By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
Feb. 25, 2018
Bearing Our Father’s Resemblance
On the evening of Feb. 17, 1920 a teenager attempting to commit suicide was pulled semi-conscious out of a canal in Berlin and thus began the mystery of Anna Anderson, believed by some to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Russian Czar Nicholas, whose entire family was reportedly assassinated by Bolshevik guards. Anna had an elaborate story of how she was rescued by two Bolshevik guards who had mercy on the young Grand Duchess. She seemed to have memories of things that no one else could know. Extensive medical exams showed that she had bunions on her feet in exactly the same place as Anastasia, a scar on her shoulder where Anastasia had a mole cauterized, and a small scar on the middle finger of her left hand was claimed to be the damage done by a careless footman who closed a carriage door on Anastasia’s hand. Her face was examined by renowned anthropologist and criminologist Dr. Otto Reche and he concluded that the similarity between the two human faces would not be possible unless they are the same person or identical twins. Some family members, such as the Czar’s cousin Grand Duke Andrew were convinced it was Anastasia. Other family members refused to meet with her. In a 1978 interview, Anna Anderson – Anastasia – told the interviewer: "How shall I tell you who I am? In which way? Can you tell me that? Can you really prove to me who you are? You can believe it or you don't believe it. It doesn't matter." Anna Anderson held to her claim that she was Anastasia until the day she died in 1984.
Seven years after she died five skeletons were found in a forest near where they had been executed. DNA later confirmed that they were the Czar, his wife, and three of their five children. Missing was their son and one of the daughters which only served to fuel speculation that somehow Anastasia had escaped alive. Then, in 2007, the last two Romanov skeletons were found and DNA identified them as the son and either Anastasia or her sister Maria.
While there are still those who refuse to believe the mystery has been solved, and think the DNA tests were bungled or tampered with – to be honest, I find this mystery so intriguing that I don’t want it to be solved – the truth is, if the DNA tests were done properly and carefully, they would prove what facial structure and bunions and memories never could: whether Anna Anderson was a child of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov or not.
In chapter 3 verse 1 John talks about the extravagant love the Father has lavished on us by calling us His children and last week we talked about the awesome power that truth has to encourage our souls and reorient our lives. But as we read the verses surrounding this awesome encouragement, we see that this encouragement is wrapped within the larger question of who is and who isn’t a child of God? We’re going to be focusing on chapter 3 verses 4-10, but let’s begin by reading 1 John 2:28-29 together.
Read 1 John 2:28-29, 3:4-10
As we have noted before there were false teachers infiltrating the church who were teaching a distorted gospel that denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. They taught that the flesh was evil, so the pre-existent Christ would never truly become a man. John comes against this heresy strongly by saying that every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God and, in fact, is the spirit of antichrist. (1 John 4:1-3)
One of the offshoots of this heresy was that they denied there was any connection between our life in Christ and how we actually lived our lives. God doesn’t care about our flesh – it’s a lost cause anyway – so you can sin it up in the flesh and at the same time be in close union with God in your spirit. They taught that there was no connection between our relationship with God and how we live our daily lives.
John warns: little children, don’t be deceived. If you’re born of God it will be confirmed by how you live. It won’t be shrouded in mystery, there will be genetic evidence that you’re His child. Verse 10 says, By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. The DNA test to determine our family tree is simply this: anyone who practices sin is a child of the devil, anyone who practices righteousness is a child of God.
That’s clear and simple, but it can raise a lot of serious questions and fears in our hearts and minds. Is John saying that a child of God will live a sinless, righteous life? Is he saying that anyone who sins is a child of the devil? If that’s what he’s saying, since we know that we all sin, it will lead us to the frightening conclusion that I am not a child of God, after all. To understand how this DNA test works, we need to ask
What does “practicing sin” and “practicing righteousness” mean?
What does John mean when he says the child of the devil practices sin and the child of God practices righteousness. We know John doesn’t mean that the Christian never sins, because in chapter one he says anyone who says they don’t sin is a liar and the truth isn’t in them. So he’s not saying that anyone who commits a sin is a child of the devil. We also know from the scriptures that the righteousness that saves us isn’t our righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, or deposited to our account when we place our faith in the finished work of Christ.
In verse 4 John identifies practicing sin as practicing lawlessness. Lawlessness isn’t just disobeying a law or two once in a while. I want to conduct an experiment: is there anyone here who drives and has never, ever driven over the speed limit even once in your entire life, could you please raise your hand? Technically speaking we have all broken the law, but that doesn’t make us lawless people. If you get pulled over for going 76mph in a 65mph zone, you will probably get a ticket, but you probably won’t get life imprisonment as a danger to society.
When John talks about sin being lawlessness he’s talking about a lifestyle that is settled in sin, living life with a disregard for God’s law, not occasionally transgressing the boundaries that God has established but outright rejection of those boundaries. There’s a difference. Lawlessness describes exactly the heart of the devil. Satan doesn’t just transgress God’s laws once in a while, his heart is lawless. He would not obey a single law of God if he could have his way. If Satan were God, there would be no end or boundary to his evil, lawless reign. No evil would be too evil for him – the devil is the epitome of lawlessness.
The Bible describes the antichrist as the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3). He will be the closest thing to the devil in human form and lawlessness will define him. We see in society certain groups that push for anarchy – they love lawlessness and chaos and destruction. The truth is that apart from Christ, all of fallen humanity has the seeds of lawlessness and rebellion against God imbedded in our hearts and while some are further down the lawlessness road than others, all are moving in that direction and bear a
growing family resemblance to their father, the devil.
