The Gospel of John: What Kind of World?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God. The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.

“So Loved.” This is the Greek word ἀγαπn; agape. This is the highest and noblest love. It is a self-sacrificial love of the will. Therefore, it is a love which seeks other’s needs and not its own. It is a love not based upon one’s feelings but rather it is a resolute decision and act of one’s will. This is the love found in John 3:16. This is the love God possesses as an attribute of His character and displays as a behavior completely inherent within His being.

The Apostle Paul describes agape love in I Corinthians 13:1-8a. Paul also explained that agape love is the type of love a husband is to have for his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Paul also wrote that this is the kind of love of which God loved sinners in Romans 5:7-8. The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11.

“The World.” What does the word “world” mean in John 3:16? The word “world” comes from the Greek word κόσμος; kosmos and it has three predominant meanings. It may refer to the universe and the specific planet known as Earth, or the people and population of the Earth, or finally to the anti-God world system of thought and behavior by the Earth’s inhabitants which expresses itself in thoughtful and behavioral rebellion against God. While it be accurate to say that John 3:16 may have all three meanings in mind, the most accurate would be the third meaning: the fallen, sinful anti-God system of though and behavior expressing itself in utter moral rebellion against God.

Dr. John MacArthur explains, “The Son’s mission is bound up in the supreme love of God for the evil, sinful “world” of humanity (cf. 6:32, 51; 12:47; see also John 1:9Matthew 5:44–45) that is in rebellion against him. The word “so” emphasizes the intensity or greatness of his love. The Father gave his unique and beloved Son to die on behalf of sinful men (see note on 2 Cor. 5:21).”

A solid case can be made for believing that “world” refers to the quality of God’s love. Dr. B.B. Warfield explains: “[World] is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when he gave his Son for it.”

Dr. John W. Tweeddale writes, The world represents sinful humanity and is not worthy of God’s saving love. Apart from the love of God, the world stands under God’s condemnation. But in Christ, believers experience God’s surprising, redeeming, and never-ending love. John 3:16 is not about the greatness of the world but about the greatness of God.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul concludes, “Our culture tends to think that it is a given that God loves the world. However, we know that nothing compels God to love creation. In fact, it would be right for the Lord to have nothing but hatred for the world given the reality of sin. The love of God is not a given, so we should be grateful for it and be careful never to speak of His love as something that we are owed or that He must show.” 

Take time today to thank God for loving you.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: What Kind of Love?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God; specifically God the Holy Spirit. The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.

“So Loved.” I love the Greek language. It is so precise and consistent in its grammar and spelling. This is so unlike the English language which tends to be inconsistent at best and frustrating at worst.

One of the ways Greek is precise and consistent is, for example, in its meaning of the word “love.” In the English language, the word “love” can refer to and mean a whole host of things. We love our pets, our children, spaghetti and meat balls, our favorite sports team, our favorite actress or actor, etc. With this one word we can express our love for God and country, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet: as depicted in an advertising slogan several decades ago. Personally, I drive a Buick.

The Greek word for love is different. It is important for us to understand what the precise meaning for love is as found in John 3:16. In fact, there are several words in the Greek language which are translated into our one English word “love.” What are they and what is kind of love to which Jesus is referring?

First, there is the word eρως; eros. It is from this word we derive our English word erotic. Eros refers to sexual desire and attraction. This is the kind of love which God approves solely in the confines of heterosexual marriage. I’m sure we can see at a glance how much our culture is saturated by the notion of erotic love and how perverted it has become in its definition and expression. However, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

Another Greek word for love is στοργή; storge. This is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity, family members or people of whom you are related. An example is the natural love and affection a parent has for their child. However, we can also see that this love is being perverted within our culture and even being rejected as parents are abusing and killing their children. But again, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

A third Greek word for love is φιλία; philia or phileo. This is the love between friends as close as brothers and sisters in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. We all have people in our lives of whom we call them our “best or close friends.” The English word Philadelphia comes from this Greek word. In fact, the City of Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love. Yet, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

Finally, there is the Greek word ἀγαπn; agape. This is the highest and noblest love. It is a self-sacrificial love of the will. Therefore, it is a love which seeks other’s needs and not its own. It is a love not based upon one’s feelings but rather a resolute decision and act of one’s will. This is the love found in John 3:16. This is the love God possesses as an attribute of His character and displays as a behavior completely inherent within His being.

