Now, how should we exhort and teach ‘nominal’ Christians to consider the important caution of 1 John 2:28 in the wider context of Christian liberty and practicing ‘what we will be’ when we see Christ face to face? Before answering, I want to clarify my use of the label ‘nominal’ for a Christian. At the beginning of the post, I asked, “Should not the idea of ‘nominal’ even be pushed onto those who come to church, offering some expression of repentance every weekend, but abide in the world as a mistress all week long?” In view of that, I am using the label ‘nominal’ for a professing Christian who either is confused or very immature in their faith (cf. 2 Pet. 1:9). I am not using the label ‘nominal’ in an effort to refer to those who attend church only on Easter and Christmas Eve or those who would profess to be a believer because of the culture they are a part of. For the first group, I believe some may be believers. But I would not say that about any in the second group.
In either case, the church is called to preach the gospel. The first step necessary to exhort and teach ‘nominal’ Christians to abide in Christ is to caution them to “be all the more diligent to make [their] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10a). How do we do that? We do it by preaching the gospel. All preaching should be Christ-centered in scope and purpose, so no matter the text we are preaching, we should always endeavor to proclaim the gospel when preaching the Word of God. That is the aim of God’s revelation. It was given to display the bountiful splendor and kingly glory of God and to proclaim the fallen nature of man and their need for redemption that is only offered and given through Jesus, and that is what we should preach. We should also offer tests to help them know whether they are saved by grace through faith in Christ (e.g. the test of obedience in 1 John 2:3-6, the test of love in 2:7-11, or the test of fruit in 2 Pet. 1:5-10).
Secondly, we also need to explain 1 John 2:28-3:3 in order to exhort immature believers and help steer them away from ungodly, worldly attitudes, sexuality, idolatry and abuse of God’s gifts. 3:2a says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” I think the majority of young Christians struggling with sin understand this, but a few will continue to wonder, “Why do I still sin?” John answers this by pointing out that ‘what we will be’ has not yet appeared. It is true, we will still struggle with sin. But for every child of God, we can be sure we have an advocate praying for us before the Father (cf. John 17:9, 1 John 2:1).
But this does not excuse sinful behavior. That is why 2:29 says, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” It is important we teach young, immature believers this verse. However, with compassion and love, we should keep in mind that they “shall be like [Christ when he appears], because [they] shall see him as he is” (3:2b). Though there is never an excuse for sin, a believer is Christ’s both in body and soul. He will never leave nor forsake his sheep, so neither should we. With that in mind, it is important we teach them v. 3, which repeats and clarifies 2:29. “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 3). What does this mean? I believe v. 3 clarifies the counsel of 2:29 because those who practice righteousness as he is righteous are the same people who are banking all their hope in the promises that God is for us in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is Christ who purifies us as he pure. That is why John is able to exhort us to practice righteousness and abide in Christ as we patiently and anxiously await his coming so that those who are declared righteous by God through Christ may also have confidence in approaching their Savior in joy rather than shrinking away in shame.
In order to keep this post relatively brief, I am going to stop here. It is my hope and prayer that you will take notice of those who make a practice of living in the world only to fulfill their ‘duty’ to repent on Sundays. If you go to a church anything like the churches I have known so far in my life, I am sure you know plenty of ‘nominal’ believers who need to be taught the caution, beauty, and gospel of 1 John 2:29-3:3. If not, at the very least, we can learn from it too.