“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”
—1 John 3:1 (NLT).
I’ll admit my slight embarrassment in meeting various Christians in the past, having already known them or of them in the workplace or socially—apart from our faith. Christians are actually supposed to have a special kinship and when the connection becomes serendipitously recognised it’s somewhat discomforting even in a small way.
It’s almost like, ‘Have we not recognised in each other the salt and light of Jesus?’ And, ‘If not, why not?’ It leaves a negative mark on the conscience.
Many Christians, paradoxically, either find it entirely frustrating or suitably convenient when non-believing people don’t recognise them as Jesus-believers. This is no more punctuated than when people let off a “JC” expletive and don’t even flinch—if they knew how we felt they would. When they do recognise us as Christians and they respect us ‘loose JC’s’ intuit a quick, ‘Oops, sorry (to blaspheme [your] God).’
The truth is we will to a large degree be unrecognisable—that is what part b of John’s passage is talking about. Furthermore, it’s problematic to us that when the world does recognise us it often “treats us with ridicule and contempt.”
We live in an awkward in-between time. Saved, yes, but for another world entirely, it seems. Some will say we’re saved for good works this side of heaven, and we are—but these are often seen as good works despite (or set apart from) the true recognition of Christ’s Spirit in us.
How many of us ‘do good things’ and find it difficult or impossible to extract ourselves from the glory of the deed as far as others (of the world) are concerned? We want to say we did it for God’s glory (and we did) but strangely we know this will sound stupid (to them) when we come to say it to others. We worry that the good deed (for God) will be overshadowed by what we say regarding doing it for God’s glory. It’s hard to give God the glory by virtue of these matters.
It appears that the best thing to do in light of these issues is to simply understand and accept the truth expounded by John. We will not be recognised most of the time as Jesus’ because, and by virtue of the fact, they don’t know him (yet).
So, what is our challenge? Perhaps it’s to find opportunities to open those doors of the hearts of those who don’t know him. All of these are very delicate activities. We daren’t ever be forceful.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
 John Calvin, 1, 2, 3 John – The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Series Editors: Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998), p. 52.