And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:33)
God’s plan for the salvation of man included the establishment of an intimate personal relationship between God and man. We would consider Him to be our God, and He would consider us to be His people. This new relationship would be better than the relationship established under the first covenant because the new relationship would not be subject to the corruption of sin.
God Blessed Us in Making Us His Children
Nothing demonstrates more clearly that our relationship with God is solid and secure than does the fact that Jesus made us His children when He came to live in our hearts. This would not be the case if our designation as “children of God” were merely a figure of speech. But, as Scripture boldly declares, being His children means that we are His descendants. It means that we are His offspring. It means that we share His nature. We are no longer rebellious against God because of our evil hearts, but we have been made one with Him. He is our God, and we are His people.
The apostle John wrote:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:1–2)
As we consider the truth that we are children of God, it is fitting to take a moment to think about the gravity of the fact that God Himself is the one who calls us His children. Right now, at this very moment, we are children of the one true God, the Lord God Almighty (1 John 3:2). The supreme King of the universe is our Father. 1 John 3:1–2 entreats us to think about and ponder the lavishness of the gift of love that God has bestowed upon us in making us His children.
Like John, as soon as we begin to ponder the glories of being God’s offspring, another truth immediately confronts our imagination. We begin to think about the limitations of our flesh and about it being loosed one day. We think about our bodies being changed and about God finishing completely what He started when He birthed us into His kingdom. Though we do not know the exact form our bodies will take, we rejoice over John’s testimony that “we shall be like Him” and “we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Trusting Christ Leads to New Birth
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10–13)
It is important for us to know that the privilege of becoming a child of God is not given to everyone. It is quid pro quo for entrusting the safekeeping of one’s soul to Jesus Christ (John 1:12). This explains the imperative of faith. It also explains why God has gone to such great lengths to help us put our trust in Him. And though it is difficult for some people to accept because of misconceptions concerning the sovereignty of God, “believing” was within our God-given human capabilities before we were born spiritually, in spite of the fact that at that time we were not alive to God.
It is evident that spiritually dead people can hear God’s call and have the ability to act on it. Jesus said:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. (John 5:24–25)
But not all the dead who hear the word preached to them are saved. The difference is that some choose to trust God, and some don’t. This point is made in the Book of Hebrews: “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Heb. 4:2). For the words of God to do any good in a dead person’s life, he must hear it and believe it.
“Believing” has always been the sole responsibility of man in salvation. God has done much to help us believe, but He leaves the believing up to us. God sent John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, into the world preaching about the coming of the Messiah so that “all through him might believe” (John 1:7). Jesus Himself said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (John 12:36). Jesus also said that believing is a “work” which is required of us by God, and doing it produces eternal life: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29). God also inspired the apostle John to write his gospel for this very reason:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30–31)
The miracles that Jesus did were also given to help us believe in Him. And He did not do just a few miracles, but many. He turned water into wine (John 2:1–11). Twice He fed thousands of people from a handful of fish and few loaves of bread (Matt. 14:13–21; Matt. 15:32–39). He walked on water (Mark 6:45–52). He commanded the wind to stop blowing and the waves to flatten out (Luke 8:22–25). He cast out demons (Matt. 8:28–34). He gave sight to the blind (John 9:1–41). He stretched out a man’s withered hand (Matt. 12:10–14). He caused the lame to walk (John 5:1–16). He forgave sins (Mark 2:1–12). He raised people from the dead (Mark 5:21–43; John 11:1–45).
Why did He do so many miracles? He said it was so that we would have tangible evidence to support His verbal claims about Himself (John 10:25). In other words, the purpose of Jesus doing so many miracles was to help us believe in Him:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. (John 2:23)
Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” (John 4:48)
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.” (John 10:25)
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him. (John 10:37–38)
But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him. (John 12:37)
Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. (John 14:11)
He did the same thing for Thomas in the upper room after His resurrection (John 20:26–29). Thomas was disheartened because of Jesus’ death, and he refused to believe what he thought were just rumors that Jesus had come back from the dead. He told his fellow disciples that He would not believe unless he put his hands in the spear hole in His side and his finger in the nail holes in His hands (John 20:25). When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room, He sought out Thomas to present Himself for inspection. He was not angry with Thomas, but loved him. He was willing to do whatever it took to help Thomas overcome his unbelief.
