Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
If anyone were to ask you how they can be saved, what would you reply? By believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And this would be the correct answer. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You need to know what sin is and that you are a sinner. And you need to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. So again, how would we answer someone who asked us how they can be saved? By believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
But does the Bible teach us anything else about our salvation? Is there anything else that the Bible teaches that we ought to know? And especially teaching that will aid us in our walk with the Lord? Well, yes, there is. For in the verses before us today, WE BELIEVERS LEARN THAT GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION. We have a choice as to whether or not we believe in Jesus. And we are responsible for whether we choose to believe in Him or not. But having chosen to believe in Him, as we continue to study the Bible, we should come to see that God is the author of our salvation. Ultimately, our salvation begins not with us but with God. And this is good news! This is liberating news! This is motivational news!
You see, today we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. And in the Supper, we believers have been reminded that by the broken body and poured out blood of Jesus we have the complete forgiveness of all our sins. And in the Catechism answer we recited earlier, we recognized that we do not deserve this at all; it is ours by “sheer grace.” And it is as we come to truly understand this and believe this in relation to ourselves that we have the right motivation for the Christian life.
So today we consider vv1-13 but especially vv12 & 13 to see how these two verses inform the two halves of our theme statement as we think about WE BELIEVERS and GOD AS THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION.
So first of all then, WE BELIEVERS, from v12 and the verses that lead up to it.
1. Many of you will be familiar with the words of John 1:1. “In the beginning was the word.” We know that they speak of Jesus and that they teach that He is eternal God. And there are all sorts of reasons why we know this is so, not the least of which is that this becomes plain as you read on in the chapter (v14, for example, and v17 and esp. v29). And John also tells us later in his Gospel that he has written the Gospel that we might believe in Jesus. So the Word mentioned in v1 is Jesus.
2. And THROUGH HIM, as we see from v3, “all things were made” – the whole creation was made through Jesus; He is the Word by which God spoke everything into existence.
3. And in v4 He is described as life and the LIGHT of men.
4. But then in v5 we are introduced to THE GREAT PROBLEM that the rest of the Gospel is going to address: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And most other English versions do not use the word ‘overcome’ but ‘understand’ or something like it, which is probably more in keeping with the sense of the Greek word used, OK? Later in v10 we are told that “the world did not know Him,” and in v11 that “His own did not receive Him.” So Jesus is the light but there is darkness that has not understood Him or recognized Him.
5. And what this means is what we read as John kind of ‘brings this down to street level,’ if you like, FROM VV6FF. He tells us about John the Baptist who came to bear witness to Jesus as the light. He was telling the people that Jesus had come and that He would soon reveal Himself. But, as we see from v10, and as we know from the Gospels, as John was going around saying, The light is coming! The Light is coming! The Light is coming!, the people were saying, in effect, What is light? Who needs light? And even though John eventually pointed Jesus out when He came to the Jordan, though the people saw Him, they did not recognize Him.
a. Once during WWII, because a German bombing raid was expected, the alarm for a BLACKOUT was sounded. And a blackout, boys and girls, means you switch of every light. Well, it so happened that a certain overseas minister was preaching to a large crowd at a church that evening. So when the alarm sounded, the gentlemen at the back had to flip the switch and turn of all the lights. So the minister had to carry on preaching in the dark, which he did for about 20 minutes. But then, accidentally, the man at the back by the light switch changed positions and accidentally flipped the switch turning on all the lights. And this was so shocking that the minister stopped mid-sentence. And in the quiet, every one heard one man call out to his friend, “Why did he stop?” You see, that man was blind. He did not know that the lights had come back on. For him it was always dark. He could not recognize the light.
b. And John and then Jesus were telling people that they were sinners and that Jesus was the Saviour. But the people did not see themselves as sinners and so they saw no need for a Saviour. They did not recognize Jesus as the light.
i. And there is a very important truth being set before us here. And that is that it is not natural for the darkness to recognize the light. Just as the blind man could not recognize light, so those mired in their sin cannot recognize Jesus.
A. Again, v5, “The darkness has not overcome [or understood] Him.” v10, “The world did not know Him.” v11, “His own people did not receive Him.”
B. Later in Romans 1 we learn that man in his natural state suppresses the truth about God. He refuses to honour God or thank Him and chooses, instead, to worship the creation, rather than the Creator.