The Apostle Paul describes agape love in I Corinthians 13:1-8a. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Paul also explained that agape love is the type of love a husband is to have for his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Paul also wrote that this is the kind of love of which God loved sinners in Romans 5:7-8. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Echoing the words of I John 4:7-11, Jesus will continue to teach in John 3:16 exactly who are the objects of the Father’s love. We will examine this when next we meet. In the meantime, meditate upon the words of the following hymn by Stuart Townsend.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,

His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –

His wounds have paid my ransom.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: A Vast Amount of Divinity.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Theologian J. C. Ryle writes, “Look at the well-known text which heads this page. Its words are probably familiar to your ears. You have very likely heard them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have you ever considered what a vast amount of divinity this text contains? No wonder that Luther called it “the Bible in miniature!” -and have you ever considered what an immensely solemn question arises out of this text? The Lord Jesus says, “Whosoever believeth shall not perish.” Now, reader, DO YOU BELIEVE?

I love Ryle’s phrase, “A vast amount of divinity” in referring to John 3:16. The phrase refers to the subject of the verse, God, and His work in bringing people to salvation. It is not often this verse is used to emphasize God’s sovereignty, but rather the stress is often placed on man’s ability to come to Christ in and of himself. Let’s unpack this verse word by word and not only see what it says, but also what it means.

“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.

Jesus said in John 17:1-3 that, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The great Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards writes in his sermon “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence”, “The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the “river of the water of life” that runs, and the tree of life that grows, “in the midst of the paradise of God.” The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.”

Meditate upon what Edwards has written. It may not be Scripture but he certainly captures the essence of what Scripture teaches about God.

Pastor John Piper writes, “The gospel is ultimately about God. He alone is the author and goal of salvation. The good news of John 3:16 is that God is the chief end of the gospel. He so loved the world not simply to give us forgiveness or eternal life but to give us something even greater—Himself.”

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: For God so Loved the World.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Dr. Burk Parsons writes, “We see it everywhere. From bumper stickers to billboards, from T-shirts to tattoos, from old faded church signs to spray-painted signs along country roads—John 3:16 is everywhere. As such, some Christians have become complacent about the simple truth of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Some think it’s just for children, some think it’s too elementary, and some perhaps think it’s doctrinally beneath them to spend time studying such a simple verse in depth. But in John 3:16 we find both the beautiful simplicity of the gospel and the glorious depths of the gospel. John 3:16 is not just for children to memorize in Sunday school; it is for the greatest biblical scholars and theologians to examine, and it is for every Christian to contemplate daily as we rest in the sovereign, gracious, and sacrificial love of God.”

Following my conversion to Christ is October of 1974, I soon thereafter followed the Lord in Believer’s Baptism. The evening of my baptism, October 31 of ’74 to be exact, I quoted John 3:16 as my verse of assurance of God’s love for me and my security in Jesus Christ. It was one of the first verses of Scripture I memorized. I have since come to understand that John 3:16 is one of the foundation verses of Scripture regarding the sovereign grace of God.

However, I have also discovered that many believers in the church use John 3:16 as a push back to Reformed Theology in general and the sovereign grace of God unto salvation of sinners in particular. They deny that sinners are radically depraved, in need of God’s unconditional grace, of His particular electing pardon, His effectual calling by the Holy Spirit and the eternally security He gives to believers in Christ.

Whenever I have been asked about the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, John 3:16 is often used, like a trump card in Euchre, by those to whom I am speaking who refute God’s sovereign grace and uplift the free will of fallen man. Yet, if we truly unpack John 3:16 as a single verse, along with view it within its immediate preceding context, we get a much different perspective but accurate interpretation.

Dr. Parson concludes, “As I fought against Reformed theology more than twenty years ago with all the free will I could muster, I firmly believed that John 3:16 was directly opposed to Reformed Theology. But I finally came to see that John 3:16 is at the very foundation of Reformed Theology. In John 3:16, we find every tenet of Reformed soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) in its most basic form. For those who want to understand Reformed theology, they can begin by striving to understand John 3:16. And for those who have studied the depths of Reformed theology, may we never become so sophisticated that we cannot boldly proclaim John 3:16.”

More to follow!

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: Jesus’ Witness.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:9-16)

Faith, or believing, is something we “do,” but it is not an act or effort that merits a reward. It is something we can do only when the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts or souls. This work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for us to understand what really is the nature of saving faith.

Faith is not some ability that sinners engineer independently of God. On the contrary, Jesus said in John 3:3 that being regenerated (born again) by God was absolutely necessary in order to believe the gospel.  Therefore, our faith in Christ is not only unmeritorious by its very nature and definition, but also by its very origin.

