Let’s Stop Talking about the “Good Ole Days”!

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I call for a moratorium on white evangelicals talking about the “good ole days” when the United States was a godly nation. Why? Because it never was. Sure, there were times when on particular issues our nation has reflected certain biblical values better than at other times, but our nation has always been a nation of sinners who have been guilty of grievous sins. Let me be candid, it is easy for white evangelicals to romanticize the past because by and large the previous eras in American history were not marked by injustices to our ancestors. Of course, during every era we have had faithful men of God standing up and preaching the truth, and that’s exactly what we need today. However, when we idealize a particular era while glossing over its sins, we lose our credibility to proclaim the Word of God. Our authority must always be Scripture and not culture, not even 1950s culture.

If you’re looking for the godly era in American history, where will you find it? Not in the 1600s, when those who came for their own religious liberty refused that liberty to others by persecuting any who dared to dissent. Not in 1776, when those who declared all men to be created equal refused to treat blacks equally. Not in 1861-1865, when we fought a Civil War over whether states had a right to secede from the Union to preserve racial slavery as an institution. Not in the 1950s when racism was prevalent and institutionalized and many who sang “Jesus loves all the little children…red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” verbally and physically assaulted those who had a different color of skin. Not in 1973, when in the name of privacy and personal freedom mothers were given the right to murder their unborn children. Not in 2015, when evidence abounds that deep-seated racism still flourishes in certain quarters of American life. There is no golden age in American history. There are only eras where certain sins are tolerated, endorsed, and institutionalized. The golden age of American history is a myth.

In what I’m proposing, I don’t want in any way to denigrate an entire group of people. Certainly, not all white Christians engaged in or supported the societal sins cited above. In fact, there are heroic examples of white Christians standing beside their black brothers and sisters to speak the truth to power. I also don’t want to discount the tremendous strides in human flourishing brought about by white evangelicals, particularly here in America. There is much to celebrate and remember fondly in our history, but we have to acknowledge the darker side of our past as well. Our past and present is a mixed-bag of both good and evil. We cannot accept one while ignoring the other. To put it more forcefully, we cannot praise the good, without condemning the evil.

We need to realize that whenever we talk about those bygone eras nostalgically, eras in which the ancestors of our black brothers and sisters were enslaved, beaten, hanged, and otherwise mistreated, we are communicating that we would rather go back to the days when white Christians were more respected and coddled, even if that means our black brothers and sisters would be subjugated and mistreated. I trust that most who use this language don’t mean this, but multiple conversations with my black friends indicate that this is exactly what they hear when such language is used.

If the above is not what we are trying to communicate, let’s find a better way to say what we mean that doesn’t communicate such an offensive message. Instead of talking about “Taking Back America” or “Reclaiming Our Culture,” let’s talk about calling all people in all cultures to repentance for their sins. If we do this honestly, we will not only renounce the sins of our day, we will also forthrightly acknowledge and condemn the sins of our white Christian ancestors.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Gospel

Today in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. That’s new. It’s impossible to overestimate the historic nature of this decision and the sweeping ramifications that this decision will have on American life.

What isn’t new is our responsibility to love our gay and lesbian neighbors, to share the gospel with them, and to call upon them to repent of their lifestyle. We are to do this not out of hatred or fear, but out of love. We should love all of our neighbors, friends, and relatives enough to call upon them to trust in Christ and turn from their sin. By doing this for our gay and lesbian friends, we are not singling them out, but are simply delivering the same message to them that has delivered us and will deliver all kinds of sinners.

Marriage as defined by God is still the same–one man, one woman for one lifetime. No court decision will ever change that. I will continue to preach and teach this and will only perform ceremonies for biblical marriages, not because I want to deny happiness to others, but because I believe that the only way for people to be truly happy is to function as their Creator designed them.

What is legal isn’t always moral and what is moral isn’t always legal. In this case, as in all others, let us commit to recognize God’s authority rather than man’s. Let us uphold the biblical teaching on marriage. Let us even more steadfastly proclaim the biblical gospel that declares that unrepentant sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers will not go to heaven, but “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Book Review: Baptists in America: A History by Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins

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In Baptists in America: A History, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, both professors of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, show how American Baptists have functioned alternatively as outsiders and insiders in American culture. Tracing Baptists from their beginning in the new world as a persecuted minority all the way to their late 20th-century prominence in the culture wars, Kidd and Hankins demonstrate that individual Baptists have often enjoyed acceptance while others have been maligned. It is a compelling narrative expertly told.

The authors are to be commended for not merely painting with a broad brush, but for dipping down into some of the individual stories and weaving the narratives together seamlessly. More than merely descriptive, Kidd and Hankins also delve into how theology shaped practice in particular areas. Most fascinating in this regard is their analysis of how the “soul competency” theology of Edgar Young Mullins (4th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) accounts for how even progressive Southern Baptists were so little engaged in the Civil Rights movement (221-225).

