Baptized into Christ Jesus (Conversion – Part 3)

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:36-38 NKJV

Peter told the seekers in Acts 2:38 that they must repent of their sin and place their trust in the name of Jesus Christ. He explains how God commands them to do this. Those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and know that His lordship includes the authority to judge and save, must seek refuge by calling on His name in baptism.

In Acts 2:38 Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Some have taken this to mean that when a person is baptized the phrase, “in the name of Jesus,” must be spoken over them. But we read in Colossians 3:17, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This does not mean that we should walk around repeating the phrase, “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It means that whatever we say or do, we should do it through faith and in submission to Jesus Christ.” So it is with baptism. Being baptized into Jesus’ name means we are placing our trust in Him. 

The word baptism is the English form of the Greek word, “baptizo.” This word simply means “to immerse.” So during Christian baptism a person seeking salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is immersed in water.

Baptism is a Confession of Faith

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 

– Colossians 2:11-13 NKJV

Christian baptism is a confession of faith. When we go into the water we are declaring that we believe Jesus Christ was dead and buried. But when we are lifted out of the water we are declaring that we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. So Christian baptism is the God-ordained ceremony in which we declare our faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus. As we saw before, this faith includes our belief that Jesus has all authority to rule over all of God’s creatures, to judge the living and the dead and to forgive those that seek refuge in Him.

In Acts 2:38 Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Some have taken this to mean that when a person is baptized the phrase, “in the name of Jesus,” must be spoken over them. But we read in Colossians 3:17, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This does not mean that we should walk around repeating the phrase, “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It means that whatever we say or do, we should do it through faith and in submission to Jesus Christ.” So it is with baptism. Being baptized into Jesus’ name means we are placing our trust in Him. 

Baptism is a Commitment

1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life

– Romans 6:1-4 NKJV

Baptism is not only a profession of our faith in the risen Lord Jesus, but it is also an act of commitment. In baptism we commit to die to our old lives of rebellion and live new lives of obedience towards God through Jesus Christ. In baptism we are making a covenant with God.

Baptism is an Appeal to God

16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ 

– Acts 22:16 NKJV

21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’ 

– Acts 2:21 NKJV

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” 

– Romans 10:9-13 NKJV

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 

– 1 Peter 3:21 ESV

Baptism is also an appeal to God for salvation. Acts 22:16 shows us that baptism is not merely a physical and outward ceremony, but it is a form of prayer, a way to “call upon the name of the Lord.” Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were despised by God when offered by insincere rebels and unbelieving hypocrites, so baptism has no benefit before God if the person does not come in faith and with godly fear. God has ordained the ceremony, but the ceremony is nothing without a repentant and believing heart. God searches the heart of men; He is not deceived by mere outward ceremony.

A Modern Tradition

In our day, out of fear of being ritualistic, people have abandoned the biblical use of baptism. Instead of baptizing people when they repent and desire to place their trust in Christ, people have established a new and unbiblical tradition. Instead of leading people to the waters of baptism to call on the name of the Lord, they urge them to pray a “sinner’s prayer,” inviting Jesus into their hearts. Their desire to avoid dead ceremony is commendable, but by replacing the command of God with the tradition of men they are doing just what they wish to avoid.

Baptism is Identification with Christ

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

– Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses

– Colossians 2:11-13 NKJV

3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

– Romans 6:3 NKJV

When we are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, calling on His name, the Bible says we are baptized “into” Him and “put on Christ.” This means that we identify with Christ before God. Jesus Christ first identified with us in His baptism by John the Baptist. He had no need of repentance, but He accepted the baptism of repentance because He was identifying with our lost condition. He bore our identity as sinners all the way to the cross where He bore the punishment for our sin. When we follow Him in the waters of baptism, we are accepting Him and His righteous life. We are identifying ourselves with Him before God. We are saying to God, I accept the Savior You have provided for me. I am His, and He is mine. Through baptism we die to the guilt of our sins, and we rise to a new and favored position with Christ at the right hand of God. When we are baptized, after repentance and with faith in our hearts, God changes our position from dead in sin, to alive in Christ.

An Evangelical Tradition

Another tradition prevalent in our day has been handed down to us by our evangelical forefathers. It is the doctrine which states that we cannot know we are in Christ until we have a direct divine witness to our hearts. Though God is certainly kind to give us such a divine witness at different times in our walk with God, this gracious gift has been abused and misapplied. And this abuse has led to many anxious souls being brought to despair, some for a season and some forever.

In Scripture souls seeking salvation are told exactly what to do in order to enter into Christ and change their standing from dead in sin to alive in Christ. They are told to repent, trust in Jesus as Lord and call on the name of the Lord in baptism. They are assured that if they will meet these conditions, God will forgive their sins. This is an objective promise that they can depend on. It is not a feeling, or a charismatic experience, that they must seek hoping God will at some point give it to them. No, they are given clear instructions and those instructions are coupled with a clear objective promise that they can trust in. They do not need to wait for God to supernaturally show them that they are now “in Christ.” God has already given them clear instructions in His word.

