READ : John 1:11-13
There are many questions in life which cry out for answers. Today, listen to an answer to life’s most important question, “How to come to Jesus Christ.”
I’m thinking now about how a person becomes a Christian. If you already are one, I hope that God’s Word for today will help you to understand that more fully and to celebrate it with a grateful heart. And if you are not a Christian, I pray that you will respond to God’s invitation and become one.
Here is the word that opens the truth for us. It’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verse 11:
He [Jesus] came to his own, but his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
In those words of Scripture, I rejoice to find what a Christian is, what God has done to make becoming a Christian possible, and finally, what we must do.
WHAT A CHRISTIAN IS
First notice that a Christian, according to the gospel, is a child of God. Have you realized that? It wasn’t always clear to me. I can remember a time when I had a very hazy notion of what a Christian was. In my teens I got the idea that being a Christian meant “doing what Jesus would do.” In every life situation he or she faced, a Christian would ask, I thought, “How would the Lord act? What would he say? What would he do under these circumstances?” Once it became clear, a Christian would live that way. What made things hazy for me was that I often found myself uncertain as to just what Jesus would do. And even if I could decide about that, I wasn’t sure that I had either the will or the power to follow through. So if you had asked me in those days whether or not I was a Christian, I wouldn’t have known what to say.
In fact, someone did ask me about that. A friend of mine, late one summer evening, as we sat under a street light, said to me, “Bill, what do you think it means to be a Christian?” I stumbled around for an answer but said basically what I’ve just shared with you. My friend helped me that night to understand from the Bible just what a Christian is. And that night, the most significant night of my whole life, I became a Christian.
I’ve observed since then that many people have mistaken notions about what this all means. Let’s be clear on several things becoming a Christian isn’t, several inaccurate answers to the question.
Becoming a Christian is not merely adopting a new philosophy of life. It certainly involves becoming aware of truth we hadn’t known before. But it means more, much more than taking on some new ideas. Also, it’s not consenting to live by certain ethical standards. It does bring about changes in our attitudes and our conduct, but it’s much more than adopting a different moral code. And of course, it isn’t simply joining an organization, even though Christians do become identified with other believers in the fellowship of the church. Remember also that growing up in a so-called “Christian culture” or being a citizen of what people call a “Christian nation” does not necessarily make of us Christians.
No, becoming a Christian means entering upon a new relationship with God. It means becoming one of his children. That will have effects, surely, on what we think and how we live, on all our commitments and interactions. But it’s the new relationship with God which is the key to everything else. A Christian is a child of God.
In one sense, it’s like being adopted. God decides to take us in. He gives us a new standing. He says about you, about me, “This is one of mine.” He chooses us to belong to his family, just as you might choose a little orphan to be your adopted child. That’s what John 1:12 means by “authority [power] to become children of God.” It’s a kind of legal right that becomes ours through God’s choice.
But it’s also like being born, born again, born into God’s family. That’s what the Scripture says, “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (v. 13). Christians not only receive a new standing; they find new life. And the life comes directly from God. John’s gospel takes great pains to emphasize that. The birth, John says, is not “of blood” (not a physical birth), not “of the will of the flesh” (by ordinary generation), not “by the will of man,” that is, not through any human initiative. It is God’s work, to which we contribute nothing.
When you realize, then, what it is to become a Christian, you see that it’s humanly impossible. In one sense, you can’t make yourself a Christian any more than a tiny homeless waif can get himself adopted. And you certainly can’t arrange to have yourself born! It couldn’t be more strongly said that becoming a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with anything you or I can achieve or deserve.
WHAT GOD HAS DONE
The gospel, friends, the good news, is about what God has done so that we can become his children. The gospel tells us of God’s Son coming into our world. That’s what Christmas is about. Christians believe that in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord of heaven and earth made his entry into human history. The Son of God, who had shared the Father’s glory before the world began, became the son of a peasant girl. And all of this happened, the Christmas story and everything it led to, so that we could become God’s children.
