“What does faith receive in order to be justifying faith? The answer, of course, is that faith receives Jesus. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Faith saves because it receives Jesus.
But we must make clear what this actually means, because there are so many people who say they have received Christ and believed on Christ but give little or no evidence that they are spiritually alive. They are unresponsive to the spiritual beauty of Jesus. They are unmoved by the glories of Christ. They don’t have the spirit of the apostle Paul when he said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). This is not their spirit, yet they say they have received Christ. It looks as though it is possible to “receive Christ” and not have him for what he is.
One way to describe this problem is to say that when these people “receive Christ,” they do not receive him as supremely valuable. They receive him simply as sin-forgiver (because they love being guilt free), and as rescuer from hell (because they love being pain free), and as healer (because they love being disease free), and as protector (because they love being safe), and as prosperity giver (because they love being wealthy), and as creator (because they want a personal universe), and as Lord of history (because they want order and purpose). But they don’t receive him as supremely and personally valuable for who he is. They don’t receive him the way Paul did when he spoke of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” They don’t receive him as he really is – more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more satisfying, than everything else in the universe. They don’t prize him or treasure him or cherish him or delight in him.
Such a “receiving” of Christ is the kind of receiving an unregenerate, “natural” person can do. This is a “receiving” of Christ that requires no change in human nature. You don’t have to be born again to love being guilt-free and pain-free and disease-free and safe and wealthy. All natural men without any spiritual life love these things. But to embrace Jesus as your supreme treasure requires a new nature. No one does this naturally. You must be born again (John 3:3). You must be a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). You must be made spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1-4). “No one can say Jesus is Lord (and mean it) except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).”
Excerpted from John Piper’s new book, “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God” (pages 71-72).