John has counseled his audience to live confidently and embrace their true identity in Christ. His final movement was to challenge his readers to maintain purity. 1 John 3:3 simply encourage us this way: “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”
So the big question is, “How do I purify myself?” Let me offer two thoughts as I wrap this week’s series up. First, we purify ourselves by taking responsibility for our own lives, especially pertaining to our sin. There’s something about human nature that causes us to justify our sin, excuse our sin, or blame others for our sin. Rather than justify, excuse, or blame others for our sin we need to simply take responsibility for it.
The apostle Paul is a great example of a person who took responsibility for his own stuff. Check out this opening to 1 Timothy: “We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:8-14, NLT).
Paul named a lot of pretty serious sins. They were culturally unacceptable then and for the most part culturally unacceptable now. Our culture is quite adept at affixing labels to the sinners who sin these sins and then compare their own marginal lives to the lives of those who got called out instead of comparing their lives to the standard of Christ. Having said all of that, look at what Paul said in the next verse: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all” (1 Timothy 1:15, NLT).
That’s right. He went full circle and called himself out as the chief of all sinners. He honestly believed that he was the worst sinner on the face of the planet. That’s how you take responsibility for your life. You focus on yourself and how you measure compared to Christ and let God be the judge of others.
The second way we purify ourselves is to embrace suffering. Suffering is one way that God reveals our character and provides opportunity for growth. Just as fire removes the dross from precious metal and refines it, suffering purifies our lives. Suffering is a part of life. Live long enough and you will matriculate into the University of Adversity. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the value of the assignment and we struggle and strain against the adversity, somehow hoping to survive and come through to the other side. We complain at the injustice of it all and wonder why everyone else has it so much better. We recall all of the goodness of our lives and present it as a defense and the basis for our relief. All the while missing the very thing God is trying to produce in our lives. When adversity comes we can embrace it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
When I was serving in St. Louis, I participated on a church fast pitch softball team. During one Friday night game I dove for a ball and landed on my gloved left hand, rolling my hand and injuring it. On Saturday I noticed that it was swollen, and by Sunday it was turning all sorts of interesting dark shades. I went to the Emergency Room and got the X-Ray results confirming that I had broken my hand. The E.R. doctor put my hand in a splint and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. That next week I attended my appointment. When the surgeon looked at my X-Ray, he noticed that the broken bone had twisted. He told me that I could have surgery to insert a pin in the fracture to correct the alignment, or he could manually try to twist the bone by wrenching my hand with his hands. I consented to allow him to try to twist it back into place, which caused incredible pain. But it worked.
Sometimes we experience suffering and we opt to bypass all of the painful, correcting, growing parts. We just want to skip it and find comfort as soon as possible. But when we embrace it, God is able to grow us for our long term benefit and his eternal glory.