Imagine a young child who admires his father. He watches his father carefully, learns to imitate his gestures and expressions, and even tries to dress up just like Daddy. When his father is away on a trip, he waits excitedly for his return when he will see his father face to face.
On a spiritual level, the same themes of imitation and excited anticipation run through our reading today. Indeed, our identity as God’s children stands at the center of these five verses. The believing community is referred to as God’s “children” three times, and as being “born of him” a fourth time. This was no empty title; as Scripture says, “that is what we are!” (3:1). Why this emphasis on our true identity as God’s children?
One answer is that our identity should determine the way we live. Those “born of God” must live in righteous ways precisely because He is righteous. As Scripture declares: “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (2:29). Likewise, we purify ourselves, “just as he is pure” (3:3). As children, our lives should imitate our Father.
Our identity as children also points to the anticipation we should have at His future coming. Because we are not enemies or slaves of God but His children, “when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (2:28). Finally, Scripture combines the themes of imitation and anticipation at the end. Although we are children of God, our full identity is yet to be seen. “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2). The Christian hope lies in Christ’s return, when our identity as “children of God” will be realized in full.