How to Become a Child of God

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

"He Came to His Own"

The true light, that sheds a revealing light on everyone, came into the world—the world that he had made. As it says in verse 10: "He was in the world and the world was made through him." Minneapolis and St. Paul and all the suburbs and everyone in them—including you and me—were made through him. As verse 3 says, "All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made."

Therefore when he came to the world, he came to "his own." That's what verse 11 says, "He came to his own." He came to what belongs to him by right of creation. He came to his own possession, his own domain, the house of humanity that he had built for a dwelling place.

"His Own Received Him Not"

But verse 11 goes on, "But his own received him not." He came to Minneapolis and St. Paul and they received him not. They rejected him in their department stores with "Seasons' Greetings" instead of "CHRISTmas." They rejected him in their restaurants with "Happy Holidays" instead of "CHRISTmas." They rejected him in their hospital foyers with "Noel" instead of "CHRISTmas." They rejected him in their secular marketing exploitation of his birthday. They rejected him with a thousand knick-knacks and baubles instead of a baby in a manger. They rejected him in their stripped down carols and wordless tunes. They rejected him in their public schools with Christ-less plays. And they rejected him in their public speeches, pleasing all by saying nothing.

He came to his own and his own received him not. As John 3:19–20 says, "This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who is evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." The light came to his own and his own were in love with the dark. And so they did not receive the light.

"But to All Who Received Him . . . "

"But," verse 12 says, "to all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave authority to become children of God." This means that those who reject the light are not the children of God. God is not everybody's Father. He created everybody, and they are his. But Jesus says in John 8:42, "If God were your Father you would love me." God is not everyone's Father. And the test of who your Father is, is whether you love his Son.

Not Everyone Is a Child of God, Am I?

Verses 12 and 13 are so important because they tell us how we may become children of God. O how I want you to fix in your minds this question: "Not everyone is a child of God; am I?" Ask it to yourself right now, "Not everyone is a child of God. Am I?" The difference it makes to you is this: Jesus said in John 8:34–36, "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

In other words, if we will not be children, we will be slaves. And the slave does not remain in the house forever. The children do. What is at stake in becoming a child of God is eternal life. So we ask ourselves that question again: "Not everyone is a child of God; am I?" And now add: "Not everyone will have eternal life; will I?"

Paul says in Romans 8:16–17, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."

In other words, if you become a child of God, you become an heir of all that God owns. All that belongs to God is your inheritance. In the resurrection everything that exists will be yours. And God will care for you forever and make you infinitely happy in his presence.

But if you do not become a child of God, then there will be only judgment. There will be no slaves in the age to come, only children. The slaves do not remain in the house forever (8:35). They experience what Jesus calls "the resurrection of judgment" (5:29), and it will be too late for any adoption proceedings.

So we turn to verses 12 and 13 for the all-important answer to the question: How do you become a child of God? What would have to happen this morning to make you a child of God? And if you are a child of God, do you understand how you became one? Can you lead another person into the Father's family?

Two Conditions to Becoming a Child of God

Verse 12 sets two conditions: receiving Jesus and believing Jesus: "But to all who received him, who BELIEVE in his name, he gave authority to become children of God."

Receiving Jesus

Receiving Jesus means that when Jesus offers himself to you, you welcome him into your life for what he is.

  • If he comes to you as Savior, you welcome his salvation.
  • If he comes to you as Leader, you welcome his leadership.
  • If he comes to you as Provider, you welcome his provision.
  • If he comes to you as Counselor, you welcome his counsel.
  • If he comes to you as Protector, you welcome his protection.
  • If he comes to you as Authority, you welcome his authority.
  • If he comes to you as King, you welcome his rule.

Receiving Jesus means taking Jesus into your life for what he is. It does not mean a kind of peaceful co-existence with a Christ who makes no claims—as though he can stay in the house as long as he doesn't play his music so loud.

When Jesus preached in Nazareth in Luke 4:16ff., the people received him gladly. It says in Luke 4:22, "All spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." But a few verses later it says in Luke 4:28 they were "filled with wrath" and tried to throw him down from a cliff. They were happy to receive him while his words were pleasing. But when their pride was fingered, they rejected him. Receiving Jesus does not mean a kind of peaceful co-existence with a Christ who makes no claims. Receiving Jesus means taking him into your life (your home, your school, your work, your marriage, your dreams) for who he really is.

Believing in His Name

That's the first condition in verse 12: receiving Jesus, the light of the world. The second condition is believing in his name: "But all who received him, who believe [present tense!] in his name, he gave authority to become children of God."

