In a section that deals with Chris tian confidence, it may seem odd that the author begins with the exhor tation to continue in him (that is, in Jesus). By now readers of 1 John are familiar with admonitions to "live in him" (2:6) and to let the word of God "remain" in them (v. 24). They can be assured that as a result they will "live forever" (v. 17) and that they will "remain in the Son and in the Father" (v. 24). All these promises and commands use the favorite Johannine term menein, "abide." To say that certain things "abide" in the faithful offers them assurance, for "abiding" connotes the perma nence of God's blessings.
But if God's blessings are sure and secure, why must believers be commanded to "remain" (2:27) and to continue (v. 28) in their faith? Do these commands suggest that these readers can lose their status as God's children? Are they in danger of facing God's judgment? These various commands, which urge continued steadfastness, are not in tended to frighten the readers or to suggest their inadequacies or failures to abide in Christ. Quite the contrary, these words encourage them to continue faithfully in the direction that they have been heading all along. The command admonishes them, but it does so by affirming them in their present course. They have abided; they must continue to do so. Encouragement and exhortation are joined together.
When we continue faithfully in relationship with God, we can be confident and unashamed before God when Christ comes. These two adjectives suggest opposing positions: one will either come into God's presence confident or one will come in shame. The shame of which the elder speaks is not the shame that believers sometimes imagine that they will or ought to feel in the presence of one who is righteous and pure. It is not embarrassment for those things which we have done wrong. In fact, it is not something that believers are expected to experience at all. Rather, the "shame" that is spoken of here is the disgrace or rejection that unbelievers will experience when they come into judgment. And, in context, those who come into such "disgrace" are those who do not "abide."
On the other hand, the confidence that believers have is the boldness to approach God when the coming of Jesus signals divine judgment. The epistle uses two words for Jesus' coming, "appearing" (phaneroun) and "coming" (parousia). "Appears" can also be translated "is revealed," suggesting an open and public revelation of Jesus. The word for "com ing" (parousia) is a technical term in theological language for the return, or Second Coming, of Jesus. It referred in antiquity to the coming of a dignitary or king, with open splendor and honor. To speak of Jesus' "appearing" and public return does not suggest that his first coming was somehow secretive. And yet it is true that there was a hiddenness about it, for not all recognized or received him as the Messiah and Son of God (3:1). In the same way, the world does not recognize Christians to be children of God (3:1). But a time is coming when Jesus' true status will be made known publicly. And when Jesus "appears," those who have been faithful, who have "abided," may approach God openly and with great confidence (parresia). This term connotes speaking with frankness and openness and points to the privilege of those who are children of God. There is nothing that hinders their relationship with God.
The command ("abide in Christ") functions, then, in two ways. On the one hand, it exhorts readers to continued faithfulness to God as God is made known in Christ. Yet, on the other hand, it is a promise. For it promises to those who continue in their commitment to God that noth ing will bring them to shame at the judgment. In this light, the statement you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of [God] seems both out of place and possibly even at odds with the promise of confidence before God. For who truly "does right" just as [Christ] is righteous?
Two points must be noted. First, the statement serves to remind read ers that righteousness is not simply an intention or feeling, but is manifested in deed and truth, in the moral quality of one's life. Righteousness is the responsibility of those privileged to be God's children. Second, righteous behavior provides confirmation of our relationship with God. Righteous conduct does not make us God's children. Rather, such con duct is the consequence or expression of a relationship that already exists. "To do righteousness" means to "practice it as a pattern of life which comes from one's very nature" (Culpepper 1985:56). Privilege carries with it responsibility. This leads directly to reflections on the designation children of God.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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