April 29, 2015

April 26, 2015 - 1 John 3:1-2

Theme: What “Type” of Child Are You?

This is love. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the satisfactory payment for our sins. Therefore, even as spiritual children, we have overcome the world, because He who is in us is greater than He who is in the world. We humble ourselves before the mighty work of our Savior as recorded in 1 John 3:1-2:

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. 2 Beloved, 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.
One of the unique aspects of being human is having a personality. A personality not only separates us from the rest of God’s creation, it also gives us each original identities. Therefore, you are truly one of a kind. While you may have relatives and you may share common features with others, you are truly an individual.

When talking about personalities it’s common to divide them into two categories – Type A and Type B. Almost everyone has heard this common classification before. An individual with a type A personality is: competitive, outgoing, strong-willed, and at times hostile. Those with a type B personality, on the other hand, are often: easy going, passive, emotional, and non-confrontational. Most people fit into one of these two categories, although there is a wide spectrum between the two. Very often, the characteristics that establish personality are shaped and defined early on, in childhood. If you’re a parent, it doesn’t take long to see which type of personality your child exhibits, for as soon as they can express themselves, they begin to show it.

With this in mind, I wonder, why type of child are you when it comes to your spiritual life? John tells us in the first verse of our text about the great privilege we have to be called children of God: Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! As believers, we are literally members of God’s family. But, we are children, and there are some difficulties that come along with that. Children are immature. Children make mistakes. Children are reckless. Children don’t have all the answers. And just like the personalities of children fit into type A and type B, so the same is true of our spiritual attitudes. So, which “type” of child are you, since you are a child of God?

It’s important to remember that whether we tend to show signs of competiveness or meekness, we can serve God as children. The only type of personality that is wrong is the personality of sin. God uses all types of differing attitudes and emotions, so long as they are without sin, to serve a purpose in His kingdom. So whether we consider ourselves type A or type B, there is no right or wrong answer, only different.

The Bible widely uses the theme of our status as children of God to describe the comfort and blessedness we have as Christians. Paul writes to the Romans that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:16-17).” In another place He tells the Galatians: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).” What tremendous blessings are given to us, that we may be children of God! The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness of this. God uses baptism to establish this lineage, that we may be clothed with Christ’s own righteousness. Being a child of God means at times we will have to suffer for the name of Christ, but also, that we will be glorified with Him. Being a child of God is really the most important relationship you can have because to have it you must believe and have faith in Jesus. Membership in God’s family deals with the most important things that God has to offer us.

And of course, our text for today serves as another reminder of the great privilege of being a child of God. The very first word highlights the importance. John literally writes, “Look;” pay attention to what I am going to write. In fact, he commands his fellow Christians so, because to look upon the love of the Father is the greatest and most important thing one can do. And what we see when we gaze upon this love is equally impressive. John continues by using a very peculiar word to describe God’s love for His children. “What manner of love” God has shown us. This phrase is unique in that it poses a question to the reader in order to emphasize the quality of what it’s describing. It’s as if God offers a love that is so tremendous and unique that we can’t even describe it. We literally have to sit back in amazement and shake our heads saying, “what kind of love is this?”

The Bible fully explains what this love is, but we don’t know it just because of words, we know it because we also feel it. We have it within us by faith in Jesus. We all can feel love of various degrees. Love for a pastime or hobby. Love from friends or relatives. The special love of a spouse or a child. But this love that John describes, the love that caused him to write, "Behold, what manner this is," is the love of Jesus Christ. This is the love that came from heaven and took human form. This is the love that walked among the crowds and consoled those caught in the agony of this world. This is the love that endured lies and beatings, ripped clothing and torn flesh, insecurity and unfairness. This is the love we see on the cross, the love that brought death near, that made it a reality for our Savior, but also the love that conquered death. Behold it, Look at it, what manner of love it is!

And what does John tell us but that this love is what makes us children of God. There is no greater title than “child of God” precisely because of the great love that bestows that title. Being God’s child reveals not only what God has done for you but also what you can do for God. It is a Father who takes joy in the accomplishments of His children. He doesn’t need them (the accomplishments) to be the Father, but He glories in them. And it is a child that seeks to follow a Father, no matter what obstacle is in the way.

No matter what type of child you are, you can have this relationship with God. But, with each type of personality also comes different dangers to be aware of. The danger for the strong-willed, type A personality, is that you lose the innocence of being a child of God. Instead of humbly trusting your Father’s word, you lash out in rebellion and independence; unwilling to be meek and mild and instead too headstrong to confront the questions of life on your own.

The type A personality gets upset and discouraged by not having all the answers. But be not so quick to forget why God calls you His child. Surely, it first and foremost represents His leadership of your life as the Author and Finisher of your faith. But with that victory comes the realization that we don’t have it all figured out. It’s ok to have questions, fears, and limitations. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not ok to make excuses and live in those faults, but your spiritual life does not automatically end because of sin. Be not afraid to confess and repent of your failures before God because His love covers a multitude of sins.

