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)

There are many terms Christians use that may confuse an unbeliever. Even hearing the phrase “receive Christ as your Savior” may leave an unsaved person vaguely wondering what you mean. Every Christian should think through what he is trying to communicate when he is witnessing and sharing the Gospel message.

The Greek word in our text translated receive means to welcome, to embrace (as in acceptance and acknowledgment), and to take. We find the idea used in various ways in our culture. In many instances it is used in a formal sense. We have receptacles on our walls, receiverships in the law, receptors in biology, and receivers in radios and football. We also have receiving lines and receptions following our weddings and we have reception rooms all serving a very formal and important function. Of course, we honor receipts attesting the fact that we have taken custody of something and an exchange of a specified item has occurred at a specific time and place.

The context of our passage is John’s introduction to the Gospel of John where he is describing the nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the average human being, since He was in the beginning of time (v. 1), was active in creation (v. 2), and now is actively engaged in the rescue of fallen men (vs. 3–5). In order to explain who Christ is (His person) and how He bridges the gap between God and man (His work) John uses two illustrations—Christ is the Word and Christ is Light. As words, in their literal sense, represent reality, Christ reveals the Father to men and, as light is the source of sustaining life on this earth, Christ is life for mankind. Jesus Christ is the revealer of truth and He is the giver of life (John 14:6). Both of these qualities of Christ must be personally received in order gain any real benefit. John will return often to Jesus’ own use of these illustrations (John 9:5, 12:46, 16:28, 18:37, and 1 John 4:9).

Three times the word receive shows up in verses 1–12. The first is a little hidden from our eyes. It is found in verses 4–5, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [receive] it.” The compound Greek word could better be translated “apprehend,” meaning to grasp and take custody of, just as the police do in apprehending a criminal. The fallen nature of man is described as darkness. Just as a blind man may feel the sun’s warmth yet he remains insensible to the glories of a beautiful sun-filled day, so an unsaved man cannot take custody of the light in Christ of his own accord; he cannot seize and take possession of the life found in Christ. He needs the grace of a miracle divinely exercised upon him to remove his spiritual blindness.

The second time the word appears is in verse 10–11; “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” This time the compound word for receive means to accept. As the previous use seems to capitalize on the illustration of light, these verses seem to capitalize on the illustration of words; words function by revealing truth. Our Lord came into His creation and came to His own possession (His own people, the Jewish nation) and He was not known nor accepted. John has moved us from the properties of physical blindness to intellectual blindness. The world of unregenerate man which the Savior invaded is a world filled with intrigue, depravity, secrets, despair, insensibility, depression, evil powers, and death. This state of spiritual blindness is utterly incapable of “receiving” the grace of life found only in Jesus Christ. Unaided, man is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1ff) and powerless to accept truth in Christ.

The third time the word appears is found in verses 12–13. The form of the word indicates possession gained, as in our formal use of the words receiver, reception, and receipt. Possession gained is an act of the will, like signing the UPS driver’s computer acknowledging his delivery into your custody. By the grace of God, a person who is granted the miracle of spiritual sight to see the light in Christ and the spiritual insight to embrace the truth of who Christ is (the Son of God and only Savior of mankind who gave Himself as a sinless sacrifice for the payment of your sin’s debt) is simultaneously given the privilege of believing in His Name (the soul’s act of receiving). This reception will be accompanied by acknowledging the claims of Christ and expressing final allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Only then is this person given the right (the lawful right, liberty of action) to become a child of God!

No ability or credential residing in man is capable of this kind of reception (neither pedigree, self-will, nor the merit of another man—verse 13). Solely by the gracious act of God is a man or woman enabled to receive the life-giving truth found in Jesus Christ alone (1 Peter 1:18–23, 2:9–10). Be a knowledgeable, faithful witness. Trust and obey.