This week's Bible Study - December 6, 2015
Adopted into God's Family
1 John 3:1-10
Quotes of the Week:
In a household of toddlers and pets, we discover this rule of thumb about happy families, that they are least two-thirds incontinent.
During the holiday season, we like to think about family. For many people this time of year is difficult because it often brings to light what is missing in our families. Many families have lost loved ones that have passed away (recently or perhaps years in the past), so there is always the reminder that things are no longer what they once were. Berkley and I (as well as many of you) know of many friends who have lost key members of their families in the past months. We understand that the Christmas season may be very emotionally taxing for many of these families.
There are what may be called the typical families, with a mom and a dad and two and a half kids. There are smaller families and larger families. In some families, fractured relationships and divorce may have split the family apart. The holidays can be very difficult for the entire family, including children (of any age) that were involved and extended family (including grandparents, aunts, uncles and other close friends). There are blended families that bring together members from different families to form a new larger family. I have seen some of these that have been a great example of how God can heal broken hearts and bring restoration, and I have seen other parts of these families that seem to work against any potential healing, resulting in more pain for all involved, even years in the future. Rather than trying to identify all the different types of families that are represented in our world (and even in our churches), suffice it to say that there are many types of families.
We have seen our society attempt to redefine what a family is to be inclusive of any type of family. Many believers are guilty of pointing out how the world is trying to change the standard for marriage and families. I certainly am not advocating for a redefinition of terms or to move further from God's standard. However, if we refuse to acknowledge that there are people that are impacted by being part of a nontraditional family, our opportunity to minister and serve individuals, as well as families will be damaged.
One thing that has not changed and will not change is our relationship to God's family. Some will say that since all humans are created by God, we are all part of His family, but there is a clear requirement to be included in God's family, according to Scripture. We know that, on our own, none of us (not even one) is good enough to become part of God's family. We know that we all have sinned and fallen short of what God intended. However, we know that God sent His Son, Jesus, to live a sinless life and through His death, He paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus conquered death and rose again on the third day. When we have accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we are indeed part of God's family.
There are some false teachers out there that will misconstrue what it means to be part of God's family, largely on the basis on sin (presence or lack thereof). One prevalent lie comes from those who say that sin does not matter anymore (if you believe in Jesus), so 'believers' are free to live as if there are no rules. Others may say that they have a new nature, so they "never" sin anymore, which is also a lie. There are still others that will claim that they have simply willed to quit sinning and are no longer a slave to sin. Certainly, we are to pursue righteousness and holiness. It is something that we will always strive for, but will never attain. When a person is baptized, we can read that they are raised into new life. Certainly, some things will change and one will seek to honor God, even though we still fail. Despite our struggles, we are still part of God's family.
As John begins chapter 3, he remarks of the tremendous love that the Father has lavished on us, so that we should be called children of God. It is certainly a privilege to be a part of God's family. There are many situations, even on an earthly level, where we have seen adoption into a family to give huge opportunities to those who would never have the opportunity on their own. And, in other cases, we have seen some who were offered similar opportunities through adoption, but ended up causing more problems on the family that took them in. In one case involving a prominent athlete, the son, though he made much money playing professional basketball, ended up taking money from his elderly mom, leaving her homeless. And, to top it off, he showed no remorse for what he had done.
We certainly have seen many families that have dealt with adoption. I have friends that have adopted children from difficult situations and others who have adopted children from other parts of the world. Although their backgrounds may be very different, over time, you begin to see some similarities between the parents and the children, even within adopted families. As each of us mature and age, we often, but not always, will end up seeing our own parents in the way that we behave. In some ways, that can be very good, but in other ways we may find ourselves doing or saying something that our parent did or said (and we swore that we never would do the same!)
I find it utterly amazing to be consider as a child of God. I know myself. I know how at times in my life, my motives and desires have been far from what you would think a child of God would have, yet still, I am a child of God. This isn't just a label or tag that we give ourselves, but it is truly a state of being. Although we will always struggle in different areas of our lives, over time, we should begin to tangibly see ways that we resemble Christ in our lives. For example, it may just be that we do not respond in situations in the way that once was our natural way, but rather we find ourselves really considering how we should handle a situation to give glory to God. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
When we find ourselves living as God intended for us to live, we will often find that the world does not understand or accept our lifestyles. It is as if the way that we are called to live is often in direct opposition to the way that seems 'natural' or how the world currently lives. If you look at the media, you realize that it is almost always slanted in such a way as to make everything sound one way or the other. When things go contrary to expectations, there is always someone else to blame. We end up feeling that we have to side with one side, all the time, no matter what. Commercials tend to teach us discontentment. It is as if we need this or that or else we are incomplete. I often think about the commercials where a car is given for Christmas. This may happen in a family that you know, but that can be setting the bar too high for most families. The world tells us that we deserve and should demand respect, admiration and attention, as if it should always be about us.
We read, though, that when Christ appears, we will be like him. Isn't that amazing? We would love for that day to come sooner rather than later, but now, in the heart of a believer, there is a yearning to be like Him. Are you yearning to be like Christ in all areas of your life?
These next few verses are somewhat confusing at first read, but John, the author is making some assertions and counterpoints. He writes that everyone who sins breaks the law, because sin is lawlessness. Some people will try and make it arbitrary as to how you live and as if God's laws may have been applicable at some point in the past, but certainly not today. Many act as if God's laws were made up to take the joy out of life. As believers, we know that God's ways are the best ways, but we still struggle. We tend, at times, to think that if we just gave in to this area or that area, things would be so much easier. We need to remember that God is our Creator and His standards are not arbitrary. He has placed them before us for our own good.
