I heard a story once about a minister and his wife who had tried for years to have children, and eventually had decided to go the adoption route. So they adopted a little girl and they were very glad to have her in their family. As she got older they told her she was adopted, but she couldn’t always remember the right words to use when she was telling her friends about this. One day the minister was sitting in his study working on his sermon, and his daughter ran into the room with the friend she’d been playing with. “Daddy”, she said, “I forget – was I adopted or adapted?” “Adopted, my dear”, he replied; “We’re still working on the adapting part!”
I’d like to suggest that we Christians are in a similar situation, and our epistle for today gives us both sides of that story: we’ve been ‘adopted’ into the family of God as his dearly loved children, and God is now working on the ‘adapting’ process – the process of becoming like our older brother in the family, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is an appropriate theme for us today, as we baptize Sophia Lynn into the family of God. In the Church Year November 1st is All Saints’ Day and it’s such a wonderful festival that when it doesn’t fall on Sunday, we celebrate it on the following Sunday so we won’t miss it! So today we remember all the people of God through all the ages, the saints who belong to him. But we’re thinking about ourselves, too, because part of the message of ‘All Saints’ Day’ is that we are indeed ‘all saints’ – all of us are the people who belong to God, which is what the word ‘saint’ means. All who believe and are baptized are adopted into God’s family and become one of his saints; Sophia joins that family today. And then comes the ‘adapting’, which will last for the rest of her life, and our lives too.
So let’s start by thinking about adoption. Let me read two verses from our epistle reading for today; these words may well have been written by the apostle John when he was a very old man.
‘See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1, New Living Translation).
I’m blessed to be the uncle of two adopted children, Elizabeth and Stephen. My brother and his wife adopted them when they were babies, a couple of years apart; now, of course, they’re young adults, and we enjoy watching their exploits from afar on Facebook! I’ve known families where adopted children are seen as second class, but that’s emphatically not the case in our family: Ellie and Stee are full members just the same as our own kids. And it’s the same for us in the family of God. We have been adopted into the greatest family possible, as children of the High King of Heaven.
Now some will ask, “But why do we need to be adopted? Aren’t we born the children of God? Aren’t all people God’s children?”
I would answer that question by saying that we all know terms that change their meaning depending on how they’re being used. ‘Child of God’ is a term like that. It’s used in several different ways in the Bible. The most important one for us as Christians is its use to describe Jesus: he’s the ‘Son of God’ by nature, what later theologians came to call ‘the second person of the Trinity’, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. In the truest sense of all, Jesus is the Child of God. So if you mean ‘a son like Jesus’, it’s true to say ‘God the Father only has one Son’.
But a second usage includes everyone God has made. In the Old Testament book of Malachi the prophet says ‘Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God?’ (Malachi 2:10 NLT). This passage clearly teaches that all people, by virtue of their creation, can call themselves the children of God – whether they know it or not.
But there’s a third sense which is common in the New Testament. People who are children of God by virtue of their creation can also enter into a more intimate child-to-parent relationship with God because of Jesus. In the introduction to his Gospel, John says ‘But to all who believed (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God’ (John 1:12-13 NLT). So God comes to us in Jesus with the offer of reconciliation and new life. We accept the offer in faith and commit ourselves to following him as his dearly loved children. And baptism is the sign and symbol of that adoption.
Later on, of course, children like Sophia have to make their own decisions about what to do about their baptism. Are they going to continue as followers of Jesus or not? No one can force that decision on them. Wise Christian parents will teach their kids what it’s all about in such a way as to whet their appetite for more, but in the end the decision will lie with the child themselves. I was baptized at the age of six weeks, in late December 1958. Later on, at the age of 13, I made a conscious commitment of my life to Jesus, which was my own personal moment of spiritual awakening. It was as if, in my baptism, God said to me “You are my beloved child”, and thirteen years later I nodded my head and said, “Yes I am, and I’m glad about that; thank you!”
It’s an amazing thing to see yourself first and foremost as a child of the God who made the universe. There’s a phrase out there that people use from time to time that I find really offensive: “How much is he worth?” What they mean is “How much money does he have?” but no Christian can be happy when that’s expressed in terms of worth, as if someone who has a million dollars is worth more than someone who has nothing. God has an entirely different measure of our significance and worth: we are his children by creation, and we have also become his children by adoption into his family. When you know this about yourself it doesn’t matter so much what others think or say about you. God says to us what he said to Jesus at the moment of his baptism: “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” (Mark 1:11 NLT).
