Updated: Jul 15
“He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” John 1:11 ESV
As followers of Jesus, we are promised eternal life. Let me rephrase that. As people who have been born again—born of water and the Spirit—we are guaranteed to enter the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:5).
But what exactly does that mean? Does that mean if we are a people who go to church—whether it’s once a week, once a month or once a year—we will go to Heaven? Or if we do good things and are overall “nice” people, we have a place waiting for us in Heaven? How about if we’ve been baptized? Are attending seminary or leading Sunday school? If we do any number of the things on the “To Be a Good Christian” checklist, does that mean we are guaranteed to enter the kingdom of Heaven, just as Jesus promises in John 3:5?
No, it doesn’t. Are those things usually a good indication that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior and are committed to Him? Yes, usually, but not always and not entirely.
What we say, what we do, what we think or how we feel has no effect on our eternal destination. None of these things will give us the golden ticket through the pearly gates. Why, you ask?
Well, one, there are no pearly gates as many envision them, let’s just get that one out of the way. God is gracious enough to give us some details about Heaven, and the presence of pearly gates isn’t one of them. Neither is Peter greeting us at them, ready to pat us on the back for the “good” things we did while on earth. But that’s another topic for another day.
Two, read John 3:5 again. Does it say anything about going to church, helping an elderly woman with her groceries or teaching a room full of kids the Lord’s Prayer? Is there mention of anything from our checklist?
No. In this verse, Jesus’ words to Nicodemus—and to us—are simple: a person must be born again, born of water and the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
You see, the focus in this verse, and many others throughout the Bible, is not on us, but God. They may speak of God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, a combination or all three, but the point is, they all focus on God.
You see, the focus in this verse, and many others throughout the Bible, is not on us, but God.
Let me repeat that. The Bible is not focused on you, it’s focused on God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. The very author of the Bible and our lives.
To enter the kingdom of Heaven, one must be born of God.
Well, everyone is born, so we’re all born of God, right? No. Yes, we’re all born, but not everyone is born of God. To be born of God, one must die to sin (Romans 6:10-11, 1 Peter 2:24-25). One
must love God more than anyone or anything (Matthew 10:37). One must be willing to lose their life to gain it (Matthew 10:39). One must live for Christ (Philippians 1:21).
One must put their hope and faith in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior (John 3:16, 14:6; Romans 10:9).
That’s what it means to be born again, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). We must decrease so that Jesus may increase (John 3:30). We must take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34-38).
So what if you haven’t been born again, what does that mean for you? Well, let’s look at John 3:5 again; it reads, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
Pretty simple and pretty straightforward. You’re either born again or you’re not. You’re either permitted to enter the kingdom of God or you’re banned from entering the kingdom of God. No ifs, ands or buts. No gray area. It’s either one or the other.
How many of us can confidently say we’re born again? Frankly, that’s not a phrase you often hear within the church nowadays, let alone amongst those outside the church. And if it’s a phrase of the past, what does that mean for us, the people who supposedly love Jesus and self-identify as Christians?
Well, we might just be the ones John speaks of in chapter 1, verse 11 of his Gospel: “He (Jesus) came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.”
In the immediate context, John is speaking of the Jewish people who chose not to believe Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and their long-awaited Messiah. But remember, the Bible is the living Word of God, and every bit of it still applies to us today (Heb. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Yes, I know it’s mind-boggling to think of a book as old as the Bible applying to us in 21st century America, but it does. It’s the living Word of an unchanging God (Num. 23:19, Heb. 13:8, James 1:17). Times may change, cultures may change and mankind may change, but God doesn’t and neither does His Word (Matt. 24:35).
How many of us can confidently say we're born again?
Therefore, what John speaks of in chapter 1, verse 11 applies to Jews in Jesus’ time and it applies to Christians in our time.
Note, I didn’t say people in our time, but Christians. The religious people are the ones Jesus came to discipline in His first coming. The church is the one John addresses in his seven letters in the book of Revelation. God’s people are the ones God has had to repeatedly correct, rescue and judge. From the Jews wandering in the wilderness (Joshua 5:6) to the lukewarm church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), it’s been God’s people all along who have denied Him.
But we’re Christians, you say. But we go to church, you say. But we read our Bibles, you say.
Yes, we do, but what if there’s more? Now, don’t get me wrong, identifying yourself as a Christian is important, as is going to church and reading your Bible, but calling yourself a Christian is not being born again. Going to church is not being born again. Reading your Bible is not being born again. None of these things indicate your reception of Jesus.
Just look at the state of our country, not to mention our world. If all of us who identify as Christians truly have been born again and have received Jesus, why do we tolerate hate? Why do we tolerate the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage? Why do we tolerate a culture that promotes doing what you want? Why do we tolerate a society that says all roads lead to God? Why do we tolerate evolution being taught in our schools but not Creation? Why do we tolerate our churches being collectors of consumers rather than senders of disciples? Why do we tolerate souls falling deeper into Satan’s clutches?
Why do we tolerate things God hates? Things that defile His name, His creation and His sacrifice? Things that make Him weep and spurn His wrath?
If we’re tolerating just one of these things, why do we think we’re not like the Jews during Jesus’ time who did not receive Him? Yes, we can boast of a religion with billions of followers, but who (or what) are we following and how many of us are committed? Committed to the point we’re willing to love like Jesus loves us and die for Christ like He died for us (John 13:34-35)?
How many of us have truly been born again?
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.
This post originally appeared on County News Online.