Over the next several days there will be all kinds of gifts exchanged. For most of you, I hope, the gift you desired will be under your Christmas tree. For those who get gifts you don’t want I want to apologize in advance for the long lines to exchange items that you cannot imagine anyone would ever think you would want or be able to wear. . . . your husbands are doing their best!
When all is said and done, when the wrapping paper is all thrown away and the empty boxes taken care of, the question we should ask is not: “Did I get everything I had on my list?” but “Did I receive the gift that Jesus came to earth to give me?”
This evening we look at John 1:12,13 where the apostle John wrote,
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. [John 1:12,13]
On Sunday mornings we have looked at who Jesus was and we saw from verses 9-11 that for the most part people missed the whole reason Jesus came to earth. In verses 12 and 13 John tells us how to make sure we don’t miss the real point of the Christmas celebration. He tells us how we can become children of God.
The Wrong Ways to Become a Child of God
Have you ever had the experience of stopping to ask for directions to some location and got the answer, “you can’t get there from here”? In our text tonight we are going to look at three examples that say, you can’t get there (in right relationship with God) from here. Don’t despair, that will be followed by an explanation of how to become a child of God.
We cannot become a child of God through natural descent. The first wrong way of getting right with God is to trust the coattails of your parents.
There are lots of people who are quite proud of their family lineage. They are proud of the fact that they are related to Lincoln or Washington or any number of other people. This is a rich heritage. Some people make a living off whom they are related to. The right lineage can get you a better job, a shot in the movies, a tryout with a sports team, an office in the company, or a place in the political spectrum.
For the Jews, proving your lineage was important. If you could prove that you were Jewish in ancestry it meant you were part of the covenant community. It meant you could consider yourself one of “God’s people”. If you had the right lineage you might even be able to serve God in the temple.
These ties are all valuable and important. However, John wants us to know that this cannot get us into Heaven. As someone has said, “There are no grandchildren in Heaven”. What they mean is that you can’t get into Heaven because of whom you are related to. You don’t get into Heaven because you had godly parents. You don’t get to Heaven because one of your family members was a Pastor. You don’t get to Heaven because you have an ancestor that was instrumental in the Reformation. Your standing with God is dependent on how you personally stand with God.
To think that you can get to Heaven because of your relatives is like thinking you are going to live a long time simply because your parents and grandparents lived long lives. There is benefit in good genes but the length of your life will be determined by circumstances, by how well you take care of yourself, and how you handle the stress of life.
If you have grown up in a Christian home you are greatly blessed. You have had the advantage of learning the truths of the faith as you grew up. You have been exposed to the truth and for that you should be grateful. However, you still need to make a personal decision regarding Christ. You can’t get there from here.
Second, we do not become a child of God through human desire. We do not become a child of God by simply determining to make it happen. You cannot make yourself a child of God . . . that is something God has to do in you. You cannot earn enough points, sacrifice enough time or give enough money to earn your way into Heaven.
People tell us that if you put your mind to something, you can do anything. You can do a lot of things by being determined but you can’t make yourself into a child of God. You can resolve to read the Bible for hours a day. You can determine that you are going to seek God constantly in prayer. You can resolve to be in church every time the church is open. And all of these things can be wonderfully beneficial. However, none of them can get you into Heaven. None of this will get you permission to be a child of God. We can’t make it happen. You can’t get there from here!
We cannot become a child of God through the effort of an outsider. There is a bit of discussion on what this phrase, “a husband’s will” means. I think the most attractive interpretation is to understand John to be saying that no one else can get you into Heaven.
It’s important to understand that you can sit under the finest teaching in the world but that won’t get you into Heaven. You can memorize the sermons of great men but that won’t get you into Heaven. I could present you with hours of arguments for why you should become a child of God. I can exhort you, cajole you, reason with you . . . and still be powerless to make you a child of God. I can’t save you . . . only God can do that! You can’t get there from here.
HOW TO BECOME A CHILD OF GOD
The simple answer to the question, “How does one become a child of God?” is given at the end of verse 13. John says, we must be born of God.
Jesus told Nicodemus the same thing in John chapter three. Nicodemus was a leading religious leader. He was knowledgeable, powerful, and respected. He came to Jesus at night (presumably so he wouldn’t be seen) and engaged him in a conversation. Nick told Jesus that “no one can do the things you are doing unless God is with Him.” Jesus said, “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nick was confused by this answer. To paraphrase, Nick said, “Excuse me? A person needs to be born again? Don’t you think I’m a little too big to be born again?”
Jesus told Nick, “I’m not talking about a physical birth. I mean you need to be born again in a spiritual way.” Something supernatural needs to take place in the heart. This is what John wants us to understand. The transformation we need is one that only God can accomplish.
But how do we receive such a transformation? We need to go back to verse 12, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” That word for “right” means permission or authority. In other words when we fulfill the conditions God sets out, God declares, gives permission, for us to become children of God.