Having said this, we must acknowledge that life is not so simple. Many have grown up in various traditions, with various practices related to conversion in general and baptism in particular. Some were baptized in their youth without ever having truly repented. Some repented and were baptized, but later walked away from the Lord. So come people who come to repentance and desire to sincerely seek salvation in Christ will have various traditions and past experiences that bring in confusion and doubt. In such cases, the evangelical tradition of seeking God for divine assurance is one of the only options they have left. They must truly repent and believe in the lordship of Christ, and then ask God to search their hearts while they daily search the Scriptures for guidance and confirmation. Hypocrisy, sin and the traditions of men will always complicate things, so we must avoid them at all costs.

Baptism is Identification with the Church

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. 

– Galatians 3:28-29 NKJV

After we repent of our sins, and through faith in the risen Lord receive baptism from the body of Christ, we are identified with all who belong to Christ. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is something we receive. It is a grace given by God, but it is given through Christ’s people. And through it we are also welcomed into the Church. We are numbered among those that God has added to the Church.

Conclusion on Conversion

On the Day of Pentecost, many asked Peter what they should do to be saved. He called on them to repent of their rebellion to God, to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, Judge and Savior, and then to call on the name of the Lord in the waters of Baptism. This is the biblical blueprint for conversion. This is what we are called to do in order to become Christians. But in the next post we will look at what follows conversion, namely regeneration (i.e. re-birth) into God’s family. 

Wait a Second!!! So You Mean…?!

Before we close the post for today let me make one point of clarification. We have noted that Peter on the Day of Pentecost connected not only repentance and faith, but also baptism, with the forgiveness of sins. This is not an uncommon thing in the New Testament. Some denominations have taught that this means baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation without exception. I believe this is pushing things too far and is easily disproved by the case of Cornelius in Acts 10 and the thief on the cross. Though such denominations would reject each of these examples, nevertheless, they are clear examples of God’s freedom to forgive apart from baptism.

We noted in the Old Testament that people who offered sacrifices without repentance and faith were not accepted by God. But we could also note that some Old Covenant believers lived lives pleasing to God though they did not offer any sacrifices according to the Law of Moses; men like Daniel. He lived when there was no temple, and he could not have gone to it even if it did exist in his day, because the people of Israel were in exile. 

God throughout the Old Testament clearly puts an emphasis on the heart over the ceremonies themselves. There is no reason to assume that God works differently in the New Testament. God clearly saved (i.e. forgave them and gave them the Spirit) Cornelius and his family before baptism, so we know that God is free to forgive anyone who repents and believes, even without baptism. 

It seems God worked the way He did in Cornelius’ family because of the prejudice of the Jewish believers at the time. Their culture and understanding were a barrier to them welcoming a Gentile into the Church of God. So God poured out the Spirit of adoption on Cornelius and his family to break down their cultural assumptions. 

Throughout church history, and up until today, there are many cultural and traditional reasons people cannot accept baptism as a necessary step in the conversion of a sinner to Christ. As we look at the movements throughout church history it is hard to imagine that the early Methodists like Wesley, Whitefield and Asbury were not filled with God’s Spirit, even though they were never baptized; they were merely sprinkled with water as infants according to the tradition they followed. Even in the pre-Nicene era, an era that unanimously believed people are forgiven in the waters of baptism, we see that they were not ignorant of divine prerogative. When a new convert was martyred before receiving baptism they did not consider their soul lost. Instead they declared that these martyrs had been baptized in blood, and they considered that baptism acceptable to God. 

So we should let the whole counsel of Scripture inform our convictions on this issue. God does not count ceremony as high as matters of the heart in the New or Old Covenants. It is not His way. And God has shown us in Cornelius, that He can, and does, sometimes graciously bow to our ignorance. So we need not write off all of our brethren that resist the plain teaching about baptism because of their theological traditions, but otherwise manifest lives filled with the fruit of the Spirit.

Having said this, let us not go to the other extreme and suppose we can presumptuously ignore the biblical teaching about baptism. God teaches in His word that people receive forgiveness after they repent and through faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus when they are baptized. This is the promise. He is not bound to do it only in this way, but we are bound to obey and teach what He has made clear. God can, and we assume as mentioned above, does forgive many outside of the waters of baptism. But it would be presumptuous for us to believe or teach that we can ignore God’s ordained means of receiving grace without displeasing our Lord. 

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Conversion – Part 2)

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Click here for the previous post in which we discussed the need for repentance in the conversion process:

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:36-38 NKJV

The Nature of Biblical Faith

Peter told the conscience stricken crowd that they must repent. That is, they must determine to turn from rebellion and submit to God. He then tells them that they must place their trust in Jesus Christ. But he doesn’t tell them this in so many words. Instead he instructs them to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” He connects faith with the act of receiving baptism. This fact helps give us a better idea about the nature of saving faith. Saving faith is not merely a mental assent to some concept. But it is trust in a Person which moves us to action. 

In Hebrews chapter 11 we see a list of Old Testament believers who were moved by their faith into action. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice (11:4). By faith Noah prepared an ark (11:7). By faith Abraham obeyed and went out of his home country to a land he didn’t know (11:8). The nature of their faith compelled them to obey God.