While excellent overall, as a frequent reader of Baptist history I thought certain treatments were the best I have seen heretofore in an American Baptist survey text. I thought the treatments of “Baptists and Slavery” (chapter 6), “Baptist Schism in the Early Twentieth Century” (chapter 10), “Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement” (chapter 12), and “Schism in Zion: The Southern Baptist Controversy” (chapter 13) were especially well done. What made these treatments unique was the balanced way in which these controversial topics were discussed with an apparent attempt to understand and explain the why and how behind developments that could be viewed both positively and negatively.

Even the conclusion (chapter 14) is fruitful as the authors explore the markers of Baptist identity, briefly discussing important distinctives such as religious liberty, soul liberty, the authority of Scripture, and the separation of church and state. This book focused on the dual nature of Baptists variously and at sundry times as insiders and outsiders. This evidence is surveyed in the concluding chapter; but the authors also seek to drop some conclusions about what makes a Baptist a Baptist. Noting the extreme diversity of Baptists, they rightly show that we cannot “make broad claims about what makes Baptists distinct.” Instead, we should talk about what “most” or “some” Baptists believed and did. Nevertheless, the authors do propose “three features that mark all Baptists throughout history”: (1) Baptism for believers only, (2) independence of local congregations, (3) Willingness to call themselves Baptists (251).

I recommend this book to all who want to understand the history of Baptists in America or the impact of Baptists on American culture (and vice versa). It will serve as an excellent textbook for a history of religion in America or American Baptists elective course on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This book raises all the important issues and will make for a great discussion starter, while at the same time being a competent guide, for the doctrinal and practical issues that have been, and continue to be, debated by Baptists. This book could also prove useful for those from other religious traditions, or “none,” who want to understand the complexity, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, identity of Baptists.

Andrew Fuller’s Dying Hope

On this date (May 7, 1815) 200 years ago, Baptist theologian and pastor Andrew Fuller died. Andrew Fuller was the theologian behind William Carey and the Modern Missionary Movement. His most famous work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, made the case for the universal responsibility of believers to take the gospel to the lost and for the universal responsibility of the lost to respond to the gospel message. Fuller, a Calvinist, had written much against hyper-Calvinism, a distortion of biblical teaching that resulted in a refusal to offer the gospel indiscriminately to all. After preaching what would prove to be his final sermon, Fuller dictated a later to Dr. John Ryland, Jr. In the letter he asked his old friend to preach his funeral sermon from Romans 8:10, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

He went on to say in the letter:

I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign and efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour: with this hope I can go into eternity with composure. Come, Lord Jesus, come when Thou wilt! Here I am; let Him do with me as seemeth Him good.

After closing the letter, he raised both hands and repeated the same sentiment from the letter with emphasis: “If I am saved, it will be by great and sovereign grace!  I have no raptures, but no despondency. My mind is calm. My God, My Saviour, my Refuge, to Thee I commit my spirit. Take me to Thyself. Bless those I leave behind.”

He then set up on his bedside and said, “All my feelings are sinking, dying feelings.” His wife was noticeably upset, so Fuller added, “We shall meet again. All will be well.”

Fuller’s son, Andrew Gunton Fuller, records his eyewitness account of the deathbed scene when his father joined the heavenly choir.

The dread day—dreaded by all but himself—arrived when he must submit to the test the hope with which he had declared he could “plunge into eternity.” It was (as in the present year) Lord’s day, May 7th. A profound silence reigned in the room. Nothing was heard save the measured breathing of the dying man. He seemed to have lost his consciousness, and to have entered on the borderland between worlds. No one thought now of trying to win his attention, when the sound of solemn psalmody was heard through the wall that separate the apartment from the congregation assembled for worship. His attention was roused; he tried to raise himself. Turning to my sister Sarah he said, “I wish I had strength enough.” “For what, father?” “To worship, child.” “Come, Mary, come and help me.” He was by careful and united effort raised up. He seemed to sing “with the spirit and the understanding” without the bodily accompaniment; then, joining his hands as in earnest prayer, the only words distinctly heard were “Help me!” and within half an hour from the time of rousing himself he joined the “everlasting song.”

Never, perhaps, had the choirs of earth and heaven been in nearer proximity—the dying pastor was the connecting link. If the eye of our faith sees that which is invisible, it will scarcely be a gratuitous imagination that hears in like manner the mingling of heavenly with earthly harmonies as we approach the innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.

Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller. Men Worth Remembering (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882),188-190.

A. W. Tozer on Spirituality in the Age of Machines

In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer indicted 20th-century Christians for their lack of patience in spiritual activities. If this was true then, how much more is it true today. In the selection below, Tozer describes the contemporary practice and then gives some of its “tragic results.”

