Behold God’s Love
1 John 3:1–3
God’s redemptive program began with His love for fallen humanity. Those who have been “born of Him” (1 Jn. 2:29) by faith in Jesus Christ manifest this love to a dark world. The world cannot know or understand such love because people cannot know God without being born again (Jn. 3:3).
The apostle John was so overwhelmed with the greatness of God’s love that he focused on it in the remaining three chapters of 1 John. In the 66 verses of chapters 3 through 5, John used the word love or a form of it more than 40 times, explaining how God loves believers and how they are to love one another in return.
Children by Redemption
John wanted his readers to stand in awe of the greatness of God’s love: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 Jn. 3:1).
The word behold is a command for Christians to stop and respond in astonishment, awe, and adoration of God’s love, which is beyond understanding and measureless in depth. They should gaze on and contemplate the quality and quantity of God’s love, letting it sink deep into their minds, hearts, and souls. Then they will find it is beyond comprehension.
The Greek word for “love” is agape. Such love is unique in both its nature and character when applied to God. God does not merely love; His entire nature is love. He is love personified (4:8). His self-sacrificing love was beautifully demonstrated when He sent Jesus Christ into a sin-cursed world to seek and save the lost by paying the redemptive price for sin through His crucifixion.
Agape transcends any human expression of love and is completely foreign to man’s nature. God the Father is the source of such love, and He freely bestows it on people of His own choosing.
God “has bestowed” (lavished, 3:1) His love on all believers through His grace (unmerited favor). Notice, John said “on us,” including himself. He added, “that we should be called children of God,” indicating that all born-again believers join God’s family at the moment of their salvation. Once God bestows His love on a believer, it remains there forever.
What a privilege to be called a child of God and to have access to God the Father’s fellowship through Jesus Christ! What a privilege to be recreated through salvation and to be in the process of being conformed into the likeness of God’s divine Son. Every believer should stand in awe that God would reach down to bestow unmerited grace on us who were once dead in sin.
John concluded verse 1 by saying, “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” The word world refers to unbelievers and their world system, as mentioned in the previous chapter (cf. 2:15–17). The world lacks the experiential knowledge to understand or appreciate the believer’s relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. Unbelievers cannot understand because they do not know God. The world never understood or accepted God the Father, though given revelation of Him and His divine Son (cf. Jn. 1:10–11; 15:18—16:4; Rom. 1:20–23). Since the Father is foreign to unbelievers, it is impossible for them to know (by experience) or comprehend the believer’s born-again position in the family of God.
The apostle united himself with his Christian brothers and sisters by calling them “Beloved.” Then he revealed what God has in store for them: “Now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). We are the children of God “now,” and the position we enjoy in Christ is connected to our eternal future at His unveiling.
The phrase it has not yet been revealed what we shall be is better translated, “it has not yet been unveiled or made public what we shall be.” God has not yet unveiled or displayed the glory that awaits His children when their fleshly bodies will be transformed into glorified bodies prepared for eternity.
When will Jesus be revealed? Scripture is silent on the date, but we know He will appear twice:
First, He will come in the clouds to rapture all church saints to heaven (Jn. 14:1–3; 1 Th. 4:13–17). All Christians will meet Christ in the air and enjoy intimate fellowship with Him throughout eternity.
Later Christ will return to Earth with His church to reign and rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:30–33; Rev. 5:10). The church saints “shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (20:6). Scripture does not reveal details concerning the duties and positions they will hold in the Kingdom.
When Christ does appear, “we know…we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2). Even though believers have not yet experienced glorification, John assured them they can “know” it will happen for a number of reasons:
- John saw Christ in His glorified state during His 40 days of postresurrection ministry before He ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:3).
- As Christians, we know from experience, tested faith, and the promises of Christ through the apostle Paul that one day we, too, will be changed to possess glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:35–54).
- John assured his readers that all believers “shall be like Him [Jesus Christ]” (1 Jn. 3:2).
How will our bodies be like Christ’s? The Bible does not specify. But they will function as Christ’s did in His postresurrection ministry. We will have changed bodies prepared for eternity: “The Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21; cf. 1 Cor. 15:50–53).
In 1 Corinthians 15:42–44 Paul described four ways the glorified body will differ from the human one:
- First, the human body is “sown in corruption” (perishable) and “raised in incorruption” (imperishable) (v. 42). It deteriorates, dies, and turns to dust. The glorified body will never tire, deteriorate, or die (1 Pet. 1:3–4).
- Second, human bodies are “sown in dishonor” and “raised in glory” (1 Cor. 15:43). We fall short of glorifying God because of our sinful natures, but our glorified bodies will be perfect.
- Third, human bodies are “sown in weakness” and “raised in power” (v. 43). We are physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially weak because of sin. In contrast, our resurrected bodies will be perfect and powerful, without need of rest or replenishment.
- Fourth, the human body is “sown a natural body” and “raised a spiritual body” (v. 44). The word natural means it is fleshly, is subject to natural laws, and will one day die. In contrast, believers will be raised with physical, spiritual bodies suited for eternity, not bound by the laws of nature or death, and animated by God’s divine Spirit and power.
Like Christ’s, these glorified bodies will be recognizable. Jesus’ disciples recognized Him after His resurrection (Jn. 20:24–29). Scripture is silent on details, such as what age believers will be in the Resurrection.
It does, however, show us the Lord could appear and disappear (Lk. 24:31), walk, talk, eat, and rise into heaven (Jn. 21; Acts 1:11). Christ was not bound by gravity, time, or space, and He could travel at will. We will be able to do likewise.
Furthermore, “we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Only believers will experience this face-to-face meeting with the glorified Christ, which completes the salvation experience of being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). Christians have been redeemed, justified, and sanctified; and at that meeting they will be glorified (v. 30).
Character of Righteousness
The living hope that they will be glorified at Christ’s coming for the church affects how believers live in this world: “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). The word everyone refers to those who are born again (2:29). This “hope” is not uncertain. It is guaranteed to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Believers who possess this hope purify themselves daily from sin and moral corruption. Self-purification does not mean Christians are cleansed by their own efforts, although they must be willing to repent of known sin. Rather, it means the Holy Spirit convicts them of the need for moral cleansing and accomplishes that cleansing through what is called progressive sanctification. Sanctification begins at the time of one’s salvation and continues, or progresses, until receipt of a glorified body at Christ’s return for His church.
If one claims to be born again but practices a lifestyle of habitual sin, he is willfully disobeying Christ’s command; and his salvation is questionable.
John’s statement “just as He is pure” establishes Christ as the standard for purity. Jesus never had to be purified because He is and always was pure from sin in His character and conduct. He is the example and standard every believer is to imitate.
Like John, we should stand in amazement of God’s great love for us. Isaac Watts must have experienced this love when he wrote the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” published in 1707. In the fifth stanza, Watts caught the vision of how we should respond to God’s love: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”