It is an act of grace that I am here on this earth. I had no say at the time I was conceived in my mother’s womb. My first breath of life was grace-induced by the goodness and sovereign grace of God, kindly revealed through my parents. I’m not here because I deserved it. I’m here because of grace.
To a much greater extent, the right to become children of God is not a right earned, it is a right given. Here’s how the gospel writer, John, speaks to this: “But to all who did receive Him (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12)
Each person has been created in the image of God. There is dignity and intrinsic worth, and value, in each image bearer that breathes the common grace of God. It’s common because all who have ever lived, are living, or ever will, have done nothing to give themselves the breath of life; it is an act of sovereign grace. Rosaria Butterfield, in her book The Gospel Comes With A House Key, writes, “Common grace is that kindness by God given to all of humanity—to the whole human race without distinction.” (The Gospel Comes With a House Key, p. 55)
But to become a child of God is a right that is given by God; it is an act of amazing, overwhelming, we’ve-done-nothing-to-deserve-it, incomprehensible grace that can only be received, not earned. The apostle Paul affirms this as well when he writes to the Ephesians “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In our “rights driven” culture, there is a clear dichotomy. There are those who think everything they get must be earned (or worked for) and not received freely, and there are those who subscribe to a belief that they have a right to receive freely whatever they desire without working for it. Practically, there is high view of responsibility often expressed in an admirable work ethic (which I believe is biblical; just look at Adam’s responsibility before the Fall of mankind), but a low view of our admitting our need for community and willingly receiving with gratitude acts of grace in meeting our need. In other words, pride often gets in the way of admitting we cannot meet all our needs. With those who believe they have a right to freely receive without working for anything they desire, or even need, there is a high view of irresponsibility often manifested in laziness and entitlement, and a low view of personal responsibility. In the same way, pride gets in the way of failing to realize that we don’t deserve such grace, but rather we are entitled to all of God’s blessings with no sense of accountability for our sinfulness.
Both of these culture realities often frame a person’s view of salvation. There are some who believe that they can work for and earn their salvation, to become children of God, by simply going through the religious motions and rituals that have often been identified as being good enough to earn God’s favor. Truth is, there is nothing we can do to earn salvation or the right to be children of God. “For by grace you have been saved . . . and this is not your own doing.” Conversely, to think that salvation is automatic and your right, forfeiting any personal responsibility for your sin that separates you from a holy God, is equally false. The “God is a loving God who would not condemn anyone to Hell, therefore I’m good with God,” belief is one that denies justice. For God to be fully loving, He must be fully just. And there is nothing just about God overlooking the offense of our sins. The same is true for the hideous acts of injustice we see happening in our world. At the very core we cry for justice in this world, but expect exoneration regarding the guilt of our sin against the God who created us in His image.
So becoming a child of God is given by grace. We cannot earn our way, nor is it given apart from owning up to and confessing our sin. Only Jesus was able to do the work on the cross that could secure our salvation because only He was perfectly qualified. And only by grace do we even become aware of our fallenness due to sin, and by His grace do we respond with true repentance.
To be a child of God is a gracious gift initiated by God, and by His grace we come to receive Him and believe in Him as His adopted sons and daughters.