In the previous chapter, we thought about the house rules for being in God’s family, but today we move on to the idea of “family resemblance” – the outrageous claim that as God’s children we will grow to be like God ourselves; that we shall see God as God truly is; and we shall be pure even as God is pure. It sets up a hope of heaven for each one of us which might seem like an arrogant claim at first glance. But our claim is humble: it comes from being mere children of God, growing in Christ, abiding in God’s love in the family of the Church. It will be seen in what we do, in our increasingly being led away from the way of temptation towards God’s ways, as the spirit grows within us.
John is making clear how spirituality works. It isn’t some external thing, or just one aspect of our being. John challenges the Gnosticism which threatens these Christian communities by explaining how flesh and spirit really works. They are intertwined, not separate realities. Just as Jesus is fully God and fully human, so our calling is to be fully human and yet citizens of heaven, bound by the duties and rules of that kingdom, and enjoying the privileges of heavenly citizenship even as we live on earth.
Love is the measure of this. Do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we run to the aid of the persecuted Church? Do we see poorer parishes in our Diocese and fail to send everything we can in our freewill offering that they may thrive? “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Love is practical, not theoretical. It is a spiritual reality which expresses itself in the flesh.
This word “abiding” is very intimate. The Trinity is described in terms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit abiding in one another. It means intimately making oneself at home. It means deeply dwelling with someone – a dwelling so deep that you are of a common will and mind, a relationship of intimate understanding and mutual self-giving. This is how God is, and how we are called to be. We are called to abide not only in God, but in one another. To be of one mind in pursuing God’s will, and walking together in God’s ways. This comes from unity and a common purpose of body, mind and spirit among the family of God.
Abiding in God’s love involves a sacrificial abiding in one another’s love, too.