READ : John 1:12
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
John 1:12 rsv
Have you ever had the yen to become a child again? Most of us know something about that, don’t we? If we could only start over! If we could only recapture the innocence of youth and its bright possibilities! If we could just be young once more, no longer trapped by the mistakes we’ve made, given another chance at what we’ve left undone! Who wouldn’t want that?
Listen to these words, friends, that hold before us an almost unimaginable possibility: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” This is the undreamed of miracle, not only that you and I can become children again, not only that we can be born anew, but that we can be born into the family of God! We can become, says this grand word from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, God’s own children.
I can imagine those growing up with meager means in very limited surroundings, dreaming of what it would be like to be born into a rich family, to be born, as we say, with a silver spoon in their mouth, to come into the world as the heir of a vast fortune.
I can imagine common folk in many ages fantasizing about what it might be to have royal blood, to be born into the family of a reigning monarch. What would it be like to have regal parents, to be destined to wear a crown and occupy a throne?
Or, more poignantly, I can imagine how orphaned children must feel or those who have never received much affection and care in their early years. They dream of being born into a family where they would be genuinely loved and wanted. Every heart longs for that.
But in the gospel, friends, we learn of a prospect even more wonderful. Think of what it would be like to become God’s child, to be a member of His family. Picture first the relationship involved: God your Father in heaven, you His son or daughter. There’s a special bond between you. You are loved more deeply, strongly, enduringly than any earthly parent could ever love you. And you can approach God with more confidence, joy and affection than any child ever knew when running into a parent’s arms.
Think of what it would mean in terms of family likeness. As a child of God, you would be the image of your Father in heaven. You would share His life. You would begin to manifest, more and more, the traits of His character. In the richness of family interaction, you would become like Him, increasingly. You would be recognizable as one of God’s own.
And then, you would be one of His heirs. Talk about riches! This Father so lavish in love that He gives His own dear Son for us, will surely with Him give us freely all things. We are His heirs. All that God has made is our inheritance. It is His good pleasure to give it to us.
Talk about royalty! This would mean belonging to the King of Kings, before whom all the tiny potentates of earth will finally bow down. Children of God are the true royalty, those destined to reign in the kingdom that shall never pass away. If you were a child of God, you would rule with Him through all the ages to come.
IMPOSSIBLE WITH US
But after we learn about this marvelous possibility, we are quickly deflated. Apparently there is no chance that we can achieve this. People who become children of God, says the evangelist John, are “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God.” In other words, the new birth is a possibility, but it is totally beyond our reach.
That shouldn’t be hard for us to grasp. Think about your birth. What did you really have to do with bringing that about? That’s right, absolutely nothing! Birth is the great mystery that simply happens to us. We don’t choose to be born. No one consults us or asks for our permission. We simply appear one day. We have had no foreknowledge about it and no hint of what to expect. It’s plain that we don’t engineer our own birth. We don’t pick out the family that will be ours, the time at which we will arrive or even the circumstances we will meet.
There surely is no element of our deserving in the whole process, either. If we are born in happy, favorable circumstances, we can take no credit for that. And if we are born into poverty and trouble, we surely do not bear the blame. None of us can be held responsible for anything that had to do with our birth. It simply happened to us. We were born.
Now that physical birth did take place, of course, through our human parents. Their choices were involved. Their actions played a major role. In a very real sense, they do bear responsibility for bringing us into the world. But the new birth we’re thinking about today, this becoming God’s child, doesn’t even involve human parents. It’s not a birth that has to do with human blood lines. It’s not a matter of DNA, of genes and chromosomes. Not is it by the will of the flesh, says the evangelist. No desire of a man and a woman for each other can ever generate a child of God. It’s not by human means or devising at all, not “by the will of man,” we read. A husband may take a wife and plan to raise a family. He may enter into marriage with the deliberate design of raising up heirs. But none of this avails in the least in bringing people into God’s family.
So, friends, if we think we can manage this miracle, we’d better think again. Perhaps naively, we dream that we can. We’ll somehow make ourselves into God’s children, win His favor, commend ourselves to Him. Perhaps we’re people with a religious heritage. Our parents and grandparents have been devout. We come from a nation of God-fearing people, it may be. That ought to get us in, we think.
Or perhaps we’ve kept (or tried to keep) at times God’s commands. We’ve known what He wanted. We’ve even made attempts to obey. That must count for something. Maybe we are members of a distinctive race and regard ourselves, although we wouldn’t come right out and say it, as superior to certain others. We must at least have an inside track at becoming God’s children.
