E UNUM PLURIBUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 23, 2020
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
— John 4:1-42, ESV
On one side of a well known well, a gentleman sits, although gentleman is not nearly a good enough word to describe His character and personality. Approaching on the other side is a lady, and calling her a lady might be a stretch. He claims to have water, but she points out He has no bucket to draw some from the well. She has come to the well to draw water, and has the tools to do it.
It is high noon, the right time for a serious showdown. What ensues is a face-off between an unusual man from Galilee and an almost invisible woman from Samaria. The water waits. Which one do you think will be quicker on the draw?
The Man from Galilee
His name is mentioned in the first verse, but put yourself in the woman’s sandals. She did not know him, had never seen him, and had no idea of what had gone on before during His public appearances in Galilee and Judea. He is just a man to her, a very unusual man.
He is a man who speaks openly to women. For reasons both proprietorial and prejudicial, men did not have conversations with women in those days. But this man broke this mold many times. He is a man who sees women and men as equals, in sinning, in salvation, and in potential service of spreading the gospel throughout the world.
He is a Jew who speaks to a Samaritan. Conversations must be conducted on a level playing field, and there was nothing equal about the normal treatment of Samaritans in first century Jewish culture. The Jews considered themselves to be the superior race on the planet, and the Samaritans were a mixed race people. Today a mixed race person can become president of the United States or MVP of the Super Bowl, but such was not the case in first century Palestine. They were looked down upon and ignored, except by this particular Jew.
So here we have an unusual Jewish man, and a man He is, indeed. He was sitting because He was exhausted. He wanted water because He was thirsty. His clothes were not glorious and white, but stained khaki by the middle eastern dust. He looked like any other ordinary man; except, this man claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the God-man.
His name you know, but not the name of the invisible woman.
The Woman from Samaria
Though she is plainly at the well with Jesus, you can hardly see her. She came to the well in the heat of the day rather than morning or evening so she would not be seen. She had a plain face, poor clothes, and no name.
She is a woman in a man’s world. The men she had known heretofore only used her for sex and maid service. Other than that she was invisible to most men, but not the unusual man. He spoke to her, kindly, directly, honestly.
She is a Samaritan in a Jewish nation. As a half-breed she had no hope of rising in class, culture, or economic prosperity. Samaritans stayed in their villages and seldom traveled far so as to not encounter full-blooded Jews or hot-blooded Romans. Now she is having a dialogue with a Jewish man about water and worship, morality and spirituality.
She is a divorcee and a cohabitating woman in a male-dominated, Jewish-dominated, traditional marriage society. She is a five-time loser in love who now clings to a man who chooses to use her but not marry her. The society of that day looked so far down on her it needed a microscope to see her. But not so for this Jewish man who met her at the well. He is different, and soon she will be, too, because more than any thing else, she is a sinner in the presence of a merciful God.
You know His name. But what is her name?
The Man’s Name is Jesus
The Gospel writer, John, mentions it in the first verse. You knew it from the first, too. But remember what that name means, God saves. Notice how, in this high noon episode that spawns three days of discipleship, Jesus saves.
God always takes the initiative in salvation. It is Jesus who comes and converses with the woman at the well, not vice versa. Jesus did not have to go through Samaria, logistically, for there was a well worn path from Judea to Galilee that Jews typically took to avoid the Samaritans. Jesus had to go through Samaria to keep a divine appointment He had made before the foundation of the world, to save a soul from sin and death, and more souls through hers.
God always takes the initiative in salvation in every case because the case is, we cannot. We are depraved, spiritually disabled and dead, incapable and unconcerned with coming to Christ (ref. John 15:16; Romans 3:10ff; Ephesians 2:1ff). Sinners are not willing to come to Christ, but thank God for His grace, Christ is willing to come to sinners.
God convicts of sin before He saves. There is no salvation without repentance, and repentance is acknowledging one’s sin and turning away from it. Jesus knew this woman’s checkered sexual history. Jesus knew the mockery she had made out of marriage and morality. Jesus knew her sins and she knew He knew her sins, yet He continued to speak to her, kindly not condescendingly, about the Spirit of living water, the confession of sin, and faith in the Messiah.
