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Born Again?



December 17, 2023 |Born Again?| John 1:6-13

JD Cutler


For the sermon audio, click here 

 

This morning we begin again with the ministry and message of John the Baptist. Last week we saw three implications from it, but this morning, although we will begin there we will quickly transition to the subject of his testimony. 

We find this in John the Apostle’s gospel account. As we noted last week it is hard to tell the story of Jesus’ first advent without mentioning his forerunner, John the Baptist. Like Mark, John also included John the Baptist in the beginning of his gospel account. 


John 1:6-8 (ESV) 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.


Last week we looked at the implications of his ministry and message, that repentance is necessary, that repentance precedes forgiveness, and that repentance is both a response and an action. Where we pick up today is the subject of his testimony. He came as a witness, he cried out ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven’ is at hand, he told of one who was coming, who he wasn't even worthy to untie his sandal, the task of the lowest slave, and he proclaimed that the coming one would baptize with the Holy Spirit.


The apostle John summarizes all of his ministry in his prologue when he says, John came to bear witness about the light. It is to that subject we turn our attention to this morning. The light John the Baptist bore witness to.  


Let’s pick up in John 1, at verse 9.

John 1:9-13 (ESV) 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.


This is the summary of Jesus’ life and ministry that John will go on to detail in his gospel. 

The purpose of which he clearly states at the conclusion of his gospel. John 20:30-31 (ESV) 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


The world was in darkness, true light came into the world, the world did not know him, his own people rejected him, but…

But there were those who received the light and because of that they were completely transformed. They became something they were not before encountering the light, as can you if you receive the true light of the world. They became children of God. 


What does it mean to become a child of God?

This question is important for a number of reasons. For the person who believes they are a child of God, asking what it means to become one will allow them to evaluate their own experience in light of what scripture says about it. For the person who wonders if they are a child of God, it can help answer the question clearly in their mind. To the person who wonders why they would even want to become a child of God, it will highlight the reality that accompanies someone who has become a child of God. So wherever you are this morning, wherever you consider yourself on this question of being a child of God, this morning should be helpful to you as we examine our passage. 


I want to answer that question this morning with three statements. 


No one is naturally a child of God. 

Oftentimes in a world that prides itself on being ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’, the thought is that everyone is a child of God. That all religions ultimately point to the same entity and therefore we are all ‘children of God’. 

Even among evangelicals this thinking can be found. 

I mean, God created the universe therefore since mankind has been created, they are children of the creator. And while this sentiment may sound good, it is not what the scriptures teach. Yes God created every man, woman, and child. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 139:16 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

So God is the creator and yes he has perfect knowledge of us, but when the scriptures talk about being a child of God, this is not something we are in relation to being created, but rather it is a description of a special relationship to God the Father. 


Sinclair Ferguson asserts, “This is a basic assumption of the Christian gospel: we are not, by nature, children of God. We need to become his children. By nature we are alienated from God. . . . Not one of us possesses, by nature, the characteristics of a child of God. Instead, we show all the signs of rebelling against him and turning away from his Fatherly rule over our lives.”


Notice what he says there, by nature, that is by birth, we are alienated from God. 

Why? Because every person since Adam, with the exception of one, has been born into and suffers from the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. 

Romans 5:12 (ESV) 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

We were not only born dead spiritually, we were not only born under the curse of sin, we all collectively have sinned of our own desire. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is often called the doctrine of original sin.


Theologians and differing Christian faiths disagree on the implications of this doctrine and we simply do not have time to highlight them all, so for our purposes let us simply go to the Baptist Faith and Message and hear what it says. 


‘Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.’

So, whether you say man is incapable of not sinning or simply prone to it, the result for every man or woman is that as soon as they are capable of moral action, choosing obedience or sin, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. 

According to the Bible the one who sins is a slave to sin and by nature, not a child of God but a child of wrath. 

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.


As if that is not bad enough, follow Paul’s argument. As a child of wrath by nature, you lived in the passions of our flesh, doing what you wanted because of the spirit of disobedience that was working in you, as you followed the course of this world, as you followed the prince of the power of the air. That is Paul’s way of describing Satan and his limited ability to rule sinful men and women. So if we want to get right down to it, we are not just not children of God by nature, we are children of Satan by nature. 

John in writing his first epistle says this, further developing this thought. 

1 John 3:8-10 (ESV) 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.


You may think, that’s not very nice, you cannot call someone a child of the devil.

But our Lord and Savior did just that when men falsely claimed to be children of God. John 8:41-44 (ESV) We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.


Why is this important? Because if no one is naturally a child of God, then naturally they are a child of the devil. Listen, not because they were created by the devil, not because the devil is somehow equal to God, not that he is even on even footing as him, but to be a child signifies not only relationship but describes our actions. If we sin in rebellion against God we are acting just like Satan and can be therefore said to be, by nature and by choice his child. 

If that is going to change, then we must become something we are not by nature, right? There has to be something that happens for us to stop being one thing and to become another. This leads us to our second statement.


Being a child of God is something that we must become.

Let’s go back to our text. 

John 1:9-13 (ESV) 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 

Because we were all in darkness we needed the true light, which John says gives light to everyone. 

I think it is fairly obvious to say that John does not mean that since Jesus came everyone has the light, otherwise our world would be a very different place. What I believe he is saying is that the light is available to everyone, as in not just Jews as the covenant people, but a light for all people Jew or Gentile. 

This is consistent with what scripture says about who Jesus is. 

In the very beginning, when his parents brought him to the temple to dedicate him 41 days after he had been born, according to the law, something unusual happened. 

Luke 2:25-32 (ESV) 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”


A light for glory to your people Israel and a light for revelation to the Gentiles. 

