Citizens of the Kingdom
“The child of God, therefore, cannot continue to sin; and the unbeliever who indulges in sin cannot be a child of God” (1). I can say with confidence that someone reading this will say, “Wait, I sin. Does this mean I am not a child of God?” Let’s allow John to give us one more fact before we comment on this, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because his seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” WOW! We cannot sin. Okay, about this time we all want to throw in the proverbial towel. Right? Or, we ask, what does John really mean by this? This passage has great potential for confident living of the Kingdom Life. Let’s take a moment to explore it.
It is vital to understand John’s insight into the relationship between “born” and “seed” in this passage. In his Gospel, John has recorded the question from Nicodemus regarding rebirth. Jesus’ answer of Spirit and water offers insight that, while sharing characteristics with physical birth, it is more. So, like Jesus, we share a quasi-incarnational (2) rebirth in that we now share the divine nature. Since all of the Apostles were taught by the same Spirit (John 14:26), what Peter writes will be John’s perspective. “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 3:23). Peter takes us back to inception when hearing (3) the message produces faith. The root word (4) can refer to both the inception and birth (5). 1:23 seems to be better understood as rebirth whereas Peter uses the same compound word in 1:3 where it is better understood as inception. In these two uses, Peter shows the importance of the new beginning. He can relate to this personally as Jesus gave him the opportunity to be renewed after he had denied Jesus three times (John 21:15-17). If we go back to John’s Gospel, we find an account in chapter 6 where many of Jesus’ followers were leaving him. The reason for this was given by Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).
Please allow me to add something parenthetically to this topic. For those who are trying to attract people with something other than the word of God, you need to pay very close attention to this passage. Even when Jesus fed them by means of a miracle, they still came only for the food! How do you think feeding, clothing, or housing someone will “give you the right” to share the Gospel? You say you want to “break down social barriers” so that you can preach to them. We have the right to preach the Gospel! We are Ambassadors for the King of the Universe. All we need do is to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Okay, back to the main thought. Peter responds to Jesus when the disciples are asked if they were also leaving. Peter boldly declares, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words (6) of eternal life” (John 6:68). Jesus has the message of life. This is the word by which we are birthed into the Kingdom of the Beloved.
Strangers and Aliens
The beauty of rebirth is seen in Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (2:19). Paul is telling us that we are citizens of the Beloved Kingdom. We are not natural born. However, neither is Israel. Their covenant is also by adoption. Paul gives both sides in Romans. Israel was adopted (9:4) as those not born of Israel are adopted (8:15). Paul understood this heritage.
Judaism taught that the covenant (election) and obedience (human response) was the basis of their adoption. To act righteously was the mark of Sonship (Wisdom 2:18; cf. Matthew 5:9; Hosea 1:10ff.). This concept varied from the Hellenistic mystery religions where the relationship was gained by means of initiation ceremonies. The Greeks were not looking for a close relationship or fellowship with the god. They wanted a “substantial interchange with and participation in it.”8 In other words, they wanted to be gods. Their motives were selfish.
Once done, all responding to the message have full access as adopted children. Thus, we have a royal heritage; a royal nature that is inherent in us by (re)birth. There are many more analogies used in Scripture to portray the Christian Life such as body (Ephesians 1:22-23), grafted limbs (Romans 11:17-19), etc. God wanted to make sure that he gave us enough pictures so that there could be little misunderstanding regarding our nature. Additionally, there is one more imagine that is vital to our reflection on the nature of the participants in the Beloved Kingdom — Renewal. The renewal concept will help answer the questions raised by John in reference to Christianity and sin.
Paul’s concept of humanity was not like that of the Greeks who thought the flesh was weak and sinful, naturally evil. Rather, he saw them as two parts of a whole. One view of Paul’s concept is found in 2 Corinthians 4:16. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Paul puts this in contrast to the destruction (by suffering; 4:17-18) of the outer man vs. the daily renewal of the inner man.
The beauty of the renewal is in the fact that we no longer stand against God. In this new relationship, God becomes the one who is acting in us (Philippians 2:13). What we want and do is the response of having the mind of Christ and what he wants. However, if the Spirit has not gained full partnership with our minds and wills, our desire does not turn into God’s work (Galatians 5:17) (7). Renewal begins by changing your mind (repentance) regarding the person and nature of Jesus. Your ultimate desire now is to think like Christ (Philippians 2:5). To hear the message of the Gospel and acknowledge Jesus’ divine nature and mission, you will first need to empty yourself (as he did; Philippians 2:7). In emptying himself, he gave himself over to “the self-giving humility and self-denying impoverishment of the divine manner of being" (8). When we empty ourselves of our pride in our human condition, we are fertile ground for the living, active word of God to take root. “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:6-7). With a mind thinking Christ-like thoughts, “no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception” (Colossians 2:8). “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15). “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell (9) on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
(1) Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, vol. 14, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 297.
(2) In Chapter 6 of Non-Negotiable: Focusing on the Essentials of the Faith, I stated, “This concept sounds incarnational to me.” The term quasi-incarnational may be more appropriate in that we did not gain new flesh as you would have at birth. Rather, what we gain is a new nature. Since I am not a dualist to the extent that I see an absolute separation of the two natures, the habitation of the Spirit in us gives this a similar understanding as incarnation in relationship to Jesus. Additionally, if you can grasp this, it may help you conceive how a piece of unleavened bread can also be an incarnation (quasi-incarnational) event that is initiated by the Spirit at the Table prayer.
(3) We are hearing in the way Jesus desires when he anticipates that those with ears hear! (Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8)
(4) Γεννάω, gennaō; the word used by Peter in 1:3 and 1:23 is a compound derived from ginōskō. Ana holds the idea of anew or again.
(5) A. Ringwald, “Birth, Beget, Bear, Become, Miscarriage, Regeneration, Well-Born,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 176.
(6) This is the term for the message (rhēma) of eternal life, not logos.
(7) D. Müller, “Thelō,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 1021.
(8) M. Lattke, “kenoō,’ Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, eds. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 282.
(9) logizomai, reckon, think, credit (J. Eichler, “Λογίζομαι,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 822.). Think on these things is a more accurate understanding of Paul intent.
* This page is an excerpt from is my book Non-Negotiable: Focusing on the Essentials of the Faith. The book goes into more detail on many of these issues.
Last update: 9 September 2015