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1 John 3:2 says,
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that, when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
John says that we are NOW the children of God, and yet he qualifies this by telling us that we are not yet what we WILL BE. There is more ahead of us, because we are children growing to maturity. We will have much more when we reach spiritual maturity. Paul says in Gal. 4:1 that “as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is owner of everything.”
There are three levels of sonship, each having its own level of spiritual maturity. Maturity is measured in one’s ability to love. A baby starts out cute but totally self-centered.
As the child grows, he enters a second stage of development and begins to learn the principles of justice—if, indeed, his parents instill in him such principles.
A child’s preoccupation with the idea of fairness and equality with his siblings must be shaped and modified, so that he learns justice. He must learn that age makes a difference, and that his older brother is given more privileges and responsibilities than he can have as the younger brother. Being still self-centered, the younger brother usually thinks that this is unfair, but he must learn that his own view is wrong and submit to the authority of his elders.
When he reaches maturity, he fully understands grace and love to the extent that he is able to love and train children of his own and to deal with their self-centeredness and lack of understanding.
The Greeks had three main words for love: eros, phileo, and agape. These relate directly to three stages of growth among children. Eros is self-centered, phileo is “brotherly love” (that is a judicial love). Agape is mature love having the ability to extend grace along with justice. Paul best describes agape love in 1 Corinthians 13, but we are also admonished to phileo love the brethren by treating them in a lawful manner. Justice is good, but if the children of God do not learn the higher principles of grace and mercy, their relationships will never fully reflect the mind of Christ.
The children of God are all on a journey toward spiritual maturity. Some will arrive at their destination before others. Some will receive their promised inheritance in the first resurrection, others at the general resurrection a thousand years later (Rev. 20:6, 12). Overcomers in this life will receive a greater reward than other believers.
We have been given great incentives to grow spiritually in this life and to “endure” to the end in the face of adversity. Yet whether we achieve the reward as an overcomer or not, all of us are God’s children, and so we are called to assist our brethren in their journeys in every way that we can.
When we achieve spiritual maturity, John says, “we will be like Him.” Jesus is the pattern for all of God’s children. Why? How? John says, “because we will see Him just as He is.” Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
In other words, we are changed by beholding Him. When we look upon His face, we see the glory of the face of God. That glory is transferred to our face, so that we come fully into the image of God. This has been man’s destiny since the beginning of creation, when God said, “Let us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26).
Paul also speaks of a great hindrance that prevents many from beholding the face of God. It is the veil of the Old Covenant, which prevents us from seeing His glory. When Moses’ face was glorified after beholding the glory of God on the Mount, the people were unable to look at his face, so Moses put a veil over his face to hide the glory that was upon him (Exodus 34:33). Moses’ ability to see the people was not impaired, Paul says, for the veil was meant to hide the glory from the carnally-minded Israelites. 2 Cor. 3:14-16 says,
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
We see, then, that the people’s fear kept them from seeing the glory of God. As we will see shortly, John says that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Conversely, fear is evidence of a shortage of love. Many people become Christians because they have been made to fear divine judgment. Such people must, at some point, replace fear with love, or they will never come to spiritual maturity.
The Old Covenant, which places the burden upon men to achieve righteousness in order to be saved, brings fear when men come to realize the impossibility of this task. Those who are honest and who understand the condition of the human heart are driven to despair in their attempts to be righteous by doing righteous things and thinking righteous thoughts at all times. Such fear prevents them from seeing the glory of God, for an Old Covenant veil “remains unlifted.”
To remove that veil, one must have faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant. The New Covenant places the burden upon God to make men righteous, for it is a promise that God Himself has taken to do what men failed to achieve by their own vows to God.
There are only two kinds of covenant in Scripture. There are those which man makes with God, and those which God makes with man. The covenant in Exodus 19:8 is the prime example of man’s vow to God, by which (if he were able to keep his word) he might be saved. The second covenant forty years later in Deut. 29:10-15 is a prime example of God’s vow (“oath”) to man, by which (since God is able to keep His word) men are actually saved.
Salvation, by the way, releases us from the mortal, unrighteous condition that came upon all men through Adam’s sin. Full salvation is to be recreated in the image of God, complete with His glory, thereby achieving the original purpose for man’s creation. While the Old Covenant causes us to fear His glory, the New Covenant draws us to His glory with love. It is only by experiencing and understanding the New Covenant that the veil is removed from our eyes. Only then can we see His face and be changed into the same image.
For further details about this, see my book, The Two Covenants.