John opened his gospel about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ with a somewhat confusing statement about the nature of God’s only Son. John said:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
John referred to Jesus as the Word. The Greek word that John used, logos (log’-os) refers to something said and in this case signifies “the Divine Expression” (G3056). John connected Jesus’ divine expression with life in an absolute sense, life without end, “that life of bliss and glory in the kingdom of God which awaits the true disciples of Christ after the resurrection” (G2222). John went on to say:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)
John used the phrase children of God to express the kind of relationship we have with God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. John indicated that we are born into the family of God in the same way that we are born into our biological family, except that we are not born “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus described this transaction in his conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Jesus said:
“Truly, truly, 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.’ 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 3:5-8)
Jesus made it clear that our birth into the family of God is a spiritual birth and suggested that it will be like we are starting all over from the beginning. That’s why Jesus referred to it as being born again. The Greek word that is translated again, anothen (an’-o-then) means “from above” with regard to place. We are born from a higher place. “Hence spoken of whatever is heavenly or from heaven, and since God dwells in heaven, it signifies from God, in a divine manner” (G509).
Jesus talked about the believer’s relationship to God in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus’ instruction to let our light shine before others was intended to point out that we are not meant to keep our spiritual birth a secret. Eternal life is something that everyone would want to have if they knew that it was available to them. We know that eternal life is available to everyone because Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus made it clear in his Sermon on the Mount that spiritual life is not easy. In fact, spiritual life goes against our human nature and is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word that is translated sons, uihothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’) means “the placing of a son, i.e. adoption…In the New Testament, figuratively meaning adoption, sonship, spoken of the state of those whom God through Christ adopts as His sons and thus makes heirs of His covenanted salvation” (G5206).
Jesus went on to explain in his Sermon on the Mount that if we have been born again, our behavior is important to our Father. God wants us to act like we are his children and he rewards us when we do so. Jesus warned his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 3-4). Jesus also talked about prayer and taught his disciples to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus concluding his teaching about the believers relationship to God by stating, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
John went a step further in his first epistle in explaining our relationship to God by talking about the kind of love that we receive from God as his children. John said:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
John said that when Jesus appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even though believers become children of God through a spiritual birth, they are not immediately transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Greek word that is translated like in 1 John 3:2, homoios (hom’-oy-os) means “just like, equal, the same with: in kind or nature (Jude 7); in conduct, character (John 8:55); in authority, dignity, power (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Revelation 13:4)” (G3664). John indicated that the key to being like Christ was seeing him as he is. In other words, seeing Jesus in his glorified state will have such a great impact on us that we will not only want to, but also will be, immediately transformed into his likeness.
John’s comment about everyone who hopes in Christ being purified as he is pure (1 John 3:3) had to do with believers possessing a confident expectation of good things to come (G2192/G1680). One of the reasons why the Israelites had to go through a continual process of purification in order to have a relationship with God was that they weren’t able to do the things that they were expected to in order to remain in fellowship with him. God’s deliverance of the Israelites wasn’t based on their relationship to him, but their relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
John the Baptist discouraged the Pharisees and Sadducees that were coming to him to be baptized from doing it because he knew they didn’t believe his message about salvation. John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham s our father, for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).
The biological descendants of Abraham were used to thinking of themselves as the special people to whom God would grant eternal life. They didn’t understand that eternal life was connected to spiritual life and therefore, it was necessary for them to experience a spiritual birth. The closest thing the Israelites had to the concept of spiritual birth was the process of sanctification. Sanctification made it possible for the Israelites to become holy or pure. The LORD instructed Moses, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). The LORD’s emphasis of his expectation for the Israelites to be holy made it seem as though it was a permanent state that they were able to attain, but in actuality, being holy was impossible for anyone but God. The only way the Israelites could be holy was for them to be completely isolated from everyone and everything that was not dedicated to God (Leviticus 20:22-26).
Throughout the book of Leviticus, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the children of Israel. God gave Jacob the name Israel after he wrestled with him all night. Genesis 32:24-28 states:
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28)
The Hebrew name that is translated Israel, Yisra’el (yis-raw-ale’) means “he will rule as God” (H3478). The idea being that of equality. God gave Jacob the name Israel because he had striven with God and with men, and had prevailed (Genesis 32:28). The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The Hebrew word that is translated power, sarah (saw-raw’) is “a verb meaning to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere” (H8280). The Hebrew name Yisra’el is derived from the word sarah and is also connected with the name Sarah which was given to Abraham’s wife after Isaac’s birth was promised to them (Genesis 17:15-16).
Jacob’s ability to prevail against God and man had to do with his attitude about life. Jacob believed that God had the power to save him from death (Genesis 32:30; H5337) and that God’s blessing would ensure that he obtained eternal life because he would be resurrected after his death (Genesis 49:29). When God called the Israelites the children of Israel, God was essentially reminding them of their relationship to Jacob and the encounter that Jacob had with him, as well as the blessing that Jacob received, even though he wasn’t Isaac’s oldest son. God often pointed out that the connection that kept the children of Israel in a state of blessedness was their common bond of sanctification (Leviticus 22:31-33), which was linked to the celebration of appointed feasts and more specifically, the holy convocations (Leviticus 23:1-2) that were intended to focus everyone’s attention on obedience to God’s commandments.
John contrasted believers who were purified through Christ with unbelievers that ignored God’s commandments by pointing out that habitual sin was evidence of being in an unregenerate spiritual state. John stated:
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:4-8)
John distinguished the children of God from the children of the devil by their ability to practice righteousness. John said that “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, our righteousness is a result of our identification with Christ.
John said the reason why the Son of God was made visible to the world was to loosen the bonds of sin and wickedness that the devil had imposed on those who did his will instead of God’s. John indicated that anyone that is not a child of God is by default a child of the devil. John said:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)
John’s explanation of why someone that has been born of God cannot practice sin may seem like an over simplification of the believer’s ability to resist the devil’s temptations, but John’s use of the Greek term meno (men’-o), which is translated abides, reveals an important truth about the type of sanctification that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that actually keeps them from practicing sin (G4690). John referred to the Holy Spirit as “God’s seed” (1 John 3:9), indicating that He is the source of our spiritual birth in the same way that the sperm is the seed of conception to a woman’s egg, and John said that God’s seed abides in us, meaning that the Holy Spirit keeps us united with Christ in such a way that we are one with him in heart, mind, and will (G3306).
Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that it is our spiritual birth into God’s family that entitles us to share in Christ’s eternal inheritance. Paul said:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)
Paul indicated that believers are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, but also added the stipulation that we must suffer with our Savior in order to be glorified with him. Paul went on to talk about God’s everlasting love for his children and the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34) and then, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). Paul concluded by reassuring believers that our relationship with our heavenly Father is unbreakable. Paul stated, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).