ESV - 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
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Apart from Christ, humans are irretrievably alienated and separated from God because of their sin. Once humans believe in (that is, receive (place their faith in) Christ's atoning death and resurrection as the only means that God has provided for them to be forgiven of their sins, and to receive eternal life in God's presence, they become children of God -- no longer estranged or under judgment, but accepted as a member of His family as a result of being "born again" (John 3:3) as His children through their faith.
Two concepts are in John 1:12. First, is the receiving of Jesus by believing in His name. This is the same as birth into God’s family, John 3:5, 7, I Peter 1:23, I John 5:1. In John 1:13, John continues to explain the nature of one being born, which is not by human lineage, not even by wishful thinking, nor even by human persuasion, but being born of God. Paul calls this justification, Romans 3:24. The second, is the legal or legitimate right, honor, or authority (the same Greek word “exousia” is in John 5:27, 10:18, 17:2, 19:10-11) to become the children of God. Paul describes this as “adoption,” Romans 8:15, 23, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5. “Adoption” is literally “son-placement,” (Greek “huiothesian”). “Son-placement” is not the same as what is called adoption today. It is called “adoption” since there is no modern concept equivalent to it. In his “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,” W. E. Vine noted that, “Adoption is a term involving the dignity of the relationship of believers as sons; it is not a putting into the family by spiritual birth, but a putting into the position of sons.” In New Testament times, a family without an adult male heir or one capable to manage the inheritance would look outside the natural family for someone to take on this task. The chosen adult would receive privileges of the new family with complete rights to the inheritance as one of the natural heirs. In this sense, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grandnephew, Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar, to be his successor, who in turn adopted Tiberius to be his successor. The privilege of adoption is bestowed after one believes in Jesus and therefore distinct from salvation. This is the same principle in Galatians 4:5, which speaks of Christ who came “to ‘redeem’ those who were under the law, so that we might ‘receive adoption’ as sons.” Adoption is not the same thing as birth nor is it a metaphor of salvation. Birth and adoption are separate and distinct truths occurring at different times. “Birth” places one into God’s family, but “adoption” gives a unique privilege to that one. This was made possible by God sending forth His Son, Galatians 4:4-5, and it was prearranged by God through Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:5. The believer is promised freedom, Romans 8:15, and the future “redemption” of the body, Romans 8:23, and an inheritance, by the pledge of the Spirit, II Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14. While the position belongs to every believer, it will be fully realized when Christ gathers His own. Adoption is also the proof of God’s great love, I John 3:1-2, when He calls believers the “sons of God.” The “us” and “we” in these verses are believers already. John rejoices in the privilege believers have because of the Father’s love. John 1:12 states that the Lord gives the authority for believers to have the special privilege to become the sons or children of God.
Good question, ANNE LOUISE! John 1:12-13 gives us the marvelous promise of God that anyone who receives Christ will be born again and enter the family of God! John says more about this new birth in John 3, but he points out here that it is a spiritual birth from God, not a physical birth that depends on human nature. —Wiersbe The VOICE Bible puts it this way: "But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God.; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will." And the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, has: "But to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name." (Emphasis, mine) John 1:12 speaks of the children of God. Unlike the people who rejected Him (John 1:11), those who accepted Jesus as Messiah are the true “children of God” (compare Jn 3:3-8; 1 John 5:1). The phrase, "believe in his name," is a particular idiom for faith in Christ used in John’s Gospel and 1 John (1 John 5:13). —Faithlife Study Bible "He Gives The Power" (Roger M. Hickman's hymn) Jesus came to earth by a lowly birth, Gave Himself as an offering of matchless worth; To His own He came in His Father’s Name, But they scorned to receive Him their King. Refrain But as many as received Him to them He gave the power The power to become the sons of God; But as many as received Him to them He gave the power To become the sons of God.
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