It is amazing to me to see my little boys growing up. When my wife and I came to the Sates about 5 ½ years ago, we did not know where the Lord would lead us and that three wonderful boys would be born to us. Sure, the journey is not only smooth and we already had to go to the E.R. three times in the last two years, but the overall experience of seeing God working in our family is tremendous.
Oftentimes I see my boys imitating what we (the parents) are doing. This of course is how they learn to become independent persons; but nevertheless it is one of the fun parts in our daily lives. With their imitations of us we see ourselves – our flaws and strengths.
In this post I wish to talk a bit about the necessity of the imitatio Christi – the imitation of Christ! Some of the following questions are hoped to be answered throughout this post: What should the attitude of a Christian be (verses 28-29)? What does it mean to be born of God? What is the significance of 3:1 – in the text? And for you/me? In connection to “sinless perfection”, what can you glean from 3:2-3? What practical implication has this in your life?
The text starts out by saying “and now” (2:28). This transitional link has also temporal significance and further looks back to the eschatological reference of “the last hour” in 2:18 (cf. Brown, 379). The verb “remain” should be rendered in the imperative since it is followed by a “so that” – clause. We need to abide in Him, so that we may be bold and have confidence when He comes back. Again the personal pronoun “him” is ambiguous but it seems to refer to Christ as the last clause “at his coming” indicates.
The word parousia (παρουσία/coming back) is only used here in the Johannine literature. The word is used elsewhere in the NT (Kruse, 113):
It can refer simply to a person being present somewhere (1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6, 7; 10:10; Phil 1:26; 2:12); to Jesus’ incarnate presence (2 Pet 1:16); to the future coming of the lawless one (2 Thess 2:9), and to the coming of the Day of God (2 Pet 3:12). But far and away its most frequent use in the NT is in reference to the future coming of Christ as the Son of Man (Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39) or the Lord (1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1, 8; Jas 5:7, 8; 2 Pet 3:4; 1 John 2:28).
In 1 John 4:17 we read “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world” which further identifies the confidence and not-being-ashamed theme here.
Christians are to be bold and have confidence at the return of their Lord – shame should not enter the theme at all; “in fact, one can argue that ‘to be confident’ or ‘to speak boldly’ is just another way of saying ‘to be unashamed’ at his appearing” (Witherington, 490; cf. Kruse, 112-113).
Verse 2:29 builds the thesis for this pericope. The third class condition is “to turn the audience toward self-interrogation: Have they realized that he is just?” (Brown 382). Brown further maintains that the two different verbs being used for “knowing” (in the Greek οἶδα and γινώσκω) is only a literary variation and cites John 13:7; 14:7; 21:17 as evidence (383). Others think that the distinction is made between intuitive and experiential knowledge (or absolute knowledge and observation).
The phrase “the one who practices righteousness” occurs three times in this pericope (i.e., in 2:28-3:10; whereas in v. 10 it is negated). Further, the word “born of” will occur ten more times in 1 John (2:29; 3:9 [2x]; 4:7; 5:1 [3x], 4, 18 [2x]). “In every case other than 2:29 God is explicitly mentioned as the one by whom those concerned are brought to birth” (Kruse, 114).
What does it mean to be born of God? In John 1:12-13 we read: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” which is also explained in John 3 in the encounter Jesus has with Nicodemus. To be born of God is to have put your trust in Jesus and come under his Lordship.
Brown (388) and leaning on him Kruse (114) take the “so that” – clause (in 3:1) as epexegetical. Thus the amazing love God has for us is that we are called children of God. “To be called children of God is an immense privilege because it means that God himself has chosen us to be in his family” (Kruse, 115; see again John 1:12-13). Some see this to be an “emotional aside” (cf. Brown, 422). Yet it also is chore to the NT believers’ faith!
Again we have some ambiguity as to who the reference is in the last clause (“him”). Kruse maintains that Christ is to be the preferred reference because “in the rest of 1 John it is always Jesus Christ come in the flesh whose true identity is in question (2:22–23; 4:2–3; 5:1, 5, 10), never that of the Father” (115) and also cites John 1:10 as a parallel.
This text (3:2) renders “sinless perfection” as impossible, at least before Christ’s return. This is no excuse for sin, we need to strive for a blameless and good conscience and this is something which can be achieved.
Here in 3:3 we have the only reference to “hope”. Brown suggests that this is because of Johannine stress on realized eschatological and that since the previous context mentioned the Parousia the hope is now introduced (396).
Kruse (116-17) observes that the verb “to purify” is “found only seven times in the NT. It can have either ceremonial or moral connotations. So in John and Acts it is used consistently in relation to ceremonial purification (John 11:55; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18). However, in James 4:8 (‘purify your hearts, you who are double minded’) and in 1 Peter 1:22 (‘having purified yourselves by obeying the truth’) hagnizō definitely denotes moral purification, and this is what it means in the present context where people purify themselves in order to be pure as Christ is pure.”
Again we have imitation language (see 2:29). Witherington sees correctly the practical implication for the believer here: “in the meantime the believer must be striving to be ever more like Christ in life and behavior” (498).