Let's think of a relevant example. You buy a new car and though the manufacturer tells you that you need to fill the gas tank with gas, you decide that is optional and you fill the gas tank with water, instead. Water is much cheaper and it is also a form of liquid, so it should cause no harm, right? Obviously, we know that putting water in your gas tank will wreck the engine of your car, so we wouldn't do something so stupid. However, we tend to forget that sin has a huge negative impact on our lives. Sin tends to twist, distort and cripple us as Christians. And, when we continue in sin, it causes more issues. For example, we know that living a promiscuous lifestyle can lead to disease and broken relationships. Most believers would say that type of lifestyle is wrong and seek to avoid it. However, many tend to forget that lying can become just as damaging. When we lie, we have to keep lying in order to cover our tracks. And, when those lies involve others, many people are impacted wrongly. A 'favorite', even in many churches, is gossip. Some people will share any story that they feel can draw a crowd and others may 'discretely' gossip through a detailed prayer request (without all the information). Many people can be damaged, as gossip is at best only half the truth and it can cause many people to be hurt in the long run. We see this in others easily, but are we willing to ask ourselves if we have similar problems?
We know that Jesus came, not only to forgive us from our sins and give us eternal life, but also to give us a new bent towards life. We never will be able to fully live as God intends, but there should be many signs where our default actions and attitudes become more and more like Christ. We read, though, that no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. It is a delicate balance that we live, knowing that we are called to live free of sin, but also knowing that we will always struggle with different areas of sin in our lives. A believer will want to do what God has called him or her to do, even when it may be difficult to do so.
John continues to tell the believers that they need to be careful to not be led astray. A believer is righteous, just as Christ was righteous. We tend to look only at what someone may or may not do, and form our opinions on who they are by what they do. This can be true to a point, but for a believer, it is much more about the heart. As we grow closer to Christ, our deeds reveal our heart more and more, and our actions reveal our character. And, as we consider our heart vs our actions, the change has to go deeper than merely our deeds. For example, have you ever thought about the relationship between the things you think and the things you say? Others may judge you on what you say, but have you ever considered that your thoughts are the 'real' you? In Proverbs 23:7, it says, "As a man thinketh, so he is." Likewise, in Matthew 15, verse 11, Jesus said "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them" And, in verse 18, Jesus said "But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them." This should cause us all to pause and realize that the issue is much bigger than what people do or don't see.
Some people want to think of Christianity as an external part of their life, as opposed to who they are internally. Certainly, it is much easier to track and define the rules or what you can or can't do. And, people have done this over time - in regards to what TV shows or movies they will or won't watch, or what book that they will or won't read, or whether they can drink or not, or whether they can dance or play cards or ….. You see how we tend to be like the Jewish Pharisees and define the rules of what we can and can't do, as if doing them or avoiding the others makes us more righteous before God. Who are we kidding? We can fool those around us, but God knows all about the internal you and me. We each have some sort of internal compass that guides the decisions we make or what we will or won't do. As believers, our desire should be to follow God's guidance in life. It might be a good thing to pause at this point and ask yourself, what is my true desire? If you are a strict rule follower, but you find yourself as being uncaring towards others or you are holding out on doing what God has called you in relationships, is that you real intent? As believers, we have a new seed in us that should result in a new desire to do what God has called us to do. Although we still struggle with sin, when that sin becomes continual and consistent in our life, with no effort to make changes, perhaps we need to step back and ask ourselves if we are truly a child of God.
We are privileged to be able to even be considered as part of God's family. We know that we are far from perfect, and that we still struggle in different areas of our lives. However, we need to remember that, through Jesus, we are seen as righteous and we are considered a new creation. If you are a new creation and all that has truly been impacted is what you do on Sundays and selected areas of your life, are you missing something?
In a sermon I recently heard, there was the talk of the different sacrifices that were required of the Israelites, found in Leviticus. Without going into their names, there were three that were optional. The first was the burnt offering, in which the sacrifice was completely consumed, and we learn that God wants all of us, but it requires us to be willing to give of ourselves, completely. The second was the grain offering, in which people were required to show that what they had belonged to God - are you holding onto your things? The third was the peace offering, in which the meat of a sacrifice was shared between the priests, the families and God, to show that there was peace between them. These three were optional, but if you didn't do them, you were truly missing the intent for your life.
The two sacrifices that were mandatory were the sin and the trespass offerings. The sin offering was required of all of the people, including the priests, because we all, as humans, have gone astray and messed up. The trespass offering involved confession of sin and the willingness to pay the consequences. As believers, we must all confess that we have sinned, and we must all realize that payment is required of our sin, and Jesus Christ provided that payment through His death. We know that we are adopted in God's family when we are forgiven of our sins.
When we are truly a part of God's family, we will have a desire to be more like Christ. As stated earlier, some people will look at the different rules and believe that they may be overbearing. However, we see the need for rules in life. For example, when we drive on the streets, we know that there is a reason for the many laws that exist. We may not like them, but we recognize what would happen if people chose not to obey them. It would be utter mayhem on the roadways. Perhaps we see that our world is dealing with many issues because people choose to follow what seems best for themselves, without concern for others. This leads to massive problems in life. There will always be some that choose to follow the path that seems good to them, despite what God would desire. Let us as believers choose to truly live as children of God.