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28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
1 John 2:28-29
There is plenty of disagreement among Christians about the details of end time prophecy, such as the millennium and the rapture. There are certainly at least some good reasons for each view or else everyone who holds to the authority of Scripture would agree. However, there is one thing every true believer, regardless of their views of eschatology (the study of the end times), holds as absolutely true: Jesus Christ will return bodily as the conquering Judge and King. The Apostle John indicates that there are only two possible reactions a person can have when Jesus Christ returns. They will either “have confidence,” or they will “shrink [away] from him in shame.”
“There are only two possible reactions a person can have when Jesus Christ returns: They will either have confidence, or they will shrink back in shame.”
ALL UNBELIEVERS WILL BE ETERNALLY ASHAMED
One of the most significant questions that stems from verses 28-29 of our text is this: Is John referring to believers who will be ashamed at the Lord’s coming, or to the false teachers and those who have followed them in their denial of Christ? It seems as though the primary reference in the context is to the false teachers and their followers. For a while, these individuals professed to know Christ, but they eventually turned away, revealing that their faith was never genuine ( 1 John 2:19). These individuals denied Christ his rightful place as the Sovereign Lord, and through their denial of the apostolic testimony of Christ, they proved that they were actually ashamed of Jesus. As the Scripture testifies, when Christ appears, he will be ashamed of them (Mark 8:38). These people will shrink back in fear and shame when they see the Jesus of the Bible appear in all his glory and splendor (Matthew 22:11-13).
SOME BELIEVERS MAY BE TEMPORARILY ASHAMED
However, there may also be a secondary sense in which even true believers may be temporarily ashamed when Christ appears. Some have worked for Christ out of selfish ambition and prideful motives. The Scripture testifies that they will be saved, but only as through fire when their works are burned up (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Surely, these individuals will feel a sense of shame over their sin, even though they quickly will be transformed into Christ’s image and enter heaven in their perfect glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
“Some have worked for Christ out of selfish ambition and prideful motives, and although they may still be saved, their works will be burned up and they will suffer great loss.”
Even those of us who have faithfully served Christ will be painfully aware of our many shortcomings and failures. We too, may have a brief moment of shame and regret when we see Jesus face to face and realize how much more we should have done for him. Therefore, it is far better for us to be ashamed now by God's gracious confrontation of our sin, than for us to be ashamed, albeit only temporarily, when we stand before Jesus on that final day.
THE KEY TO OVERCOMING SHAME
Even the Apostle John, when he saw Jesus in his glory, “fell at his feet like a dead man” (Revelation 1:17). However, verse 28 of our text clearly communicates that for those who abide in Christ, the dominant mood will be confidence when Christ appears. So how is this possible? John provides a simple answer: Abide in Christ. There is a sense in which every true believer abides in Christ. There is a popular teaching that if you are “abiding,” you are not striving or exerting any effort. Certainly, there is the “passive sense” in which we rest or trust in Christ for our salvation, but at the same time, we are commanded to abide in Christ in an “active sense.”
“When Christ appears, the dominant mood for those who abide in him will be confidence.”
The active sense of abiding involves passing the three tests which John provides in this letter: 1) The Moral Test: obeying Christ's commands, 2) The Relational Test: loving God and loving the brethren, and 3) The Doctrinal Test: holding tenaciously to sound biblical truth, primarily in regards to the truth of the gospel. So verse 29 of our text clearly outlines how to not be ashamed at Christ’s coming, namely, to “practice righteousness.” Do not miss the point of verse 29. John is not saying that righteous behavior is the cause or condition of salvation. He is saying that a righteous life is the evidence, or proof, of salvation. Because God is righteous, those truly born of him will be righteous in the overall pattern of their lives. We are not saved by Christ's work “through” us. We are saved by Christ's work “for” us. However, Christ's work through us gives us confidence that Christ's work for us, actually is for us.
“We are not saved by Christ's work THROUGH us. We are saved by Christ's work FOR us. However, Christ's work THROUGH us gives us confidence that Christ's work FOR us, REALLY IS FOR US.”
We must be vigilant as we seek to hold fast to the truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ has promised that he will indeed return bodily as the conquering Judge and King. When he arrives we will either “have confidence,” or we will “shrink [away] from him in shame.” Therefore, exercising true spiritual discernment and abiding in Jesus through the practice of righteousness is how we gain confidence for the coming of Christ.
1) Are you looking forward to Christ's return? What fears would you have if you knew that Jesus was going to return tomorrow?
2) What aspect of heaven are you looking forward to the most? What aspect of this life do you think you might miss the most?
3) How can we ensure that we grow in confidence for Christ's return without growing in self-righteousness and pride?
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