Continue reading “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Conversion – Part 2)”

Repentance Towards God (Conversion – Part 1)

n the last post we discussed the Gospel of the Kingdom. In this post we will look at the proper response to the Gospel:

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:36-38 NKJV

The Gospel Summarized

In this passage we see the conclusion of Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost. The sermon started because the Spirit of God had been poured out on the believers and this attracted the attention of the crowd. Once the crowd gathered around the believers, Peter addressed the crowd.

He started off by quoting a passage from the prophet Joel which prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16-17). This passage ended with the promise that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:21). Peter continues his message by referring to the fact that Jesus had been anointed with the power of God, and had worked many miraculous works of mercy and power while on earth (2:22). This was clear proof that God was with Him. 

Continue reading “Repentance Towards God (Conversion – Part 1)”

The Gospel of the Kingdom IS the Gospel

For the first post in this series click here:

There is only one gospel

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the central message of the Bible. It was preached by Christ and the apostles, and was foretold by the prophets. This good news is mentioned throughout the New Testament, sometimes with various terminology. It is often just referred to simply as “the Gospel,” but can also be called by other names.

24 “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 

– Acts 20:24-25 NKJV

The Gospel of grace of God and the Gospel of the kingdom of God are one! For it is by Jesus Christ becoming king through His death, resurrection and exaltation that the grace of God can be given to us.

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

– Mark 1:1 NKJV

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 

– Mark 1:14-15 NKJV

The Gospel of the Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are one and the same Gospel! The Gospel of the kingdom of God is about Jesus Christ being made king by His Father and is therefore appropriately called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Continue reading “The Gospel of the Kingdom IS the Gospel”

An Anabaptist Hermaneutic – Jesus, His Kingdom & the 4 Gospels

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV

The Bible is the standard God has given us by which we can grow in understanding of Him, His will and His kingdom. There are some basic principles we must follow in order to be able to understand and apply the scriptures accurately. 

Rightfully Dividing the Word

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth

– 2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV

The first basic principle is that we must interpret Scripture in its appropriate context. We must understand that the Bible was written to other people, not us. This does not mean it does not apply to us, it just means we have to understand what God was saying to those who first received it before we know how, or if, it applies to us in our situation. We need to do our best to know who the original human author was (Paul, Moses, etc.), who the recipient(s) was/were (the church in Rome, ancient Israel, etc.), what relationship the author and recipient(s) had with one another and what the occasion for writing was. Most of this can usually be found in the particular book (Romans, Exodus, etc) in which it is written. By understanding what was originally communicated we will be better equipped to see how, or if, the truth of the passage applies to us in our circumstance.

When we come to any passage in scripture and seek to understand what it is teaching, we first look at the immediate context. That is, we look at the verses immediately before and after the verse/verses we are considering. The Bible was not originally divided into chapters and verses. Sometimes the division of verses can give us the impression that a particular verse stands alone, but this is not the case. We must seek to understand the flow of thought of the original author. Reading a few verses before and after a particular verse can go a long way to helping us better understand what the author had in mind.

Continue reading “An Anabaptist Hermaneutic – Jesus, His Kingdom & the 4 Gospels”

Adopted & Indwelt (Galatians 3:26 & 4:6)

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. …And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6 – Context

Galatians 3:23-24

23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 

The Law of Moses revealed sin, but did not provide a lasting and thorough means of justification. It is true that people could receive cleansing from the breaking of certain aspects of the Law by offering the proscribed sacrifices at the temple. And there was a general cleansing that happened once a year during the Day of Atonement. But these did not cover every sin and they had to be offered again and again. 

So, from the Law people understood that sin offended God, and they knew they had no way to fully and finally deal with it. But in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, we can receive full and complete forgiveness for all sin. He died once, and is now sitting at the right hand of God presenting that sacrifice on behalf of those who trust Him. We always have access to the throne of grace, and can come boldly to receive mercy and grace through faith in Christ Jesus. 

The Law reveals the problem of sin so that we seek a way of escape. But it does not provide the solution. Instead the Law drives us to Jesus Christ where we can receive full and complete pardon.

Faith and the Law of Moses are two distinct things. Paul’s writings set the Law against faith, and works against grace. And He always joins faith with grace, because faith in Jesus is the way in which we receive grace. Faith is not contrary to grace. Though it is something humans must do, since with the heart man believes, it is not a work in the sense that it can be boasted about (Rom. 10:10). It is a way of receiving grace, not earning it. And Paul always sides the Law of Moses, with the works of the Law. He often uses the word “works” as shorthand for the “doing of the Law of Moses.” 

16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 

– Romans 4:16 NKJV

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 

– Romans 4:2-3 NKJV

16 “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 

– Galatians 2:16 NKJV

Galatians 3:25

25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 

We are no longer under the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses had many purposes in the nation of Israel. It was their national constitution. It unified the people into a nation, and gave them a unique cultural identity as the nation that followed the Creator. It provided them with guidelines for cultural holidays, civil law and religion. It kept them separated from the other nations through ceremonial food laws so that they would not be totally corrupted before the coming of the Messiah. 