God is the Messiah without prejudice to all who are saved. Jesus revealed Himself to this woman, a Samaritan, at a juncture much earlier than His revelation to the Jews. Her profession of faith was like everything else about her, stilted, unconventional, but nevertheless sincere. She proved it at the root, and she proved it by her fruit. She was touched by God’s Spirit and became committed to God’s truth, a true follower and worshiper, all in this encounter with the man from Galilee.
Of course, His name is Jesus, but what is her name?
The Woman’s Name is E Unum Pluribus
Before she met Christ, this woman at the well could never go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. She was a nobody, and not even John mentions her given name. But Jesus gave her a new name on this new day.
She is E Unum Pluribus. Sounds funny but faintly familiar, doesn’t it? "E Pluribus Unum” was the motto of the United States from the days of the Revolutionary War until after World War II, when the official motto became “In God We Trust.” E Pluribus Unum means out of many, one. Out of many colonies, we became one country.
E Unum Pluribus means out of one, many. Out of this one, heretofore nameless but priceless soul, there came many more souls, many more Samaritans and sinners, to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One soul matters to God, and it does not matter the gender, the color, the socio-economic class. He is the lover of all souls. Hear from the late, great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Though you are one of the teeming millions in this world, and though the world would have you believe that you do not count and that you are but a speck in the mass, God says, ‘I know you.’ When God approaches you, it is because He has an interest in you. And by all means, you should have an interest in Him.”
God saves one soul at a time. His methods are not cookie-cutter, drawn from a box from the Christian book store. He comes to different people differently, always offering Himself as Savior and salvation, with the consistent demands of repentance and faith.
God knows it takes a saved soul to save other souls. In redemptive history it is almost always a parent’s conversion to Christ the leads a whole family to salvation. Sometimes it is one student who leads many other students to Christ. Once in a while it is a desperate prisoner who gives his life and life sentence to the Lord, and the gospel spreads through the cellblocks. Out of one, many.
E Unum Pluribus. Out of one, many. That’s her name. Let us make it our name as well. Who can we tell in our town, our neighborhood, our family circle? What can we tell? We can tell them about this unusual man who is the Messiah. We can ask them, like E Unum Pluribus asked her people, “Can this be the Christ?” Yes, He is. He is Jesus, the God who saves.
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 16, 2020
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
— John 3:22-36, ESV
There have been a number of professors and pastors who have greatly influenced my life. As I look back on my favorite teachers and authors, I am surprised how many of them are named Dr. John. I learned theology from Dr. John Mahoney and missions from Dr. John Floyd in seminary. The writings of Dr. John MacArthur introduced me to Reformed theology, Dr. John Stott encouraged me further, and Dr. John Piper’s books helped cement my confidence in the absolute sovereignty of God.
I even enjoy music by Dr. John, although sometimes it puts me in the right place at the wrong time, saying the right thing with the wrong line. That Dr. John actually apprenticed under a musician whose legal name was Professor Longhair; and, he actually held an honorary doctorate from Tulane University.
My favorite biblical author is Dr. John Bar Zebedee, first follower of Christ and longest living of the Apostles. We are studying the Gospel he wrote and today we come to the text which presents us with the last narrative featuring yet another Dr. John. This is the final scene involving Dr. John Ba Harim, the revered prophet who came from the hills (ref. Psalm 121:1) of Jerusalem to the valley of Qumran near the Dead Sea. Of course it is his other nickname that stuck, John the Baptist, as he preached a gospel of repentance and prepared the way for people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At this early juncture of the ministry of Jesus, it was John the Baptist who would have been the most notable public figure in Israel. Shortly after the ministry of Jesus began, the ministry of John ended, when he was unceremoniously thrown into prison and subsequently executed by the evil Herod Antipas. Before he leaves Gospel, however, we have a lot to learn from the lips of the Baptist and the inspired pen of the Apostle, both of whom we will call Dr. John.
John the Baptist did not get his name for nothing. He was a baptizer, and if you will, the father of New Testament baptism (ref. Acts 1:22). The word baptism is a transliteration from Greek into English, literally meaning to immerse or submerge in water. It was practiced by Jews upon Gentile proselytes into Judaism, by the Essenes as a regular ritual for purity, and it became the plunge one takes among their first steps into Christianity. Dr. John was Jewish, akin to the Essenes, and the one who introduced Christ and therefore Christianity into the world.