So that’s the first thing – the adoption. Now let’s move on the the second part – the adaptation. Let me read verses 2-3 to you; I’m reading again from the New Living Translation which is a bit different from the pew Bibles:
“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3).
When I read a mystery novel I sometimes find I’m being tempted to turn to the last page to find out ‘who done it?’ Of course, that’s not a good idea – it spoils the suspense of the book. But in other situations, looking ahead is good – when we’re planning a route for a trip, for instance, it’s good to know what destination we’re aiming for, because those who aim at nothing usually hit it! So old John has looked ahead and seen the destination we’re aiming for as Christians: “But we do know that we will be like (Jesus), for we will see him as he really is” (2b). This is our destination: to see Jesus face to face, and to be transformed into his likeness.
The Old Testament tells a story of Moses coming down a mountain to meet the Israelites after he had been talking with God face to face. He didn’t realize that the prolonged time with God had had a physical effect on him – his face was shining. When the people saw it they were afraid, and Moses had to put a veil over his face to lay their fears to rest.
That’s a parable of what a meeting with God does to us, if it’s a genuine meeting. We can’t emerge from it unchanged; we meet him, and we’re transformed by the meeting.
John says this is what will happen to us when we see Christ face to face at the end of our journey: “We will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (v.2). We will be ‘like’ him in two senses: first, we will enjoy the same glorified resurrection body that he currently enjoys. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we will be transformed on the inside, so that we are thoroughly good, holy, loving people, just as Jesus is.
So that’s the destination. Now – what’s the route like? How do we get there from here?
Sometimes on a long journey the terrain and the climate can change dramatically in the space of a few short miles. In southern Alberta you can be driving on the bald prairie for a long time, but then when you get near Drumheller you suddenly find yourself dropping down into the badlands, surrounded by cliffs and hoodoos. It’s a very quick transition! But most transitions are more gradual than that; it’s a long time before we notice the difference.
In John’s vision, that’s the sort of journey we embark on when we become Christians – a journey of gradual transformation. He says in verse 3 “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he (that is, Jesus) is pure”.
What does he mean, “keep themselves pure”? Well, back in chapter 2:6 he says “those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did”. This is how we purify ourselves: by living day by day as Jesus lived, so that gradually we become like him. We learn Christ-like habits, and those habits help us become Christ-like people. One day we will be ‘like’ him in an absolute sense; but for now, we’re on a journey of gradual transformation toward that goal.
In order for us to develop those Christ-like habits it’s important for us to come face to face with the Jesus of the Gospels on a regular basis. Every Sunday we have a gospel reading – this morning it was the Beatitudes – and as we listen, we see once again the kind of person Jesus is, the things that are important to him, the priorities he sets, the way of life he teaches his followers. But we shouldn’t be content with just Sunday reading. We’re privileged to have Bibles in English available to us in many translations. Bible reading should be a regular part of our Christian life, and in that reading the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should have a central place. And as we read, we can pray for God’s help: “Loving God, help me today to see life as Jesus sees it and to live life as he taught it”.
There’s no guarantee that this will be easy; in fact, Jesus warns us that it will be difficult, and that not everyone in our lives will be jumping for joy when they see us doing it. Nonetheless, this is our call as baptized Christians. It’s the call that Sophia will need to hear as she grows up. It’s the call that Andrea and James and Deb accept today as they bring her to baptism: the call to “live their lives as Jesus did”.
We know what’s involved. We’re called to seek first the Kingdom of God as our highest value, above everything else. We’re called to turn away from greed and live simple lives, uncluttered with a lot of luxuries. We’re called to care for the poor and needy. We’re called to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us, to speak and live by the truth at all times, to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbour as ourselves – even when the neighbour is of a different race or religion or socio-economic background than we are. And we do all this with the help of the Holy Spirit, who fills us each day and gives us strength to follow Jesus. This is the process of adaptation as members of the family of God.
It’s important to be patient with ourselves on this journey. We live in an instant world where we want everything now, if not sooner. But the Scriptures are full of stories of people who had to wait for God to work in their lives – and that process of waiting molded them into patient people. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus says, “And the seeds that fell on good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15). When we read that verse, we tend to notice the ‘huge harvest’ part, but miss out on the word that comes first: patiently!
So, sisters and brothers, we are baptized Christians, and so we are God’s saints. We are children of God by creation and also by adoption. Our destination is to see Jesus face to face and be transformed into his likeness, and we’re on our way to that destination. While we’re on the way, our call is to do our best, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to ‘live our lives as Jesus did’ (1 John 2:6). So let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to be faithful to what our baptism is all about, so that every day people will see the way we live our lives and be reminded of our Lord Jesus Christ.