Below is a talk given by Igor Kolesnikov at the Men’s Ministry Breakfast on September 5th.
What We Will Be Has Not Yet Appeared
I. Blessing Upon Blessing
Even though I am unworthy and do not deserve God’s goodness, He nonetheless continues to shower me with blessing upon blessing. He blessed me with an amazing family. My wife, Anna and I celebrated our eleven-year anniversary last month. Ten months ago, God gave us a baby girl, Melody. She is the most adorable and dazzling little being. I am in awe of her and forever grateful to be blessed by her all-encompassing presence. She takes my breath away. I admire her personality and would praise her features endlessly. My family brings me so much joy and contentment these days. I am thrilled to be a husband and father. Two years ago, we became members of CPC. From the first time we placed our feet on this parking lot we knew that this was the place we wanted to be and once we walked through the doors into the church building, we instantly felt at home. The atmosphere here is so pleasant and the people in this church are attentive, kind, caring, and most importantly are the holy people of God. Indeed, it is our privilege and pleasure to come together as a family week in and week out to worship our great God, sing His praises, pray, confess our sins to Him, and be transformed into Christ likeness as we enter our Heavenly Father’s presence through the Spirit empowered preached Word and administered sacraments.
As I share my story, my hope is for us to connect and for us to get to know one another more deeply, as well as go beyond my story and together dive into a passage of Scripture. A few months ago, I was asked to share my testimony via video, which is posted on the CPC website. I will not be reciting what I have said, so if you are interested, you are welcome to listen to my testimony online. What I will do instead is just give you a quick summary.
I come from a lineage of firm faithful Christians. My grandparents lived in Russia during challenging and tumultuous times. They experienced starvation, hardships, persecution, and even imprisonment for their faith in God and Christian convictions. Soviet Union was undergirded by an atheistic, anti-religion, and communist ideology. If anyone deviated from this way of thinking and living, one inevitably became an enemy of the state and community and thus had to face the all-consuming wrath of the godless nation. God was there one and only trustworthy bedrock and He revealed himself to be faithful in and through these difficult times. Christianity thrived in spite of the hostile environment. I am currently helping my grandpa with the editing process of his autobiography and there are many stories of God’s amazing grace, love, care, protection, and miracles throughout his personal and family life as well as his ministry and church life.
My parents lived in Georgia, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe near the Black Sea, which was under Soviet control at the time. I was born there in 1988. My family, seeking religious freedom and wanting to escape the Georgian Civil War in hopes of a better life, were able to move to the United States in 1994. I was six years old at the time. I am the second child in the family of six. When we moved to America, my parents did not know English, did not know the American culture, and had only about $400 in their pocket. Thankfully, we had a few relatives that immigrated here before us and by God’s grace were linked to Christian Russian immigrants who helped us in every way. I grew up here in Washington, mainly in the Kent and Renton area. I was brought up in the instruction and admonition of the Lord. The Bible, the gospel, the church, and faithful Christian living were valued above all else. In spite of my Christian upbringing and influence, I had the appearance of godliness all the while denying its power. I felt empty and anxious. By God’s divine providence and timing, I fell into a state of aimlessness, meaninglessness, faithlessness and discontentment. All I wanted to do is run and hide from God and my vain state of being and began to cover and fill that void with debauchery and all other forms of idolatry and immorality. Despite my efforts, I was not able to find true and lasting peace and joy anywhere in this world or within myself. My family and church constantly prayed on my behalf. I continued going to church, occasionally reading Scripture and listening to sermons, and then I eventually came across Reformed Theology. That was the point when I was enabled to believe that God chose me and by His Spirit my dead soul was revived, my eyes and ears opened to who God is, who I am, and my soul received His redemptive truth, which changed me from the inside out, granting me forgiveness and now the person and work of Christ is my wisdom, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Without the gospel I would still be dead in my sins with the wrath of God over my head and eternal punishment as my future. After my conversion, the Lord placed in my heart to build a biblical and theological foundation and framework out of which to operate and function as a Christian in general and as a counselor in particular. I moved to Florida for about four years in order to pursue a Bachlor of Arts in Theological Studies at Reformation Bible College, founded by Dr. R.C. Sproul. That was a blessed time of learning, discipleship and fellowship. I had the opportunity to dive deep into church history, biblical studies, theology, apologetics, philosophy, and literature. After graduating, I sensed a call to come back to Seattle and pursue a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from a Christian Worldview at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, founded by Dr. Dan Allender. God is cultivating in my restless heart meaning, direction, placing, and contentment. He is also fostering a desire to love and serve people through transforming relationships in the context of Christian Counseling.
Now, I would like for us to move forward and try to accomplish two things: (1) reason together about the concept of story and (2) come to 1 John 3:1-3 and allow this text to catapult us to the larger story of the gospel, which will help us make sense of our lesser unique stories.