Where confession of sins is absent, the attempted cover-up of sins will abound. This danger often rears its ugly head in the stubborn and aggressive nature of the type A child of God because it takes humility to confess sins. By nature, type A means an inner drive to solve problems by calculated and analytical hard work. But the solution for sin doesn’t work this way; it is not in this way that we have so learned Christ (Ephesians 4:20). Rather than the cold-hearted, process driven approach of a type A personality, God forgives sins in an entirely different way – He says through Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

If you’re a child of God, it’s ok to believe like a child. You don’t have to be cold and calculated like an adult. You don’t have to have everything figured out like a scholar. You may not always know everything, you may know very little. But a child trusts, a child has a soft heart, renewed by this indescribable love of Jesus. After all, wasn’t it Jesus that modeled His kingdom after children? “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Whoever does not believe as one of these little children believes, will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven! (Luke 18:16-17)” Oh, yes, to be a trusting, submitting, and respectful child of God is beautiful thing. God goes on to say on the matter:

"If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35)."

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1:20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 3:19, 1:20-21).

Children are often the last in people’s eyes, as far as ability and purpose goes; and they are also often considered foolish, because they are innocent and trusting. But that’s exactly what God wants us to be. The world may laugh us to scorn and pity us as “foolish” because of our faith, but we have the power of God behind us. Certainly these many dangers of a type A personality should be on our hearts and minds, always backed by the repentance and forgiveness for the times we fall victim to them. But a type B personality has pitfalls too; and we’re not always as aware of them as we are of the type A dangers.

To the contrasting attitudes of aggressiveness and organization, the type B personality is often easy-going and carefree. Obviously, on the surface, as we think of our Christian faith, this immediately seems like the option we all should seek. We picture ourselves as the pious and innocent followers of Christ, always careful to stay within the bounds of what is proper and right.

It’s also true that as we better understand Christ, we see that He was a self-sacrificial Savior. He was often patient and slow to action, choosing His words carefully and sometimes not saying anything at all. He put the needs of others before His own. The world probably would call Him a pushover in several respects. All of these features point to a type B personality, and certainly this fits with many Christian virtues that we value today. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit as: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities are manifested more often in a type B attitude, rather than type A. And so, we often think of the type B attitude as a better example of Christian living.

But very few of us actually fit this mold. Whether type B or type A, we’re all still hardened sinners and rebels before God. We trespass daily into the territory of life that is not intended for us or that is unsafe for us. Simply thinking of ourselves as laid back and easy going doesn’t fix any of the problems we suffer from. And contrary to what society and modern Christianity tells us, God is not always looking for His children to be relaxed and carefree.

And it was also Jesus who said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Jesus said that His teaching would separate families; that people would draw battle lines over the truth, and we live in those effects today. One cannot be neutral and follow Jesus. The result of the Word of God in a sinful world is that it will naturally create divisions among people, even though it’s meant for unity. People have the option of following a host of other man-made gods in place of Jesus alone. Money, power, influence, popularity, and even human creations of peace and love can take Christ’s place in people’s hearts.

Despite the numerous virtues of a type B attitude, one great danger is that it turns us into Christians who compromise the Word. At times we must be aggressive and calculated in our confession and belief. As John the Baptist was not a “reed shaken in the wind,” so we too must have that same resolve. It takes strong conviction and trust to contend for the truth, especially when that truth is daily forsaken by the majority of the world.

As a child of God, you can’t allow your innocence and trust to become blinders in your spiritual life. You need to remember that you live in a dangerous world and evil does not cease to exist simply because you wish it to. To guard against the pitfall of the type B attitude, you must daily grow in God’s Word and be strengthened through it. Strengthening your faith will create a greater barrier between you and Satan. Paul wrote: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). We rejoice that we are children of God but not so that we can bask in our spiritual immaturity. We need to grow too!

Our faith begins with the simplest of elements from God’s Word, the pure Gospel. And really, that’s all that is needed for salvation. But to live in a sinful world means we must also protect that great treasure. Many are the examples of Christians who came to faith with great eagerness, yet faded away as the trials of the world grew. Jesus likened it to a plant that springs forth immediately, yet has no root system underneath to endure the harsh elements (Mark 4:5). Though we take pride in the simplicity of a childlike faith, we cannot allow ourselves to get lax or easy-going with that faith. We must keep on growing and getting stronger to protect it.

The writer to the Hebrews described it as a spiritual diet: Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God's revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature-- for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).

As children of God, we need elements of both attitudes. We don’t want to be cold-hearted and analytical about our faith, but we also don’t want to be na├»ve and foolish. On the flipside, we want to be innocent and trusting, but we also want to be wise and mature. We see the greatest of these virtues in our Savior, which is Who John points us back to again, just as so many portions of Scripture do. In Jesus, we see the astute resolve of a type A confession of the truth, as He firmly followed the path the cross and grave to pay for our sins. But it is also in Jesus that we see the type B humility and love that kept Him on the cross in your place. In Jesus, both attitudes reach their highest pinnacle, and through Jesus they enter and influence our lives.

As John concludes, we see Jesus now in the Word and as the Word made flesh. But soon we will see Him as He is in complete righteousness and glory, a sight that no mortal man or woman has ever witnessed yet. This is our eager expectation, but in the meantime, we are content here in the world, as children of God. Look and see, what amazing and one of a kind love the Father shows to us, His children, through His only begotten Son!
God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any,
That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.