But now God has established not a nation, but an eternal kingdom in Jesus Christ. He does not accept the offering of animals any longer because those were merely a shadow of the reality in Christ. God’s people no longer need to remain separated from the nations physically to avoid corruption. They have now been filled with the transforming power of God’s Spirit that not only sanctifies them but gives them the power to go into all nations with the good news that all people can receive this delivering power and enter the kingdom of God. Christians follow Christ and submit to His commands, not the laws of ancient Israel. 

Galatians 3:26

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 

It is not through a natural lineage with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that one enters the kingdom of God (John 1:12-13). It is not through the keeping of Israel’s law that one is adopted into God’s family. But it is faith in Jesus Christ which leads to our adoption as God’s children. 

This aspect of regeneration (i.e. rebirth) refers to a positional change in our relationship with God. We were dead in sin, under God’s condemnation, but when we put our trust in Jesus Christ we are accepted by God as His children. We are born again through faith in Jesus Christ. This is synonymous with saying we are justified. Our faith is accounted to us as righteousness.

4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 

– Romans 9:4 NKJV

22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 

– Romans 4:22-24 NKJV

Galatians 3:27

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 

The change of status happens to us because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, and what He continues to do for us at the right hand of God. We receive this translation from condemnation to acceptance through faith. When does this change take place? Galatians 3:27 tells us that this happens when we put on Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism. When we identify with Christ, God identifies us with Him. Through faith we put of the old body of sin when we enter the water, and through faith in the resurrection of God we rise to new life with Him.

3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 

– Romans 6:3-4 NKJV

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 

– Colossians 2:11-13 NKJV

The modern tradition is to “put on Christ” by inviting Him into our heart through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others take a more subjective approach by concluding that one puts on Christ the moment they have a “divine witness” of assurance in their hearts. Because of the gracious kindness of our God we can be confident that He has often bowed to our weakness in understanding by granting mercy outside of the means He instructs us in His word. But we must not make God’s kindness a license for presumption. Instead we must seek to follow Him as He has ordained instead of relying on the wisdom and traditions of men. If a person, after repentance, calls on the name of the Lord in faith while in the waters of baptism, we have God’s objective promise that He will meet them there with justifying grace.

Galatians 3:28

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

Once we are converted through repentance, faith and baptism, God sees us in Jesus Christ. Our nationality, gender or economic class does not determine our standing before God, only our ongoing relationship with His Son has any bearing on our status before Him.

27 “for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. 

– John 16:27 NKJV

Galatians 3:29

29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise

God had promised Abraham that through his descendants He would bless all nations. God did not intend to bless the nations through all of Abraham’s descendants, but through one particular descendant. At first we see God narrows the promise down to the descendants of Isaac, not through the line of Ishmael. So, it would seem that Isaac is the child of promise. But later, half of Isaac’s descendants through Esau are passed over, and the promise is given to Jacob. Many thought this was the end of God’s refining of the promise, but it was not. Centuries later God brought the true promised Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. 

16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 

– Galatians 3:16 NKJV

Many in Paul’s day refused to accept this. They demanded that as Jews, they were the chosen people of God. They were descendants of Israel, they were those who were given the covenant through Moses. These Judaizers taught that if someone wanted to become part of God’s chosen people, they would need to be circumcised, which was handed down from the time of Abraham, and that they were also required to keep the Law of Moses. 

The apostles and elders in Jerusalem rejected this error in Acts 15. In Galatians Paul is confronting it, as he does elsewhere in his letters. This is Paul’s main argument in Romans 9, where he argues that people are made a member of God’s chosen people, not through lineage or the Law of Moses, but through faith in Christ. Christ is the chosen Seed, and all those who trust and obey Him are counted as the children of promise, according to God’s mercy and choice, not lineage or works. 

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel… 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), … 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy…. 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 

– Romans 9:6, 11, 16, 30-33 NKJV

Galatians 4:1-3

1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 

In these verses Paul picks up what he said in 3:23-25 and expands it a little. He is telling us that before the coming of Christ, God had given the promise of sonship and inheritance. But now in Christ the promise has arrived and we begin to share in the inheritance as God’s children through faith. The Old Covenant was written on stone, the New Covenant was going to be written on the heart, by the Spirit of God. That which was written on stone could restrain sin to some degree, but could not defeat the power of sin. Now that we have received the adoption of sons, and have become heirs of God, God has something greater for us than the Law of Moses.

Galatians 4:4-5

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 

Jesus lived under the Law of Moses. And though He was an obedient Son to His Father, the curse of the Law fell on Him. He died forsaken on a tree. He took our death so that we might receive adoption as God’s children. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are cleansed of our sins. Through His resurrection from the dead and exaltation to the right hand of God as our Advocate and High Priest we are counted righteous for His sake. In this justified (i.e. counted as righteous) state we are given an even greater favor; we are declared the children of God. Through Christ we receive the forgiveness of our past sins, a vindication as righteous through the Person of Christ and the abundant favor and grace of being adopted as God’s children. This is the relational aspect of regeneration.

Galatians 4:6

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 

But God does more than just declare us as His children. After the declaration, because He already counts us as His children, He actually treats us like His children and pours out the Spirit of His Son upon us. He comes to live inside of us through His Spirit. In adoption God does something for us; He declares us righteous and beloved. But in this second aspect of regeneration God does something in us. He brings about a transformation in our hearts so that we love Him and desire to obey Him as His children.

