This is part 5 in our Growing in Grace series.
Listen to the message:
- John 1:12, “Yet to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
- Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Practically every group, club, and organization has insider language—words that are used that only the initiated understand. Sports has insider language. For example, during the winter Olympics that begin this week, you may overhear an announcer using words like crosschecking, faceoff, penalty box, power play, saucer pass, slapshot, and icing, terms that are uniquely related to hockey. Even if you have heard these terms, you may not know what they mean unless you are familiar with the sport.
If you don’t know these terms, you may feel lost when listening to an announcer call the game.
It is the same way in the church.
If you don’t know the “insider language,” you may feel lost as well.
Since Creekstone exists not only to minister to Christians who know the insider terminology, but also to those exploring the claims of Jesus for the very first time and are still early on in their spiritual journey, I want to be sure that we are careful to define and explain our terms carefully and clearly so that you are not lost.
This is why today we are going to clarify, define, and explain some important insider language—language used by the apostle John in our first memory passage, where he speaks of those who “receive Jesus.”
What does it mean to “receive” Jesus?
In the verses immediately preceding the verse we read in John 1:12, the apostle has stated that, to a large degree, the people of Jesus’ own ethnicity, the Jews, had rejected him as the long promised and awaited Messianic hero who would bring the light of truth into spiritual darkness and the grace of spiritual life to those who were dead in sin.
It is into this context of rejection that John says in verse 12, “Yet to all who received him, who believed in his name…”
You may have noticed that immediately after using the word “received,” John provides clarification, saying, “who believed.” By using the simple literary device of parallelism teaches us that receiving is believing. But what are we to believe? John says, we are to believe “in his name”—the name of Jesus.
In ancient times, names were infused with meaning. This certainly was true for Jesus, where we discover in Matthew 1:21 that the name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua—a Hebrew name that means “the Lord saves.” The Lord, referring to God himself.
In our last study, we learned that to be saved is to be rescued. The rescue every human needs is deliverance from the condemnation sin deserves before the law of God. What the gospel teaches us is that in mercy and out of love, God sent Jesus to be that rescuer—or Savior. This rescue took place through Jesus’ crucifixion.
In his death by crucifixion, Jesus, the innocent one, incurs the condemnation my sin deserves. This is why theologians call his death substitutionary, meaning that Jesus takes the place of the sinner in judgment as the recipient of wrath so that I can take his place as a recipient of mercy.
Therefore, to receive Jesus is to believe that he has rescued me from the curse of the law by receiving the curse himself. He has rescued me from hell by enduring hell in my place.
Let me emphasize that believing Jesus is my Savior-Rescuer-Hero is not a meritorious good work. It is simply receiving a gift of inexpressible value, like a beggar being giving a 300,000 square foot warehouse that was filled from floor to roof with stacks and stacks of gold bars. An unimaginable, mind-blowing gift.
This is how someone becomes a Christian. Not by doing for God, but by receiving from God—by receiving immeasurable grace that is the result of someone else’s doing. That someone being Jesus.
Yet, even as we talk about receiving Jesus as believing Jesus to be the Savior of sinners, there are several strands of faith we may need to explore in order to understand the full extent of what it means to believe upon Jesus as Savior.
This leads to our next question.
What three aspects of saving faith are important to distinguish when receiving Jesus?
While understanding the three separate aspects of faith are not required in order to genuinely receive Jesus as Savior, distinguishing them can help us discern whether we truly have received him or not.
In his small book, All of Grace, the renown 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon compares the faith that receives Jesus to a Roman aqueduct. In the same way that the aqueduct had to be whole in order for water to flow into the city, the aqueduct of faith that receives Jesus needs to be whole.
As you know, a rope is stronger than a single strand of string because it is composed of multiple strands of string, twisted together. True, saving faith is like a rope in that it has three strands. Take away one of the strands and the rope will easily fray and break.
The first strand of saving faith that receives Jesus as Savior is knowledge. In other words, faith rests on facts, not in wishful thinking or empty hopes and dreams. This is one reason why theological and doctrinal study is a nonnegotiable for the disciple of Jesus, and why affirming the historical nature of the biblical record is paramount. Christianity will be built upon truth or nothing at all. Therefore, the first strand of faith is to possess the facts pertaining to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Secondly, or the second strand of saving faith, is that we must embrace these facts as true—not just theologically true, but historically accurate. Theologians call this second strand of saving faith “assent.” The word assent means “to agree or concur; to subscribe to.” I like the definition of assent as “embracing something as true,” with the implied connotation of holding onto something, which actually is biblical language. At the author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
While each strand of faith is important, the third strand may be the most critical, because even if I know the facts and believe them to be true intellectually, without exercising the final strand, I have not truly received Jesus as my Savior.
This third aspect of faith is personal trust, where I apply the facts to myself, trusting that God’s grace is not merely to sinners in general nor is grace but a theory, but it is for me in particular and personally. I am willing to put all of my weight on the facts as pertaining to me.
