by Mike Ratliff
15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15 (NASB)
Several years ago when I liven in Kansas I served on a jury for a few days. We tried a criminal drug case. It was heart rending. All through the trial we were subjected to evidence and testimony that were all vivid markers of the deep darkness to which our world is in bondage. Even though my life is far removed from that of the drug culture and that of the police who must operate in it, but not be part of it, I still felt compassion for those people who do not have the light of life from our Lord Jesus Christ.
The state of Man in this world is not one that the marketing people on Madison Avenue try to portray. Instead, we learn from the Bible that this physical life is short. There are spiritual realities for all people that, when ignored, make the temporal most important. This is tragic and more prevalent in those all around us than any of us like to believe. What does the Bible say about this?
17 I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there. 18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” 19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Ecclesiastes 3:17-20 (NASB)
If we stopped there we would have a pretty hopeless outlook on this life wouldn’t we? However, God has not left His creation, Man, in this hopeless and vain existence which is only a few short years on planet Earth without any hope. He sent His Son, Jesus to us. Why? Did He come to teach us how to live better in this life? Did He come to heal the sick and show us that we must live as He did in order earn a way out of this existence to a better life? Who is Jesus? We must all answer that question one way or another.
15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15 (NASB)
Who do you say the Jesus is?
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5 (NASB)
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NASB)
This is John the Apostle’s introduction to his gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is telling us who Jesus Christ is. Who is He? He is the Word. What does that mean? The Greek word John used that we translate as “Word” here is λόγος (logos). Before we define λόγος please notice that the “Word” existed in eternity before creation. To tell us that Jesus is the “Word” or λόγος, John is revealing that He is far more than a great prophet or good teacher or healer. In Greek, the word λόγος literally means, the “intelligence.” It signifies the rational principle of “divine reason, “mind,” or “wisdom.” John, however, gave λόγος an Old Testament and Christian meaning. For instance, Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God’s Word brought the world into being. Other examples are found in Psalm 33:6, Psalm 107:20 and Proverbs 8:27 where God’s Word is His powerful self-expression in creation, wisdom, revealtion, and salvation. John took those expressions and made λόγος refer to a person, our Lord Jesus Christ. By doing this, John is showing us that Jesus Christ is God. As we saw in v3 all things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made. Jesus Christ is the creator. He is God.
What else can we learn from John 1 about who Jesus is? Look at v4. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The Greek word translated as “life” in v4, ζωὴ (zōē), is not referring to physical or biological life, but the principle of life in the Soul and Spirit. This is spiritual life. What is the opposite of life? It’s death. So, in the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, is spiritual life. That life is the light of men. The Greek word for “light” in v4 is φῶς (phōs). It speaks of a light that is not kindled nor put out by men. The Greeks used it to speak of the light of the Sun. John is using it to show that those who experience the “life” from our Lord Jesus Christ are also filled with this light. The light that comes from the spiritual life from Jesus Christ is the evidence of spiritual regeneration. When men are drawn from the darkness into God’s light it means that essence of Christ’s character in holiness and purity is becoming manifest in their life. If this evidence is lacking then the spiritual life which brings it is more than likely not there. If there is no regeneration into the light of God then eternal life is also not present. Therefore, those whose character is not growing in God’s light are still in darkness and, therefore, are spiritually dead.
Look at v5. Again we have the word φῶς, but in this verse John shows us that the opposite of God’s light, which is the evidence of a regenerated heart, is darkness. This Greek word is σκοτία (skotia). It means darkness with the prevailing associated idea unhappiness or ruin. If we contrast John’s usage of φῶς and σκοτία, we see that God’s light is not only the emblem of happiness but also of beneficence while darkness represents unhappiness. In other words, darkness does not speak of sin itself, but refers to the consequences of sin.
In v5 we see that where God’s light shines into the darkness it cannot be overcome by it. The consequences of sin are removed from those who are in God’s light. What are the consequences of sin? It is spiritual death. Therefore, we know that all in the light of God were formally in darkness. Therefore, we know that there is something that must happen for the life of God to come into the hearts of men, women and children. This tells us that all people are born spiritually dead and must somehow be spiritually renewed or regenerated to have spiritual life.