The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948), 69-70.

Prayer for 2015 Kentucky Victims’ Rights Day

Today I had the opportunity to pray the prayer of invocation for the Kentucky Victims’ Rights Day Commemoration held in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol building. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Attorney General. Below is the text of the prayer that I prayed.

O God, we pray to you who King David of Israel said is “The LORD [who] works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6) and “The LORD [who] is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9) You are the one true God who hears and answers prayer.

As the Psalmist prayed, we pray today:

Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. (Psalm 10:12)
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear (18) to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17-18)

As Asaph prayed, we pray today:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (4) Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4)

As Solomon prayed, we pray today:

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! (Psalm 72:4)

We pray for those who have been victims of crimes and for the survivors of those who have been victims of crimes.

We’re thankful for this day that has been set aside to remember those who have been and are victims of crime and injustice.

We’re thankful for government’s God-ordained role in restraining evil. We pray for our government and for each citizen in the words of King Lemuel in Proverbs 31 to:

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. (9) Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

We pray these things in the name of the only 100% innocent man who ever lived, the victim of the most cruel crime ever committed, the sinless Son of God, who willingly gave Himself in the place of all who would put their trust in Him. In Jesus’ name we pray these things. Amen.

“Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son”: A Biblical Theology of Sonship

On yesterday at Farmdale Baptist Church I departed from my typical type of exposition in order to preach a message that traced the idea of sonship throughout the Old and New Testaments. You can listen to the audio below and I have included my notes beneath the audio links. 

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In Hosea’s sermon recorded in chapter 11, the familiar themes of God’s judgment, the need for repentance and hope of restoration are found. But additionally there is in this text a window into the larger story of God’s plan of redemption. There are certain texts of Scripture which provide portals into this grand story of the Bible.

Such a text is Hosea 11:1. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Here we are given a glimpse into the larger story of the coming of Jesus of which the story of Hosea is a part. We know this because the inspired writer Matthew wrote in his gospel in 2:15 that when Jesus was carried by his parents to Egypt for his safety as an infant, his subsequent return out of Egypt fulfills Hosea 11:1. In Matthew 2:15, Matthew provides not only a way of interpreting Hosea 11:1, but the entire Old Testament.

Matthew interprets Hosea in the same way that Hosea interprets the Exodus. In Hosea, Israel is going back to Egypt in judgment (which typifies the impending captivity in Assyria), but a future day of restoration is coming: a new Exodus. As Matthew looks back at the Exodus through Hosea, he says that new exodus has come with the coming of Christ! In this morning’s message I would like to offer a biblical theology of sonship.

I. Adam – God’s Son through Physical Creation, Genesis 1:26-27.

In Genesis 1:26-27, man is said to have been created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (27) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

For this reason, Luke is able to call Adam “the son of God” in his genealogy of Jesus found in Luke 3:38. Likewise, all human beings share in this image of God and can be called the sons of God in that sense. There is a truth in the universal fatherhood of God which the liberals often speak of, but it is a partial truth (therefore an untruth). God is the father of all men through creation, but that won’t get anyone to heaven. You must become the sons of God through the new birth in order to go to heaven!

The fact that all mankind can be considered the sons of God gives the apostle Paul common ground upon which to speak in his sermon to the Greek philosophers at Mar’s Hill in Acts 17. There he said in verses 28-29:

for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (29) Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Paul elsewhere clearly states that mankind bears the image of Adam who bore the image of God, albeit imperfectly. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)

For this reason James appeals to the image of God that remains in man post-fall in James 3:8-9 by saying that we should not curse men “who are made in the likeness of God.”

II. Israel – God’s Son through National Election, Exodus 4:22.

But there is another sense in which Scripture speaks of this idea of sonship. In Exodus 4, Jehovah God is sending Moses back to Egypt to lead His people out of bondage and into the land of promise. God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh in vv. 22 and 23:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

This is no doubt what Hosea had in mind in Hosea 11:1 when he said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

But not only is the nation of Israel corporately spoken of as God’s son, but King David himself is promised that he would have a descendant who would be called “son” by God in 2 Samuel 7:12-14,

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (14) I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

And Isaiah raises the ante by saying that this “son” will be virgin-born and called Immanuel meaning “God with us”!

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

This “Child”, this “Son” is nothing less than the “mighty God,” the ruler whose kingdom will never end!

Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (7) Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

III. Jesus – God’s Son through Eternal Generation, Matthew 2:15.

Jesus is qualified to be called the son of God by virtue of his human birth. The genealogies of Matthew and Luke serve to show that Jesus is the son of David, Abraham and Adam. He is the descendant of Adam and therefore the son of God by physical creation as the only true man who ever lived. He is the descendent of Abraham and therefore the son of God through national election as the true seed of Abraham. He is the descendant of David and therefore heir to the throne of Israel and the title promised to David’s seed as son!

