But as many as received him, he gave them the authority to become children of God, to those who believe on his name: those (born) not from blood nor from will of the flesh nor from will of man but born from God. (John 1:12-13)
Yesterday, we saw in John 1:10-11, that there are two tragic ‘buts’. That is not, however, the end of the story: here there is another ‘but’: “but as many as received Him…”
A classic debate that can impact the Christian faith is the determinism versus free-will question. Are our actions totally determined by God such that we have no choice in the matter, or are we wholly free to do as we choose? As with many such complex issues, trying to find a middle course is desirable. We are presented with one here in these verses.
On one hand, it is true that we can choose to be followers of God; God gives free-will; He does not want anyone to follow Him unwillingly because He desires relationship. We see this in John’s descriptors: “as many as received him” and “to those who believe on his name”. These represent choices by the believer.
The Incarnation, however, concerns God moving towards us in the person of Jesus Christ. So, on the other hand, there is divine agency: God is determined to seek us out. Here, there are three things from which God’s children are not born: blood, fleshly desire, human desire. Instead they are “born from God”. We cannot enter the family of God by our own efforts. Scripture also shows that God chooses disciples to join with Him in making other disciples (cf. John 15:16).
We see further middle ground in the middle of the verse: “he gave them authority to become children of God”. The wonderful privilege of being in God’s family is wholly – and powerfully – conferred upon us by Him. I often need reminding that I am a child of God. Yet, the moment we trust in Jesus, we enter unconditionally into His family. Belonging to his family, which implies discipleship, however, is an ongoing activity: we are also growing as children of God – collaborating with a God who elects; but who lovingly gives us freedom to choose to walk with Him.