Because we are the dearly loved children of God, God gives us the gift of his love. A son might expect to receive something from his father, the wealthier the father, the more extravagant the gift. If we have been born again then God is our father and God has access to all of the wealth of the universe, so his gifts to us can be lavish indeed!
Because we are children of God and have received the love of God in this way, the world does not know us (3:1b). The world did not understand Jesus in the Gospel of John, there are many examples of Jesus stating something which was misunderstood (Nicodemus thinking he needed to be literally reborn, for example).
If a person is in Christ they are a new thing, a new category which the world does not fully grasp. In the Roman world, it was very hard to understand why these Christians were willing to give up their lives for a belief in a crucified God. They did not understand why faith in Jesus brought men and women, slaves and free together as a new family, and they certainly could not understand why Christians would help the poor, care for the needs of the orphan or widow, help people who were sick with dangerous diseases, etc.
Even though we are children of God, we have cannot fully understand what this means (3:2). Continuing the metaphor of a parent and child, it is possible a child has no idea the exact wealth of their parent. Imagine a child who has a famous and wealthy father, but they do not realize who wealthy until they are an adult. As Karen Jobes says, “the full effect of being a child of the Father with eternal life is not something anyone can comprehend now” (1, 2, & 3 John, 142).
The one who has this hope purifies themselves because God himself is pure (3:3). This “hope” refers to the love god has lavished on us, but possibly as far back as the hope of confidence on the day of judgment.
To be pure has the sense of both ritual and moral purity. The verb (ἁγνίζω) is used for Judeans who purify themselves as they go up to Jerusalem to worship at Passover (John 11:55). In Acts 21:24 Paul goes up to the Temple to assist some men who were completing a Nazarite vow, they “purify themselves.” The verb is used as a metaphor in the New Testament, James 4:8 refers to purifying one’s heart and 1 Peter 1:22 refers to purifying one’s soul.
It may be a coincidence, but Paul does not use this language when describing sanctification, possibly because it is a very Jewish metaphor; the one who is purifying themselves is getting ready to worship God at the Temple. They are drawing near to the presence of God and therefore take the necessary steps to be ceremonially clean.
The child of God purifies themselves. Being born of God was passive, we do nothing to be born again, but John says there is some responsibility on the part of the believers to purify themselves.
Developing the Father and child metaphor just a bit more, if the Father is has some characteristic, then his child likely has the same attribute but the child will needs to make some effort to develop that attribute be more like the father. In this case, God is perfect purity, the child will not reach that same kind of purity, but that is what the goal ought to be.
4 thoughts on “1 John 3:1-3 – Purify Yourself!”
“Developing the Father and child metaphor just a bit more, if the Father has some characteristic, then his child likely has the same attribute, but the child will need to make some effort to develop that attribute to be more like the father” (Long, 2020). I liked this metaphor; it makes a lot of sense. Being born in the image of God, the Imago Dei, it is true that we will reflect some characteristics of who God is. For example, in one of my psychology classes this morning we talked about the baby/puppet experiment. The experiment shows babies a puppet show. One puppet is being “nice” throughout the show and the other puppet is being “mean”. At the end of the show the puppeteer gives the babies a choice, do they reach for the “nice” puppet or the “mean” one? Most often the babies will choose the “nice” one. This sociologically proves that even small children have the ability to detect good and evil. We then discussed that because we are all created in the image of God we would inherently have that within us, but because of the fallen world we live in, we would also have evil. As believers we have the Holy Spirit to help better transform us into the good or “nice” attributes of God. That takes constant sacrifice of giving up ourselves in order to be more like God. Romans 12:1 shares “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”(ESV).
ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Speaking of seeking after the characteristics of our father as being pure as he is, in light of this idea of purification, this might bring more profound light to 1 Peter 1:16, which says, “be holy because I am holy” (NIV). Although we are unable to be the exact replication of who God is, we are commanded to seek after following in his image. As a child follows the lead of their father in life, we do the same. The distinguishing point between sanctification and purification might be a little challenging to understand, since both sound like the would be similar, but this might construed our understanding of both sanctification and purification. When 1 John speaks of this, he has in mind “the purification of our souls” (Long, 2020). Although we don’t know exactly the wealth of the father, we know he gives gifts to us far better than what we can even comprehend (Matt 7:11). So, in being born again we do nothing on our part to be born again by God, yet we still have a responsibility to purify ourselves, to seek after the intended means of our creation, to be made and shown as creatures made in the imago dei.
This concept of purification- whether it be metaphorical, physical, or spiritual, is a concept that has always been so intriguing to me. I have a hard time believing that even we as believers today, with a rich, nuanced, well-researched Biblical understanding, can even begin to grasp the significance of what this purification means. A starting point to begin understanding this vastly profound concept can be found earlier in the blog post: “To be pure has the sense of both ritual and moral purity.” We have these two components, ritual and moral. I find very much in hindsight that the Wesleyan denominal tradition I grew up in very much put on emphasis on this idea of renewal, and frequent confession for sins. Not a frequent renewal that had anything to do with the security of salvation mind you, just a healthy encouragement to consider a continual investment in your personal relationship with Christ, and confessing your sins often and being in communion with our Father is a great way to go about experiencing deep spiritual growth. I’m reminded of Paul’s teachings in Romans: 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” (Romans 12:2a, ESV).