So what do we have in our quest to determine who Jesus Christ is? He is the Word, the λόγος. He is the creator of all things. He is God. He is eternal. He has always existed. In Him is the life. The life is spiritual life as opposed to spiritual death. Those with this life have eternal life while those without are eternally dead. Those with this life have the light of God manifest in their hearts. Those without it are in darkness. Those with the light of God manifest in their hearts have Christ’s very character developing within their own character. This brings joy. Those in darkness do not have the Joy of the Lord. There is something that must take place for the spiritual life given by God to come into those who are in darkness.
So how does a person become a partaker of the life from God? In v14 we see that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is speaking of the incarnation of the Word into a man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:1-3 (NASB)
In v3 we read that only those who are “born again” can see the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is speaking of the rule of God. In eternity His rule is absolute and there is no doubt about it. In the temporal where we live it is absolute, but not manifest entirely or in a way where we can point here or there and say there it is. Instead, we see it in those who are born again. What is it to be born again?
4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:4-6 (NASB)
From v5 we see that to be born again is to be born of water and the Spirit. Nicodemus would not have missed Jesus reference to the water since he was a Pharisee. This is speaking of cleansing not literal water. Becoming Born Again then is speaking of a cleansing and a regeneration. These are two separate things, but they are both required. How do they take place?
7 Do not be amazed 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 do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7-8 (NASB)
From Jesus’ explanation of how to become Born Again in these two verses we see that it is something we cannot do. It is as the wind blows. We cannot control the wind. Even in the 21st Century no one has found a way to control the weather. How much more than that can we not control the workings of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said that everyone who is born of the Spirit, that is to be Born Again, is regenerated in a process that is not something men can control or determine who will be or will not be. Now let’s look at v9-15.
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:9-15 (NASB)
Nicodemus is not yet a believer. He does not yet have eternal life. He is using nothing but his own human reason to try to understand Jesus words about how people become Born Again. Jesus tells him that all who are in his condition cannot understand spiritual things. Jesus can tell him spiritual truths until the cows come home, but as long as Nicodemus or you or me have not been Born Again, we cannot understand spiritual truth.
Look at v13. Other religions teach that people can ascend to wherever their gods are and receive special revelation then return to Earth to lead their followers. Jesus tell Nicodemus and us that the only one truly qualified to do this is the one who came from Heaven to begin with. Who is that? That is the Son of Man, which was Jesus favorite term for Himself. V14-15 is our key to understanding one of the key components of knowing how to be Born Again and to know who Jesus really is. In v14 Jesus uses a reference to Numbers 21:5-9 where Moses placed a bronze serpent on a pole so that the Israelites who were bitten by serpents could look upon it and be miraculously healed. All they had to do was look upon the serpent lifted up on the pole. If they did they lived. If they did not then they died. We all know that Jesus was crucified on the cross. In v14 we see where He tells Nicodemus that his future crucifixion is somehow related to the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness. Therefore, we know that becoming Born Again somehow involves looking upon Jesus on the cross.
In v15 we see that all who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. Wait, how can that be all that it takes since to be Born Again is a work of the Holy Spirit which we cannot control in any way. Somehow our salvation, our rebirth with the life of God into the light, will be both, It is a work of the Holy Spirit that will result in our believing in Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-12 (NASB)
What do we learn here? This passage explains to us much of how and why God saves His people. Who are His people? They are those He chose before the foundation of the world. Why did He choose them? He chose them that they should be holy and blameless before him. Does this act of choosing make them holy and blameless before God? Let’s read on. The next phrase is, ”In love He predestined those whom He chose for adoption through Jesus Christ.” Those whom He chose before the foundation of the World, He also predestined that they should be adopted through Jesus Christ. Why? It was according to the purpose of His will to the praise of His glorious grace. He did it this way for His glory. Those who are Born Again because of God’s work are redeemed through Christ’s blood. This redemption results in their forgiveness of their sins and that according to God’s grace.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
Salvation is by God’s grace through faith. His Grace is the power to regenerate us and that is done through the conduit of faith. Faith is belief. Remember, Jesus told Nicodemus that unregenerate people cannot believe. So something must happen for those whom God saves for them to be able to believe. God’s Grace is the power that does it, but when does it happen? However it happens it does so in a way in which those who are saved cannot claim responsibility for it.
