but to as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God John 1:12
Right – What rights do you have? The correct answer is, “It depends.” The rights you have depend on the law of the land and your status as citizen. Illegal immigrants do not have the same rights as legal citizens, in spite of congressional rhetoric. Children have different inheritance rights than acquaintances. Employees have different rights than non-employees. Your rights depend entirely on the governing law. Are some rights “inalienable”? Do some rights belong to you simply because you are born human? That question presupposes that there is a higher system of law over all humanity. As long as we recognize the law of God, we can claim inalienable human rights (although they might not be the ones we commonly assert). But once we set aside the government of God, all bets are off. Nothing is guaranteed in a world under human governance.
The concept of legal right stands behind this verse. God gives the right to become His children. It is not earned. It is not universal. It is not inalienable. It is a gift that presupposes a government of law. The word is exousian; a word we have seen before translated as “authority”. It is a technical word from Greek lawyer language. God grants, as Judge, the authority (the legal right) for you to be adopted into His family. You were not born His child but you are given the opportunity to become His child by adoption; an adoption that depends entirely on the proper legal documents initiated by the adopter.
Nothing stands between God granting this authority and the completion of the arrangement except this: you and I do not qualify under the law. You and I are illegal immigrants in God’s country. The rights that would normally apply to citizens do not apply to us. We don’t belong. Alienated by sin, we stand outside the benevolent government of God, unable to meet the minimal requirements to join His tribe. In fact, what we deserve is punishment. We have broken the law by just being here. And no non-citizen has any claim at all when it comes to adoption.
The good news from God is not that citizenship exists, but rather that He has taken on the punishment we deserved in order to treat us as though we were citizens. The only reason adoption exists is that God first dealt with our law-breaking background. Adoption depends entirely on justification. We must first be treated as law-abiding before we can be offered adoption papers. And the only way we can be treated as law-abiding when it is so clear that we are law breakers is because Jesus keeps the law in our place. He makes it possible.
God grants me the “right” because Jesus paid my debt to the government.