Baptism was important to John the Baptist. It said something, a non-verbal profession of faith in God and God’s rule in one’s life. It symbolized something, namely the washing away of sins through sincere repentance and faith. And, it sealed something, as water was also associated with the Spirit’s cleansing and indwelling work in the life of a believer.
Baptism was important to Jesus. That is why Jesus Himself was baptized by John, and this text finds both Jesus and John baptizing people in the plentiful waters of the Jordan River near the Dead Sea. Jesus and His followers baptized His followers and furthermore commanded His followers to baptize new followers of Christ in the “Great Commission” (ref. Matthew 28:18-20).
Is baptism important to you? You do not have to be baptized to be saved, but if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have to be baptized. It is a proper profession of faith, it is a prerequisite for Holy Communion, and it is a powerful witness to the church and the world.
Your first Christian responsibility to Christ and His church is to be baptized. Once inside the church family, one of your main missions is to maintain the unity and integrity of the church. Be assured, Satan is trying to tear down both, and his modus operandi is an inside job.
Dr. John the Apostle, although he was Jewish, seldom uses Jew or Jews in a flattering manner. Writing as he was after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, his reference here to a dispute with a “Jew” marks this man as a religious leader who was hostile to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Christian church. His satanic strategy is to pit John the Baptist against Jesus Christ. This is an age old attempt to divide and conquer by sparking envy and competition between two camps of a common cause. Of course, this strategy failed when tried upon John the Baptist, for reasons that will follow.
This lesson on unity, however, must be heard by every member of every church today. We are not in competition with other true churches, and we should rejoice if they are bigger or growing faster than our own. We should not destructively criticize other churches just because their doctrines are different from our own, if those doctrines are based on reasonable biblical interpretation. Pointing out false doctrine and constructively criticizing poor practices is another matter altogether, for such is necessary to protect and strengthen the true church. But competition and petty criticism with other churches can only hurt our own, and it damages our overall witness to the world.
The first church I joined and the first seminary I attended were Baptist. They taught me to be Baptist, and only Baptist, and to be suspect of anyone or anything not Baptist. Thank God I outgrew such religious prejudice. Never strive to be Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Catholic. Just be a faithful Christian, “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (ref. Ephesians 4:3).
Do you want to know how John the Baptist handled the attacks against him? Do you want to know how John the Baptist summoned the strength and confidence to carry out his challenging ministry? Do you want to know what sustained John the Baptist during the difficult seasons of life and work?
John the Baptist and John the Apostle believed strongly in the absolute sovereignty of God. As an old preacher once taught me, God’s sovereignty means God can do anything He wants, anytime He wants, and involve anyone He wants. God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Here John the Baptist's classic lesson on the subject: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (ref. vs. 27).
You cannot be saved, unless God gives you the gift of salvation from above (ref. John 3:3ff). You cannot have a ministry, unless God gives you the gifts and opportunities, and gifts and opportunities differ as determined by God. You cannot received pain and suffering, apart from God’s allowable grace, and then it will ultimately be for someone’s good and God’s glory.
God is sovereign in salvation and God is sovereign in all the lesser matters of life. Learning this lesson in the Christian life will yield amazing dividends. It builds faith. It kills pride. It makes envy almost impossible. It conquers greed and lust. And, it breeds confidence for evangelism and ministry because we are not pressured to do God’s work, rather we are blessed to have God working in and through us to accomplish His will (ref. Philippians 2:13).
John the Baptist’s whole philosophy of life is captured in his last words, recorded in verse 30. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He had been sent by God to introduce the Messiah to the world, then get out of the way and let the Messiah do His thing. Of course, Jesus’ thing and John’s thing both ended in execution, which is the strongest rebuke possible to those who preach a gospel of patronizing prosperity.
Accepting God’s Son into your life and accepting God’s mission for your life requires humility. To be saved, you have to come to grips with your sinful, selfish, depraved nature, a humiliating experience, indeed. Accepting God’s mission for your life means doing God’s thing rather than your own thing, and often getting little or no notoriety for it. Christ comes first, the needs of others are more important than your own, then grasp whatever simple pleasures the Lord reserves for you. Jesus first, others second, yourself last spells joy, but it joy imitated from humility, for which there will be a great reward.
