Commentary by Fred Pruitt
Gospel of John, Study 5, Chapter 1:12, “To them gave He power to become the sons of God”
1:12b To them gave he power to become the sons of God…
This is an enormously potent statement. It is one of the most powerful declarations in the entire book of scripture. Explanations, how’s and whys are elsewhere – some of them appear later in John’s gospel. But John dispenses with all that with this all-inclusive, all-summing-up-God’s-intent, statement of purpose and fact — to become the sons of God!
This is unconditionally literal. John’s gospel has this wonderful quality to it that is poetic and mystical, but that quality cannot fool us into just appreciating its beauty or being hypnotized by the quality itself. It is not just beautiful words or a beautiful story. No, take away the poetry and the mysticism and what is left is stark, naked truth. What John is telling us is that Jesus did not come to start the Christian religion, or to be simply an object of religious adoration. Nor did He come just for the forgiving us of our sins in order to take us to heaven when we die. That is only the preparatory step, which was necessary to bring into effect the full eternal plan of the Father.
This gospel, more than any other, gets right to the heart of the meaning of redemption – GOD WANTS SONS! Sonship is not something just done for us, but INCLUDES us in every sense of the word.
The synoptic gospels partly portray Jesus as something of an apart-from-us Savior, Healer, and coming King. He fulfills the prophecies, performs miracles, and accomplishes the work of the Cross. His work is separate from us and He is doing it for us, to forgive us, redeem us, and make us acceptable to the Father in heaven. This work is legitimately “apart” from us, because it is a task only Jesus can perform, as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” It can only be the work of the only Begotten of God. He redeems us, reconciles us, by the shedding of His Blood, and no one can substitute any other sacrifice or act that can accomplish this eternal miracle of love. It is exclusively the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, alone.
But also, ironically, Jesus appears in a way almost as a Second Moses, as a greater and more universal lawgiver than even Moses was, because Jesus raises the standard of righteousness, from mere obedience to precepts – outward acts – to the condition of the heart, demonstrated in deeds of perfection, e.g., showing love, mercy, compassion, etc. The Jesus presented in those gospels became the defacto standard of righteousness for the whole world, with every faith in every country in some sense acknowledging that He was a model of a perfect Man, Man as he should be, a Man whose example anyone should and ought to follow. (Though anyone actually following Jesus’ example has historically received the same reactions Jesus did. As much as the world and the church has standardized His example as perfect, they call anybody crazy who attempts it, and claim its utter impossibility!)
This worldwide perception of the man Jesus, by God’s design, has placed the whole world under the condemnation of the law, for the sole purpose that through the condemnation of the law, we might know the grace of God. The Old Testament legal system only applied to Jews, and Christians knew that well enough. Paul battled that out in the early church, though his real battle was hardly understood, since the majority still saw it as something outward and having to do with outer rules of conduct and attitudes. And the church by and large has never moved past that limited sight.
But people of other faiths also saw the old do’s and don’ts replaced by Jesus’ stated law of love and self-sacrifice, and by acknowledging the righteousness of that law, unconsciously acknowledged their own guilt according to the law. On the surface that almost sounds cruel of God, to put men in a place where they experience guilt and condemnation, but it is really mercy and loving grace, because there is no other way to penetrate the hard, almost impenetrable, Satanic veneer of self-righteousness, darkened understanding, and independent self-consciousness and will, which we have all inherited in Adam.
Therefore it is the mercy and love of God, that even apart from the Cross, Jesus stands before the whole world as the example of what man should or could be, but never can be, no matter how hard the striving or how earnest the seeking. Jesus put forth to the whole world an impossible standard, thus making, not just the Jews in Palestine or their Roman occupiers guilty before God, but indeed, as the Christian message spread at least nominally throughout the whole world, the whole world, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, has come face to face with its plain guilt before God. Because of Jesus, all the world knows that, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Faced with the plain example of the Carpenter from Nazareth, honest men and women throughout the whole world must cry out, as the Jewish believers (from every nation) did on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
From that we have our gospel of salvation offered to every man, available to everyone who accepts and believes. This is the door of entry into the kingdom of God, through Christ the Son.