Jesus came to take away our sin and to give us a new birth
5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of adopting certain doctrinal beliefs about Jesus and the Bible, it is a supernatural work of God within us: we who were once spiritually dead are made alive (regeneration) by the Holy Spirit, we who were born into sin and death are born again into newness of life through faith in Christ. At conversion our hearts are changed, and there is a new power at work in us bending us towards love and obedience to God rather than hostility and rebellion against God. We still sin at times, and for that we have a wonderful Advocate and Savior, but God has given us new hearts that love God and want to obey Him. You could say that our spiritual DNA has been rewritten so that our genetic coding now has the same genetic coding of our Father, God, and our lives will begin to bear a resemblance to our heavenly Father. The principle of lawlessness in our hearts is replaced with a new heart and a new principle of righteousness.
Let me illustrate the big difference between law kept because we have to, and inner righteousness with a couple very practical illustrations. Let’s say you walk into Wal-Mart and you are just about to check out with a cart full of groceries when something happens and the lights go out, the greeters are distracted, and you have a clear run for the door and no one will ever know you got away with hundreds of dollars of groceries for free. But you don’t even think about doing that. Why? Because stealing isn’t in your heart. The reason you don’t steal isn’t because you are afraid of getting caught but because honesty is written on your heart.
Let me give you another example. This country has specific laws against child abuse. But there’s not a parent in this room who needs that law to restrain them from abusing their child. Love has written a higher law on our hearts as parents and the last thing we would ever do is hurt our children intentionally. This country could abolish every child abuse law on the books and it wouldn’t change a thing about how we treat our children. That higher law of love is righteousness – we want to do right by our children.
When God writes His law on our hearts, we don’t obey because we might get caught if we don’t, but because we want to obey. When our DNA has been rewritten with God’s family code in it, we want to love others with the love God has poured out upon us. We will blow it at times. We will say or do unloving things and act in unloving ways. But we can’t live in a place of not loving and hating others. The Holy Spirit just won’t let us live there. We want to show mercy to others, just like our Father has shown us mercy. We want to forgive those who hurt us just as our Lord Jesus has forgiven us. It may be hard, we may wrestle with unforgiveness for a time, but we cannot live in a place of unforgiveness perpetually. The Spirit won’t let us live in a place of settled unforgiveness.
And as love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, purity, grows in us, more and more we bear our Father’s resemblance. But because we are all in process and the Father’s image in us is imperfect and hard at times to discern, what do we do with this warning? How do we know with certainty that we have been reborn? The question followed Anna Anderson all her life: was she the daughter of Czar Nicholas or wasn’t she? Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us to live in the kind of uncertainty: am I a child of God or aren’t I? John’s purpose is the exact opposite of that as he writes in chapter 5:13: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
Close with two practical thoughts
What we do matters
The false teachers were teaching that what we do in the flesh doesn’t matter. They disconnected the spiritual from our ordinary, everyday life. But what we do and how we live does matter. We don’t become God’s children by being righteous, but we do confirm that we are children of God by growing in righteousness. The great evangelist Billy Graham passed away this week. One of the things I heard this week is that he managed to keep his life and ministry free from scandal. Billy Graham wasn’t saved by living a scandal-free life, and his message wasn’t “commit no scandal and you’ll be saved.” His message was Christ. But we know that his effort to live a righteous life had a tremendous effect on his witness for Christ. Doing confirms being. What we do and how we live matters!
Abiding in Christ is the means of our growing in righteousness
One of John’s favorite encouragements to believers is to abide in Jesus. He remembers how Jesus said that we can do nothing unless we abide in him, and that if we do abide in him we will bear much fruit to God’s glory.
28 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. 1 John 2:28
5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:5-6,9
Abiding speaks of close relationship. It speaks of union and connectedness. We should make every effort to stay close to Jesus, to stay connected to Jesus. It’s not just reading the Bible to get through a Bible reading program, it’s reading the Bible to draw near to our Savior. It’s not just praying to get through a prayer list, it’s drawing near to our heavenly Father in faith. It’s not just coming to church, but coming as a means of abiding in Christ, with a heart to receive from God, and to give grace to others. It’s keeping Christ at the center of everything we do and if we find we are straying from him, abiding means flying back to him, knowing he is our one Advocate and he will receive us with open arms.
When we see presumption setting in, a careless, “it doesn’t matter what I do or how I live” attitude, the Holy Spirit uses these verses to awaken us to the danger of this state of mind and we flee back to Christ, knowing that as we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
When our consciences condemn us, saying we’re not doing enough, not righteous enough, not fighting sin enough or loving people enough, or anything enough to evidence that we are truly born again, we flee to Christ, and hold the promise of 1 John tightly: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
God wants to settle the question, not have us live in uncertainty. His Father heart wants to lavish His love on us, and we can’t receive His love if we aren’t even sure we’re His children. If you have believed in the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and are trusting his finished work for your salvation, then you have been born again as a child of God. None of us is perfect, none of us doesn’t sin. John says if we say we don’t sin we’re lying. But there is a new genetic code in our hearts that loves God’s law and wants to obey it. Some of us may be growing slowly, others are growing more quickly, but we are growing in the direction of righteousness, and while we still commit sin, we find we can’t live a life of lawlessness anymore. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in you. By the grace of God we are, slowly, imperfectly, bearing our Father’s resemblance.