Verse 3: Hope Purifies
And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure.
John’s conclusion to these verses (2:28– 3:2) is that our hope in Christ must compel us to live our lives on this earth in utmost purity as we await his glorious return!
“Everyone who has this hope in him”: this is the only place in John’s first epistle where he uses the word “hope”, which some take to me that John’s primary focus is on the “here and now”, but the singular uniqueness of this expression may also be taken as amplifying its position in John’s first epistle; our hope in Christ is the light that illuminates Christian living in the same way that God’s love for his children is our confidence in the day of Judgment.
“Purifies himself just as he is pure”: once more we have the pattern of the incarnate Jesus being held up as an example to believers (cf. 2:6; 3:7, 16; 4:17); all who have their hope in Jesus to become like him (3:2) when he appears (2:28), will also be committed to keeping themselves from sin in this life. The children of God will put away every defilement in their quest for Christ and pursue all purity and righteousness by faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit who lives in them.
John tells his beloved children that they should look to their hope in Christ as the impetus compelling them to purify themselves.
Hilary of Arles (401- 449 AD) wrote:
We shall see him as he is because we shall be like him. This is our hope for the future, our love in the present and our faith in both the past and the present.
This hope in Christ carries both faith and love for the past, present, and future of the Christian experience.
Bede the Venerable (673- 735 AD) wrote:
There are many who say they have faith in Christ but somehow seem to forget about this pure aspect of it. It is clear that anyone who has real faith will demonstrate that fact by living a life of good works … by rejecting ungodliness and worldly desires and by imitating Christ’s sober, righteous and godly life. We are commanded to imitate the purity of God’s holiness to the extent that we are capable of doing so, just as we are taught to hope for the glory of the divine likeness according to our capacity for receiving it.
The one who says they have hope for the return of Christ, but does not subsequently purify themselves from every defilement of the flesh does not have a living hope that comes from having been “once enlightened, [having] tasted the heavenly gift, [having] shared in the Holy Spirit, [and having] tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age” (Heb. 6:4-5).
Their hope is as dead as their faith.
Theophylact of Ohrid (1050– 1108 AD) wrote:
Note that John uses the present tense when he talks about our need to purify ourselves. The practice of virtue is an ongoing thing and has its own inner dynamic. If we stop living this way or put it off until some future time, there is nothing virtuous about that at all.
The purification being spoken of in this case must not be confused with the purification that is once and for all accomplished by the atonement of Christ upon the cross. Nothing can be added to the purification of Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross. But, those whose hope and faith in God are alive will work Christ’s atonement into their daily life in the same way that leaven is kneaded into a batch of dough.