We see this displayed in Jesus’ baptism at the River Jordan. After coming out of the water God declares from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” And then, since the Son is pleasing to the Father, the Father pours out the Holy Spirit upon Him without measure. So it is with us, but with one distinct difference. Jesus was indeed pleasing to the Father because He always did what was pleasing to the Father. But we are well-pleasing to the Father only because of our identification with Christ through faith. So after our repentance and through faith, when we are baptized and put on Christ, God counts us as His children, declaring us righteous. That is the first aspect of the new birth. And then, since we are now well-pleasing to the Father because of our faith in Jesus, God pours out His Spirit upon us in order to make us (day by day) into what He has already declared that we are, His holy children. Regeneration is first acceptance, then transformation. This is how we are born of God.

Galatians 4:7

7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. 

We who are in Jesus Christ are not under the Law of Moses. We have been adopted as God’s children and received His Spirit to live in us and transform us day by day. God is writing His law on our hearts through the Spirit, we do not need the old law that was written on stone for a particular nation. We now submit to the commands of Jesus Christ that are for all men everywhere. By the power of the Spirit we put sin to death and live obedient lives. 

7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? … 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 

– 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, 15-18 NKJV

20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. 

– Matthew 28:20 NKJV

13 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. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God

– Romans 8:13-14 NKJV

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6 – Doctrine

Galatians 3:26 & 4:6 – Doctrine

Through verse 4:6 in light of verse 3:26 we see how the two aspects of regeneration are related to each other. One is positional. In that first aspect we are declared to be the children of God relationally through faith. The second aspect is experiential. That is to say, it is not just something God says about us that we receive by faith, but it is a change that is worked in our hearts. The first is grace because it accepts us though we don’t deserve to be accepted. The second is grace because God actually treats us like children and begins to work a change in our hearts. 

One is born of God, biblically speaking, when they have been converted and received God’s Spirit. Conversion includes repentance towards God in which we turn away from rebellion and determine to live a life of obedience to God. Repentance must be followed by a genuine faith in the resurrection of Christ and His lordship over all things. And this conversion should culminate in a person calling on the name of the Lord in the waters of baptism. Once one has met these conditions they can trust that God has kept His promise and forgiven, justified and adopted them. Then by faith they can begin to seek God as their Father through Jesus Christ and trust Him to supply them with all they need through the Holy Spirit. 

21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’ … 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:21, 38 NKJV

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. … 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” 

– Romans 10:9-10, 13 NKJV

16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.‘ 

– Acts 22:16 NKJV

13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” 

– Luke 11:13 NKJV 

2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?– 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 

– Galatians 3:2-6 NKJV

The Right to Become God’s Children (John 1:12)

John 1:12

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name…

John 1:12 – Context

John 1:9-10

9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 

Jesus Christ came into the world as a light. He came to reveal God to the entire world. He did not merely come for the nation of Israel, but for men from all nations. This is because He is the Creator of all mankind. 

3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 

– John 1:3 NKJV

The Gospel of John was written at a time when most Christians were Gentiles. And these Christians (both Jew and Gentile) suffered persecution from unbelieving Jews as well as the Romans. This is one of the reasons John begins His Gospel with this universal perspective. He wants to make it clear that the Jewish Messiah is not merely for Jews, but for all of mankind. 

We see evidence for this as we read through John’s Gospel. In chapter 3 we find one of the most famous verses in the Bible. To us it sounds so commonplace. But to a first-century Jew, it would have sounded unthinkable.

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

– John 3:16 NKJV

Not only does this verse say that Jesus is God’s Son, the very truth that led to His condemnation by the Jewish religious leaders, but it says something else that would have been scandalous to the Jews of John’s day. It says that God loves the whole world! The Jews had been the apple of God’s eye for centuries. They could not so easily imagine that now God intended to bless men from every tribe and tongue.

John’s Gospel is the only one of the four Gospels that tells us Jesus spent time ministering to Samaritans in Samaria. And during the exchange with the sinful Samaritan woman Jesus unloads a bombshell which John makes sure he includes.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

– John 4:21-24 NKJV

By the time John gets to chapter 8, he is no longer holding any punches. He records the dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. He tells them they are slaves to sin, not true descendants of Abraham and children of the Devil!

33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. … 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 “But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 “You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father–God.” … 44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 

– John 8:33-35, 39-41, 44 NKJV

All of this tells us what is on John’s mind as he writes. One of his main themes is to emphasize that being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not enough to get one into the kingdom of God that has now arrived in Jesus Christ. The Law came through Moses, but God is doing a new thing, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

John 1:11

11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 

Jesus came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but most people rejected Him. But God was not surprised by this. 

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 

– Romans 9:6 NKJV

Romans 9-11 has a similar historical context as the Gospel of John. In it we learn that God was determined to use the rejection of Christ by the Jewish nation as a way to bless all nations and fulfill the promise He made to Abraham in Genesis 12.

2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

– Genesis 12:2-3 NKJV

John 1:12

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 

John 1:12 tells us that those who receive Christ, those who believe in Christ, are given the right to become children of God. This is not speaking of renewal by the Holy Spirit, a work that is done in those who believe in Jesus. But it is referring to something that is done for those who believe, namely justification. We are forgiven of our sins and adopted by God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Through faith we receive that work and are thus cleansed of our past sins, justified in God’s sight and adopted into His family.