However, fallen human beings do not want to believe they are unfit for heaven, let alone unable to do anything about their lost and fallen condition. Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “A person must be changed by God; the disposition of his heart, which by nature does not want to do God’s bidding, must be altered by God the Holy Spirit.”

Nicodemas is a prime example of the need for regeneration. For even though he was a religious leader in Israel, he failed to humanly grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus was not just another Old Testament prophet who had died and gone to heaven and now returned to earth. Rather, Jesus is the One, True God who descended from heaven.

Jesus, in referring to Himself, then instructs Nicodemas that as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so too would the Son of Man be lifted up. Dr. John MacArthur explains, “This is a veiled prediction of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus referred to the story from Numbers 21:5–9 where the Israelite people who looked at the serpent lifted up by Moses were healed. The point of this illustration or analogy is in the “lifted up.” Just as Moses lifted up the snake on the pole so that all who looked upon it might live physically, those who look to Christ, who was “lifted up” on the cross, will live spiritually and eternally.”

There is an interesting side note of this reference by Jesus to the Bronze Serpent of Numbers 21. While the bronze figurine was indeed approved by God, it was not meant to be used beyond what God had instructed. In other words, it was not to be used as an object of worship.

However, this is exactly what the Israelite’s eventually did, as revealed in 2 Kings 18. It was King Hezekiah who, according to 18:4, “removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” 

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Originally preserved to commemorate God’s mercy to the Israelites when they were in the wilderness, (Numbers 21:6-9), this bronze serpent eventually became in itself an object of worship, hence an idol. This is why Hezekiah destroyed it.” 

Pastor Timothy Clothier writes, “We’re not given any more details regarding the Bronze Serpent.  We don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to keep around.  We don’t know if every year the nation would again look upon the serpent and remember what God did in saving them.  We don’t even know whether God told them to keep the Bronze Serpent as a reminder. What we do know, however, is that the nation of Israel quickly moved from true, faith based, worship of God Almighty to the ritual, or traditional, worship of a graven image. ” 

Pastor Clothier continues, “Am I suggesting that traditions in the church and our homes are idols and examples of us breaking the 2nd commandment?  Not necessarily.  What I am suggesting is that traditions can become the object of worship and we can, sometimes very easily, lose the point of why a tradition exists.  It is entirely possible to greatly enjoy the tradition and completely set aside or forget the truths that the tradition represents.”

Therefore, we must also never use the cross, or a depiction of the same, as an object of our worship. God and God alone is deserving of our adoration and praise. The purpose of such an illustration concerning Jesus is foretold by Jesus Himself when He says, “whoever believes in him (Jesus) may have eternal life.” The Bronze Serpent, much like the cross, serves as a type or illustration to point us to Christ and His substitutionary atonement. Nothing else.

Once again, we must not divorce what we are reading in vs. 9-15 from vs. 1-8. The ability to believe the gospel is because of the new birth. Unless regeneration occurs in the soul of the unbeliever, they will never come to faith in Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14). Or, to again quote Jesus from John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  

The inevitable push back by many believers to this doctrine of monergistic regeneration ironically is John 3:16. We will examine the reasons why next time.

Have you thanked God for sovereignly bringing you to new life in Jesus Christ by the person and work of the Holy Spirit? If not, do so today.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Five.

Regeneration, or being born again, is a sovereign work of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3) a radical work or total transformation (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 1 John 3:9) and not just an addition to our salvation. The SOURCE of regeneration is Christ (1 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 1:3, 2:4, 4:24; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The AGENT of regeneration is the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). The INSTRUMENT of regeneration is the Word of God (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25) which precedes and causes faith (John 6:63-65, 1 John 5:1, Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13).

Theologian John Murray explains, “God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation (transformation) or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by Him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spoke and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. This, in a word, is regeneration.”

Regeneration is the communication of the new heart to sinners by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God in general, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular. Regeneration is a Christ-generated act of instantaneously communicating spiritual life to a person convicted of sin.

