But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13—NKJV)

The beauty of salvation is described many ways in the Bible. One of the most misunderstood is the idea of “receiving Jesus.” I sometimes wonder what goes through the mind of a youngster when he is admonished to receive Jesus into his heart. If he is seriously interacting with the terminology, isn’t he likely to associate reception with what goes on at Christmas or a birthday when he receives a pair of socks?

Though this illustration arises from trying to see through the eyes of a child, I do not think that it is speculation to wonder about the inner thinking of an unregenerate man when he is admonished during an invitation, or by a well-meaning friend, to “just pray the sinner’s prayer and receive Jesus.” Apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, I doubt he will ever get beyond the “socks” and grasp the meaning of receiving Christ in just the way John describes.

Jesus is not to be received and then packed away for a future emergency, or worse yet, treated with a “take it or leave it” attitude. Our text has a far different meaning. In verse 11 John states, “[Jesus] came to His own and His own did not receive Him.” The same Greek word is used by Jesus in John 14:3, “and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also.” No one assumes that Jesus’ gracious collecting of believers and carrying them off to heaven to forever be with Him is anything less than total commitment, diligence, and loyalty. To receive means “to take over from another, to embrace in welcome,” in order that where He is, there believers may be.

Interestingly, the word receive in verse 12 (“as many as received Him”) is explained by the last phrase in the verse (“to those who believe in His name”). The focus is upon the heart of the individual. Any one who embraces Jesus in welcome must necessarily follow through with a clear embrace of who He is. Throughout the Scriptures the “name” of God is revelatory of His person, perfections, work, and superior claim to all in His creation. Jesus is the Lord of all! Reception must be not only an embracing welcome but a yielding to His orders (Romans 10:9–10).

This kind of reception is more appropriately understood as receiving and accommodating a superior guest into your home, permanently. It is like the work of a receiver in football who must follow through with demonstrable possession of the ball in order for his catch to be ruled successful.

These illustrations are born out in the rest of verse 12, for salvation is being born again. The word children means “born ones.” My children resemble me whether they desire to do so or not because of the DNA they received from me. I will never forget meeting a childhood friend of my deceased father several years ago. As we shook hands he said, “When I shake your hand I feel like I am shaking your father’s hand.”

Salvation is a gracious act of God in which He places a new, regenerate nature within those who receive His Son. Verse 13 describes this reception as being “born,” showing the implanted nature of sonship. This occurs not by right of descent, by desire, nor by human power. Authentic believers are a product of sovereign grace; others cannot save you any more than you can save yourself when you have lost consciousness and are drowning. Be sure that you are not resting the hope of your salvation in some form of easy-believism or cheapened grace.

Never trust, in and of itself, any act you have done for salvation, whether walking an aisle or praying a prayer. No matter how accurate the words may be, are these not works (Ephesians 2:8–9)? Simply trust the finished, redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible, and thus receive the right (not just possibility or ability, but liberty of action and lawful right) to be born a child of God. Be transformed believing in His name. Trust and obey.