“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.
I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right tobecome children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage. I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!
God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.
The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]
God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.
But there is another side to this. There is not only what we call faith; there is grace. There is God’s unmerited favor. God chooses us. We call this predestination and attribute it to God’s sovereignty
Imagine, if you will, a God creating a creature in his own image, a God who “naturally” exists outside of time and space, who is infinite. The creature, however, could not be infinite, regardless of the image of the God she bears. The creature would be limited to time and space, but the creature would have the capacity to create like God and to choose, including the choice to go its own way.
Giving this creature choice is dangerous, but it’s the only way for the creature to be able to understand love and to be able to return that love to its creator. This God loved the creature and desired to give love to this creature and receive love in return.
This is the divine experiment.
And, the very fact that we can reject God is proof that God loves us.
“[H]e chose us in him before the foundation[i] of the world….” (Eph. 1:4) God foresaw and foreknew us and had plans for us from the beginning.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Ps. 139:16)
God has brought you to this place; or more accurately, God foreknew you in this place. Whether you feel like you have been following God, God has been leading you, or you are just wandering in the wilderness, you are where God knew you would be from before the creation of the world when God chose you.
We think in terms of home and destination, but the fact is that we are on a journey. We are not home, and our destination is not a place that we can get to on our own.
Calvinism and Arminianism represent two diverging views of God’s relationship with man. The two views are summarized at the graceonline.com website and charted at the jesusfollowme.com website. In a nut shell, Calvinism represents the view that people are predestined to believe or not believe; and Arminianism represents the view that people have free will to believe or not to believe. I am oversimplifying the positions, of course.
As an aside, I am no theologian. I was one thesis short of a religion major in college (finished with an English Literature major). I became a believer in college in the midst of prevailing liberal thinking and unbelief. I say this only to acknowledge that I am not an expert, but I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that I was drawn by God and that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by anything I have done or will ever do.