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The Face of Grace

Pencil sketch by JC Chambers

Part four in a study of God's grace from the book of John.

How do we become children of God?

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13

We don’t come into God’s family the same way we enter human families. This divine authorization isn’t based on “natural descent,” “human decision” or “a husband’s will.” When Jesus walked this earth, He explained that “the right to become children of God” is given to those who “received him” and “believed in his name.”

What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus’ name?

The person to whom God gives “his name” is given the authority to represent Him. To “believe” in Jesus’ name is to believe that He is vested with singular authority to speak on God’s behalf and to usher us into a relationship with Him. “Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6

Jesus Christ opens the door for us into God’s family. He is the “mortal-immortal portal.” Mortals who “believe” in Christ and “receive” Him become immortal.

What does it mean to “receive” Christ?

In Jesus’ day, theological education was highly relational. Jewish educators were called “Rabbis.” Aspiring students approached a particular Rabbi and asked to become one of his “disciples.” If accepted, they would study under him for a number of years.

Jesus is referred to as “Rabbi” many times in the New Testament. He differed from others, however, in that He didn’t wait for students to choose Him. He chose them.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus spoke as a Rabbi when He said to Simon Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me.” The two brothers “received” Christ when they “left their nets and followed him.” They became Jesus’ disciples.

To receive Christ means to receive Him as a Rabbi.

In our day, “receiving Christ” is frequently associated with agreeing that Jesus is God and “inviting” Him into one’s heart in order to receive the gift of eternal life. By this decision, expressed through prayer, we are said to become children of God. Thereafter, the focus falls on eliminating non-Christian behaviors and replacing them with Christian ones.

The problem is that while some who receive Christ as Savior do indeed receive Him as Rabbi, not all do. A passive acceptance of the gift of eternal life is not what receiving Christ is about. An active investment in learning from Jesus is.

In John’s understanding, to receive Christ is a decision to enter into a relationship. It is a process . . . a gradual “transformation” associated with the “renewing of the mind.” “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

Becoming a child of God is a choice to “sit at Jesus’ feet” and, in community with other disciples, spend time with Him, learn from Him and teach others about Him.

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