God made us as creatures that not only have stories to tell, but whose life is a story. We can’t even start to tell each other who we are without telling a story. Apart from story, we cannot explain why we are here and why what we are doing is significant. Apart from stories, we are unable to understand the world as it is today. People of all ages at all times and places, whether through written, verbal or visual communication enjoy reading, listening and watching interesting and engaging stories. God reveals who He is and who we are through stories in his divine written revelation and captivates us by the greatest story ever told, the gospel. A good story has the remarkable ability to grip imaginations and emotions as well as spark ideas, cultivate values, elucidate meaning, ignite belief, infuse with energy and generate action. A story is composed of sequences that include content drawn from history, circumstances, characters, conversations, conflicts, resolutions, cultures, places, events, etc. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end coupled with past, present, and future elements. When the setting is discovered and the plot steadily unfolds and as the characters develop, elements of the true, good, beautiful and their counterpart come together. Each story has structure, context, themes, tensions, ups and downs, twists and turns. The most important truths come alive through stories and that is precisely what makes stories so powerful. Stories frame our identity, meaning, vision, and mission. It provides an underlying framework as it scaffolds everything we think, feel, desire, decide, and do.
When we think of God, we typically think of Him as the Creator of the universe, the One who placed the sun, moon, and starry skies above, the One who ordered, governs and sustains all things, the ultimate Authority and Redeemer. But do we ever pause and think for a minute of God as Author? The Master storyteller! Isn’t it true that God is the Author of our lives and faith, the one who writes each chapter of our lives to uncover His divine story? Through our story God reveals who He is and who we are. Nothing about our story is random. There are no coincidences. God is orchestrating everything for our good and His glory. This should urge each one of us to listen and read what God has written in our lives thus far and join Him in the mysterious co-writing prospect. We are called to advance into the plot that God has uniquely knit for each one of us. God’s children have the privilege and responsibility to know their own story and put it into service for the sake of the larger story.
We would all agree that God’s providence, His invisible hand inspired the writing and preservation of Scripture and His outstretched arm is outworking the history and future of the world. But do we likewise agree that God is the active and creative Author of every moment of our lives? Let me rephrase the question—have you ever approached your life story as you would a book? Have you read the chapters of your life, trying to interpret and make sense of your story? When reading literature it is easy to get lost in subjective interpretation. In order to arrive at some form of objectivity, it’s important to ask the question—what is the authorial intent? Since God is writing our story, are you aware of His intentions? Do you know the context of your story? What kind of language do you use to draw out meaning and make sense of the circumstances and details of your life? Do any patterns or themes jump out at you? How is God at work in your life? What is God trying to accomplish? When was the last time you listened or read your own story? My goal in asking these questions is to help each of us to see the value in owning our story and see what the invisible God is making visible about Himself, the world and ourselves through His script.
When speaking of narratives a Greek prefix Meta is often added. It is translated into English as “after” or “beyond,” which denotes the idea of a transcendent story or overarching storyline that provides a unifying thread. A metanarrative is a blueprint or big picture that harmonizes and unites the smaller individual stories. It keenly provides an arranged worldview bringing forth explanation, meaning, purpose, and a system of values, priorities, together with a moral and ethical code.
The Bible is not just a book that includes different stories and likewise human beings are not just a collection of fragmented stories. What is the unifying thread? Is it possible that a larger story is being told through my lesser story? Does my life consist of only my birth, death, and everything in between and that’s it? Or does my life include a bigger story that consists of eternity past and eternity future with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ marking the center upon which everything hinges and what the return of Christ sustains and the work of the Spirit guarantees?
Scripture has a grand narrative that fills every story however small and insignificant it may appear at first glance with an abundance of meaning. A case can be made that the biblical metanarrative is about who God is and what He has done and will do for His beloved creation and creatures. It consists of four central themes: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. The Bible starts with creation in Genesis and ends with re-creation in Revelation, and in between, it encompasses the outworking of God’s glorious plan of redemption and along the way highlights the elements of light and darkness, life and death, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, truth and falsehood, holiness and depravity, roses and thorns, joy and grief, blessings and curses, already and not yet, and so forth. The climax and resolution of the plot is found in the person and work of Christ, the promised seed who defeats death, destroys sin, crushes Satan, reverses the curse, saves His people and ushers in the eternal Kingdom of God for the glory of His name to be eternally worshiped. The overarching themes provide the framework to the inspiring and beautiful story of God. God is on a mission to restore his fallen creation and redeem His creatures and reconcile all things to Himself. The ultimate goal of creation is for humanity to dwell with God. Those who hear, believe and trust this grand story are not only inspired and captivated by it, but are saved by the story, live by the story, and die by the story. The biblical metanarrative helps make sense of God, humanity, our lives, the world, and indeed the entire Bible. This is precisely why we will now turn to 1 John 3:1-3.