You may have been hiking along a rocky path and approached a narrow, treacherous pass where a misstep could cost you your life. Every step is taken with the utmost care. You want to make sure that the rock upon which you step is secure and will hold your weight without collapsing.
To trust in Jesus as Savior is to put your full weight upon the Rock.
It is standing upon that solid rock that you are able to say, with full confidence and conviction, the same words as the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
You see how the trust aspect goes beyond an intellectual embrace of the facts. I see myself as the one for whom Jesus was crucified. I am not potentially forgiven; I am presently, fully, completely forgiven. Not a stain of sin remains on my soul. He loves me. He gave himself for me.
These are the words of someone who has received Jesus and is standing on the Rock of the gospel.
In view of his reflection on the aqueduct analogy, Spurgeon remarks on what a sad sight it is “to see the many noble aqueducts around Rome which no longer carry water into the city. They are no longer in use because the arches are broken and the marvelous structures are in ruins.”
Maybe you are coming to realize that the faith you have formerly professed in Jesus is a broken aqueduct.
I wonder how many of us have knowledge and even have embraced the facts as true, but have yet to give up trying to find an identity, life and salvation in either being religious or in the affirmation of peers that comes through popularity and worldly success? Maybe you are still standing on your own outward morality or reputation or accomplishments.
What Jesus says on the sermon on the mount in Matthew 7:22-23 is profoundly sobering. He warns, “22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
“Depart from me. I never knew you.” What?!
But they had done so much.
Ironically, their doing was the barrier that separated them from acceptance with God. The problem is that they were concerned about what they had done for God rather than focus on what God would do for them in Jesus.
Thomas Wilcox was a Puritan preacher in the 17th century. One of his most popular sermons is based on Psalm 81:16 and entitled “A Choice Drop of Honey.”
In this message, he exhorts his hearers to beware of looking to their own righteousness as the basis for their good standing before God. He says, “Many call Christ Savior; [but] few know him so.” Why is this? He tells us by showing the way of true faith when he proclaims,
“When you leave and come to Christ, you must leave behind your own righteousness, and bring nothing but your sin. Oh, that is hard! Leave behind all your holiness, sanctification, obediences, etc., and bring nothing but your [need], or else Christ is not fit for you, nor you for Christ. Christ will be a pure Redeemer and Mediator, and you must be in undone sinner, or Christ and you will never agree. It is the hardest thing in the world to [receive] Christ alone for [your] righteousness.
Cutting it to the chase, he says, “You are a religious person and partake of all the ordinances. You do well: they are glorious privileges. But if you have not the blood of Christ at the root of your religion, it will prove but painted pageantry to go to hell in.”
This is all simply a Puritans way of encouraging us to focus on Jesus’ doing for us rather than our doing for Jesus.
In other words, to be a Christian is not primarily to be a doer for God but a receiver from God.
What does it look and feel like to receive Jesus?
Our memory passages provide two helpful images of what it looks and feels like to receive Jesus, one image from each verse.
The first image is of an adopted child.
In John 1:12, the apostle says that those who receive him through faith, by believing the gospel, are not only justified legally before the law of God but are adopted relationally into the family of God as dearly loved, treasured sons and daughters.
He writes, “Yet to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
In his classic book on theology, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, the late John Murray makes the staggering claim that to be adopted into the family of God, whereby we exchange our primary identity from that of sinner to that of son is “surely the apex of grace and privilege.” Murray is saying that spiritual adoption is a greater spiritual blessing than justification, as justification is simply the legal foundation upon which adoption rests.
Justification is a legal term—a courtroom word that signifies that a defendant is declared innocent of all charges. Forgiven.
Adoption, while needing the legal foundation—adoption is preeminently relational.
Having received adoption, we now are no longer to view God primarily as our Judge, but supremely as our Father to whom we are called to draw near with the assurance of his acceptance and affection.
It is as beloved sons and daughters that we are to hear passages like Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The throne of God is no longer one of judgment for the justified and adopted children of God. It is a place to which we run for help—for mercy and grace—knowing that the one who sits upon the throne with authority and sovereign power is our Father. Our Abba. Our Daddy.
He always has time for us.
The King’s ear is ours because we are his.
Along with adoption, a second image of what it looks and feels like to receive Christ is the image of table fellowship, where people would enjoy a meal together in a home. We see this in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
While we modern types, living in a franticly paced world of microwaves and fast food may see meals as primarily a pragmatic, functional way to fuel our bodies, in the ancient world food was viewed much more sacramentally.
Meals had a ritual feel. Not ritual as in formal, but ritual as in special.
Meals were opportunities to slow down, to stop production, to cease doing and enjoy being by savoring the rich and diverse flavors that God has provided through plants, animals and spices.
This is what Jesus is inviting us into by inviting himself in to dine with us. Just like we need the gift of food to sustain our bodies, we need the gift of Jesus’ life to sustain our souls. For our own good, we need to slow down, to stop production, and cease from doing and savor being—being forgiven. Being loved. Being his.
We need time to savor the presence of Jesus.
When you hear the insider language of “having a quiet time” or “spending time in the word” or having “devotional time,” we are talking about consciously inviting Jesus in to restore our souls, to feed our spirits, and nourish our hearts with his presence.
