Love and Direction
The Telos or the Goal: The Image of God (3:1-2)
• The term telos means the end or goal to which people are heading. Philosophers might use the word telos to describe the purpose for which something was made. So a lawnmower accomplishes its telos when it manicures a lawn beautifully or a car reaches its telos when it efficiently transports a person from one point to another in comfort and safety. Here is an important question (perhaps the key question for First John). What is the purpose or telos for which humans were created?
• For John, humans were created in the image of God to be reflections of his character and nature of love. Living out God’s holy love is the telos for all of humankind.
• Right now, however, people do not fully or completely reflect the nature or image of God. People are marred or damaged reflections of God’s love.
• Jesus Christ is the full image of the Father, and through the incarnation, he has made it possible for people to be renewed in that same image. Those who believe in him and follow him have begun the process of being restored into the divine image. That process of renewal is not complete, but those who believe in Christ should always be moving toward the completion of his image in them.
Hope and Purity (3:3)
• John pictures this movement toward holiness or wholeness in the image of God as a process of continued purification. Those who bear the holy name of God (or who claim to be his “imagers”) must bear his holy name rightly in the world.
• This text brings to mind the story of the face of Moses being transformed when he glimpsed God’s glory. The more people are together, the more they begin to mimic one another and in some sense look like one another. For John, the more a person comes to know Jesus, the more that pattern of life is woven into their habits. One day that process of transformation (mimesis) will be complete, but it is the hope of that full revelation that pushes the believer forward in transformation.
The Form of the Argument Twice...
• The center of this text is built around three repeated ideas:
• [a] practicing sin is rebellion (v. 4 and v. 8)
• [b] Christ takes away sin (v. 5 and v.8b)
• [c] “In” Christ flee from sin (v. 6 and v.9)
• The idea of the “Law” or the Torah for the Israelites was not so much understood as a list of rules that people ought to follow as it was the “way” or pattern in which people should walk and live. For John, those who obey the law are not simply rule followers, but they are new creation people who continually seek to walk in the will of the Father. In this sense, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus is the Way. He embodies the purposes of the Father.
To Take Away Sins (3:5, 8b)
• For John there are only two ways to live – the way of the Creator and Father, or the way of the world and of the ruler of the world. Certainly the idea that Jesus came to demonstrate God’s forgiveness is implied here, but on a much deeper level, Christ came to bring people out of a life of darkness into a life of light.
• Think about the transformations that took place in the lives of those Jesus encountered: the disciples, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, etc. Each of these people left their lives of brokenness (lives practicing the destructive patterns of sin) to follow God’s purposes or Way for their lives.
Abiding in Sin (3:6, 9)
• When John says that no one who abides in the Father sins, he certainly doesn’t mean that they are incapable of sin. That doesn’t really make sense theologically or experientially. Readers of First John should keep in mind the distinction between freedom from sin and sinlessness. John does not expect that people will be sinless (until the transformation that will occur seeing Jesus face-to-face). But John does not expect people who have been set free from sin to keep living in it either.
• The CEB translates the first part of verse nine beautifully. “Those born from God don’t practice sin...” But when it says, “They can’t sin...” it does not mean that it is not possible for them to sin. It means they can’t keep sinning and live in the new creation relationship. It would be like saying a married person can’t commit adultery. It is not impossible for them to do so, but to be married implies that adultery is not something a married person can or should do.
Purity and Love (3:10)
• As is typical for John, he ends his brief lecture on purity with a statement about love. Whatever else it might mean to learn the Christ’s new creation pattern of life, it looks like love. If love isn’t somehow central, then it isn’t life in the Imago Dei.