IV. 1 John 3:1-3
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself even as he is pure.”
This text reminds me of John Calvin’s words that he uses to open his Institutes of the Christian Religion. After the preface to the king of France he writes, nearly all the wisdom we possess consists of two parts—the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. The apostle John in this text imparts to us true and sound wisdom by talking about God and talking about us. When John talks about us, he does a play off of the “to be” verb. There is one that is missing but it is here by implication. He doesn’t talk about what we were in the past tense, but he does talk about what we are in the present tense and talks about what we will be in the future tense. John has plenty to say about what it means to be a human being, about what it means to be us. Who we were, who we are, and who we will be. In this text, John also has something to say about God. Of course these verses do not give us the full and comprehensive knowledge of God. We need more than just this text to know who God is. As we study Scripture we sometimes think we figured God out, that somehow we were able to tame Him and box Him in, but then as we continue to learn and grow we are hit hard with the realization that God is far more complex than we had ever imagined. Nonetheless, John tells us something about God that is especially important for us to know because it gives insight into God and His relationship to us.
In this text I also find two loaded phrases that if we zero in on we will find more material here than we can wrap our minds around. The first phrase is this: “See what kind of love the Father has give to us.” The second phrase is found in the middle, “what we will be has not yet appeared.” I want us to really focus and think deeply about these two phrases.
In order to understand this text and especially these two phrases, we need to set them in a context. It’s important to grasp what John is saying about who we were, who we are, and who we will be.
A. Who We Were
We were in darkness; we were sinners (1 John 1:6-8), loving the world, driven by the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16), we were of the devil, liars, enemies of God, unloving and hating people (1 John 3:8). That’s who we were. The entire Bible and in particular 1 John make that abundantly clear. In many ways, we were unaware or unconscious to who we were. We didn’t realize what we were, when we were, what we were. Sin is not only a problem; sin is the cause of our blindness that didn’t let us see who we were and blocked us from recognizing our problem and need. John in chapter 15 says that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, which means that it’s the work of God’s grace and love that enables us to see what we were. People who are still in this “were” category often tend to think that they are doing okay, when in reality they are in a desperate and hopeless situation. And even when someone superficially admits that they are not okay, they fall into oblivion of emptiness, futility, and chronic depression. We are born opposed to the love of God, and yet it is so necessary for us and then we come to these words, “what kind of love the Father has given to us”
B. Who We Are
It was the act of God’s love to send his son on our behalf so that we who were would become who we are, and what are we, the children of God. We were in darkness, now we are in light. We were sinners, now we are justified sinners. We used to love the world, now we love the church. We used to be driven by the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life, now we are driven by the Spirit, beholding God’s love with eyes of faith and staying humble before the life-giver. We were liars now we are honest. We were hating people now we love them. We were of the devil, now we are of the family of God.
John repeats two times, “we are God’s children now,” thereby telling us our identity. People nowadays put much emphasis on discovering who they are. Many people including myself are going back to school this month and many find themselves on a quest of discovering who they are. For some it is more vocational than necessarily philosophical, but we have bought into this mythology that through the process of education you discover who you are and you become and once you graduate that is who you are. I don’t know about you, but it is massively comforting to be told, who I am, by God who created me. There are probably no other words more comforting than these; “you are God’s children now.” This is the almighty God, the Creator, and the Author of our lives and faith, Who loved us, telling us what’s true of us now. We need someone or something outside of ourselves to determine our reality, or else, we will be lost in a sea of uncertainty. Oh what kind of love!
When people can’t figure out who they are or don’t like who they are once they discover who they are, they go to therapy, read a self help book, take courses, go to the gym, do yoga, or take a vacation in order to find out who they are or change who they are or develop coping mechanisms to deal with who they are. They say something along the lines, “I don’t like who I am, I want to change, I will try this, and maybe this will work or maybe this is as good as it gets.”
This statement, “we are the children of God now” perplexes believers. I often find myself in a dark place, sinning, living by the system of values that the world offers; I don’t love people, as I should. I am not always honest. John must be mistaken. There is definitely tension between who we were, who we are and who we will be because of these words, “what we will be has not yet appeared.” An already and not yet notion is present in this verse. We have arrived and at the same time, we haven’t. In a real sense we are perfect in Christ and in another sense, we are not. It’s often difficult to recognize that we are children of God, but we can be confident that we are because God through John says, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.”