C. And Romans 3 will quote Psalm 14 and tell us that there is “no one who seeks for God.”
D. In and of himself, man is spiritually blind; he does not and he cannot recognize Jesus as Saviour.
c. And this truth becomes very personal in v11 as John speaks about “His own.” These are the Jews – the people of Israel – the ones with whom Jesus shared ethnicity as a Jew Himself.
i. We read earlier from Hosea 11. And there the Lord speaks very tenderly but also despairingly about Israel, His Son. “When Israel was a child,” He says, “I loved him.” I taught him to walk and I took them up by the arms. It is beautiful, fatherly language. But already there the Lord is lamenting Israel’s disobedience.
ii. And we know from our morning Mark studies how Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leaders and the people, such that eventually they crucified Him.
A. The Jews, indeed all mankind in his natural sinful state does not recognize Jesus.
6. So is that it then? Is that the whole story? No one can or does or will ever recognize Jesus as Saviour? Well, we continue on into verse 12 and we see that that is not the case: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
a. There were some, even in the unbelieving Israel of Hosea’s time, like HOSEA himself, who did trust in God for their salvation. They recognized that they were sinners and they received Jesus and believed in His name as they trusted in the one who all the sacrifices and ceremonies pointed to, even though He would not come till long after they had died.
i. The OT speaks of them as the REMNANT – the usually small group of those who trusted in God when everyone else was busy with idols and immorality.
b. But think also of the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Were there some who received Him and believed in His name? At His birth, Herod wanted Him dead. But who came from afar to worship Him? THE MAGI.
c. And boys and girls, what about that wee little man up in the tree? What was his name? ZACCHAEUS. He believed in Jesus.
d. And what about the SAMARITAN WOMAN by the well we read about in John 4? She believed in Jesus. And we are told that she went home and told others about Jesus and that “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of [her] testimony.”
e. And then there is that beautiful story of the WOMAN WASHING JESUS’ FEET with expensive perfume and her hair.
f. And while the Pharisees were Jesus’ enemies, we also read about two Pharisees – JOSEPH OF ARIMITHEA AND NICODEMUS – asking for His body so they can bury Him with dignity.
g. So even then, some recognized the light. Some believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Some heard what He said and saw what He did and chose to believe in Him.
7. And I know that there are people here in this room and all over the world who have received Jesus and believed in His name. And I know and believe that it is possible that even tonight, as a result of this sermon, there may be some among us who hear the truth of the gospel, who recognize that they are sinners and who put their trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. COULD IT BE YOU I AM TALKING ABOUT? Are you, right now, feeling guilty about things you have done? Well, Jesus is the friend of guilty sinners. Jesus says, I have died to pay for your guilt and to take it from you. Believe this and you may have my forgiveness and peace. You may know that you have the certainty of eternal life in heaven! Just believe. And if you want to know more about this, come and talk to me after. Phone me tomorrow. But don’t put this off because it is the most important decision of your life!
But if you have been following this sermon through, you might be wondering how to square up the reality of there being believers with what was said earlier about man being unable, in his natural state, to recognize that he is a sinner and that Jesus is the Saviour? Well, that’s what we consider next as we continue on to v13 where we learn in the second place that GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION.
1. But before we answer that question, let’s take note of how salvation is described at the end of v12, for it is quite beautiful: “[To these,] He gave the right to become children of God.” It’s family language isn’t it. Believers are the sons and daughters of God! Well, the ‘He’ mentioned there is Jesus. Jesus gives those who receive Him and believe in His name, the right to become children of God. Jesus has the AUTHORITY to include us in the family of God.
a. There are some of us who fly a lot who become KORU CLUB members. And that means that when they are at the airport, they don’t have to sit on the cheap terminal seats and pay $12 for a cup of coffee and get 2 mins free, slow wifi, with ads, like the rest of us. They can go into the nice comfortable lounge with sofas and free coffee and unlimited fast wifi and newspapers, etc. And this is because they have the Koru card. Some official at ANZ has issued them with a Koru card. They have the right to go in there.
i. Well, Jesus gives those who receive Him and believe in His name, the right to become children of God. As a believer, you have been welcomed into the familyof God.
