“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). This passage begins with a command: “See.” John wants us to observe the manifestations of the Father's love. He has introduced the subject of God’s love in the preceding chapter (1 John 2:5,15), briefly discusses it here, and fully explains it in the fourth chapter. John’s purpose is to describe the kind of love the Father gives His children, “what great love.” The Greek word translated “what great” is found only six times in the New Testament and always implies astonishment and admiration.
What is interesting to note here is that John does not say, “The Father loves us.” In doing so, he would be describing a condition. Instead, he tells us that the Father has “lavished” His love on us, and this, in turn, portrays an action and the extent of God’s love. It is also interesting to note that John has chosen the word “Father” purposely. That word implies the father-child relationship. However, God did not become Father when He adopted us as children. God's fatherhood is eternal. He is eternally the Father of Jesus Christ, and through Jesus He is our Father. Through Jesus we receive the Father's love and are called “children of God.”
What an honor it is that God calls us His children and gives us the assurance that as His children we are heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). In his Gospel, John also tells us that God gives the right to become children of God to all who in faith have received Christ as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). God extends His love to His Son Jesus Christ and, through Him, to all His adopted children.
When John then tells us “that is what we are!” he declares the reality of our status. Right now, at this very moment, we are His children. In other words, this is not a promise which God will fulfill in the future. No, the truth is we are already God's children. We enjoy all the rights and privileges our adoption entails, because we have come to know God as our Father. As His children we experience His love. As His children we acknowledge Him as our Father, for we have an experiential knowledge of God. We put our trust and faith in Him who loves us, provides for us, and protects us as our earthly fathers should. Also as earthly fathers should, God disciplines His children when they disobey or ignore His commands. He does this for our benefit, so “that we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
There are many ways the Scriptures describe those who love God and obey Him. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17); we are holy priests (1 Peter 2:5); we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17); and we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). But more than any of the above—more significant than any title or position—is the simple fact that we are God's children and He is our heavenly Father.