So the Jewish people by and large had rejected the Jewish Messiah. But God had another plan, as John the Baptist let Israel know.

8 “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones

– Luke 3:8 NKJV

And He did it in a wonderful way. He raised up children for Abraham in a way that would remove all possibility of pride and boasting, the sins that caused Israel to stumble over Christ. 

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 

– Romans 9:30-33 NKJV

3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 

– Romans 10:3 NKJV

God saves people, not through the works of the law of Moses, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we become not only children of Abraham and receive the blessing, but we become God’s dear children in and through Jesus Christ.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise

– Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV

John 1:13

13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 

John has just told us that people are adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. They can be Jew or Gentile, that doesn’t matter, but they must believe in Christ. It is not their ancestry that gives them the right to be God’s children, it is their faith in Jesus Christ. Here John tells us three different means that do not get us into the kingdom of God.

#1 “not of blood” – We do not become God’s children through our ancestry. Being a descendant of Israel is not able to make us God’s children.

#2 “not of the will of the flesh” – In John 3:6 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The “flesh” is natural human life. Being born of the flesh means to be conceived and born in a natural physical way. John 1:13 tells us that natural sexual desire (i.e. will of the flesh) did not lead to our new birth in the kingdom of God.

#3 “nor the will of man” – The word translated “man” in this verse is usually translated “husband.” So it is possible that John is telling us that it wasn’t by a husband’s will and authority that we were made children of God. Again this would indicate natural birth and ancestry.

Why is John talking like this? He seems to be repeating himself. The phrases are so similar to one another that it is not easy for us to know for sure the distinction between the different phrases. He is doing it for emphasis. The exact meaning of each phrase is not as important as the overall sense he is conveying. John is emphasizing that people do not become children of God through Jewish ancestry. What was once thought to be the “right” of the Jewish nation, has now become the “right” of those who believe in Christ (Rom. 9:4). Becoming a child of God is only given to those who receive the Jewish Messiah, whether they are Jew or Gentile. Jesus is the light that brings light to all men, because through Him all men were created.

We are not adopted into a certain ancestry, but welcomed into God’s family. We are not born into God’s kingdom by natural birth, but by rebirth through Jesus Christ according to the will of God. We are not made the children of God because of the authority of any person, but by the authority of God.

John 1:12 – Doctrine

We are adopted as God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ. This verse is speaking of the positional aspect of regeneration. It is not referring to the transformation that takes place by the receiving of God’s Spirit. But it refers to God qualifying us for adoption into His family through faith in His Son. This is speaking of justification, not transformation.

Having said that, we must recognize that God never intends for us to imagine that the justifying aspect of regeneration is unrelated to the transformative aspect of regeneration. We were justified apart from works through faith, but we were justified for good works that God works in us by His Spirit. 

Though John is speaking about justification in verse 12, when he mentions being “born of God” in verse 13 he is surely thinking of both the “right” given in verse 12 as well as the indwelling of God’s Spirit that follows justification. The New Testament writers might focus on one of the 2 aspects of regeneration in a particular context, but the other aspect is surely not far from their mind. Adoption and indwelling are closely related though they are distinct (John 3:5, Titus 3:5).

Washed & Renewed (Titus 3:5)

Titus 3:5

…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…

titus 3:5 – Context

Titus 3:1-3

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 

Paul had just written in Titus 2:11-14 that the grace of God leads men away from sin and towards righteousness and godliness. Paul here continues to urge Titus to live righteously in the sight of all men. God has not called us to be rebellious and contentious. In the past, Christians were sinful like all other men, but God redeemed us to be a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

Titus 3:4

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 

Previously in Titus 2:11 Paul stated that the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to the world. He makes it clear that the result of receiving and submitting to this grace is a holy life. Jesus came to make us into a godly people. He came to set His people free from slavery to sin so that they can live righteous lives to His glory. 

Paul now mentions the grace of God again, but this time he wants to go back and focus on how we first received that grace. The result of God’s grace in a person’s life is holiness. But where does this reception of grace begin, and how does it take place?

Titus 3:5

5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 

Before mentioning how grace is received, Paul wants it to be clear that God’s grace is the cause of salvation, not our righteousness. We do not receive the grace of God by works of righteousness which we have done. If we merited God’s mercy and grace it would no longer be called mercy and grace. The fact that we did not deserve salvation is the reason that it is called mercy and grace, kindness and love. So here Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cause of salvation is nothing other than the mercy of God. 

Paul then goes on to tell us how we received this gracious gift of salvation. He tells us that we receive it through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). That is, we received rebirth into God’s family when, after repentance and by faith, we came to the waters of baptism to identify with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4, Gal. 3:26-27). After being justified by the blood of Jesus, through faith, in the waters of baptism, God then poured out His Spirit into our hearts in order to change us from within. First God does something for us (accepting us as children), then He does something in us (indwelling us with the Spirit of His Son). We see this twofold promise of cleansing, followed by transformation, in the New Covenant prophecy of Ezekiel.