I preached this message in a verse-by-verse Bible study of John at a nursing home. It had the most visible effect on a dear ninety-three year old lady who was a regular member of our group. In the prior six months, she had confided in me privately that her faith was not what it should be, and she was concerned about it. On several occasions I tried to console her that she was in God’s hands, and that He knew what was in her heart. Just in case there was truly a problem with her faith, I shared the plan of salvation with her. We prayed together about the situation several times, but nothing seemed to help—until we got to this place in the Book of John.
When I shared with the group that God was not mad at Thomas for his unbelief, but understood it, and that He was willing to do whatever it took to help him overcome it, I could see in her face that the message struck home. But because of all the distractions that evening, I didn’t have a chance to discuss it with her after the Bible study. It would turn out to be my last chance. She passed away before the next week’s meeting. It made me sad on one hand but blessed me on the other. It was as if God reached down from heaven, touched this woman’s heart, and didn’t let her pass until she was at peace with Him.
Man’s singular role in salvation has always been to believe in Jesus Christ. This does not detract from God’s sovereignty. He is the one who decided, without any counsel from man, to offer Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. And it was solely His decision to offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life in exchange for trusting in Jesus. He created the paradigm, and He broadcasted it to the world. Whenever people hear His message, believe it, and respond to its call by entrusting the safekeeping of their souls to Christ, God honors His side of the bargain and saves them.
In the midst of one of the most intriguing dialogs concerning the salvation of mankind (John 6:22–71), Jesus told the crowd several important truths that confirm this paradigm.
First, He said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Lost people do not seek after God (Rom. 3:11). Instead, God is the one who seeks out the lost to save them. And though we do have a role alongside God as His ambassadors to a lost world, we must always keep in mind that God Himself is always actively working in people’s lives to draw them to Him. God Himself is the primary one who implores them to be reconciled with Him, and no one turns to God apart from God acting upon him directly.
Second, He said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). This is an important facet of our own salvation and the salvation of every other person. Namely, when we turned to Jesus to save us from our sins, our turning was the direct result of us having heard and learned from God.
What exactly did we hear and learn from God? We heard and learned everything necessary to convince us to turn to Christ to save us from our sins. I don’t have a complete list of the particulars, but those things include the knowledge that we need the salvation that Christ offers and the understanding that Jesus has the power and the will to save us from our sins. And God does not send people to any other person for salvation. He sends them only to Jesus.
Third, He said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). This final point is the closing of the deal. When God seeks out a lost person to save him, teaches him that he needs a Savior, and convinces him that Jesus is willing and able to save him, then, when that person learns this lesson from God and turns to Christ for salvation, under no circumstances will Jesus turn him away (John 6:37). If God ever did turn one person away, He would be a liar, and His lie would be the cruelest lie ever told. But God is trustworthy and honors His promises. He has declared it, and He will not change His mind: “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ ” (Rom. 10:13).
If you are not a child of God but want to become one, then you should know that the path to becoming a child of God is through trusting in Jesus Christ. If God is drawing you to Him and is urging you to trust Jesus Christ with the safekeeping of your soul, then do it right now. Receive the forgiveness that God offers you in Jesus Christ. John 1:12–13 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” If you place your trust in Jesus, He will make you His child.
Spiritual Birth Is the Supernatural Work of God
Though the right to become children of God is given to everyone who believes in Christ, and though God saves everyone who calls on Him, the believing and the calling is not what turns a lost person into a child of God. What makes a person God’s child is the supernatural act of spiritual birth. By that act, God brings to life a dead person and causes an alien to become a member of His family. Man’s role and responsibility for entrusting the safekeeping of his soul to Christ precedes salvation, but the act of saving a person is something God does alone. And when God saves a person, He breathes His Spirit into that person’s heart, and He creates spiritual life in him that did not exist before:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:13–14)
God’s choice to make us His children is akin to human adoption. The Bible uses the word adoption in five places to describe our relationship with God as His children (Rom. 8:15, 8:23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). In each of them, the meaning of adoption carries the typical human definition: “To formally and legally declare that someone who is not one’s own child is henceforth to be treated and cared for as one’s own child, including complete rights of inheritance.” This is exactly what God did for us when He made us His children, though our separation from Him prior to adoption was exaggerated as compared to that of human adoption.
Before God made us His children, we were strangers and foreigners, alienated from the life of God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:11–13; 4:18). We were His enemies (Rom. 5:10). By nature, we were children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). But when we put our trust in Christ (after we heard the good news that He died for our sins and rose from the dead to save us), God made us (who were formerly His enemies) His children.