One commentator states that, “Regeneration is expressly denied to be of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man (John 1:13), and is ascribed to God himself. Not all men have faith in Christ; and those who do have it, have it not of themselves; it is the gift of God, worked out through the Redemption which is in Christ through the mighty operation of his Spirit, which is the fruit and effect of His invincible grace. This is because the natural man is wholly captive under the power and dominion of sin, and a slave unto it, and has neither a power nor will to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 9:16, “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Ezekiel 37:14, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive [quickened us] with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

John 6:63, 65, “It is the Spirit who gives life [quickens]; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”…And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Titus 3:3-5, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

I Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,”

I Peter 1:22-23, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”

I John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”

Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “No presentation (of the gospel) is plain enough to get through to a sin-clouded mind. No amount of conviction can open glazed eyes wide enough to see Jesus. No amount of love can break down a defiant heart. But we can evangelize in faith, looking to the Spirit of God irresistibly to call and regenerate our friends and bring  them to faith in Christ, we have hope.” 

May today we give all the glory for our conversion and new birth to God and to God alone on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Four.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.” (John 3:7-8).

Jesus made it exceedingly clear to not only Nicodemas but also to us that the new birth in Jesus Christ is brought about solely by the person and work of the Holy Spirit God. After over 40+ years of ministry, I have witnessed many people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ, sign conversion cards, and walk aisles to the front of a church auditorium among other acts. However, true conversion (being born again to saving faith in Jesus Christ) can only happen when the Holy Spirit quickens the sinner’s heart and soul through the preaching of the Gospel. It is only then that the sinner can place their God given faith (the ability to trust, commit, depend and worship) in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus said that there is a physical birth which is brought about by human means. Many of us have rejoiced at the birth of our children and grandchildren. That is a birth which is of the flesh. It belongs to the area of one’s physical existence and only one’s physical existence. Yet, we had nothing to do with our physical birth. It was brought about by our parents who conceived us along with doctors and nurses who birthed us. We were passive participants.

Jesus also said there is a spiritual birth which is brought about by the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit. Many of us have rejoiced at the new birth of our children, grandchildren along with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. That is a new birth which is brought about solely by the Holy Spirit. It belongs to the area of one’s spiritual existence and only one’s spiritual existence. Even the faith we exercise and place in Jesus Christ is a sovereign gift from Almighty God (Philippians 1:29; Acts 13:48; 2 Peter 1:1-2).

This new birth does not occur through the right use of pragmatic or other constituted means. The new birth is not guaranteed when there is the right lighting, the right message, the right invitation song and the right motivational statement(s) to lure an individual to make a decision for Christ. The new birth occurs only by the sovereign Holy Spirit who uses the preaching of the Gospel.

Romans 10:13-17 says, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 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? 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!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

In his book, Living for God’s Glory, Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “The means by which the effectual call (to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord) comes is the gospel of God’s salvation in Christ applied by the Spirit. Paul told the Thessalonians that they were called ‘by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:14). John Calvin was fond of saying that there are two ministers preaching every sermon: the external minister, the ordained servant of God, who brings the Word of God to the ear; and the internal minister, the Holy Spirit, who moves the Word of God to the soul, convicting it, raising it to new life, and granting it to embrace Christ by faith.”

John Flavel concludes, “The external voice (of the ordained minister) is evermore ineffectual and successless when it is not animated by that internal spiritual voice of the Spirit to the heart.”

The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the Corinthians the following words: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-4).

As I write this devotional, I am recalling that approximately 24 hours earlier I had the privilege of leading a young man to saving faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Lord gave me the opportunity to do so, I remember that it was the Holy Spirit working through me, and in the heart and soul of the converted young man, that brought about such a miracle such as the new birth. We must never forget this. Otherwise, we many think that other external means are the real reason a person is converted.

Are you trusting in a commitment card you may have signed, a walk you took down an isle to the front of an auditorium, or some other act by which you believe you were converted? Rest solely in your repentant faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new birth by the Holy Spirit which enabled you to do so.

John Calvin writes, “Faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace.”

Another commentator explains, “Faith is something we “do,” but it is not a deed that merits a reward. It is something we can do only and solely when our hearts have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.”

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Three.

“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 4:4-5).

Most first-century Jews believed they would automatically receive citizenship into the kingdom of God because they were Abraham’s descendants (See John 8:12–58). To hear that something more was needed to see and enter the coming kingdom was a shock to many first-century Jews, particularly to the Pharisees who were known for their painstaking adherence to the Law of Moses.

As one commentator explains, “As a Pharisee, Nicodemus belonged to this group of particularly scrupulous Jews, and that probably explains, at least partly, why Nicodemus misunderstood when he heard that even he needed to be born again. After all, Jesus’ words in today’s passage indicate that being born again is required of all who want to become citizens of God’s kingdom” (John 3:3, 5).

