John 1:12: "But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God..."
We will return to the above passage in a moment.
Heb. 12:9: "...the Father of our spirits..."
1 Cor. 6:17: "...joined unto the Lord... one spirit".
John 4:23-24: "...in spirit and in truth... God is Spirit".
Rom. 8:16: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God."
Then in completion of the sentence in John 1, verse 13: "...which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God".
We are beginning to consider the family of God, and this consideration will be in various connections and aspects of the family. Firstly, we consider the entrance into the family. That is seen to be by birth, and by birth only. That is the only way recognised by the Word of God. There are other ways known among us of becoming members of a family other than by birth. For instance, there is the adopting of children altogether outside of the family relationship, and by adoption making them members of the family. But no such thing is known in the Word of God. Adoption is often mentioned, but it means quite another thing. The only way of entering the family of the Lord recognised by the Word of God is by birth. We do not purpose dwelling upon the fact, but what we are concerned with is the nature of that inward birth; the nature of that which takes place which is called "birth from above", by which we come into the family of God.
There are several things which have to be borne in mind. In the first place, all men (not only saved but the unsaved) are composed of spirit, soul and body. In the second place, no man by nature has living union with God. In the third place, such living union with God is the result of a spiritual miracle called "new birth", being born anew.
The Canaanites - some of them at least - knew a considerable amount about Jehovah. It was discovered by the spies that Rahab had a good deal of information about Jehovah. She knew all about His wonders in Egypt and His deliverance of His people from Egypt; she had a measure of apprehension of the meaning of that and of the ultimate issue and the destiny of the people of Jehovah. But with all that she had no living union with Jehovah. In the same way the natural man, the unregenerate man, may have a good deal of knowledge about the Lord and may possess some considerable measure of apprehension of things about the Lord, but there is all the difference between such knowledge of the Lord and a living union with Him. That living union is only possible by reason of this miracle of being born anew.
Now, there are some other relative facts, one of which is that only like can have fellowship and communion in the truest way. Only those who are alike in nature and constitution can have fullest fellowship. We have heard of men who have spoken about communion with nature, communion with the trees, communion with the fields, communion with the birds, and finding a good deal of solace and comfort and help from that communion. But such leaves a good deal to be both desired and provided to answer really to the nature of man. In the truest and deepest things of a man's life he needs a man. He needs not a bird nor a dog, nor a tree nor a mountain; he needs someone made like himself, who shares his own nature. He may find a companionship of a kind in other realms, but he will never be a full man merely by that companionship. He will only come to the fulness of his manhood as he has fellowship with man. Only like can have fellowship and communion in the fullest and deepest and truest way.
The second thing which comes out of that is that God is a Spirit, and union and communion with God can never be had on any other basis than that of spirit. We can never have union and communion with God in our bodies. The same is true of our souls. For that union man must be pre-eminently and predominantly spiritual.
That brings us to the real nature of the new birth. The real nature of union with God is found in the way of new birth. "Spiritual" does not mean merely spiritual mindedness, in the way in which that is often spoken of or apprehended; that is, a gravitation towards the opposite of the material. Anything that is not merely material or materialistic is thought by many people to be spiritual. But the New Testament idea of spiritual mindedness is something other than that. It is what the man is in his essential being; he is spiritual.
We know what we are in our bodies. We know certain things about these bodies, that they have organs. We know we have a heart; we know we have lungs; we know that we have other appurtenances; and we know that we have functions.
In exactly the same way we have the appurtenances of the soul; our soul is made up of our faculty for reasoning and all the intellectual functions; the functions of our emotions: feelings, choice, decision, determination, willing. That is all very familiar and we say therefore the body is So-and-so; and its very constitution is of this character, with organs and functions. And the soul is So-and-so; but how are you going to demonstrate the soul, and prove that it exists? You can only demonstrate it by these functions. The old Greek philosophers would say: Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). The proof of my being is that I function in a certain way.
In exactly the same way the spirit is comprised of functions. Those functions are represented by the Scriptures as being distinct from the functions of the body, and the functions of the soul. They are something other, though very closely related.
It takes spirit, soul and body to make one whole man; and a whole man is not a spirit, a whole man is not a soul, a whole man is not a body. The three together make the whole man. That is what the apostle means when he says: "I pray God, your whole spirit, soul and body..." He does not mean your whole spirit, your whole soul or your whole body. But he says: "I pray God, your whole..." and your "whole" is spirit, soul and body.
While the three make one man, yet each has its own set of functions and faculties; and deeper and more inner than body or soul is your spirit. It is what the man is in the deepest reality of his being, and not simply that he has interests in things which are not merely material. This is seen in the Lord Jesus. He had all three. He was a Perfect Man. We know He had a body, although there have been those who have tried to prove that even the body of Christ was a myth. He had a soul and a spirit and both are referred to. The Word says that He was sorrowful in soul: "Now is My soul sorrowful." Then it is said that the Father did not leave His soul in Hades. Then elsewhere we are told that in His youth He "waxed strong in spirit"; "rejoiced in spirit"; "was troubled in spirit"; and finally He committed His spirit to God.
