“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
The word “become” in the Greek is γίνομαι, which means a change of state, a transition from one realm of being to another. The Apostle Paul will later say that those who are in Christ are “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a transformation, a change of status, a new birth that happens when people come to know Jesus.
Jesus said, we must be born again.
In John Wesley’s sermon, The New Birth, he makes it plain how important a doctrine this is, but it’s importance is only proportional to the importance we place on another serious doctrine: Original Sin. It’s my contention that where we find a failure to teach and preach the necessity of new birth – a conversion from death to life – we will find a failure to teach and preach original sin, and vice-versa.
Wesley makes it clear that when God first created humankind they were made perfect in love of God and others. Their will and their desires were aligned to please God and God alone, and their happiness was found in doing the will of God (as would be true of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, many years later). But all of this changed when they disobeyed God and sinned. God’s word was true in that they did indeed die. The image and likeness in which they were created was destroyed or effaced, forever making them children of the devil (I.2).
After the fall of humankind we read an interesting account of progeny in Gen. 5:3
When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
When I taught this to my congregation a few Sunday’s ago I asked a simple question: Who’s image and likeness was Seth made in? The answer is clear.
So it begs the question. Is it right to say that everyone is a child of God? According to Gen. 5:3, and according to John 1:12, the answer seems clear. No. Not all are children of God.
But, thanks be to God, Jesus Christ, the second Adam, made a way for us to become children of God! The new birth – conversion – which is a supernatural work of God is available to one and all. Where our first parent, Adam, sowed disobedience which leads to our death, our new parent, Christ, was obedient even unto death, making it possible for everyone who believes in His name to become children of God. How do we know we are children of God? We walk in obedience to the will of God the Father in the same way Jesus did. Giving up our will, our desires, our very life for a new one. We are indeed new creations.
I love one of the ways Wesley describes the nature of new birth:
It is that great change which God works in the soul when he brings it into life; when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is “created anew in Christ Jesus;” when it is “renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness;” when the love of the world is changed into the love of God; pride into humility; passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind. In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the “mind which was in Christ Jesus.” This is the nature of the new birth: “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (I.5).
This change is available to all. All who will recognize their need for it, who trust that the blood of Jesus is sufficient and necessary to destroy the work of the devil in us (l John 3:8), can know and experience a new birth.
But hear this. The reverse is true as well. All who think they are already children of God by virtue of their birth or baptism or church membership, who believe they have a God-given right to claim a birthright without first being born again, who believe that there is no destroyed or effaced image within them in need of replacement and rebirth – they cannot know the power or promises of God to make new creations because they refuse to believe they have need of it. How great a thing it is to see our need!
If God can create the universe with but a word, He can create a new heart in you today. God, grant us the eyes to see our need for new life, not just new ways of living. Humble us, Lord, that we might experience the power of God in our hearts, transforming our wills so that we would desire to do your will. Life us, God, that we would see our need, that we would see we are dead but for the blood of Jesus. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.