A century ago a career missionary named Teddy was returning home on steamship after a life’s work of evangelizing and planting churches. It was good work, but no one had really noticed back in America. He was surprised to see a huge banner on the dock with the message, “Welcome Home Teddy!” Just as he was about to feel appreciated and recognized for his work, it was announced that President Theodore Roosevelt had been secretly on board the ship and was about to debark. That’s when the Holy Spirit told the humble servant, “You are not home, yet.”
Dr. John the Baptist’s practical theology (vs. 22-30) now gives way to Dr. John the Apostle’s systematic theology (vs. 31-36). As is the Gospel writer’s custom, he takes the practical and makes it theological, moving us from a fascinating story to spiritual depth. The whole foundation for the elder John’s water baptism, striving for unity, submission to sovereignty, and personal humility is the person and work of God in Christ, who came to bring God’s salvation to humankind.
To say that Jesus “comes from above and is above all” and “He who comes from heaven” means the Lord Jesus Christ is from God and He is God (ref. John 1:1). The Apostle will go on to provide a direct quotation from Jesus to this effect, “I and the Father are one” (ref. John 10:30). John’s Gospel makes the best case in the Bible for the deity of Jesus Christ.
This Dr. John also makes a case for the Trinity. He explains that God the Father has sent God the Son who sends God the Spirit, “without measure,” to accomplish the ministry of salvation. This moves the lesson from Christology to Soteriology, from “Jesus is Lord!” to “Jesus Saves!”
What was the ministry of Dr. John the Baptist all about? It was about pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ. What does Dr. John the Apostle say the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about? It is about salvation, the rescue from wrath, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life. So who can be saved?
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” As he did in 3:16, Dr. John the Apostle circles back to belief, the active, ongoing trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, His atonement for sin, and His lordship over all of life. That is what belief really is, deep and abiding, as confirmed in the next sentence.
“Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” These are key words and strong words. Note that Dr. John equates “belief” with “obey.” To believe is to obey, and to not obey is to not truly believe. This is a lesson lost on the modern church, but strongly supported by Dr. John and Dr. John MacArthur, who wrote in The Gospel According to Jesus, “Obedience is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ.”
So thank you, Dr. John, all of you, who have spoken the right things with the right lines. And if you want to be in the right place at the right time, trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Be baptized, stay unified, accept God’s sovereignty with humility, and live and preach the message of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!
THE GIFT OF SALVATION
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 9, 2020
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
— John 3:16-21, ESV
O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful story of gift-giving love. It is about a young couple named James and Della who, like so many young married couples, are struggling financially. Christmas is coming and neither has the money to buy the other a gift. James’ most precious possession is a pocket watch he inherited from his father, which he secretly sells in order to buy an expensive set of combs for his wife’s beautiful long hair. Della’s hair is her most outstanding feature, admired and envied by other women. To buy her husband a gift, she has it cut and sold, then purchases a chain for his pocket watch. There they stand on Christmas Day, he with a chain but no watch, she with exquisite combs but no long hair. Yet they had something far greater: the gift of love — thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial love. But here is a greater gift-giving love:
The Gift of Salvation
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son …”
The greatest gift of all is the gift of salvation, given out of the greatest love of all, by the greatest person of all, namely God. It is all God's doing and it is a spectacularly trinitarian experience. It is God the Father who determines to give it, it is God the Son who pays the price for it, and it is God the Holy Spirit who brings it “from above,” as Jesus just explained to Nicodemus (ref. John 3:1-15).
The gift of salvation flows from the perfect love of God, according to John, who always chooses his words wisely. He writes agape rather than lesser Greek words for love. Like The Gift of the Magi, God’s loving gift is thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial. It reflects thoughtful planning (ref. Ephesians 1:4), generous provision (ref. Ephesians 2:8), and total sacrifice (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Unlike The Gift of the Magi, God’s gift is provided to people who, at least at first, do not love God and have no plan to give God anything, but sin and grief (ref. Romans 3:10ff).