Nicodemas was incredulous. He skeptically, and perhaps a little sarcastically, responded to Jesus that would he, an adult, need to be physically reborn in his mother’s womb to fulfill Jesus’ statement of the need to be born again? Nicodemas took Jesus’ words literally (See John 4:1-15).

However, Jesus began explaining to Nicodemas, and to us, the need for a spiritual rebirth that can only be effected by God. He indicated, what the late theologian Francis Schaeffer called a “true truth,” that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by this statement?

One interpretation is that Jesus was respectively referring to physical birth and then spiritual birth. This seems to be supported by the ensuring words of John 3:6 when Jesus continues to say, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The logic is that first comes physical birth and then spiritual birth. One must be born physically in order to be born spiritually. My Greek professor at Detroit Bible College took this position.

However, the more widely held interpretation is that Jesus was referring to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. In this view, Jesus referred not to literal water but to the need for “cleansing” (Ezekiel 36:24–27). When water is used figuratively in the OT, it habitually refers to renewal or spiritual cleansing, especially when used in conjunction with “spirit” (Numbers 19:17–19Psalm 51:9–10Isaiah 32:15; 44:3–5; 55:1–3Jeremiah 2:13Joel 2:28–29).

Therefore, as one theologian explains, “Jesus made reference to the spiritual washing or purification of the soul, accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the word of God at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26Titus 3:5), required for belonging to his kingdom.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul comments, That being born again refers to a spiritual change is evident from Jesus’ saying that to be born again is equivalent to being born of the Spirit (vv. 3, 5). The spiritual change required is no minor change but a complete transformation. The need to be born again indicates that one must be granted a brand-new nature. A new person, in essence, has to be created in place of the old. This refers to regeneration, the act whereby God changes us at the very root of our being so that we can believe.”

John Calvin comments, “By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature.”

Have you been truly born again? As we previously noted, no one is born a Christian. A sinner is born again by the Word of God through the ministry of the Spirit of God thereby enabling the sinner to repent of their sins and turn to faith in Christ and thus be converted. This results in the believing sinner living a new life for the glory of God. Have you been truly born again?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Two.

 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

Theologian J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

No one is physically born a Christian. We must never have the idea that just because we, or our children, are born into a Christian family that this means we, or they, are automatically Christians. What is necessary is for a person, even one born into a Christian environment, is to be born again. What does it mean to be born again?

The phrase “born again” comes from the Greek words γεννάω ἄνωθεν (gennao; anothen) meaning to experience a new birth or a rebirth, to be born from above, and/or to be born or God. The verb form in the Greek indicates that this rebirth consumes the entire person and is an event or action which happens upon the individual. The person who is born again is a passive recipient of an act of God.

The phrase “born again” refers to the biblical doctrine of Monergistic Regeneration. Monergistic Regeneration is the new birth or rebirth. This compound word contains the root word “generation” meaning creation, invention, initiation and origination. The prefix “re” means once more, afresh or anew. Therefore, regeneration refers to an afresh or new creation or origination.

Pertaining to a sinner’s relationship to the holy God of the Bible, it is a new birth resulting in justification and reconciliation with God. Where once God was the sinner’s enemy (Romans 5:10) through regeneration the sinner becomes a child of God.

The noun regeneration occurs only twice in the Scriptures: in Matthew 19:28 regarding the renewal of the world immediately prior to the return of Christ and in Titus 3:5 where baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration. However, there are numerous texts which refer to regeneration by using various images and expressions. One such description is the new birth.

Ezekiel 36:25-26 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness’s, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

This is what Jesus was referring to in John 3:3 when He said, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Notice that Jesus said that if the new birth does not occur, the sinner in question cannot see or understand the rule of God over man. In other words, unless the new birth occurs first in the sinner’s soul, they cannot trust, depend, commit and worship God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is not that they “will not” exercise faith in Christ, but it is that they “cannot” exercise faith in Christ. The order of the language surmises the new birth or regeneration occurs prior to one’s placing faith in Christ. Only when an individual is born again, or regenerated, can that individual exercise repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and therefore be justified.

As Dr. R. C. Sproul recalls, One of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom. One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters: “Regeneration Precedes Faith.” These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence. I had put faith at the beginning.”

Regeneration is called “renewal of the Holy Spirit” in Titus 3:5. It results in sinners becoming “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), being commanded to put on the “new self” because of Christ (Ephesians 4:24) and to being referred to as “newborn babies” through Christ (I Peter 2:2).