What does believing in the name of Jesus mean? Let's do a little tour of this gospel to find out. First look at John 3:18 to see that believing in the NAME of Jesus is virtually the same as believing in Jesus. "He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." Here believing "in him" and believing "in his name" are used interchangeably. The "name" simply emphasizes the full stature and dignity and authority of the person.

Next look at John 5:43–44, where "receive" and believe" are used again in close connection, the way they are in 1:12. "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?"

Do you see what verse 44 implies about believing? It implies that you can't believe in Jesus if you love the praise and glory of men. This means that believing is so contrary to pride and self-exaltation that it involves a deep humbling. It means abandoning the craving for human praise, and caring more about the praise of God. Believing is not merely intellectual assent to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

Next look at John 6:35. "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." This verse teaches that believing in Jesus means being satisfied with Jesus. It means that Jesus is the food that feeds the hunger of your soul. Believing is not merely intellectual assent to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

We could go on to John 8:42 and 12:36 and 12:46–49. All these texts, plus the ones we have seen, show that believing is a deep work in our heart, not a mere agreement with doctrinal facts. It includes breaking free from the craving for human praise and it includes being satisfied with Jesus as the bread of life.

So I would paraphrase verse 12 like this: "But all who received Jesus into their lives for who he really is, and who feed upon him as the all-satisfying bread of life, to them he gave authority to become the children of God."

Two Key Differences Between Verses 12 and 13

Now notice two very important differences between verses 12 and 13. Verse 13 says of the children of God, "[they] were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God." Notice: in verse 12 Jesus, the light, is the person acting—"To all who received him, HE [Jesus] gave authority." But in verse 13 God is the person acting—"Who were born . . . of God."

The other difference is that in verse 13 God begets or brings into being children, and so they are his children by virtue of his being the begetting Father. But in verse 12 John speaks of people needing to get authority to become children of God. But why do children who are born of God need authority from Jesus to be children of God? What is this authorization or this empowerment in verse 12? If we are born of God, are we not God's children? What need of authority from Jesus?

Here's the answer as I see it. Before God causes any of us to be born again, all of us are mere flesh. There is no spiritual life in us. John 3:6 says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." In other words we are spiritually dead before new birth. We are sinners, all of us. And that means that we need two things if we are to inherit eternal life as the children of God.

The Need to Be Born and for an Authority/Right

We need to be born. We need to have spiritual life. That is what God does according to John 1:13 without any help from us—"not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God." We are born of God by a free act of sovereign grace. He chooses us before we choose him.

But when God does that, what we now have is a newborn sinner. The spiritual life is present, but so is sin, and a whole history of sin! In this condition we would have no right to take our place in the house of God—no authority, no empowerment. Except for one thing. God not only provided the regeneration by which we are born again, but also the authorization by which we can lay claim to our inheritance as children, even though we are sinners.

And that is precisely where Jesus comes in. The moment you believe in Jesus, the moment you receive him for who he really is, in that moment he gives you not only new birth, but the right and authority, as a sinner, to lay claim to your inheritance as a child of God—to become legally, as it were (with due authority), what you are by virtue of new birth—because you were "born of God."

Two Great Obstacles to Eternal Life

Between us and eternal life there are two great obstacles. One is that we are spiritually lifeless and dead. The other is that we are sinfully corrupt and guilty. We cannot inherit life as children of God if we are dead and if we are guilty. But God so loved us that he did two things.

He sent his Spirit to cause us to be born again, to quicken us and make us pass from death to life. And so he overcomes the first obstacle.

But in perfect harmony with the work of his Spirit God sent his Son to die for our sin (John 1:29) and remove the guilt of all who believe in him. So the moment we believe in him, even though we are sinners, we are authorized in him to lay hold on the inheritance of the children of God. And so the second obstacle is removed.

This is a great salvation for sinners like you and me. It is full and free and corresponds to our exact need and condition. I offer it to you this morning in the name of Jesus. Receive him as he really is. Believe in him as the all-satisfying end of your search for peace.


Further notes on this text.

  • Verse 9: the enlightenment of every man is probably not universal reason or intellect or the common grace of knowledge because 1) the next verse shows people unknowing and blind to the light; 2) light in this gospel comes as judgment into the world and causes people either to approach or reject; 3) the meaning of photizo in 1 Corinthians 4:5 and 2 Timothy 1:10 is "shed light on so as to bring out the true quality of." This is probably the meaning here. See the use in Revelation too.
  • Further confirmation that God's begetting precedes faith (though Christ's authorization doesn't): John 3:6–8; 8:42; 10:27; 15:16; 17:6; 18:37; 1 John 5:1–2; Ephesians 2:1–10; Acts 13:48.