With this study, we continue our examination of the prologue of John's Gospel.
12Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.
In the two previous verses, John has just written: "He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him" (John 1:10-11). It would be a sad story indeed if the thought ended there. But John continues: "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). The gospel message focusses, not on those who reject Christ, but on those who "receive Him", those who "believe in His name". And what better summary of the gospel message is there than this statement of John's: "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." In this verse, John tells us who may be saved, how we may be saved, and what great privilege is given to those who are saved.
First, John tells us who may be saved. He says: "Yet to all. . ." To receive Christ, you need no special qualifications. To attain salvation, you need not have jumped any hurdles, need not have passed through any stages of enlightenment. You need just to "receive" Christ, to "believe in His name" in order to gain the privilege of being a child of God. "Whether bond or free, whether Greeks or barbarians or Scythians, unlearned or learned, female or male, children or old men, in honor or dishonor, rich or poor, rulers or private persons, all, he saith, are deemed worthy the same privilege."[Footnote #2] The pauper may have the same privilege as the king. As Peter taught: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right" (Acts 10:34-35). We are all naked before God, shed of our worldly status and refinements. The amount in our bank account ultimately has no value; our parentage will do us no good; the fame we have achieved on earth has no bearing on God's valuation of us. In the end, God considers one thing: did we accept the salvation He offered us when He gave His Son to die for us. If we "receive Christ", we are His children.
Which brings us to the second thing that John tells us: how we may be saved. John states this in two ways: we "receive" Christ, we "believe in His name." John in these two ways is saying the same thing with two different viewpoints. To "believe in His name" is to "receive" Him. To "believe in His name" is an elaboration of what it means to "receive" Him. To "receive Him" is to receive by faith the gospel message, the truth about Christ. Paul also speaks about "receiving" and "believing": "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph. 1:13). Now, to "believe in His name", is much more than just believing in His existence. John is not saying that believing in the mere existence of Christ brings salvation. One must "believe in His name". In the Hebrew culture, one's name denoted one's entire character, all of one's attributes. So, to "believe in His name" is to believe in Christ as He is revealed in the Bible: as the Messiah, as the Son of God, as your Savior, as the Exalted One, the Name above every Name, the King of kings and Lord of lords. To believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is to believe in Him as the Lord (your Master), Jesus (your Savior), Christ (the one sent from God).
Lastly, John speaks of the great privilege given to those who are saved: they are given the "right to become children of God." What could be better! To be adopted by the Lord of the Universe as His child! "God is love" (I John 4:8), and so He is a loving father. God is the Lord Almighty, and so He has the power to do anything. A loving father. . . An all-powerful father. . . Again, I say, what could be better? The real question is: Why doesn't everyone receive Christ? Why would anyone choose to be a spiritual orphan, instead of a child of God? Make no mistake: those who do not receive Christ are not children of God. The right to be a child of God is given by God only to those who "receive [Christ], to those who believe in His name." It is unscriptural to view nonbelievers as children of God. God is the Heavenly Father only to believers, not to all of mankind. As Paul writes to the Galatians: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26).
So Father, we praise You that You have given us this great privilege: to be Your child. We praise You that You are such a loving Father, who does only the best for us. Help us, by Your Spirit, to be worthy of such a great privilege. We pray these things in the name of Jesus, whose work on the cross has made it possible for us to be Your child, Amen.
2. Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John, pg. 36.