John 1:12 – The Right to Become Children of God

Gospel of John


But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

As many as received Him. There is no constraint specified as to who received Him. This doesn’t mean just Jews: “as many as” means, anyone who received Him.

So, He came into the world, and there is this notion of receiving. Somehow some people are receptive and some people are not receptive. This receptivity is the division. So the question is, what does it mean to “receive” Him?

Receiving is a more passive activity. It doesn’t say “as many as seized Him” or “as many as searched Him out” or “as many as took hold of Him.” It doesn’t say “as many as pleased Him” or “as many as made Him Lord.” These are intentional active things. Receiving means you are sitting there, and someone comes along and offers you something, and you say, “OK, thanks!”

The opposite of receiving is rejecting. We could rephrase this as “He came to His own, and those who were His own rejected Him. But as many as did not reject Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…”

So we may want to nail down the meaning of “receive” to something more specific, but in this passage it is not given. The important core concept is extremely simple: either you reject Him or you receive Him. Maybe you misunderstand baptism or whatever, but these understandings will play out according to whether you reject Him or receive Him.You will look at the scriptures and listen to His teachings and form your opinions and rationalize things either as a receiver or a rejecter.

“As many” indicates a plurality. They, in community, are given the right to become children of God. He came to create this community, this family of children who believe.

to them He gave the right to become children of God. He gave the right. It is not earned, it is a gift. He is offering a free gift, and the only difference between the children of God and others is whether they receive it or reject it. It is a gift crafted and brought and offered from God by God’s initiative.

They are given the right to become children of God. It isn’t simply that they are given something which they have no honest claim to. They are given the circumstance in which justice demands that they be recognized as children of God. This is extremely powerful. It lifts the idea of being a child of God from religious mumbo jumbo to the level of forceful strong justice. It means that I don’t just say I am a child of God — justice demands that everyone in the universe recognize the claim of justice upon me, that I am a child of God. If you dispute my identity as a child of God, you commit an injustice, because I haven’t just been given the title, I’ve been given the right.

They are given the right to become children of God. I don’t think this indicates a gradual attainment, it means a sudden shift. It is the Greek work “ginomai” which among other things listed in the lexicon, means “to be assembled, to be, to be brought to pass, to be divided.” None of these are gradual transformation ideas. The thing this also indicates is that we are not just “called” or “named” or even “numbered among” children of God. It isn’t just “positional,” whatever that means. We become  children of God. This is a change of identity. It is related to the word “genetic” or “genesis” which relates this (especially because what we are becoming is a child!) to the idea of second birth. There is a very fundamental change indicated which is more than just a label.

Even to those who believe in His name. “Even” to me indicates a lowest common denominator. There may be people who “make Him Lord” or take up their cross and become true disciples or plumb the depth of His propitiatory death in relation to the Levitical sacrifice laws, but if you just believe in His name, you are given the right to become a child of God.

If you receive Him, even simply believing in His name, then when it comes down to things like “propitiation” and “justification” and such, you are open to the truth of it and you say, “yes”. If you don’t receive Him, you resist. It is kind of like operating a car. You don’t need to understand how the engine works, but your driving skills aren’t what runs the car. Somewhere, under the hood, the engine is working correctly whether you understand how it works or not. Receiving Jesus implies the incarnation, the trinity, the wrath of God, penal substitution, faith, and all kinds of things like that. You may eventually come to understand some of that, and it will support your faith. Your belief in His name wouldn’t be worth a penny if those things weren’t all there and very true. If you truly and sincerely believe in Muhammed, it doesn’t work because those things are not in Muhammed.

Leon Morris notes that in antiquity, the “name” is not simply a convenient label. It isn’t as Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. A person’s name stood for everything that the person was and did.
page 99 Morris

It is like a scene where someone wants to get into an exclusive night club, and they can’t. Then a celebrity comes along, and not only can they easily get in, but they are that person’s friend. When they say, “and he is with me,” then he is able to get, because the celebrity has a name and therefore has authority to enter. When we ascribe authority and power and honor to Jesus’ name, we let Him in, and we let in all that He represents.

Here we have the introductory statement of the idea that belief is powerful and central. Mere belief qualifies one as being a child of God.

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One Comment

  1. This is so awesome. It really does take it down to the lowest denominator, “even to those who [merely] believe in His name. I hope this means that those of use with an OCD tormented brain, that when we fear we are damned, that just recalling the name “Jesus” is FAITH. It’s the same as “looking unto Him,” since it was he who died and rose, as a propitiation for our sins. Within His name is all that He is, and all that He has done. This is stupendous news for those of us who obsess over whether we *truly* believe, *truly” repent.

    I hope I understand this right, because it is one of the MOST encouraging things I have ever read.

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