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 (NASB)
In v28 we see that this passage is telling us that what follows applies to those who are called according to God’s purpose. These are the same people who love God and all of the circumstances in their lives, good and bad, work together for good. What is the nature of this calling then? First God foreknew them. We looked at that in the passage in Ephesians 1. This means that God fore-loved them. This is speaking of knowing people, not what they do or don’t do. This is God placing His love on people whom He chose. We also already know that those whom God chose are predestined to be adopted through Jesus Christ. Here we see that it also means that they are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, the Son. Once again we see the light being manifest from the life of God. Those who are Born Again are much more than simply saved. They are adopted by God that Jesus Christ might be the firstborn among many siblings. How does He do it then? In v30 we see that those whom God chose and predestined are called.
This is the point we draw together what we learned from John 1 and 3, Ephesians 1 and 2, and Romans 8. This calling is the effectual call by the Holy Spirit that is by the grace of God that we saw in Ephesians 2:8-9. This calling is that point in our salvation where all God the Father did prior to creation and all Christ the Son did on the cross is made effectual by the Holy Spirit. This is the moment of rebirth. This calling is the point where God’s chosen are Born Again. This regeneration enables them to believe. It also results in the knowledge of the greatness of their sin in comparison to the Holiness and Righteousness of God. Because of this regeneration, the new believer repents of their sin. They are new creations. God’s divine nature is now living in them. They have the Holy Spirit.
After this amazing salvation event by God’s Grace, four more things are done in the eternal, however, we struggle to see them in the temporal. After the effectual call, the new believer believes and repents then God the Father justifies him or her. That means that the unrighteousness of all those whom God saves was imputed to Christ on the cross. His death paid the penalty for their unrighteousness. At the moment of belief, the Father imputes Christ’s perfect Righteousness to the newly cleansed believer. This gives them right standing with Him. When He looks upon them He sees Christ’s righteousness instead of their own. He then adopts them into His family as we saw in Ephesians 1. Then He sanctifies them. That means he begins the process of changing their character unto the image of Christ as also saw in Ephesians 1. The last thing that awaits all believers is glorification. That is our eternal state in the Kingdom of God.
Now, that is what God has done for those whom He will save. We have seen that it is God’s work to do this. No one can believe unless they are Born Again. Does this remove our responsibility to believe and repent? May it never be!
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:16-20 (NASB)
We know that the Bible does not contradict itself. We also know that no part of the Bible can be interpreted correctly outside of God’s Spirit giving us understanding. Therefore, even though our salvation is in God’s hands and He will save His people according to His plan and purpose, we also see from this passage that whoever believes 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 rest of this passage speaks of the condition of all natural men, women and children. However, I cannot tell anyone that all they have to do is walk an aisle, pray a prayer and they are saved. However, I can tell you that if you have read this entire article then you have read the truth from God’s Word about how God saves His people. When He calls them to believe, they believe and are saved. Why? God gives them ability to do so.
Jesus asked the following question of His Apostles,“But who do you say that I am?” Is Jesus just a good man, or good teacher, or great prophet in your heart? Is He just the founder of the Christian religion? Or is He the Son of God, the creator of all things who went to the cross to pay the penalty for your sins? If so, then is the light of God that is born from the life in you? Are you spiritually alive or are you spiritually dead? Are you in the light or in the darkness? Are you sins forgiven or are you condemned already?
Life is short. None of us know the day of our death. Are you ready to meet God? All people are sinners. However, some are Christians and some aren’t. The difference is that all in Christ have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. They have seen their utter lost condition before God against His perfect Righteousness and Justice. They have believed that Jesus Christ died in their place to pay the price for their sin and was resurrected from the dead on the third day. They have confessed and repented of their sin. They have, in turn, surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is their Lord and Saviour. At that moment of belief, God the Father declared them Righteous and, in fact, imputed the Righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account. Then He adopted them into His family. He is in the process of changing them from the inside out in order to build their character to be like Jesus Christ. They also now have the Holy Spirit within them.
Some of you reading this have the life of God in your hearts, but the light from that life has been stifled or muted by sin and bondage to the flesh. Instead of the beneficence of God’s light being manifest in your life, you are dominated by darkness. Now is the time of repentance for you. Draw near unto God and He will draw near unto you. Seek His face, confess your sins and ask Him to forgive and cleanse you.
Some reading this once thought you were Christians because of your religion or good works. However, you are now under extreme conviction that the light shining from the life of God is not in your heart. Others of you have never made a profession of faith, and you know that you are lost. In either case, if you are in the place where you know you are lost and know that the only hope you have is found in Christ, then now is time of belief for you and I pray that God will save you.
Soli Deo Gloria!