But isn’t everyone a child of God already? Isn’t he our Creator, the One who fashions us and breathes into us his life? Yes, indeed he is. But being his creatures is not the same as being his sons and daughters. It was meant to be so originally. God formed us to be in fellowship with him, to respond to his love. But we didn’t want it that way, did we? Beginning with our first parents, we all have chosen to go our own way. We have, as it were, declared our independence from God, disobeyed his will and gone into hiding from him. And because he is the holy Lord, we sinful, rebellious creatures can no longer live in his presence. The story of our race is one of lostness and alienation from God. All the evils that fester in our hearts and tear apart the fabric of our common life express this sad reality: we are estranged from our Maker. Like the prodigal son, we have taken what we thought was rightfully ours and left the Father’s house for some far country.
But the gospel assures us that God still cares. The lights are on in the Father’s house. We are missed. He wants us back. He comes looking for us. In Jesus he takes upon him our life, subjecting himself to all that it means to be human. Since our sin bars us from God’s presence, Jesus takes our guilt and judgment upon himself. He bears the stroke for us, suffers in our place, dies for our sins. Nothing stands in the way now of God’s receiving us back, adopting us as his children.
But there’s more than that. God has raised the crucified Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the throne of the universe. He sends forth his own Spirit to the hearts of his adopted children so that they can be born anew. The God who gives the right to be a child gives also a child’s heart. With his forgiveness, his full, free acceptance, he imparts to us his own life as well. Now, both by adoption and by birth, we can be indeed God’s sons and daughters. We can have a new name and a new nature. We can cry out from renewed hearts, “Father, dear Father.” We can know ourselves now and forever to be his beloved children, brothers and sisters in his family.
WHAT WE MUST DO
Well, that’s what God has done so that we can become his children. What must we do? Here’s the answer: “As many as received him, to them he gave power to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (v. 12). It’s as simple as that. Becoming a Christian, becoming a child of God, means receiving Jesus Christ.
That’s what many refused to do when he first came. Listen again:
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own ones received him not.
Remember how there was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary and the tiny son she was about to bear? That was a kind of parable of the way in which the world treated Jesus. King Herod tried to get rid of him soon after he had been born. The people in Nazareth, where he grew up, ran him out of town after his public ministry began. The citizens in Gadara asked him to leave their borders. The Samaritans wouldn’t show him hospitality while he was passing through.
All through his ministry, the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head. Then came his arrest and trial in Jerusalem. The authorities judged him unfit to live. The crowds, when offered his release, cried, “Away with him!” Finally he was done to death because the leaders of his own nation agreed that he was too troublesome to have around.
And there were some, says John, who received him, who believed in his name. Listen to their testimony: “We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14). They saw the light of God’s glory shining in Jesus’ face. For them he was the Word, God’s supreme self-disclosure, God speaking, God coming, God present here among us.
They believed the word God spoke in him. They believed what he said about himself. He had testified: “I and my Father are one . . .” (John 10:30). “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (14:6). And these people believed his witness. They saw him as the only Son of the Father, the One who came to seek and save that which was lost.
Believing that, they were ready to acknowledge their need of him. They saw themselves as the lost ones for whom he came, the sinners whom he came to call to repentance, as the guilty ones for whom he died. That made them responsive to his call, open to what he had to offer.
But it was more than acknowledging their need and believing his word. They received him. They welcomed him. They opened their lives to his love and lordship. They welcomed him as their Friend, their Savior, and their King.
“Well,” you say, “I might have done that if I had been there. But I’ve never seen him or heard his voice or had him come my way. How can I receive him?”
Well, friends, he is nearer, much nearer than you think. Do you remember what the crowds told blind Bartimaeus when Jesus was making his way through Jericho? (Luke 18:37). “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And do you know, he still Is! Every time the Word is preached, he is speaking. Every time the gospel is presented, as now, his love and saving power are displayed before you. The risen one, forever alive, speaks through his servants, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him” (Rev. 3:20). He is near enough for the worst and the weakest of us to call upon him. And if we want him to dwell with us, if we are willing to say yes to his call and open our lives to his Spirit, he will surely come in.
Friends, Jesus Christ is offered to you now. Salvation in him is God’s free gift. All you need do is receive him, and spend the rest of your life giving “thanks.” Then it will be forever true of you, as of all who believe in his name, that you are God’s child. You will have become a real Christian, by the grace of God through simple trust in Jesus. May it be so!