I believe that Matthew 2:15 is one of the hinges upon which the whole story of the Bible turns. This text ties together the theme of sonship found in both testaments. There Matthew writes

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (15) and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Commentators on both Hosea and Matthew agree. Derek Kidner in his commentary on Hosea 11:1 writes:

Not surprisingly the infant Christ, who summed up in His person all that Israel was called to be, was likewise threatened and delivered; and although the details differed, the early pattern was re-enacted in its essentials, ending with God’s Son restore to God’s land to fulfil the task marked out for Him. (Derek Kidner, Hosea, 101-102)

Similarly, Craig Blomberg in his commentary on Matthew 2:15:

Just as God brought the nation of Israel to inaugurate his original covenant with them, so again God is bringing the Messiah, who fulfills the hopes of Israel, out of Israel, out of Egypt as he is about to inaugurate his new covenant. (Craig Blomberg, Matthew in NAC, 67)

Note the parallels of Jesus’ life and Israel’s experience in Matthew 1-7.

  • A wicked ruler
  • Murdered infants
  • Sojourn in Egypt
  • Departure from Egypt
  • Baptism Jordan River / Passing through Red Sea
  • Temptation in Wilderness
  • Sermon on Mount (New Covenant) / Mount Sinai (Old Covenant)

But if Israel failed in the Wilderness to obey the demands of the Old Covenant, Jesus succeeded. As D.A. Carson has noted,

In fact, Jesus is often presented in the New Testament as the antitype of Israel; that is, the true and perfect Israel who does not fail. If Israel is likened to a vine that produces disgusting fruit (Isa. 5), Jesus is the true vine who brings forth good fruit (John 15). If Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years and was frequently disobedient in the course of many trials and temptations, Jesus was sorely tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, but was perfectly obedient (Matt. 4:1-11). Israel in the Old Testament is the Lord’s son (Exod. 4:22, 23; Jer. 31:9); but Jesus, Himself a son of Israel, indeed a son of David, was supremely the Son of God; and therefore He re-enacted or recapitulated something of the history of the “son” (the nation of Israel) whose very existence pointed forward to Him. (D.A. Carson, God With Us, 18)

You may note also the theme of sonship in Matthew 3:17-4:4.

Grame Goldsworthy has likewise noted:

Jesus is looked upon as both the ideal Adam and the ideal Israel-that is, He is the people of God, the Seed of Abraham to whom all promises were made (see Gal. 3:16). Jesus as the Son of Adam (Son of man) accomplishes that which Adam failed to do; and likewise, as the true Israel, He does what Israel failed to do. Thus the temptation narratives show the reversal of Satan’s conquest of Adam in the garden and of Israel in the wilderness.

If Jesus is the true people of God, the true Adam and the true Israel, all the prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel to be the people of God must have their fulfillment in Him.
http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/articles/golds1.htm

But there is much more to Jesus’ sonship than merely physical descent from Adam, Abraham and David. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. The eternal second person of the Trinity. He did not become the Son of God at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. He has been the Son of God throughout all eternity. What I’m saying is that there was never a time when the Son was not!
The reason this is difficult for us to comprehend is because our human experience is quite different. Human fathers always precede their sons in time. But the Heavenly Father has eternally begotten His Son! The testimony of Scripture is clear:

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Likewise, the “I Am” statements of the Gospel of John are Jesus’ own declarations of His own eternal self-existence. John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am.” This is the contrast between the Son of God and all humans. Humans were, but Jesus is!

In Malachi 3:6 the Father declares, “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” and the inspired author of Hebrews likewise declares of the Son in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

IV. Believers – God’s Sons through Spiritual Regeneration, John 1:12-14.

The wonder of wonders is that we, the fallen sons of Adam, can be the sons of God! Not in the same sense in which the 2nd Person of the Trinity is the Son of God, but in relationship with Him we become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ!

Galatians 3:26-29 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (7) So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

1 John 3:1-2 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (2) Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

This is why the work of Sunrise Children’s Services is so important! This is why foster-care and adoption is so important! It is a picture of the gospel of what God has done for each and every believer! He has adopted us and placed us in His family and claimed us as His own!

This is also why the work of missions and evangelism is important! The reason we share the gospel, the reason we give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for the North American Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the International Mission Board, the reason we go on mission trips, the reason we have Vacation Bible School, the reason we need to share our testimonies, is because the gospel is about making people God’s children!

How do you know if you are one of God’s children? The evidence according to John 1:12 and 13 is reception of Him and belief in His name (which is the totality of His Person and Work). Have you received Him? Have you believed in His Name?