What I find here is an underlying framework and motive for why we can do what we do. Whether we are thinking about our own lives and our own transformation as the children of God, or whether we are thinking about our callings as son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, or those of us who have been entrusted with a leadership, teaching, elder, or deacon role and responsibility, this truth undergirds and supports the fact that yes I can do what I do because of this—I am God’s child and what I will be has not yet appeared. This text gives us a foundation and anchor when we want to throw in the towel and give up. As we think about the people that God has placed in our lives to teach and influence, we can be comforted and encouraged with these words. We can take comfort when we are aware of sins, imperfections, failures, pain, temptations, and pressure in ourselves and the people in our lives. We get frustrated and impatient, after all even our best works that by God’s grace we are enabled to do are tainted with sin, but take heart, what I will be or what you will be has not yet appeared. The theological word for this is sanctification—it is a process and its in God’s hands. God is our sovereign and loving Father, Who tenderly is working out everything in our lives for good and His glory. We have hope in the present because God purified us and is working out our salvation now. Because of God’s love in Christ, adoption into his family is a reality now and yet we haven’t seen anything yet because what we will be has not yet appeared. We are clean, but at times we are dirty and vile, we are worthy and unworthy simultaneously, our flesh can be a burden, but we know that we are children of God by the Spirit of Jesus, Who is both in Heaven and in us right now. God knows that we are filled with fear, anxiety and frustration about our lives, about our future, about our families, about work, about the church, about the world. So God through John holds out comfort and encouragement to us here in this part of the text and yet John wants to go beyond just a word of comfort, he wants to hold out to us a word of challenge as he introduces us to the main verb, which is actually the main thrust of the passage.
C. Who We Will Be
John emphatically states we will be holy as God is holy, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Again, John wants to comfort us. We have a true reason to hope. If the issue of my transformation of not liking who I am and becoming who I want to be was in my own self and my own abilities and coping mechanisms, that would not be hope. We say to ourselves, only if I could do these ten steps and be forever changed. That is not hope. It is a wish. But when we know that God loved us and that we are His children, He ordains whatsoever comes to pass, absolutely governing our lives and working out every single thing happening to us for the accomplishment of His good purposes at our ultimate salvation and glorification in union with Him, that is true hope! The work has begun, it is in progress, yet not perfected, but will be when Christ appears. When we know and trust God’s work in our lives that is hope. It is not a dream it is a reality. God is going to come and fully reveal Himself and as a result we will be transformed. Here and now, we see no more than the beginning of what the gospel means. In other words, we haven’t seen anything yet. The story isn’t finished yet. Again, transformation into Christ-likeness is a process. Only when Christ comes again will we know salvation in all its fullness. Our salvation is so great and infinite that its full potential cannot be realized in the here and now. There are greater things to come.
D. In Between
This text answers a significant question: what am I to do in between of who I am and what I will be? Since I am God’s child now and certainly will be like Jesus at the second coming, relax be passive all will be well. Is that what John says here? No! God’s children are to be in a process of becoming what they will be, which is becoming more like Jesus. We are to be in the process of holiness. This is not a call to pull ourselves by our boot straps, strive harder and to do better. This is a call to be transformed by seeing the grace and love of God working itself out in our lives. Those who are born of God are partakers of His divine nature and it will inevitably manifest itself in the lives of His children. God’s children are not passive in their walk with God. True believers know and hope in God’s appearing. Their lives are focused on God and as a result, purity characterizes their lives because God is pure, who makes His children pure. Christians must not have only theological beliefs and convictions but also moral and ethical convictions. We are to actively look at Jesus and live a life of repentance, faith, trust, and obedience. God’s children do not fear his coming, rather they rejoice in the fact that they will see God and be as He is, and what he is, is holy and pure. It is a glorious event. No more sin, failures, doubts, frustrations, pain, and tears, only peace, joy, love, holiness, and praise in the presence of God.
God desires to touch us with His splendid love story. The gospel is not a call to work harder to reach God; it is the holy and true story of how God did all to reach us. The gospel is good news, not good advice or instruction. What sinners need is not advice, but the story of all stories, not directions for how to save themselves, but the grand story of how God has saved them. God saves people. They do not save themselves. Ultimately, it is God’s love, the most powerful force in the universe that neutralizes our resistance. Christianity is not, us seeking God it is God seeking us. We were dead, blind, deaf, miserable, and sinful. He delivered and healed us and to this day is transforming us by His love.
Father God, we come to you because of your story. Your love is so great and beautiful that we find it unfathomable. We are sinful people, yet you love us and you have provided a way for us to become your children by your Son’s perfect life and death on the cross. Thank you for opening our eyes to see and know Christ. Our hearts melt in seeing this love. Help us all the more to see and know your love in Jesus and be transformed into your likeness! Your Word reminded us that your love through Christ is the source, means and end of our identity, hope and sanctification. We praise you and pray for those who do not yet see your love; have mercy on them and by your grace open their eyes to your amazing love, fill them with your fullness so that they too, may become children of God. Amen.