25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 

– Ezekiel 36:25-27 NKJV

Titus 3:6

6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 

Paul continues to speak of the renewal of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Spirit was given to us generously. God, by His Spirit, dwells in our hearts which brings manifold blessings. He comforts us, teaches us, disciplines us, strengthens us and brings us many other wonderful blessings.

Paul makes it clear that this gift of the Spirit was given through His Son. John indeed baptized with water, but Jesus was given the Holy Spirit without measure so that He could pour it out on all that call on His name with a sincere heart. John 7:39 tells us that the Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified. And in Acts 2 we see, after His exaltation to the right hand of God, He poured out this inexpressible gift.

39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 

– John 7:39 NKJV

33 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 

– Acts 2:33 NKJV

Titus 3:7

7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

Having shared about the twofold salvation of adoption through conversion and renewal through the Holy Spirit, Paul now goes back to tie these two aspects of new life back together. God justified us through faith in His Son. This qualified us to become children of God, heirs of God. And as children, He gave us a deposit of the inheritance by indwelling us with His Holy Spirit. This dual regeneration is also summed up in the following passage.

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 

– Galatians 4:4-6 NKJV

Titus 3:8

8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. 

In Titus 2:11-14 Paul taught that God by His grace has redeemed a people for Himself that will be zealous for good works and righteousness. Then in Titus 3:4-7 he makes it clear how God brings about this result. Through Christ God redeems us for Himself and then writes His law on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In Titus 3:8 Paul concludes by urging the Christians in Crete to walk out what God has worked in them.

Titus 3:5 – Doctrine

We were not saved by good works, but for good works. God first justifies us from our past sins through faith in Christ. This happens when we identify with Christ in the waters of baptism. And after adopting us as His children through faith in Christ, He gives us new hearts with godly desires so that we will be zealous for good works. He brings about this renewal by pouring His Spirit into our hearts through Jesus Christ.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

– Galatians 3:26-27 & 4:6 NKJV

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 NKJV

The modern tradition is to “put on Christ” by inviting Him into our heart through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others take a more subjective approach by concluding that one puts on Christ the moment they have a “divine witness” of assurance in their hearts. Because of the gracious kindness of our God we can be confident that He has often bowed to our weakness in understanding by granting mercy outside of the means He instructs us in His word. But we must not make God’s kindness a license for presumption. Instead we must seek to follow Him as He has ordained instead of relying on the wisdom and traditions of men. If a person, after repentance, calls on the name of the Lord in faith while in the waters of baptism, we have God’s objective promise that He will meet them there with justifying grace.

16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

– Acts 22:16 NKJV

Born of Water & Spirit (John 3:5)

John 3:5

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5 – Context

John 3:1-2

1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 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.” 

Nicodemus was a sincere and God fearing man. A leader and teacher among the Jews. He knew what was happening in Israel. He was aware of the Messianic hopes people had that Christ would come and free the Jews from Roman occupation and bring in the new age of God’s kingdom. He was aware that John the Baptist had come baptizing in the Jordan River calling the nation to repentance. 

The Israelites had been exiled into Babylon centuries before, and though many had returned, many had not. The Jews were in the land again, but they were not in control of the land. For this reason the people of Israel were still waiting for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled which stated that God would bring them back from captivity, and establish His kingdom among them which would extend its borders to every part of the earth. 

Nicodemus would have understood the significance of John baptizing in the Jordan River. It was in that place that the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua in order to conquer it. And so it was a fitting place for the prophecy of Isaiah to begin its fulfilment. Isaiah 11 speaks of the return from exile and the establishing of the kingdom through the “root of Jesse.” Through the coming of this king, the meek would be shown mercy and the wicked suffer wrath, and even the Gentiles would seek after Him. Isaiah speaks of this return from exile as a second exodus in the following verses:

11 It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. … 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. 

– Isaiah 11:11, 16 NKJV 

This prophecy would have been familiar to Nicodemus, and he would have understood, as most in Israel did, that John was preparing a highway not only for the remnant, but also for the great king! This was John’s public testimony to the religious leaders of the Jews found in the first chapter of John.

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” … 23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” … 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” … 33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.‘ 34 “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” 

– John 1:20, 23, 26-27, 33-34 NKJV

Nicodemus desired to learn more about this man whom John had testified about. Not only had John testified about Jesus, but the miracles which Jesus performed confirmed that God was doing something among His people through this Nazarene. So Nicodemus went to find out more.

John 3:3

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus immediately begins to tell Nicodemus about the kingdom of God that had now arrived in Israel. And Jesus tells him how to get involved in it. But this would not have been an easy word for Nicodemus to accept. It is hard to imagine that he couldn’t understand the implications of what Jesus was saying, but it seems he tried hard to avoid those implications.

In those days similar terms (i.e. born again) were used in the Jewish community. In the late first century (at the the latest) converts to Judaism were cleansed by being immersed (i.e. baptized) in water. Those who had undergone this baptism were said to be “newborn children.” We don’t know for sure if this practice was common in Nicodemus’ day, but the concepts related to baptism and conversion would not have been totally unfamiliar to him. And the connection with converts receiving a new life would have also been able for him to grasp. 

john 3:4

4 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?” 