It is there, in that innermost reality of man's being, that the work of God in new birth has its first and primary place. We know quite well that no one born again is ever so physically. And the Lord Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus, when he allowed such a mentality to come into the matter, that he was in dark ignorance with all his understanding and with all his knowledge. "Are you a teacher in Israel and know not these things?" Nicodemus had raised the question of new physical birth, and the Lord Jesus brushes the whole thing aside and says in effect: That is not what I am talking about. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" and I am not talking about that; but "that which is born of the spirit is spirit", and that is what I am talking about. The thing may be of the same character as something else, and yet it may be very different as to its state. For instance, you may take two vessels, two vases. So far as those vases are concerned they are exactly similar. The material of which they are made, the shape, the size are just alike; no difference. And yet one of them may be clean and pure, and the other may be filthy and polluted. The illustration is not perfect, but it goes on the way to explaining what we mean.
God is a Spirit, and man has a spirit, and it is in that realm that you find what can come into absolute union. The spirit of the unregenerate man is corrupt, filthy, polluted and is degenerate, but it is there. And it is the miracle of God which takes that spirit out of its state of death spiritually. It may be very active, but active in death, pollution, corruption, filthiness and alienation from God. God takes that, gives it new life from above, quickens it with life which it does not possess and never has possessed; He renews it, lifts it, and by reason of depositing in it the Holy Spirit, joins it with Himself so that "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit". That is new birth. That is the way into the family, and there is no other way.
The Father is concerned with the whole man. He does not leave the soul and the body out of account. Redemption embraces all - the entire man. The spirit is the sphere in which redemption has its first expression; the soul receives through the spirit, and is the fruit of what is done in the spirit; and then eventually the body will come into the good of that. Already in Christ the whole humanity is redeemed. The Father is concerned with the whole, even now, but His centre, His base, and His vehicle is the spirit. He begins there and because that is so, He is called: "the Father of our spirits". All His interests and all his activities are in the direction of bringing about ascendancy there.
In the natural man it is not so. Either the body or the soul are in the ascendant. It may be the lusts and passions of the body that are dominating the life. Physical interests may be predominant. Or it may be the emotional or intellectual and the volitional mastering the life. But because God is a Spirit, and therefore must be primarily concerned with man's spirit and what is spiritual, in that sense the man must he brought to the place where it takes ascendancy and pre-eminence over all the rest of the man. Because that is so, the Father has to discipline in order to get the spirit into ascendancy and dominion, and it entirely depends upon the temperament and nature of the child with whom He is dealing as to what His methods are. If the soul-life of His child is the sphere of predominance and strength, then that soul life will be broken and weakened in order to bring the spirit into the right place. If the physical interests are pre-eminent, then it may be the Lord will have to touch the physical body. His object is not to weaken the whole man, but to bring the man's spirit into its right place, so that the whole man becomes spiritual in this sense: that the whole man is under the government of God, the Spirit, and He can only govern through spirit.
We can never know God by our reason, and we shall never know God by making up our minds to know Him with a great resolution and determination that we will know God. We can only know God through and in our spirit. Spiritual knowledge, then, demands that the spirit is in living, full function in fellowship with God; and it is so often the soul side that keeps the spirit down and suppressed, so that it does not function in fulness and liberty.
It is possible for a man to be marked by an analytical mind, so that he wants to argue out everything, reason out everything and subject everything to the microscope of his own brain, his own reason, and just see the whole thing right through in that way - not accept it until he can understand it like that. And so he becomes very analytical, very investigating in his mind over the thing, and until he can have the very best answer to all his questions from every side, he is not going to accept it. That man will make very slow progress.
The same will apply to one who thinks that by getting a mighty wave of religious emotion he is going to enter into the things of God. That is one of the great snares of the devil today. Religious emotion is no criterion; it is no ground of true spirituality.
Our knowledge of the Lord, the very remotest bit of it and the very first ray of it, depends upon our spirit being awakened and illumined by the Holy Spirit. Progress in the things of God is simply the growth of our inner man and not the acknowledgement of our intellectual capacity to grasp truth. We may have an increasing capacity, by reason of association and familiarity with truth, for grasping ideas and grasping truth and teaching. And that capacity may expand and expand until there is very little that is available to be grasped, and yet with such there may be the very smallest measure of real spirituality. We were once told by somebody that they had been to all the conventions for the last forty years and they knew all the teaching of all these different conventions, and they did not feel that there was anything fresh to be had; and from our own personal association with that person we knew that they had the very smallest spiritual capacity and the most limited measure of personal knowledge of the Lord. Spiritual knowledge is quite other than the grasp of truth and teaching.
