See what great 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 Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-4 NIV)As I read and reflected on this passage recently, it struck me that the amazement of the apostle is lost on those of us who have low views of God.
Let me explain.
What is the reason, the source of the apostle's amazement in v.1? Why is he captivated to be a child of God? Why is that such a big deal? In our day, being a "child of God" is commonplace language, like being "born again" or "evangelical." It has lost much of it's original wonder, I think.
John's amazement is due to his experiential confidence gained through an ongoing interactive relationship with Jesus. Through interaction with Jesus, John learned how uniquely beautiful and wonderful the Father is! We see this at the very beginning of his letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 NIV, emphasis mine)John then summarizes Jesus' gospel message in v. 5, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." I used to believe that this was primarily referring to God's unapproachable holiness, and perhaps it means that. But that poses a huge problem when we look at Jesus, who John was referring to, who was so utterly approachable, especially to sinners!
What, then, was the gospel that Jesus preached?
Jesus preached a gospel of God's good Kingdom, immediately available to all who enter into a relationship with him through trust. Those who enter this Kingdom would find that God is better than anything they could have ever hoped for.
What John means, then, is that the message that John and the other early friends of Jesus heard was that God is utterly, unchangeably, good. Dallas Willard, in writing about a "curriculum of Christlikeness," comments that,
The first objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no “catch,” no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out. . . . When the mind is filled with this great and beautiful God, the “nat-ural” response, once all “inward” hindrances are removed, will be to do “everything I have told you to do.” (Divine Conspiracy, 321).This is a school I long to be enrolled in.