b. The Emperor Napoleon once let go of the reins of his horse to read a map. His horse reared up and he almost toppled off but a lowly corporal grabbed the reins just in time and quieted the horse. So Napoleon said to him, “Thank you, Captain!” And the new captain said, “Captain of what?” And Napoleon replied, “Captain of my guards.” So the man marched over to the tent of the guards, ripping off his corporal stripes on the way, and plonked himself down around the table where previously he would not have been allowed. Someone said, “Who are you?” And he replied, “Captain so and so.” “By whose authority?” they queried. “The Emperor’s,” He responded. And from that moment on he was made to feel welcome. By the right authority, he had the right to be there.
i. Well, Jesus gives those who receive Him and believe in His name, the right to become children of God. By the authority of Jesus, as a believer, you become a child of God.
2. But again, as we noted above, we still have to reconcile the truth that man in his natural, sinful state cannot recognize Jesus, yet some have and some do. How is this possible?
a. Well, thinking back to OUR EARLIER ILLUSTRATION OF THE BLIND MAN, what is the only way he could recognize light? If his blindness was taken away and he received sight. Then he could recognize light. And it is the same with spiritually blind man. His blindness needs to be removed so that he can see.
b. And John speaks of this using the imagery of BIRTH because we all know that we are entirely passive in birth. We did not cause ourselves to be born. We didn’t look down from somewhere and choose the parents we wanted and get the whole process started. It was the will and activity of our parents that resulted in our being born. Well, it is the same with the spiritual birth that is being spoken of here. Man is born in a state of spiritual darkness or blindness. And in this state he cannot recognize Jesus. So he needs to be reborn or born-again with the ability to recognize Jesus.
c. So who is it that causes us to be born, thus? Look at the beginning and end of v13, “Who were born … of God.” It is God who births us. It is God who gives us this new birth.
i. And just to be thorough, between those two phrases, John explicitly rules out any human contribution to this being born:
A. “Not by blood” – We don’t become Christians because we have Christian parents. We don’t receive a Christian gene in our DNA.
B. “Not by flesh” – It is not the result of a physical or biological process.
C. “Nor of the will of man” – our birth is not the result of something our Father or mother desired or wanted or did or even something we wanted or desired or did.
ii. No. We are born of God.
iii. If we received Jesus and believed in His name and have received from Him the right to become children of God, it is because we were first born of God. God changed our nature so that we could recognize our sin and Jesus as our Saviour. God took away our blindness and gave us sight. God took us out of darkness and put us into the light.
iv. And we read this very plain truth earlier in 1 JOHN 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” We are born again, by God, so that we may believe. So in the verses of our text, we believers learn that God is the author of our salvation.
The Catechism puts it this way: I am right with God “without my deserving it at all [but] out of sheer grace.” You see, if my being born again came after I had chosen to believe; if God had to stand right back and wait for me to make the first move and believe so that then He could give us new birth, well, I would be deserving of salvation; God would be obligated to give me new birth because I had chosen to believe. But that is not the truth of Scripture, as we have seen. We are saved by grace alone. Do you see this?
Please listen to these words from 1 John 3:1, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” What stands at the bottom of our salvation? Not our decision but the love of the Father. And it is an amazing love because we do not deserve it; He gives it to us, freely. It is a gracious love.
Now, I want to be very clear on this, because the last thing I want is that you are confused. God is the author of salvation. He enables a person to believe in Jesus. He changes their nature so that they recognize Jesus. That is what the Bible teaches. But if you are sitting here today wondering what you need to do to be saved, don’t be distracted by all this talk of what comes first and being born again. It is very simple. Choose to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall be saved. Just choose to believe!
But to those of you who do believe, I trust you can see that you are not some especially clever person because you have worked out who Jesus is when so many cannot. As we shall sing in a moment,
you have been born by the Holy Spirit’s breath.
You have been loosed from the law of sin and death.
You have been cleared in Christ from every claim.
By God’s grace alone, no judgment stands against your name.
And that is what you need to meditate on as you walk out of here and go to your home and to your flatmates or your husband or wife and your classmates and workmates to live with them s a follower of Christ. You are saved by grace alone. So serve others. Speak the truth. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Let no unwholesome word pass from your mouth. Work hard. Live a grace-fuelled life. Share the gospel of Jesus Christ so that others may repent and believe for the forgiveness of their sins.
You must choose to believe in Jesus. But it is wonderful to learn and to know that God is the author of our salvation. Amen.