The condition is that we must receive Him and believe in His name. That sounds easy, but make sure you understand. To believe in the name of Jesus means to believe in who He is, to believe that His testimony is true. A person’s name in those days signified their entire character. That’s why when someone was transformed by God they were often given a new name. Abram became Abraham; Jacob became Israel; Levi became Matthew, Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul”. When we trust Christ we must trust Who He is in the totality of His person.
What does it mean to receive Jesus? It is more than simply believing that Jesus existed. It is more than believing He was the Son of God and the sufficient payment for our sin. To receive Jesus means you take the next step. You recognize who He is, you believe that He is sufficient to save and transform you, and then you BET YOUR LIFE on that belief.
There are lots of illustrations we could use. Suppose you were in a building that was several stories high and your building caught on fire. You can’t get out. You run to the window and cry for help. Down below are a group of firemen who are holding what looks like a trampoline. They tell you to jump. You understand what they are asking you to do but merely understanding doesn’t save you from the fire. You believe that the firemen know what they are doing. You even believe that if you jump they are going to catch you. But simply believing doesn’t save you from the fire. What saves you from the fire is when you receive their instructions and act on them. You will be saved when you actually get out on the window ledge and jump into the tarp they hold.
It’s the same way with the gospel. You can understand the gospel and still not be a child of God. You can believe the testimony of the gospel and still not be a child of God. You become a child of God when you are willing to trust God enough to surrender to Him. When you jump into His arms, He will make you new. He will wash your heart and cleanse it from all the stains (yes ALL the stains) from your past. He will begin the process of making you new from the inside out. He will begin to give you new desires, a new heart, and a new destination.
But how do you know if you have trusted Christ in this way? Here’s a little checklist,
- You say He is the divine teacher. Do you try to do what He says?
- You believe that He is the sacrifice for your sin, have you stopped fretting about the past because you trust that He has done what He promised?
- You say that He is your wonderful Redeemer. Do you seek to honor Him in the way that you live your life?
- Do you make His example the pattern for your life?
- Do you see His praise as the ultimate goal of your life?
Most of us aren’t doing these things perfectly or even with the kind of consistency that we desire. The question isn’t whether you are doing them perfectly, the question is, “Is this the yearning of your heart?” If so, you are His child and His Spirit is at work within you.
Some of you, however, sit here tonight and you realize that this is not the reality of your life. Perhaps you are one of those who figured that you were going to Heaven because you had godly parents, a Christian spouse, or because you live in America. I hope you have seen tonight that you can’t get to a right relationship with God by the people you associate with, the determination you muster or the energetic teaching of your friends. You can only be saved when you personally put your trust in Christ.
Some of you may have concluded that you cannot be a child of God because you have made too many mistakes. You would like to believe that you could find new life but you feel it’s too late. You have done too many bad things, you have said things against God, you have ignored Him for too long. Maybe you have hurt people. Maybe you have used others, perhaps you have physically hurt others, maybe you have failed in some of the promises you made to the Lord. Some of you may have been unfaithful to your spouse. Others of you may have cheated others. Some may have made money by victimizing others. Other people feel you are too far-gone and you believe them!
The promise of Jesus is that ANYONE who receives Him will be given the right, permission, and authority to become a child of God. God’s Spirit can change the hardest heart. He can and will change you if you will only jump into His arms.
The most important gift of Christmas is not a new toy, video game system, ipod, jewelry or even the warmth of family. The most important gift is the gift of life that is offered to all who will receive it.
As we stand on the edge of another Christmas, may I ask, “Where do you stand with Jesus?” If you have not received Him, please do so today. Trust the One who loves you more than you can possibly know. Surrender to the One who knows the way through the wilderness called life. Follow the one who alone can lead us through the dark valley of the shadow of death.
I encourage you to present yourself to God. In simple and honest faith say to the Lord, “today, I receive the gift of new life. Today I place my hope and my confidence in you. Today I give you the position of influence and control in my life and ask you to make me new as you have promised that you would. If you mean that prayer, you can become a child of God tonight.
And if you are a child of God; If you have made that commitment to trust and follow Jesus, I encourage you to renew that commitment tonight. Thank God for the new life that is yours. Realize anew that the fullest joy of Christmas is found in the realization that you have been delivered from the treadmill that leads to Hell and have instead been brought into a new, living, and vital relationship with God. That is a fact worth celebrating! Renew your commitment to follow Him in the year ahead. Determine to throw off all the things that stand in your way.
Years ago the Chicago Tribune ran a cartoon on the front page (this would probably never happen today). It was a picture of a Christmas tree. Wrapping paper was strewn all around. There was one gift still under the tree. On the box was written “John 3:16” which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” The caption of the cartoon was this, “the unopened gift”.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you might open and enjoy ALL the gifts you are given.