“The world” is seldom a flattering description of people in Holy Scripture (ref. 1 John 2:15-17). It generally denotes an entire human race in rebellion against the Creator. It describes all people who in their natural condition are lost, condemned, and “dead in trespasses and sins” (ref. Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God loves them anyway because as John later writes, “God is love” (ref. 1 John 4:8,16). Here Paul’s mystery becomes John’s kerygma, as the evangelist proclaims that God’s love is not just for rebellious Israel who failed Him in the Old Covenant, but for people in every nation who stand condemned already in this New Covenant text.
The love that gives salvation is a profound paradox. It is God who gives salvation, and He is the Whosoever Who wills to give it exclusively to His chosen children, born from above. Yet, in the immediate preaching of the gospel, God freely offers His grace to anyone from any nation who believes in the life, death, burial and resurrection of the one-of-a-kind Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. True belief connects you to the gift that pardons you, changes you, and stays with you forever.
The Gift of Justification
“ … that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of justification, by faith.
Nowhere in the Gospel of John can we read the word “faith,” yet the active form of the verb “believe” is used 100 times. Faith is the gift we receive from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1) that enables us to actively and willingly believe, and keep on believing, in the Lord Jesus Christ. A better translation of believe might be the title to the famous hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Born again people, born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, believe the gospel, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and obey the word of the Lord (ref. John 3:36).
By faith, born again believers are justified (ref. Romans 5:1). Only a judge can justify, or declare righteous, not guilty, not condemned. God is the only Judge who ultimately matters. Justification is necessary because the world that God loves is guilty, totally condemned by the condition and manifestation of sin in each one of us. Faith, and faith alone, can justify and forgive us of all of our sins.
Consider the overall context of John’s Gospel and grasp the picture of the greatness of this gift. Christ did not come into a free world and put a fork in the road with a choice to believe or not believe in Him. Christ came into a condemned world, trapped in unbelief (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff), and planted a cross. It sends forth a gospel that engenders faith for salvation (ref. John 1:12). Justification by faith is not merely a choice you make, but mainly a gift God gives. And, the gift of justification is a gift that will keep on giving.
The Gift of Sanctification
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of sanctification, by word and Spirit.
The light that God graciously gives is the revelation of Himself. Light enables newborn believers to see in a spiritually dark world. We see Jesus Christ as Lord and God, while the remaining blind and condemned world does not. We see Jesus lifted up on the cross, providing a substitutionary atonement for sin, while the blind and condemned world does not. Saved people see things in light that the dark and sinful world does not see, and this light comes by the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Light is another of John’s favorite words and images. Revelation of God comes through the Holy Spirit of God and the holy word of God. The gospel and the word of God make sense to a newborn believer, although study and maturity are required to bring faith to fruition. Believers stay in the light of biblical spirituality and morality, embracing and trying to obey the commandments of God. When we err we confess it, when we sin we repent of it, for by the grace of God we love the light of God more than the darkness. This is the ongoing process called sanctification, which is happening in every true believer, and this too is a gift from God.
The opposite of the light of God is the darkness of doing your own thing. The world loves this darkness. They flee from the Bible and the church lest the light of God expose their sin. God equates unbelief with evil, wickedness, and hatred, words we normally don’t use when speaking of the lost and unchurched. But John does, and those of whom he speaks deserve not our condemnation, for they are condemned already, but our prayers and patient witness, so that by grace through faith the light of God will shine on them before Judgment Day.
The Gift of Glorification
“But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of glorification, life with God for eternity.
A great and terrible day is coming, when the text we are talking about today will divide all of humanity into two groups. The born again, believing, justified, sanctified, will be glorified before the Judgment Seat of Christ (ref. Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the light will shine on our lives. Do not fear, child of God, for this light will show that your “works have been carried out in God,” in faith and in faithful service to Christ your King. Your reward will be greater than anything you could ever imagine on earth, for you will be in the new earth, and new heaven, forever, with the Lord Jesus Christ and all of your believing family and friends. You will “not perish but have eternal life,” and all of this is owed to the great grace of God.