Dr. John MacArthur explains, “The phrase (born again) lit. means “born from above.” Jesus answered a question that Nicodemus does not even ask. He read Nicodemus’s heart and came to the very core of his problem, i.e., the need for spiritual transformation or regeneration produced by the Holy Spirit. New birth is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer (2 Corinthians 5:17Titus 3:51 Peter 1:31 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). John 1:12–13 indicates that “born again” also carries the idea “to become children of God” through trust in the name of the incarnate Word.”

Is this new birth necessary? It is not only necessary but occurs only through the means and methods God has appointed resulting in a new pattern of living.

What was Nicodemas’ response to this statement by Jesus? What is yours? Are you born again? Unless you are, you cannot be converted and be justified.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again!

 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

As John 3 opens, Jesus and His disciples are still in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. It is in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leaders regarding His authority in cleansing  the Temple, and the increasing number of people of following Him because of the signs He was doing (John 2:13-25) that a man comes to visit Jesus.

John 3:1 begins with explaining that there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees were one of four specific people groups in Israel during the life of Christ. The remaining three were the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. At this time, we will concern ourselves only with the Pharisees.

The title “Pharisee” most likely comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to separate” and therefore probably means “separated ones.” They were highly zealous not only for ritual and religious purity according to the Mosaic Law but also for their own traditions which they added to the Law. A licentious person, in relationship to God’s Word, takes away or ignores portions of God’s Word which prove uncomfortable. On the other hand, a legalist adds to the Word of God in areas deemed by them to be insufficient. The Pharisees were, in large measure, legalists. Along with Nicodemas, two other prominent Pharisees mentioned by name in the Scriptures are Gamliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; Philippians 3:1-6).

Nicodemas was a ruler of the Jews. The word ruler (ἄρχων; archon) means a member of the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body among the Jews—‘a member of the Council: the Sanhedrin. Nicodemas was an important man among the Jewish religious leaders. Yet, it is Nicodemas who takes the initiative to seek Jesus rather than summon Jesus to come to him.

Nicodemas comes to see Jesus at night. Why? Perhaps it was to avoid the crowd of people who were clamoring for Jesus’ attention (John 2:23-25). Perhaps by his coming to Jesus place of residence in Jerusalem by night, he would avoid the crowd and thereby have a one on one conversation with this increasingly popular teacher.

The other possible reason may be is that Nicodemas did not want to be seen by anyone. Already, strong feelings against Jesus were being felt by the Jewish religious leaders. This would only increase. Perhaps Nicodemas did not want any of his fellow Pharisees knowing that he wanted to speak with Jesus.

Regardless of the reason(s), Nicodemas meets Jesus. He begins the conversation by saying, ““Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

The title “Rabbi” (ῥαββί; rhabbi) literally means a Jewish teacher and scholar recognized for expertise in interpreting the Jewish Scriptures. One commentator writes, “Technically Jesus was not an acknowledged Rabbi of the schools, but Nicodemus does recognize him as such and calls him “My Master” just as Andrew and John did (1:38).” Nicodemas treats Jesus with a measure of respect.

Nicodemas goes on to say “we know” which may be a possible reference to the Jewish people in general or to the Pharisees in particular. The word know (οἶδα; oida) means to understand. Nicodemas is making reference to not only himself, but to others when he comments that there is a general understanding at this point regarding Jesus.

That observation or understanding is declared in what effectively is a cause and effect statement. Nicodemas observes that Jesus is a teacher come from God. The word teacher (διδάσκαλος; didaskalos) means an instructor. However, Nicodemas says that Jesus is a teacher who belongs to and originates from God alone. On what basis does Nicodemas make this observation? It is on the basis of the signs Jesus was doing. Nicodemas correctly concluded that Jesus must be from God for only such a person could be doing the things that Jesus was doing. So far, so good.

However, Jesus interrupts Nicodemas with the following statement: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What does Jesus mean by this statement and why would a religious man such as Nicodemas need to hear it.

We will seek to answer this question when we meet again, Lord willing, tomorrow. Until then, I encourage you to read Ezekiel 36:22-38, Ephesians 2:1-7, James 1:18 and I Peter 1:1-5.

Theologian J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Let me leave you with this thought. No one is physically born a Christian. We must never have the idea that just because we, or our children, are born into a Christian family that this means we, or they, are automatically Christians. What is necessary is for a person, even one born into a Christian environment, to be born again.

Soli deo Gloria!