But God’s adoption of us is not like human adoption in one important way. Our spiritual adoption was not secured by a piece of paper that was duly sworn and properly executed (or by anything like it), but our adoption was secured by the Holy Spirit of Almighty God coming to live in our hearts (Eph. 1:13–14). By that act, God breathed His life into our souls and made us like Him. He gave us His Divine NAture, His DNA. He Himself is the guarantee of our eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14). When God adopted us into His family, He gave us new lives. Humans can’t do this for their adopted children.
Spiritual Birth Makes Us God’s Offspring
Jesus … said to him, “Most assuredly, 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, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 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.’ ” (John 3:3–7)
Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when He said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He was stating a necessity. It is an inescapable truth that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). Therefore, if Nicodemus was to be a part of God’s kingdom, he had to be born into it. This is why Jesus told him that he must be born again (John 3:3, 5).
But the idea of a second birth was puzzling to Nicodemus. So he asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).
What Jesus explained next was a brand new truth that may have never been revealed to mankind before. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
We all understand that through physical birth we become descendants of Adam and Eve and partake of flesh and blood (John 3:6). That part of what Jesus said was not new. But the new thing that Jesus revealed is that through spiritual birth we become offspring of God and partake of His divine nature (John 3:6). Only those who are born of God enter His kingdom. They are the ones who possess His Spirit, and they are the only ones who have eternal life.
It is important that we understand that spiritual birth is an internal transformation that takes us from one extreme (characterized by death and condemnation) to another (characterized by life and godliness). It is an internal change that is permanent and complete, and it happens the moment we first put our trust in Christ. The action that causes the transformation is that Jesus enters our hearts and gives us His life. The moment He gives us His life, we possess His life, and we are transformed into something new: children of God. Literally speaking, we become God’s offspring.
Therefore, the life we received from Jesus is different from the life we received from Adam (Rom. 5:15–19). The life we received from Adam is corrupted by sin and places us under God’s condemnation (Rom. 5:15–19). But the life we received from Jesus is holy and righteous and is inherently right with God (Rom. 5:15–19).
The inherent righteousness of the life we received from Jesus is the message of 1 John 3:9:
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)
I took an introductory New Testament Greek language class in the mid 1980’s. Our translation project for the year was to translate the entire Book of 1 John verse-by-verse. 1 John was chosen because its length was appropriate for the length of the class and because its grammar and vocabulary are easier to translate than some other books of the Bible. A personable doctoral student taught the class. I appreciated his teaching style because he did not pretend to know everything about Greek. He was willing to do more research or get outside help if he was uncertain of anything.
When we came to 1 John 3:9, he made an interesting comment. He said something like, “If I translate this verse honestly, then I must come to the conclusion that I am lost.” I knew he was not lost because of the fellowship in Christ we shared. He knew it too, but the point he was making was that he did not see any grammatical loopholes in the verse that would change its obvious meaning. He said it means just what it says: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
I know the message of 1 John 3:9 is scary and may be difficult to digest. But when we are confronted with difficult passages like this, we must not be afraid of what they say. Fear is present because of the possibility of torment (1 John 4:18). If we harden our hearts and turn away in fear from difficult verses, then we will not understand what God wants us to know, and we will miss a blessing. But if we bravely consider what He is saying and keep in mind that He loves us, the fear will go away (1 John 4:18). Then, we will create the fertile soil in our hearts that enables His seeds of truth to grow and produce fruit.
Without getting into the many opposing views of 1 John 3:9, let it suffice for me to say that the subject of the verse is the divine nature we receive from Christ when He gives birth to us by His Spirit. Unlike the human nature that we each received from Adam, our divine nature is not corruptible by sin. It is not corruptible by sin because it shares God’s nature. 1 John 3:9 says that a person’s new life that he receives from Christ cannot commit even a single sin because it is literally the offspring of God.
The apostle John mentions this fact again two chapters later. 1 John 5:18 says, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” As in 1 John 3:9, this verse says that the devil is powerless to corrupt our new spirits because our new spirits possess God’s divine nature, and God’s divine nature is not corruptible by sin. Compare this with the apostle Peter’s statement that we are “born again” of “incorruptible” seed “through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:22–23).
I mention these verses, despite their difficulty, because the fact that we are God’s offspring (and therefore possess His divine nature) explains many things about our Christian lives. Here are a few examples:
Having new life in Christ Jesus is such an honor and a privilege because the same God who said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3) is the one who has chosen to make us His children and give us His divine nature.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (463–464). New York: United Bible Societies. ↑