The lost world will experience the horrific opposite before a great white throne of judgment (ref. 20:11). Remember, they are condemned already. No belief means no justification. No Spirit means no sanctification. No salvation means no glorification. There will be only condemnation, death, and darkness forever.
But while the light of the world is still in the world, let us come to the light. Come now, for God is thinking about you. Come now, for God is gracious towards you. Come now, for God has sacrificed for you. Come and give your life to the One who has given His life for you, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
THE BORN (AGAIN) IDENTITY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 2, 2020
1 Now 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
— John 3:1-15, ESV
Recently I sought to discover which state in the United States has the most Christians. It is not our state of Arkansas nor my home state of Georgia. It is not the most populous state, California, nor either of the two largest states in the South, Texas and Florida. It is the state of confusion. The majority of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ in our country really have no idea what it means to be a Christian. Statistics from the leading research organizations prove this point.
Combining the data from Barna, Christianity Today, and LifeWay Research, we learn that we are living in a post-Christian country, even though over 70% of adults consider themselves to be Christians. This is because out of this number, only about 15% claim to be born again, which according to Jesus is an absolute prerequisite for being a Christian. And even among those who claim to be born again, statistics indicate fewer than 2% recall a conversion experience, worship in their churches and study their Bibles each week, and undertake efforts to evangelize non-Christian people.
Perhaps all professing Christians, and anyone interested in becoming one, should come along with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and listen to the Lord explain how to become a Christian. In Jesus’ own word, “You must be born again.”
The Born Again Identity
Nicodemus the Jewish Pharisee would fit right into today’s diluted statistics regarding Christianity. He was born a Jew, he became a Pharisee, he crafted his own version of extra-biblical piety, and he was convinced that his own innate goodness made him right with Almighty God. However, after observing Jesus over a period of time, Nicodemus had questions about his own pathway on the road to Heaven and thought the Lord may have a better plan.
The majority of professing Christians in America are like Nicodemus. They were born into a Christian family, baptized into some Christian church, but open Scripture and darken the doors of a church only once or twice a year. They live their lives by standards other than the word of God, because they are either oblivious to or offend by the teachings of Holy Scripture. They would do well to sneak out and listen to what Jesus has to say.
Jesus said Christianity begins with being “born again.” In the original language, the first word means to be generated or “born.” The second is usually translated “above” and occasionally “again.” John favors words with dual, deeper meanings. His choice here amplifies Jesus’ saying to show the identity of a true Christian begins with the passive experience of being regenerated after being generated, or being born again from above.
Christians must be born again, or given a second birth. All human beings have a birthday, thanks to the contribution of the father and the water-breaking labor of the mother. It should be a day of joy for a family, and the joy should be remembered and celebrated every year. Christians have a second birthday, much more mysterious than the first, but a day nonetheless when there is great rejoicing in Heaven and on earth. It is a day when new life is formed, new loves are attached, and a new day dawns that will never cease to be celebrated.
Christians must be born from above, or given a spiritual birth. Consider Paul’s commentary in Titus 3:5, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Being born from above is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When He comes into a life He brings the gifts of repentance and faith, so that a human being can be changed by belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit works with the word of God to create a new child of God, born again and born from above.
Lost church members, like Nicodemus, really believe they are going to Heaven because of something they have done. But one does not become a Christian by actively doing. We become Christians by passively being, by being born again by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Only then can you truly identify as a Christian, it is a born again identity.
The Born Again Supremacy
Christianity is under fire today from without and within over the doctrine of supremacy, or exclusivity. The current Catholic pope says we should not evangelize people of other faiths. Most Protestants take his advice. But is the new birth, is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is biblical Christianity the only way to Heaven?
Jesus offered only one answer to Nicodemus’ unasked question. Again, if a person could go to Heaven by obeying laws, or being religious, or the general goodness of their own hearts, Nicodemus would have had no need to meet with Jesus. But by watching Jesus, I think by this time for about the full three years of ministry, Nicodemus suspected there had to be a more valid entrance into the kingdom of God. He did not even have to ask, the omniscient Lord knew his mind and heart and instructed him, “You must be born again.”
