The Choices God Gives Us

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“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

First, God is looking for all “who received Him – those who believed….” The Greek word translated “received” conveys active, aggressive acceptance. It requires initiative, laying hold of, claiming, seizing and obtaining. It reminds me of these words Jesus also spoke to John:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”[11]

Jesus is standing there, speaking, behind the door, and He is waiting for us. He is waiting for us to respond to His voice and open the door. Then He will come in. We have to act. God makes the first contact – He speaks – but we have to initiate a response before He will come in. We have to open the door.

We cannot receive Him without believing. Those who received Him are those who believed. Believing is to be persuaded, but the Greek word that is translated “believe” can have different connotations. It can mean acquiescence, as in thinking a thing to be true. But, that isn’t enough to receive Jesus. We have to go a step further than that and place our confidence in Jesus.

Thinking a thing to be true does not necessarily lead to placing confidence in it. We can be persuaded that something is true without committing ourselves to it in confidence. We can believe in God and even in Jesus without receiving Him, laying a hold of Him. (But we can’t receive Him without believing.)

But this is only the first choice in John 1:12. This is where it get unnerving. We have an additional choice to make. To those who received Jesus, he gave “the right to become children of God”.  The Greek word translated “right” means a delegation of power or empowerment. It can mean a grant of the power of choice, the liberty to choose.

Once we receive Jesus and open the door to Him, he gives us the power to choose to become children of God. The Greek word translated “become” means to come into being, to emerge, to be born, to transition from one thing to another. It implies movement and growth.

We have to exercise our choice in becoming children of God. It is a right that God gives those who believe and receive Him. We must be born again, Jesus said, to see the kingdom of God[12], but becoming a child of God is more than a single event. The Greek word “expresses the idea of emerging from (a previous condition, form) and transitioning into the ‘next stage’”. It is a process, and we are involved in that process as an active agent.

The word is used in the aorist, present and perfect tense. This means that becoming a child of God is at once a finished action from the beginning, with ongoing, continual action/progression. Just as were are far from who we will be when we are born from the womb, yet we are fully born at the same time, so we are fully born a child of God when we receive Jesus and exercise the right He has given us, but we are just beginning the process at that point of becoming a child of God.

Clearly, though we are not passive lumps of clay in this process. From believing, we must receive, engage and lay hold of Jesus. From laying hold of Jesus, we must take the additional step of exercising the right of becoming a child of God.

We see these choices in the Gospels as Jesus encounters people. He called the disciples, and they responding by following Him. Others, like the rich young ruler, walked away. Many of the people who followed Jesus turned away when things got more difficult, prompting Jesus to ask the twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” But they replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life….”[13]

Interestingly, Jesus responds further, saying, “Did I not choose you”?

We can’t get away from the tension that the Scripture gives us. Does God choose us? Or do we choose Him? The answer seems to be, yes, on both accounts!

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[1] Hosos: how much, how many. It could be translated “however many” or “as many as”.

[2] Lambánō (from the primitive root, lab, meaning “actively lay hold of to take or receive,” see NAS dictionary) – properly, to lay hold by aggressively (activelyaccepting what is available (offered). lambánō (“accept with initiative“) emphasizes the volition (assertiveness) of the receiver. It can be translated “to take with the hand” or “lay hold of”. It can also be translated “to take to oneself” or “to make one’s own” as in to claim for oneself or to seize or apprehend. It connotes the act of choosing and obtaining for oneself.

[3] Pisteúō (from pístis, “faith,” derived from peíthō, “persuade, be persuaded”) – believe (affirm, have confidence); used of persuading oneself (= human believing) and with the sacred significance of being persuaded by the Lord (= faith-believing). Only the context indicates whether pisteúō (“believe”) is self-serving (without sacred meaning), or the believing that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith. I can mean “to think to be true” or “to be persuaded”, and it can also mean “to place confidence in”, but placing confidence in something doesn’t necessarily flow from thinking a thing is true or being persuaded a thing is true.

[4] Eksousía (from ek, “out from,” which intensifies eimí, “to bebeing as a right or privilege”) authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment (“authorization”), operating in a designated jurisdiction. In the NT, eksousía (“delegated power”) refers to the authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word). The authorization can imply grant of the power of choice, the liberty to choose, leave or permission. It can mean both authority (influence) and right.

[5] Gínomai – properly, to emerge, become, transitioning from one point (realm, condition) to another – to emerge, to be born. Gínomai fundamentally means “become” (becoming, became) so it is not an exact equivalent to the ordinary equative verb “to be”. It “signifies a change of condition, state or place” (Vine, Unger, White, NT, 109)”. It “means to come into being/manifestation implying motion, movement, or growth” (2 Pet 1:4).

[6] Téknon – properly, a child; (figuratively) anyone living in full dependence on the heavenly Father, i.e. fully (willingly) relying upon the Lord in glad submission. This prompts God to transform them into His likeness. téknon (“a child living in willing dependence“) illustrates how we must all live in utter dependence upon the Lord (moment-by-moment), drawing guidance (care, nurture) from our heavenly Father. Téknon emphasizes the childlike (not childishattitude of heart that willingly (gladly) submits to the Father’s plan. We profoundly learn this as we are receptive to Christ speaking His rhēma-word within to impart faith (cf. Ro 8:16, 17 with Ro 10:17, Greek text). Metaphorically, becoming a child mean being transformed to that intimate and reciprocal relationship formed between people by the bonds of love, friendship, trust, just as between parents and children

[7] Gennáō – properly, beget (procreate a descendant), produce offspring; (passive) be born, “begotten.”

[8] Thélēma (from thélō, “to desire, wish”) – properly, a desire (wish), often referring to God’s preferred-will,” i.e. His “best-offer” to people which can be accepted or rejected. [Note the ma suffix, focusing on the result hoped for with the particular desire (wish). Thélēma is nearly always used of God, referring to His preferred-will. Occasionally it is used of man (cf. Lk 23:25; Jn 1:13.]

[9] Sarks is generally used as a negative, referring to making decisions (actions) according to self – i.e. done apart from faith (independent from God’s inworking). Thus what is “of the flesh (carnal)” is by definition displeasing to the Lord – even things that seem “respectable!” In short, flesh generally relates to unaided human effort, i.e. decisions (actions) that originate from self or are empowered by self. This is carnal (“of the flesh“) and proceeds out of the untouched (unchanged) part of us – i.e. what is not transformed by God. Sárks properly, flesh (“carnal”), merely of human origin or empowerment. Sárks (“flesh”) is not always evil in Scripture. Indeed, it is used positively in relation to sexual intercourse in marriage (Eph 5:31) – as well as for the sinless human body of Jesus (Jn 1:14; 1 Jn 4:2, 3). Indeed, flesh (what is physical) is necessary for the body to live out the faith the Lord works in (Gal 2:20).

[10] John 1:1-5, 9-12

[11] Revelation 3:20

[12] John 3:3

[13] John 6:67-68

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