The child of God is one whose spirit has been renewed and who has at the centre of their being a union and a communion with God which is not the possession of any man by nature, and which cannot come in any other realm but in the renewed spirit. Take Abram and Lot as an illustration of this. Abram heard God speaking to him and walked with God in an inner fellowship. Lot went the same way historically, but Lot walked with Abram, not with God. His was a second-hand walk with God, so to speak, and that is an illustration of the spirit and the soul. One has the first hand union with God; the other has a hearsay knowledge of God. The true family is of the first order. It may not be fully developed and it may be in its infant stage; but the true family is composed of those who have inner spirit union with God as the result of a supernatural act: new birth.
The "Father of our spirits" begins there, and continues there, and seeks the ascendancy of the spirit all the time over every other part of the being - if necessary breaking and emptying in order to bring everything in subjection to the spirit of the child of God, as in turn it is governed by the Holy Spirit. That is one way of looking at it.
The other way of looking at it is that the Lord is wanting us all the time to be strong in spirit and not primarily strong in natural mind, in soul, in will, in reason or argument, in analyses or in emotion; but something deeper. "Strengthened with might by His spirit into the inward man" a thing which, when emotion is dead or tumultuous and cannot be relied upon and when reason gets into a realm of absolute bewilderment, when the power of action and determination is paralysed, and all that outer part of soul sensibility can give us no help, but is rather against us; then to know an inward grip and an inward strength which keeps the poise, keeps the balance, keeps from getting under and letting go. That is not something done by God independently of ourselves, that is something done through and in the vessel of our spirits.
There are two ways of putting that, but they are only two halves of one thing. We can say: God's peace was in us. The other way to us is: We were kept in peace. And when we say "we", what do we mean? We certainly do not mean at such times that this outer part of us - our emotions, our reason - was all perfectly in harmony. No, we could not understand, we were full of fears and perplexity, and yet in the midst of it all we were kept in peace. The "we" means someone. It is not just some abstract thing, but that puts us in some place, in some vessel: our spirits. At that time we knew that we were like two different beings; there was one being all disturbed, fearful, agitated, perplexed; and yet there was another being more inward, deeper, that was not that at all. We knew that we were in the storm, but somehow the storm had not got right into the centre of us. There was a place where the storm never came.
All this is to explain the nature of new birth and what a child of God is. It is very important for us to understand that. We know the facts of new birth, but the nature is important to know because it will help us to understand the Lord's dealings with us.
The real triumph of the Lord Jesus is to be reproduced in our spirits. The Lord is constantly calling upon us in the midst of trial, of suffering, of sorrow, of pain, of anguish, not to go down under it, but to be strong in spirit. And, hard as it may seem, nevertheless the fact remains that in the midst of sorrow, and suffering, and trial, and difficulty, the measure of our real spiritual growth is discovered. The degree of our spiritual growth is measured by the degree in which we go down. The degree in which suffering, distress, anguish, pain and sorrow finds us in our spirits taking the ascendant, is the measure of our real spiritual growth. And so the Lord does not lessen the tests as we go on in the spiritual life; they grow and they increase. Every fresh and more intense trial is a challenge to our growth and development. He is the Father of our spirits, Who is seeking to have His children spiritually grow up.
None of us are content to have our children incapable of standing adversity and whenever some little difficulty comes along, making such a tremendous fuss of it, and training them to regard these things as real catastrophes. We are anxious when such things happen to make the child regard them as lightly as possible and get the child to be prepared for bigger things than that. We would all like our children to be real fire-eaters in the sense that they will get to face anything. We would not make too much of the trials, in order to get them to face bigger things. And the Father of our spirits is seeking to develop a capacity in our spirits for standing up to things and He does not shield us from things.
That is enough as a basis of this matter of what new birth is and what a child of God is. And you will find that all that has to do with the Lord's dealings with His children in the New Testament, is in that direction: that they shall be increasingly spiritual, which means they are growing in their union with Him and what He is and He is becoming increasingly what they are - strength, wisdom, knowledge, and all the things which are spiritual. Sometimes, by sheer bewilderment of the natural wisdom, God leads to spiritual knowledge through revelation. Thus He does not stop at allowing us to get into tight corners where natural reason is utterly at an end. Such a position makes possible and makes necessary, another kind of knowledge which is not natural at all but spiritual, and in such times is the crisis of a spiritual discovery. It has ever been so with the Lord's people.
The same holds good in other kinds of suffering. We discover that when we could not naturally endure the suffering or the sorrow, there is some other discovery to make of divine succour and grace and strength which is spiritual. We could not stand the strain any longer, we should snap; and then we make a discovery and that discovery is something spiritual and more than comes from nature, from ourselves, or from anyone else; it comes from God. That is growth. It is something of God, and that is an increase of God.