Glory here is a word that is sometimes used for brightness. Literally he would give gentiles light for revelation and he would magnify the light already given to Israel. To both, he is the true light that has come into the world, which gives light to everyone.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 

As I said before, this is a great summary of what John records in his gospel. 

The very word of God by which everything was created had entered into his creation and yet the world did not understand who he was, they did not know him. Even those closest to him often missed in their understanding of who he was. 


Even worse, he came to his own, the long awaited, prophesied Messiah, the greater prophet, the greater king, the greater High Priest, and his own people did not receive him. 

Rejected and reviled by the religious leaders, ultimately rejected by the Jewish population at large who had him crucified by Rome, neither believing his claims or embracing his teachings.


But…

But to all who did receive him. That is, among the Jews and the gentiles, men and women who believed in his name. That is those who accepted what he said about himself, those that put their faith in God’s anointed for salvation, to them was given something not available to those who rejected him. What?

The right to become children of God. 

What does it mean to be given the right? The word right here is often translated as authority in the new testament. Best understood here as the privilege. 

Apart from his gift, no one has the privilege of becoming anything other than what they are. 

But because Jesus had been given all authority as the only begotten son of God, who perfectly obeyed the father, humbling himself even to the point of death, he has been raised above every name and now gives the privilege to become co-heirs, adopted sons and daughters into the household of God through faith in Him. 


Notice the language, those who receive him, who believe in his name, to them he gives the right to become children of God. 

This becoming is described in various ways in scripture, but none so beautifully as Jesus explains it to Nicodemus, the pharisee that comes to him by night when he says, unless one is born-again, or born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 

How does Jesus say this happens?

John 3:16-19 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

The true light has come into the world and men either reject it for love of the darkness or believe in it by faith and become children of it. 


Which leads us to a very important question. 

If no one is naturally a child of God and to be a child of God you must become one, how do we become one?

Which leads us to our last statement this morning. 


Only by the will of God can we become his children. 

Let’s return to our text one more time this morning. 

John 1:12-13 (ESV) 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John lists three means by which a child of God is not born.


A child of God is not born of blood. 

That is no one is born a child of God by birth, or naturally. We covered this in our first statement this morning but for a moment let me just make some quick applications. 

That means you cannot have been born a Christian. 

Sometimes in counseling or conversation, I’ll ask someone how long they have been a Christian and they will say, all my life, or since I was born. Impossible, scripture says no one can be born a Christian. 

Not even if you were born into a Christian family, not even if they had you in church every time the doors were open. Yes thank God for Godly families and God often uses these situations in the lives of born again believers, but make no mistake, as I have said before, God does not have grandchildren. 

Your parents faith cannot save you, your grandparents faith cannot save you. Knowing things about God and Christ cannot save you. 

Scripture says that those that are born again, those that become children of God are not born that way naturally, period. Spurgeon writes, “Sin runs in the blood, but grace does not.”


Second, John says a child of God is not born of the will of the flesh. 

The will of the flesh is the will of the natural man. There is nothing in the desire of man that produces new life. 

Perhaps the Reformed Expository Commentary says it best when it says, This distinction is important today, when people associate spiritual experiences with a true work of God. But no surge of the emotions will cause the new birth. Moving people to tears at a church service will not produce the kind of change that transforms us into God’s children. We must be born of God and not “of the will of the flesh.”

The emotional response of man does not enable us to become Children of God. Oftentimes if we are honest, emotional responses do not enable us to do much beyond the time we leave the service or the last notes of the song finish. 

There is no experience of the flesh that will transform us from death to life. God’s children are not born that way. Jesus says in John 3 John 3:6 (ESV) 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The flesh can only produce things of the flesh. 


Third, John says a child of God is not born by the will of man. 

Which is related to the will of the flesh but implies more than an emotional response. It is the desire to do something, to exercise one’s will. The reformed expository commentary goes on to say. This, too, cuts across the spirit of our age. People think the rebirth occurs by getting people to exercise their will: by making a decision, by filling out a card, or by walking an aisle in response to an altar call. But John explicitly says that it is not the will of man that causes the new birth. The change is a supernatural one, and it cannot be caused by any natural means.


How then does one become a child of God, it is a supernatural work of God that one is born again.

This is what John says, when he says, ‘who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ 

This is what Jesus says, when he says, 'Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


Jesus says, there is no formula, there is no singular action, it is a supernatural work of the Spirit by which we are born again.

It is something that God does by the power of his word and the power of his Spirit. 

The only thing we can do for someone in the process of being born again is to faithfully and clearly proclaim the word of God. 

This is Paul’s argument in Romans. 

He makes this statement. Romans 10:13-17 (ESV) 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How will they call on his name?

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The Lord saves whom he wills to save and he uses his word to do so. When someone hears the gospel news and God creates in them a desire to obey it, to repent and trust in Him, they call out to him and they are saved, they are born again, they have exercised the privilege of becoming a child of God. This is what John declares produces a child of God, not a natural relationship from birth, not an emotional response in the flesh, and not a man devised exercising of the will. 


Conclusion:

What would we say is the hope of mankind this morning then, if they are not children of God but of wrath?

The true light of the world, the only son from the father has come, who has not only made God known, not only who was full of grace and truth, but has ushered in grace upon grace so that we might become a child of God. This is where John finishes his prologue. 

John 1:14-18 (ESV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.


Jesus, the very word of God came, lived, died, and was raised again, ascended to the Father, received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and poured it out on his church so that God could bring men and women, children of wrath into a saving relationship with himself as his children, saved by grace through faith. 

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Have you been born again? Are you a child of God?

This is the question each of us must ask ourselves this morning as we contemplate what we have heard this morning. 


Let us pray. 


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