1 John 3:1–3: Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
The previous article introduced the idea that the prophecies of scripture are primarily intended to promote holiness in the present; their focus is not the future. I want to take this idea a step further and show how John in his first epistle taught the second coming of Christ as a motivation to holiness.
In 1 John 3:3–10 there are five facts regarding holiness and sin, each introduced by the phrase Every one that … (the English translations vary between “every man that” and “whosoever” in the KJV or “whoever” in the NKJV). The first use of the phrase deals with the positive aspect of purity and is linked to what John has said about our future glorification. In the first verses of the chapter, John deals with the subject of the Christian’s glorification. But John concludes this subject by applying it to life now. He writes—not merely to inform us theologically—but to instruct us ethically, and it appears that this practical application is the main reason he broached the subject of prophecy.
John affirms that the Christian has a responsibility to holiness. John says that the man who has this hope “purifieth himself,” not by himself, but by looking to another. It is the blood of Christ alone that can cleanse us from all sin (1:7) and deal with the guilt of sin. But it is our responsibility to purify ourselves from the power and pollution of sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Timothy 5:22; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22). We are to “work out
John affirms that the Christian has a relationship to holiness. The statement “even as he is pure” is not a statement of comparison, but of relationship. The responsibility to be holy is not a burden too great for the Christian; it is contingent on, and flows from, his relationship to the holy One. Our holiness is derived from Him (2:29), and John goes on to say that the seed of righteousness is in us (3:9).
But the Christian’s holiness comes from Christ only as we fellowship with Him and as we look to Him. Here John relates it to our looking for Christ’s return and John brings his eschatology to a practical application to the here and now. The Christian lives with the expectation of Christ’s appearing, and of being made like Him; holy living is accomplished by a preoccupation with the returning Saviour.
If we could move backwards in John’s argument, we are to purify ourselves from moral stain (abstaining from sin, 3:3), and we are to practice righteousness (following after righteousness, 2:29), and abide in Him (2:28) in order that we might have confidence before Him at His coming (verse 28). But the question is, how can we purify ourselves and then face Him with confidence when He returns? John says that it is by an indwelling principle animating and motivating us to live for that great object; it is “hope in Him [Christ].” If we are to be like Him in glory, we must be like Him on earth; this is the single, most important purpose of biblical prophecy.