“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 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, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9–13, NASB95)
In the next verses after these we will read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. One of the fifty-cent descriptive words used by Christians that is not found in the Bible is the word “incarnation.” It is a Latin term “en carne” or “in flesh,” and in using this they are specifically speaking about the Son of God, being fully God becoming also fully man. We will look at this again in the next verses, but for now John is telling us that the Christ (Jesus) who is the Word and the true Light did indeed come into the world. And being in the world He enlightens or gives light to ever man. He did not come to shine on only a few but to shine on all. The problem is that not all were receptive, and because of their hardness of heart and their unbelief they were left in darkness—not receiving the Light. This was true of the people He personally encountered and it has been true of people since who have heard of Him and yet have refused to believe. This was particularly true of the Jews that He walked among and with whom He spoke and before whom He performed miracles. His own people—the Jews, rejected Him.
John went on to say that Jesus even went to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. At the end of Matthew chapter 13, after Jesus had finished speaking the parables recorded earlier in the chapter, He went back to His hometown. They saw Him as the son of the carpenter and Mary. They knew Him and his brothers, and His sisters were still there. They did not believe Him to be who He was proving Himself to be. They denied the truth in order to appease their perceptions. Matthew records, “And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:57–58, NASB95) And as such they remained, at least for the time being, in unbelief.
The amazing thing with God in passages such as this is the “but.” Here we read, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God….” While there were and continue to be many who reject Jesus, there are those who didn’t and haven’t rejected Him but have received Him. To these, the ones who received Him, they were given the privilege of becoming children of God. When we look at the word “received” it has the meaning of taking it into our hand or taking a hold of it. These who receive are the ones who hear the message, believe it, and take the gift given them into their hands for themselves. It is one thing to know all of this to be true, and to believe that Jesus is even capable of doing all that He said and that Scripture declares that He was sent for. But having this knowledge alone is worthless, unless it is acted on. In receiving or personally accepting His salvation for ourselves we take the gift off of the shelf and make it personal, and we do this by belief. It is one thing to know that chairs are for sitting in, and that a particular chair is trustworthy to hold you, but to actually sit on it takes action—action which in this case is personally accepting for ourselves God’s gift of salvation. One commentator put it this way: “To receive Him who is the Word of God means to acknowledge His claims, place one’s faith in Him, and thereby yield allegiance to Him.” (MacArthur Study Bible)
Obtaining the right to become children of God not a path that we are then set on, which if we continue along we will achieve the goal of becoming children (as some teach). But it is something given to us fully at the point that we accept God’s gift. It is something that we then own; it is ours, and what is ours is that we become children of God. Having accepted Jesus we then have the full authority—the right—to claim our position as children of God. Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15, NASB95) And in verse 17 he added, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17, NASB95) In the American Declaration of Independence we read of certain inalienable rights, meaning not to be separated from as they were not given by man and man cannot sever them. Having the right to become children of God is a right given to us at salvation and it is one that cannot be severed. It is who we then are, and God will not let go.
John went on to clarify this in the rest of the passage we are looking at today. “…even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The way we gain this right is by belief in His name—the name and the person of Christ. These are the ones who are born again of God. We were all born of flesh and as flesh we will one day die (unless Jesus returns for His church first). This is the course of man since the fall—since man first sinned in the garden through Adam. At that time man spiritually became darkened and was judged dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Man needed to be saved, and he was unable to do this for himself. He was and is guilty, and he is subject to the consequences of guilt, which is death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NASB95) Here is where God provides another “but” in the free gift of eternal life given to us by God through His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Man cannot be born again physically as if to start all over again. Reincarnation is a fanciful pipe dream of man—a pipe dream of trying over and over again until he gets it right. But the reality is that he will never get it right and he will never be good enough in his own effort. This is not what the Bible speaks of when it says that we must be born again. New life is given to us by belief in Christ, and this life will never perish but is eternally ours as children of God. And this life is given to us by the Light who came to shine and illumine our hearts, and more than that, to pay the penalty for our sins and to give us new life.