RECEIVE AND BELIEVE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 15, 2019
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
— John 1:9-13, ESV
No one in our church believes in the prosperity gospel. We have better sense. We have better theology. We have a better gospel.
What makes the prosperity gospel abominable is not its thinly veiled greed, although that shows through by the time the second or third airplane hits the air. The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all because it preaches the lordship of man and over God. Man professes it, then God is bound to make sure man possesses it. Man names it, then God has to see that man claims it. Man believes, and God goes to work until man receives.
Such an upside-down gospel belittles God. The true and living God does not work that way, neither does the real gospel. The gospel is for eternal life, not material lusts. Furthermore, you do not believe the gospel so that you can receive Christ, you must receive God in Christ through the Holy Spirit before you are able to believe the gospel and be saved. It is not believing that enables you to receive, but receiving that enables you to believe.
This puts the gospel back on its feet and keeps in step with two of the major themes in the Gospel of John: the sovereignty of God and salvation by faith. No sinner and rebel against God has the right to be pardoned and saved; however, by grace God grants that right to some. Upon them God shines the light, gives the right, and enables them to believe and become children of God.
The Light of God
We received an Amazon Echo from my daughter for Christmas last year. Now I go home at night, speak the word, and the lights come on in the house. It is a very powerful feeling.
But the lighting of the house does not really come about by my own power, does it? Electricity and the light bulb were invented long before me. The current is now produced by someone other than me, the bulbs are manufactured by someone else, even the device that now turns them on was given to me. I received, therefore I believe, and boom, the lights come on.
When it comes to the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ is “the light, which gives light to everyone.” The first light is God, the second is God’s revelation to man. The first light is one, in three persons, and the second light is two, general and special.
There is a sense in which the light of God indeed comes to every cognitive human being on the planet. Everyone can see creation, which reveals the handiwork of God. Everyone with eyes to see or ears to hear can read or listen to the Bible, the word of God, which contains as its centerpiece the gospel of Jesus Christ. The doors of all of God’s churches are open to all men, women, boys, and girls, where the visible worship of the invisible God can be experienced. But while the general revelation of God has the power to compel and convict, it does not have the power to convert. This is owed to the special revelation of God.
Turn on a light in a dark room and you can see, unless you are blind or worse, dead. Blindness and death are apt metaphors for lost persons or non-Christians. However, when God’s grace turns on the light that enables a blind person to see, or better still a dead person to live, they live and they see. God is the light and God gives the light. We receive, then we live, see, and believe. The general light of God shines everywhere. The special, saving light of God dawns only upon God’s people.
The People of God
Are all human beings in the world the people of God? No, “The world [does] not know Him.” The majority in the world knows about the Lord Jesus Christ, but they do not know the Lord in a personal, saving way. Only a minority, about one-third, even claim to be Christian. Only a minority of the minority, about one-tenth, profess to be born again, a prerequisite to relationship with God. Only a minority of the minority of the minority, probably around two percent of the world’s population, are born again and actually give evidence of vital and ongoing spiritual life. So, the people of God do not encompass the whole world, only a small sliver of it.
What about the Jews? They count as less than two percent of the world’s population. Are the Israelites the true people of God? No, “His own people did not receive Him.” The Jews were God’s people, past tense, in the Old Covenant. Jesus was Jewish, and when He inaugurated the New Covenant, He offered it almost exclusively to the Jews. Yet except for a few fisherman and various other vagabonds, the Jewish nation led by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians rejected and killed him, with the help of Gentiles, too. It seems as if no one wanted to be the people of God then, and few do now.
Who then are the people of God? “All who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The people of God are receivers, who become believers, because they have been granted by grace “the right,” divine authority not dependent upon human agency, to be children of the King and citizens of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is not a democracy. We do not elect our president. The kingdom of God is a monarchy, and Christ is King. The King elects those He chooses and bids them to enter in by grace through faith. Upon them He shines the light of the gospel until it penetrates the heart. Upon them the Holy Spirit bestows faith and repentance, gifts from the King (ref. Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Upon them authority is given, God’s authority, to become the people of God.
You do not have that right, unless God has given you the light. You do not believe, unless you first receive. The light of God transforms us into the people of God, and all of this is owed to the will of God.
The Will of God
Some people think they are Christians because they were born into a Christian family and brought to a Christian Church. That makes you blessed, but it does not necessarily make you saved. The gospel declares that the people of God are “not of blood,” meaning that parents do not pass on faith to their children genetically. So many Roman Catholics and mainline liberals are going to be shocked on Judgment Day. They were baptized by their parents and have their names placed on church rolls, but they were never born again, nor did they act as true worshipers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such people are not the people of God.
Some people think they are Christian because they responded to a so-called altar call or some similar gimmick at a Vacation Bible School, youth camp, revival, or church service. Charles G. Finney can be discredited as the one who gave fuel to this fire, taking for himself the motto that salvation occurs by “the right use of means.” When John wrote that people are not saved by “the will of the flesh,” an accurate translation could read, not by “the right use of means.” So many Baptists and Methodists are going to be shocked on Judgment Day. They have come forward, made a decision for Christ, but too many of them were not truly born again, as attested by their indifferent and immoral lifestyles. Such people are not the people of God.
Some people think they are Christians because, by God, they decided to be Christian. If this is you, you may actually be partially correct, but you have to ask yourself a question. What made you decide to decide? Many would say it is free will. But the gospel says no one is born again by “the will of man.” Do not despair, for as I said many of you have been born again. But you need to understand that before you decided for God, God decided for you (ref. Ephesians 1:4). Before you chose to follow Jesus, Jesus chose you to be His follower (ref. John 15:16). And when you were born again into the kingdom of God, this did not come about by your parents’ will, some preacher’s will, or even your own will, “but of God”’s will.
The people of God are those who have been born of God by the will of God. God’s light gave them that right. We receive grace; therefore, we have faith, and by grace through faith we are saved.
If you are among the people of God, this passage of Scripture should serve to help you know God better, make God bigger, and enlarge your love and devotion to Him. You are chosen, you are saved, you are forgiven, you are free!
If you are not a Christian, the same text should scare you to death by making you aware that you that you are already dead, spiritually, apart from God’s grace. You may be thinking, “What if it is not God’s will to save me?,” or, “What if I want to believe, but I just don’t receive anything from God?”
Then know this, “The Lord is … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance [and faith]” (ref. 2 Peter 3:9). And know this, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (ref. John 6:37). Receive the light, believe the gospel. Jesus loves you and desires for you to live. Receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and you will believe in Him, and live for Him, now and forever.
Christ is the Light, you must receive,
Before in the Lord you can believe,
He shines in the world, but the world does not know,
He shines on His people, grace to bestow.
Life for the dead, sight for the blind,
Saving the soul, renewing the mind,
This cannot be done, by mere mortal skill,
It is only by grace, an act of God’s will.
This gospel is for all, so please come to Him,
God will not refuse, He will let you in;
But know this is true, on the day you believe,
The faith you possess comes from the Light you receive
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