So let’s allow the insider language of quiet times, being in the word, and having devotions is code language for slowing down to focus, not on my work but his. Not to savor and celebrate my doing but his. To remember, not what he expects of me but what he has already accomplished for me and is now doing in me. In a quiet time, we slow down and stop production just to fellowship with Jesus.
Living as an adopted son or daughter. Experiencing the presence of Jesus by his Spirit convincing me that the gospel is true—this is what it feels and looks like to receive Jesus.
Here is what this means. If I don’t sense myself as an adopted, beloved son or daughter, maybe I haven’t genuinely received Jesus? If I am so busy doing that I never stop to consciously just be with Jesus and savor intimacy with him as a friend, meditating on the wonder, beauty and transforming power of the gospel, then I may not have truly received Jesus.
The Larger Context
The larger context of Revelation 3:20 is Revelation chapters 2 and 3, where Jesus prophetically, though the Spirit speaks to seven churches that existed in ancient Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.
If each of the seven churches had a nickname, the church at Laodicea was the “lukewarm” church. They were known for their religious activity, but also for their lack of spiritual vitality. They just went through the religious motions. This is the church Jesus addresses in Revelation 3:20.
But in Revelation 3:17, three verses before Jesus knocks on the door in verse 20, Jesus confronts the church at Laodicea in love, explaining why they are lukewarm: “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing… not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Though the members of this church were prosperous materially, they were impoverished spiritually. But you couldn’t tell it because they still met on Sundays and attended Bible studies and served in the nursery. The Laodiceans were living with a dangerous delusion of self-deception. Jesus is seeking to give them the gift of self-awareness.
More than acquiring more stuff, what they truly needed was to receive Jesus in the fullness of saving faith, where they knew the facts, embraced the facts as true, and then were able to experience the transforming power of trusting that Jesus really was better and more satisfying than any earthly possession.
Receiving a Gift
Whether for Christmas or a birthday, we all know what it is to receive a gift. Sometimes—and this is especially true of gifts that arrive in the mail—sometimes we may delay the opening of the gift, letting it sit on the front porch for days on end, or we may open it but leave the gift in the box unused.
True faith does not leave the package on the steps, but receives the gift, opens the box, and puts on the necklace. Or eats the chocolates. Or lights the candle. Whatever it is, we take the gift and do what the giver intended, which is for us to enjoy the gift to fullest.
This is what God desires for us as we receive the gift of grace in Jesus. He wants us to feel what it is to be his beloved child and what a gift it is to commune with Jesus as his Spirit indwells us to confirm our adoption and to empower us with new life
This leads us to the fourth and final question, which is practical and personal.
What next step is God leading you to take?
Maybe you are in the fact gathering stage, just trying to figure out what the message of Jesus is all about.
You may be in the process of coming to grips with the truth of the facts, realizing that Christianity is not a cryptic legend full of mysteries and secret handshakes, but is real life. It is true history. The things concerning Jesus, his miraculous birth, remarkable life, substitutionary death, improbable bodily resurrection and glorious ascension really happened.
You may be someone who has professed faith in these things intellectually for years. But you have never really rested in them for yourself in a way that brought you genuine joy, peace, and hope. You have known about Jesus, but you have yet to receive him.
Bree Nelson is an Army wife and the mother to three children. Although her husband, 1st Lt. Kenya Nelson, had been deployed in Afghanistan since February and wouldn’t be back for months to come, in December 2014, she took her kids to the airport to welcome a group of other soldiers who were coming home just in time for Christmas.
What they didn’t expect was for Lt. Nelson to walk through the terminal. The video of the surprise homecoming reveals the depth of emotion that the entire family felt at their reunion with their husband and father.
Recognizing her husband, Bree threw down her carboard welcome home sign and sprinted toward him, practically tackling him at the gate, followed by 16-year-old Savion, 13-year-old Ajani, and his youngest, 9-year-old Kadir.
As they hugged each other, enmeshed as a family, tears of joy flowed freely.
After all, their father had been 7,000 miles away. Now he was home.
What would it look like for you to experience this kind of reunion? Not with a soldier, but with Jesus?
The Jesus who has gone to battle for you. He has won the victory over sin and death for you by laying down his own life. And while the cross feels like it is 7,000 miles away, maybe to your surprise, he, Jesus, is now standing in the terminal before you.
Will you receive him? With tears of joy, receive him! Are you are a lukewarm Laodicean? Receive him!
Do you feel condemned and unworthy? Maybe you have fallen into a pit of moral failure and feel as if you could never emerge from your filth to stand forgiven and free upon the Rock.
Isn’t this what you want? To be forgiven. To be free. To be intimately and personally united with Jesus.
 Ibid., 50. As Spurgeon says, “Faith is not a blind thing, for faith begins with knowledge.”
 Hebrews 10:23
 Ibid., 44. He also compares faith with the hand which receives charity, a hand that does not say, “I am to be thanked and admired for accepting the gift.’”
 Thomas Wixcox, A Choice Drop of Honey.