which consists in knowing the Father and the Son. The list of benefits of being a child of God in this present world could go on and on. But John's point here is to say that as good as it is to be a child of God right now in this life, it's only the tip of the iceberg of what is in store for us in the future. "Beloved we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be." Exactly what we will be in the future we are not sure of.
We are sure that we will continue to be God's children throughout eternity. There is nothing greater that we can become than being God's children. But all that this means is still unsure. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man all that God has prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
We Shall Be Like Jesus
Verse 2 continues with the most staggering statement and promise imaginable. Yes, "now we are children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him." We shall be like him. That's our destiny! We shall be like Jesus. No more awesome promise can be imagined; especially when we look at ourselves right now. When we look at ourselves, we see a little bit of the character of Christ. But when it comes right down to it, even the most mature Christlike person in this room still is wracked with sin. There are huge gaps in each of our lives that Christ has only begun to fill and to heal. We still have so much rottenness in us that has yet to be transformed. But the glorious promise of this verse is that it will indeed happen. Not totally in this life. But a day is coming when we shall be changed, when we shall be like him! Oh what a glorious prospect! What a tremendous hope! What a deep comfort! We shall be like the Son of God.
Of course, to be like him does not mean that we will become him. We will always be merely human; he will forever be the incarnate God. He together with the Father will forever be the object of worship; we will forever be the praisers of his glory. He together with his Father will forever be the source of life and light. We will forever be reflectors and sponges and beneficiaries. But we will be like him. Insofar as it is possible for human beings to be like him, we will be. What he loves we will love, what he enjoys we will enjoy, what he values we will value. He will never lapse and sin. We will never lapse and sin. He will never experience pain again. Neither will we. His cup of joy is full to over flowing; our cup of joy will be full to overflowing. He will delight in the Father with maximum intensity. We will delight in the Father with maximum intensity—forever. Can you imagine anything more to be desired than that! Nothing can be conceived that is more delightful than that. To delight in the infinite pleasure of the universe is it. There is nothing left to be desired. There are no greener pastures anywhere. This is the end of our search. Our hearts are made for God and we are restless until we find our rest in God. Our hearts will find their Sabbath rest. We shall be like him.
The "Good" That God Works All Things Toward
There is a great passage in Paul's writings that echoes this staggering teaching of the apostle John. Turn with me to Romans 8:28, 29. The apostle Paul agrees with John that we shall be like Jesus. It is our destiny which God determined before the foundation of the world. Verse 28: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." This is one of the most often quoted verses in the Bible.
And well it should be. Nothing can be more comforting. But too often we fail to ask what the "good" is that God is working all things toward? The next verse explains the good: "For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren." The "good" which God is working all things together toward is our conformity to the likeness of Christ. That is what he is aiming at in our lives. Not health, or wealth, or earthly success, but Christlikeness. If you love God and are called according to his purpose, then everything that has come your way and will come your way is designed by God to shape you more into the likeness of Jesus. Good things shape us, hard things shape us, successes shape us, failures shape us. All things work together to shape us into the likeness of Jesus.
So Paul and John agree that one day, we shall be like Jesus. That is our destiny.
What Will Bring This Transformation About?
But what is going to bring this transformation about? John gave us the answer in the last part of v. 2. "We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is." We shall be like him, because we shall see him. What is the cause that will bring about our transformation into his likeness? Our unrestrained, unhindered sight of Jesus in all his glory, in all his moral excellence, in all his perfection. This sight of Jesus is going to be so stunning, so real, so breathtaking, so irresistible. All the fog in our vision will be burned away by the noon day brightness of his glory. We're going to see once and for all how ridiculous it was to have been enamored by the fleeting pleasures of sin. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are going to appear as gravel in comparison to his diamond-studded brilliance.
And this beholding of Jesus in all his glory will prove irresistible. It's going to swallow us up. We are going to be transformed into his likeness, irresistibly. Not that we are going to be forced against our will to be like Jesus. We won't be able to resist it because we won't want to. Our admiration of him will be so total that all other competing role models will be left in the dust.
We Become Like Those We Admire Most
There is a simple principle at work in all this which I think everyone in this room can agree to. The principle is this: We become like those we admire most.
I admired honesty in my Dad, so I tried to be honest myself. I liked the pitching style of Mudcat Grant, so it became my style in little league. I thought Lenny Green was cool the way he chewed bubble gum, so I chewed gum just like him. Hannah crinkles her nose, because her mommy crinkles her nose.
We become like those whom we admire. When Jesus comes, we shall see him just as he is and our admiration for him will be absolute and we shall become like him. What a hope for the future. The future is so bright.
The Transformation Begins Now
But now we must bring this truth down to today and tomorrow. What is the impact of knowing that we will one day be like Jesus on how we face the challenges of tomorrow? The answer is obvious. And John spells it out in simple terms in v. 3. "Every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself just as he is pure." The transformation begins now. If our hope is to be like Jesus some day, we will seek to be like him now. If Christlikeness is our destiny, we will be pursuing Christlikeness now. If we are truly admiring Jesus now, we will be taking on more and more of his characteristics. It is pure hypocrisy to say that we hope to be like Jesus someday and yet do not seek to be like him today.
Each of us needs a hero to admire. And it's legitimate for these heroes or role models to be human beings. It's appropriate for us to model ourselves after our parents or teacher or the expert in our line of work, but only insofar as that person models the character of Jesus. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." So ultimately our hero is Jesus. Jesus is our role model. Our quest and our calling is to be like him. Tomorrow we should have two types of goals. One goal is to get specific tasks at work or in the home or in school done, but shouldn't our overarching goal be to be like Jesus in every situation we encounter and every task we undertake? Then when we look back on the day, we can measure the success of our day not ultimately in how many tasks we accomplished, but rather by whether or not we lived in a Christlike manner. We will confess those situations where we failed. We will give thanks for those situations where Christ was exemplified. And though we weren't perfect, we pursued what was right, just as he is righteous. And the strength for doing the right we found through abiding in him.
This transformation into Christlikeness, which will be perfected when Christ returns, is in process right now. And it happens not by focusing our attention on any method or ministry or mission, but by beholding as much of his glory and character as we can presently—by becoming enamored with him, admiring him, worshiping him. The apostle Paul, just like John, also makes clear the connection between seeing Jesus and becoming like him. He says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another."
The process has begun. One day it will be perfected for "we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is."
We shall be like him because we shall see him! And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.