In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[d] from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,[g] he has made him known. – John 1:1-18
When a police officer stands in front of traffic and holds out his hand. People stop not because of his power. Even if he doesn’t have a gun to threaten them, they stop because of his authority. He carries the authority of the badge. Certain people may buck that authority, and resist his orders. But if they do so it is to their potential punishment.
When a bully pushes his way to the front of the line and intimidates everyone into letting him have his way, he does so by his power. Perhaps it is the power of intimidation, but it’s quite possible that he is strong enough to back up his threats and cause physical harm to those who stand it his way. No authority, but he is willing to yield his power to get his way.
Either can be abused. And in fact we’ve seen evidence of such abuse of authority – even within the church. Whether it’s physical abuse or emotional harassment, those who have authority can cause great harm to others.
What does it look like when someone has both power and authority and uses it properly for good purposes? It looks like Jesus. Walking on water and then casting a demon out of the Gadarene Demoniac (cf. Mark 5). It looks like the One who said on his last day on earth, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” who also stopped a funeral procession on the way out of the town and touched the funeral bier and raised a dead man to life and restored him to his mother (Luke 7:7-17).
In the middle of this profound account of the incarnation of the Son of God, John tells us that we who believe in Jesus have the authority to become the children of God. We don’t have the power. And what authority we do have comes only by God’s grace. But authority we do have, by grace, through faith. The Word-become-flesh (Jesus) would come to his own people, but they would not receive him. “But,” John tells us, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right (authority) to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John uses the same word that Matthew uses to describe Jesus’ “all authority” (Matthew 28).
Fallen human beings have no innate right to claim to be God’s children – modern universalism notwithstanding. We are not all children of God by nature. We are, rather, children of wrath. Enemies of God. Blind to his goodness, and dead in our sins. But Jesus gives us the right to become children of God. And this is a miraculous re-birth. No man can make it happen. But what man cannot do, God does by his grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you receive Jesus – a grace-upon-grace process – you can properly call yourself a child of God. You have that authority. And God has the power to make that happen in you.