This is part 1 of a 5-part series.
When the Lord Jesus arrived on the planet, we must remember there were people living who were the spiritual children of Abraham by faith. They had, like the patriarch, a true and vital relationship with Jehovah, though they had not yet met Jesus. As the Lord Jesus would later say, “You believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1). But a new society was about to be birthed—the Church—constituted of both Jews and Gentiles. And some of those who previously would have been considered the wife of Jehovah (see Jer 31:1-5, 32; Ezek 16:8; Hos 2:14-23) would now being transferred by the Father to the care of His Son, “the Savior of the body” (Eph 5:23).
This new composite group, sharing common life (Rom 12:5; Eph 2:16), was made possible through the death of the Lord Jesus. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two [believing Jews and Gentiles], thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Eph 2:14-16). This is a mystery, withheld from the human race until revealed to Paul (see Eph 3:1-9).
Are We Won to Christ by the Father? Or by the Spirit?
Notice carefully that salvation in the present age is described as involving the Spirit wooing people to Christ, not as the gift of the Father to His Son. Here are some clear statements from the Gospel of John stating as much: “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:5, 6, 8).
We also read: “It is the Spirit who gives life…” (6:63). No one should doubt the strategic role that the Father has in salvation. “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 Jn 4:14). Ephesians 1:3-5 also describes His blessing of us, the One from whom comes “every good and perfect gift” (Jas 1:17). But clearly the Holy Spirit has been sent into the world to “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn 16:8), bringing us to the certain conviction of our need of salvation. When such souls “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15; see also Acts 20:21), they are regenerated by the Spirit (Titus 3:5) and placed in Christ. Thus when the Lord Jesus speaks of some being given to Him by the Father, this cannot mean in salvation. But then what does it mean?
Who are Abraham’s Children?
Our Lord drew a careful distinction between those who considered themselves the progeny of Abraham because of mere physical association and those who were Abraham’s true children by faith. This was a great irritation to the members of His Jewish audiences who rejected His divine claims. They considered themselves in Group A—those who already belonged to the Father—but Jesus explained that the proof they were not the Father’s was that they did not recognize His Son. My Father and I are so alike, He told them, that “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also” (8:19; see also 14:7, 9; 16:3). But, He added graciously, there is no reason you cannot now believe and become part of Group B, those who spiritually see and respond by faith in coming to Me. But more of that later.
As an aside, it is helpful to notice that the apostle Paul also distinguishes two subgroups of those who were Abraham’s children in Romans 4:11-12. Note carefully the two—and only two. First, he is “the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised.” That is, he is the father of believing Gentiles. Second, he is “the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had…” He is the father of Jews as well, but not of all Jews, at least not in this spiritual sense. Though belonging to “the circumcision,” they must also walk by faith in God, as Abraham did.
Transitional Passage 1
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:11-13).
One of the distinctive titles of God’s people in the Gospel of John is simply “His own.” We find it here in the introduction to the book. It is repeated at the pivot point in the book, just as the Lord is turning from the nation who has rejected Him, to gather His followers in the Upper Room: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (13:1).
Obviously the two groups known as “His own” must be different. Those in John 1 did not want Him; those in John 13–17 were those who had committed their hearts to Him (Judas excepted). The first group were “His own” through natural birth; they were the human family into which He had been born. But how had this second group become His own? In His prayer to the Father, He explains: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (17:6).
This crucial concept of the transfer from the Father to the Son will be discussed under the next section. And we will also revisit the first “His own” when we look at the branches in John 15. Suffice it to say, there is a decided shift during this time period from the Lord seeking “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24), and when He puts forth “His own sheep” out of Judaism, the ones who knew His voice and followed Him (see Jn 10:4). One must not be too quick to lump together groups of people in John, even when they may seem to be described in similar terms such as “His own,” or the “sheep” who may respond to Him in very different ways.
In our next post, we hope to look at the crucial, and commonly misunderstood, ideas presented in our Lord’s own words in John chapter 6.