Maybe some of us are thinking today that if necessary we’ll pay dearly for the privilege. It’s something like getting into a prestigious prep school, we think – there must be some way to arrange it if we have the means.
Or perhaps we think that to get into God’s family we’ll perform certain religious exercises. We’ll go through fastings, pilgrimages, self denials, arduous discipline. But the word over all of that is an emphatic negative: children of the heavenly kingdom are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but only of God. This is a birth from beyond, a birth from above, a gift that only God can give, a miracle that only He can bring about. It’s not by might nor by power but by His Spirit alone that we are born into God’s family.
So I can’t offer you today a neat formula for how you can become God’s child. I can’t tell you steps to follow so that you can win this coveted privilege, as though it were something you could bring off if you just knew how. But I can tell you on the highest possible authority about the sure sign that it has happened in your life. Listen. This is the apostle John writing about the everlasting word of God which has now become flesh: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Do you get the drift of that? This earth, friends, is a visited planet. God Himself has chosen to step into our history, to walk around on this world and to taste our human life. The Word became flesh. The eternal entered into time. In Jesus of Nazareth, the Almighty God became man.
He faced the fact that He might not be recognized when He came. He knew that even His own people might not welcome Him, but still God embarked on the great adventure. He came down. He tabernacled among us. He came knocking at our door. This is the stupendous message of the New Testament. God has come to us.
The supreme tragedy of human life lies in the fact that with all the evidence of His creative hand around us, we do not recognize and honor God as our Creator. And even more, when He came to us to share our life, to reveal Himself in human terms, we didn’t welcome Him. Think of it! When God visited us, when the One and only came, when the unimaginable event took place, we wanted nothing to do with Him. We prepared for Him not a crown but a cross.
POSSIBLE BY FAITH
But, thank God, there were some who felt differently. There were some who believed in His name, John says. There were some who received Him. What does it mean to believe in His name? In biblical language, the name stands for the person. It expresses who the person is. People believed in the name of “Jesus,” which means “God saves” when they trusted Him as their Savior, when they relied upon the fact that God had come in His person to save them, to bear their sins and bring them life. They believed in Him when they set their hopes upon Him, when they took Him at His Word, rested upon His promise, placed themselves and their destinies in His hands. They believed “into” Him, as John puts it, entered into relationship with Him, became sharers of His life.
But the most beautiful, expressive term here is “to receive.” What does it mean to receive a person? He knocks at your door and you invite Him in. He holds out His hand to you and you take it. He offers His love and you give Him a place in your affections.
One of the most moving and humbling things for me about traveling in other lands has been the way in which Christian people have again and again welcomed us, received us. They’ve been attentive to our smallest wants, eagerly solicitous for our welfare. I’ll never forget a visit we made to Moldavia, one of the republics of the Soviet Union. We had heard about the beautiful Moldavian shirts and blouses that are embroidered there. We went looking for them in the shops one day. We admired some of them from afar but then decided that they were too expensive. Imagine how we felt when some of our Moldavian friends of very modest means went out the next day unbeknownst to us and bought these valuable items for us! How they received us, with warm and generous hospitality!
I think of a man named Mourad who did that for us in Cairo, Egypt. He drove us all around the city and its environs. He lavished time and effort to see that we felt welcome and enjoyed ourselves in Egypt. He seemed deeply glad that we were there.
Some, thank God, received the Lord of glory in that way when He came. They were happy to meet Him, glad that He had come, wanting to have Him around, accepting Him for who He was, their Lord and their Redeemer.
And there are people like that today who welcome Jesus as their Master, Savior and friend. When He comes knocking at the door of their hearts in the preaching of the gospel, they receive Him. They invite Him into their lives. They enthrone Him in their hearts. They trust Him utterly.
And wherever people do that, wherever they receive Jesus as the Son of the Father, wherever they place their trust in Him as God’s salvation, they receive the power, the right, the authority, to become children of God.
The great New England preacher, Phillips Brooks, once said that “the only way to realize that we are God’s children is to let Christ lead us to our Father.” That says it, friends. Do you want to be a part of God’s family? Do you long to be one of His own children? Let Jesus, His well-beloved Son, lead you to the Father. Recognize today that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make yourself a child of God. But then, with an empty-handed, grateful faith, receive Jesus as He is offered to you in the gospel, as the One who died for you and rose again and offers you life. If you trust Him, if you give yourself to Him, you can know beyond all doubting that you have indeed become God’s child. Oh, celebrate that! And God bless you.