Therefore, placing the gospel of John after the synoptic gospels is another demonstration of the genius of the Holy Spirit. They act as a setup for John, because John takes it from the gospel of the law, which brings people to the Cross for their own redemption, into the gospel of the Sonship, where we as One Person with Christ become intercessory sons in ourselves, corns of wheat that fall into the ground and die, for the reconciliation of the heavens and the earth.
God, from the creation of Adam until now, has desired sons. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world, is the means by which He accomplishes His eternal goal – to populate the earth and the whole cosmos with sons who do His will, who lay down their lives to the death in order that life unto life may come forth in blessing.
“To them gave He power …” O what a word. What vortexes of meaning and sound swirl around this word. Power – authority, rule, command, clout, strength, influence, supremacy, muscle, control. Dunamis. Dynamite. Dynamic. Dynamo.
That is man’s definition of power. They have even ascribed that definition to God. And from merely man’s point of view, viewing God as an extension of their inner image of themselves, God is like that.
And it would not be wrong in certain circumstances to speak of God according to some of the above definitions or synonyms for power.
But the “power” God gives us to become His sons, is not like man’s definitions and understandings of power.
We must first understand that the power God gives us to become His sons is God Himself. He IS all power. No power exists anywhere, on the earth, in the heavens, even in hell, except the power of God. Because the being of God IS power; it is He Himself.
The human idea of power is a force to be used to accomplish things. It is something separate from the person himself and something he must acquire in order to use it.
But God only wills and speaks a word and it is so. He exerts no “influence, force, or muscle,” because He does not need to. There is no one He needs to impress with His ability, to “prove Who He is.” God does not need to prove Himself, nor does He need us to prove Him. He is Himself the proof, and anyone who desires to know Him may call out and He will hear and respond to any seeking heart. It is His promise.
But for us, the power of God is the power to lay down our weapons. The weapons of our fleshly defenses. The weapons of self-protection and aggrandizement. The power of God is to go where He is, inwardly in ourselves, into a death of self-ability and independence. It is a cessation of the strife of fighting for ourselves, of continual defending and proving ourselves. This “power” God gives us (Himself) takes unto into a total committal in heart and confession through to the full death of, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” And there in that “power,” we leave all to God – all reputation, all hope of judgment of performance, for all that we are, in any state or any endeavor.
Jesus said, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33). This IS the forsaking all that we have, that in the power of God, which is spirit meekness, as well as spirit and fleshly weakness, that we lay down the false self-power of the flesh. We begin to live in the unseen and unfelt Person Who has created all things. This is the truth in the most personal sense (never mind the rest of the cosmos), because moment by moment we see His unfolding of our lives in front of our eyes. He is creating our lives in each successive moment! AND working it ALL together for good. ALL of it, is perfectly working out the good of God. God’s “good” IS good!
That is why we say that in this power He “gave,” we live in spirit meekness. This is because we have, in some small way, seen God as Isaiah did in the temple (Is 6). Not necessarily by a literal vision as we imagine, but any sense in which by the Almighty we have been brought onto our faces, in awe, praise and love. If we have seen this in our hearts, then we also in some way begin to know that we are, even now inwardly, living in this Word of God: “Know ye that the Lord, he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3).
We say it is spirit weakness because in this vision of the Almighty, having come into an infinite depth of spiritual meekness, we likewise take no spiritual power unto ourselves. We remain “as one dead,” and stay there, until the Spirit sets us on our feet Himself, and then we only go when we are sent.
We find ourselves in fleshly weakness because in knowing Him in meekness the flesh is buffeted because of it. It is the most common thing we think, that because our flesh is buffeted, that there is something not fully right about us, or that some improvement is needed in order to change our own circumstances or those around us in others. But the flesh (outer self, life and circumstances) is purposely held in weakness that the power of God might be manifest. The power of God does not come as man sees, but as God speaks. When we are weak, the apostle said, then are we strong (2 Cor 12:10). The weakness remains, and the hidden (“way you know not of”) strength of God is found in it.
This is the power God gives, for the Sons He desires. They are sons who lay down their own lives, as God directs, to be life for others. They are sons who are grains of wheat that fall into the ground – and die.
This is the Son He makes us to be, as we step by step abide in Him, as living branches of the True Vine.
Remembering continually that it is not our responsibility to “become” these sons. As He promised to “make us” fishers of men, so also HE makes us to be these sons. “It is HE who hath made us, and not we ourselves.”