Jesus offered only one cure for man’s depravity. Remember the last text’s take on depravity (ref. John 2:23-25)? Jesus looked inside Nicodemus, like He can look inside all people, and saw that while the Pharisee was physically moving, and intellectually and emotionally engaged, he was spiritually dead. That’s why the Lord said, “You must be born from above … of the Spirit.” They say a soldier who loses an arm or leg in the war can still feel it itch from time to time. That’s why lost people, who lost the Spirit in the fall of man, still reach out sometimes to Jesus by night. They itch, and Jesus offers the only thing that can scratch it, the gospel, the new birth, and life in Christ.
Jesus offered only one way to enter the kingdom of God now and live in Heaven forever. Nicodemus had thought that all Jews go to Heaven, with the possible exception of extreme apostates and criminals. Being baptized a Christian won’t necessarily qualify you, either. I had a good friend who owned a business with this sign inside: “Being good will keep you out of jail, but it won’t keep you out of Hell.” “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Jesus said.
Think also the words John records later in the Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me” (ref. John 14:6). The supremacy of being born again marks it as the only way to be saved, according to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Born Again Ultimatum
If Christianity requires being born again, and it does, and if Christianity is the only way to be saved and enjoy eternal life, and it is, then is this and ultimatum to everyone else and every other religion?
Jesus does not accept religion. If he did, Nicodemus would have been fine, just the way he was. No one was more religious than a Pharisee. No one kept more religious rule and regulations. No one had a higher standing in Israel than a member of the Sanhedrin. But Nicodemus, according to Jesus, had to change, be born again, follow Christ, or else.
Jesus does not accept good works. I am aware that a lot of bad things have been done in the name of religion. But racist Nazism and atheistic communism has a pretty bad track record, too. Most people do mostly good things in the name of their religion, live peaceable lives, promote health, education, and welfare, and pick up their dog’s poop on a walk. But if a good deep point system was the way into the kingdom of God, why would Jesus insist on the new birth? And, why would Jesus allow Himself to be lifted up on the cruel cross? The requirement for Christianity is not what you have done for God, but what you have done with what God has done for you.
Jesus does not accept religion or good works. Jesus accepts only those who accept Him. Remember what was written about Him in the prologue of the Gospel, “He came to phis own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
The born again ultimatum means unless you are chosen by the will of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of God the Son, reborn by the power of God the Holy Spirit, you cannot be saved, enter the kingdom of God, or go to Heaven when you die.
The Born Again Legacy
Of course, the opposite is true, too. Those chosen by the will of God willing choose to follow Jesus Christ. Those who have been born again behave like born again people and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Christians build and leave a legacy while laying up treasure in Heaven, while unbelievers will eventually be forgotten by man and God. What is your legacy going to be?
How do you see yourself? Do you see a religious person, a good person, or a sinful person in need of forgiveness and redemption? I think Nicodemus saw himself as religious and good, until after he met with Christ. He would later defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and bury Jesus after the cross. I think Nicodemus’ sins are forever forgiven, and not by Judaism or Christian nominalism.
How do you see the cross of Christ? Silly or seriously? If our works or goodness could save us, it would have been silly for Jesus to get caught in a conspiracy and crucified. The text Jesus referenced, Numbers 21, would have been very familiar to Nicodemus and the Jews. It is a story of punishment for sins and the offer of redemption, an offer that would seem silly to a sophisticated American. Look at a snake on a pole and be healed from the snakebite of sin and death. But those who looked were saved, and the same thing is true today. Do you see Jesus on the cross as the historical, biblical, true, and only remedy for sin and death?
How do you see the Holy Spirit? Well, you cannot see the Holy Spirit, and that’s the point. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effects of full sails or a hurricane’s aftermath. You cannot control the wind, or else we’d only have full sails and no hurricanes. Neither can anyone control the Spirit, or manipulate people into making some so-called saving decision for Christ. Word and sacrament are our sails, and so often the Spirit it pleased to come and fill them and send faith into a newborn Christian’s life, where the evidence of the Spirit’s new birth includes important things like repentance, faith, love, obedience, and perseverance.
I think a person knows whether or not they were ever born. And, I think a person can know whether or not they’ve been born again. If you have, Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus will give you great assurance. If not, read John 3:1-15 again, then go to the very next verse, and feel the wind start to blow.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org