Though Nicodemus would have understood what Jesus was saying to him, it would not have been something he liked hearing. Nicodemus was a devout and respected Jew who was so eager to welcome the kingdom of God that he sought out Jesus to ask Him more about what God’s plan was. And now Jesus was telling him that being a devout Jew, from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not enough to get him into God’s kingdom. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be converted before he can be a part of this new kingdom. 

This is why Nocodemus acts so dumbfounded. It is not because he doesn’t understand Jesus, it is that he can’t believe what Jesus is telling him. Surely Jesus must have another meaning. Nicodemus was hoping Jesus would somehow soften the blow. 

john 3:5

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

But Jesus doesn’t soften the blow at all, but doubles down. He makes His point doubly clear. He tells this devout religious leader that he must be converted through baptism. The ministry of John had taught Nicodemus that baptism was connected to repentance, and Jesus is about to tell him that the baptism which Jesus’ disciples undergo also includes faith in the Son of God. 

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. … 22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. 

– John 3:16, 22 NKJV

Jesus makes it clear that if Nicodemus desires to partake of the kingdom of God in the baptism of the Holy Spirit which John proclaimed Jesus was going to give, then he would need to humble himself as a little child in baptism and be converted from the kingdom of Israel to the kingdom of God. Without this baptism of repentance and faith, he would not be able to share in the kingdom of God that was soon to come in the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

john 3:6

6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Jesus continues to explain that just because Nicodemus is a Jew, this doesn’t automatically make him a candidate for adoption into God’s kingdom. John the evangelist pointed this out in chapter 1 of his Gospel.

11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

– John 1:11-13 NKJV

Being a member of Israel. Even a respected and devout member of Israel, would not give him the right to become a child of God. The lineage of the flesh will not open the door for anyone to enter the kingdom of God. A person must be converted through repentance, faith and baptism. Then he will be given the right to enter the kingdom of God which is in the Spirit of God. Being born a Jew is not enough, Nicodemus learned that he must be reborn spiritually.

john 3:7-8

7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus reiterates that He is speaking about heavenly things, not the natural things of earth and Israel. The kingdom He is bringing is not of this earth. In the same way, the wind is not earthbound, stuck in one place, but free to go where it wishes, so is the kingdom of God. It is not bound to a temple or one land but is found in the Spirit of God that blows wherever He wishes. Everyone who is born of the Spirit of God is free from the old system of Judaism and brought into a new spiritual and heavenly kingdom. Jesus later shares this same truth to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Just as Nicodemus the Jew couldn’t get anywhere with God by depending on his religion and lineage, neither could that Samaritan woman make progress in God’s kingdom through her lineage and religion.

20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. 

– John 4:20-24 NKJV

john 3:5 – Doctrine

Reconciliation

Jesus teaches that regeneration (i.e. being born again) consists of two things: 

The first is conversion which begins with repentance, moves onto faith in Christ, and culminates in baptism. Through the genuine faith of the convert, a person is forgiven of their sins and adopted as God’s child because of the person and work of Christ. Conversion is crowned with justification, a changing of one’s status from being condemned in sin to being made alive with Jesus Christ. 

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:38 NKJV

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

– Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV

The modern tradition is to “put on Christ” by inviting Him into our heart through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Others take a more subjective approach by concluding that one puts on Christ the moment they have a “divine witness” of assurance in their hearts. Because of the gracious kindness of our God we can be confident that He has often bowed to our weakness in understanding by granting mercy outside of the means He instructs us in His word. But we must not make God’s kindness a license for presumption. Instead we must seek to follow Him as He has ordained instead of relying on the wisdom and traditions of men. If a person, after repentance, calls on the name of the Lord in faith while in the waters of baptism, we have God’s objective promise that He will meet them there with justifying grace.

renewal

The second aspect of regeneration consists in the work that is done in the heart of the convert. In the first aspect of the new birth something is done for the new convert, in this second aspect something is done in the believer. In the first part of regeneration they are reconciled, in the second they are renewed. The first qualifies them for entering God’s presence by justifying them. In the second they come into the presence of God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

– Acts 2:38 NKJV

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” – Galatians 4:6 NKJV

Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 4)

Gratefully, this is my last post on Ephesians 2:5-6 for the foreseeable future. We have been considering this passage in order to make one simple point: These verses are not a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. 

Exegesis first & last

I am keenly aware that since Calvinists hold to their particular form of Total Depravity, monergistic regeneration is a logical necessity if anyone is going to be saved. This doctrine is closely tied to other doctrines in their system as well, which is why focusing on one doctrine and one verse at a time can be difficult for my Calvinist brethren. 

They tend to see individual Scriptures through the lens of systematic theology, and often say something to the effect of “The passage cannot say people are saved by choosing to believe, because other verses teach Total Depravity, and therefore they cannot choose to believe.” If we take the bait and go to those passages to look at the context, and find their exegesis is faulty, we will soon find ourselves looking into the context of verses related to Unconditional Election. This will lead to verses on Divine Sovereignty, Limited Atonement and sooner or later back to Monergism. But it is a difficult task to deal with one verse at a time in context.

Continue reading “Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 4)”