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One can hardly dispute that the ways in which Christians speak about their understanding of and relationship to God strike non-Christians as ludicrous at best and arrogant at worst. To claim to know God's will surely sounds presumptuous; to claim to know God just a bit prepos terous. And the claim that we are children of God probably smacks of both. After all, how can people of flesh and blood be children of an eternal being who is Spirit (Jn 4:24)? And why does this status belong to some and not to all? What makes Christians so favored and their claims true, and not mere empty boasting?
The Elder has an answer to these questions. But his answer allows for no smugness on the part of Christians. On the one hand, he affirms to his readers that they are children of God, and so possess immense privileges by virtue of that relationship. But he reminds them that, on the other hand, they have definite responsibilities as God's children. Here is the unequivocal antidote to smugness and arrogance, to any kind of posturing of superiority over non-Christians: it is in our conduct that we make our claims to be God's children believable. The integrity of our lives speaks more loudly than all the claims we can advance.
So in the long section that stretches from 2:28—3:24, the Elder strives both to encourage and to exhort his readers. He encourages them by reminding them of who they are, and he exhorts them by calling them to what they ought to be. But these are scarcely separable for John: what they are—God's own children—carries implicit within it how they are to live. Who they are prescribes what they ought to be. Put differently, that we are God's children means that we have both privileges and respon sibilities.
The privileges given to those who belong to God are confidence and assurance of their status and of God's love for them (2:28—3:3; 19-24). And the responsibility incumbent upon them is to live out that relation ship in righteous conduct (3:4-10; 11-18), which points beyond us to the God whom we know. Thus the longer section that focuses on the chil dren of God (2:28—3:24) has within it two subsections (2:28—3:3, 19-24) that deal with the privileges, and two subsections (3:4-10, 11-18) that deal with the responsibilities of being God's children.