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. – 1 John 3:2 ESV
We are already God’s children. Right here. Right now. But we are in the process of transformation, what theologians refer to as our sanctification. We are being made into the likeness of Christ. Paul says that we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). It is a spiritual transformation, an inner action that is taking place while we live in these earthly bodies. As our bodies grow older and suffer from the impact of sin, our inner spirits are slowly, but steadily going through a make-over, a renovation and renewal that is totally God’s handiwork. But John gives us the assurance that there is a day coming when we will be like Jesus, not only in terms of our sinlessness, but also our outward appearance. Paul describes it in this way: “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT).
So John reminds us that “what we will be has not yet appeared.” Our transformation is not yet complete. And it will not be complete until we see the Lord again. And at that moment, when we see Jesus, we will undergo a radical and revolutionary change that will leave us totally transformed into His likeness. Our process of sanctification will be complete. Our slow journey toward glorification (from one degree of glory to another) will be over. We will be glorified and receive new bodies. We will see Him like He is and we will be like He is. Again, we turn to Paul for some helpful insights into how all this works. He uses the imagery of a seed being planted in the ground and dying, only to transform into something new and life-giving. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49 ESV).
We will bear the image of the man of heaven. We shall be like Him. We will receive new bodies, heavenly bodies that are free from sin, no longer susceptible to pain, and totally death-resistant. What will they look like? John doesn’t tell us. Will we be able to recognize one another? I would certainly think so. The disciples had no trouble recognizing Jesus in His transfigured state on the mountain. But rather than worry about things we have not been told, we would probably do well to think about what John has made clear to us. “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3 ESV). Because we know that there is a day coming when we will be totally transformed into His likeness and we will see Him as He is and bear His image, we should make our inner transformation our highest priority. After all, it is God’s highest priority. Our transformation from sinfulness to sinlessness was why Jesus came. “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Jesus died so that we might be freed from having to sin. He has made it possible for us to live sin-less lives, even in these earthly bodies. So as we await His appearing, we need to make our pursuit of holiness job number one. We do that by abiding in Him and remembering our status as God’s children. God has made us His own, and “that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up!” (1 John 3:2 NLT). All we know is that the end result is a complete transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And we are works in process at this very moment. So let’s live with the end in mind. Let’s make our holiness our highest priority – with God’s help.