‘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).’
What I am about to explain may not happily sit with some of you, but my duty is to be true to God and to all people. Jesus is ‘the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).’ He is the absolute *truth. He is the embodiment the truth, and all things are judged by Him. He is the Supreme Judge who searches the hearts and minds of all people (Romans 8:27), the One to whom everyone will be accountable (Matthew 12:36).
As we shall have to account for all we do and say (1 Peter 4:5), we would do well to heed the words of Paul the Apostle, ‘Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that if may impart grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29).’
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he made the case that he had the right to be paid for his preaching (9:14), but he abrogated his right. He explained that he was compelled to preach the gospel (9:16) because it was his calling. He did it without charge (V. 18), so as not to make the Corinthians feel obliged to pay him for his service (V. 12). He was motivated to save some (V. 22), and his reward was in the saving, not in the receipt of wages. [Note: Paul could not save, because it is God who saves (1 Corinthians 1:21).]
In Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians, Paul drew attention to the entitlement of rights that were available to the Apostles:
In verse 4 he asked the rhetorical question, “Do we have no right to eat and drink? and in verse 5, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife?” And of course, they did!
Examples of moral and legal rights can also be found in the Old Testament. There’s the case of the daughters of Zelophehad regarding their inheritance of land. It is found in Numbers 27:4-7, which goes as follows:
‘“Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.”’ So Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD spoke to Moses saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their fathers to pass to them.”.
So both the Old and New Testaments teach that God’s people have rights, but only those given to them by God.
The wonderful and blessed right He gives to some people is affirmed by the key text: ‘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).’
No one has the right to become a child of God unless God gives it to him. He can only receive it through faith, which in itself is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). Christians are therefore blessed of God.
What if I were to say to you no one has any right to anything?
What would be your response? Would you turn down your mouth? Would you feel disgruntled? Would you passionately disagree? Or you would go along with it?
I’m deliberately being provocative, because I want to present what I believe to be the truth. Let’s delve into the matter more deeply:
My proposition is that it is God who determines the rights of all people. He confers rights to whomever He chooses. People cannot determine them for themselves. They can make laws about this and that, and if they are respected and obeyed, it is because they are part and purpose of God’s will. Indeed, the Scriptures affirm that God wants people to benefit from good laws, because when they abide by them, there is peace and order in their lands. Therefore Christians are exhorted to obey such laws (Romans 13:1-7).
In the UK at this present time [as I write on 4th October, 2019] we are still in the European Union, and we are subject to the Union’s Human Rights Laws that are upheld by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). These laws were established in 1959, and they are based on 18 Articles concerning matters such as the obligation to respect human life, the right to life, the prohibition of torture, freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination etc..
All of these laws were drafted for the benefit and protection of EU citizens, but you may consider some of them contentious; for example, Article 10, which is about Freedom of Expression. It gives the right to people to have their own religious and other beliefs, and the right to change them. They have the right to freely worship and to express their beliefs, both in public and in private spaces.
I’m no lawyer, but it would appear that the very same Article 10 protects the right of anyone to express the view that religions are obnoxious and offensive to them. They could even express the view that all religions should be outlawed and made illegal, and that anyone found practising them should be imprisoned. This is freedom of speech without incitement to hate.
What will happen when we leave the European Union remains to be seen, but I expect UK laws regarding rights will be similar to those of the European Union.
As stated at the beginning of this article, I believe Jesus is the Supreme Judge, and He is also the One who made laws for all mankind to obey. He is the One who determines the rights of every single person. As we stand before Him He can do what He likes with us (Romans 9:20, 21), and no one can overrule Him.
At the same time He is just and holy; but more than that, He is compassionate and loving. He came to die for those whom He loves, and He gave them the right to become sons of God by adoption (John 1:12). This is His right and choice, not ours. We cannot demand adoption into His family. Only God can give us that right through the receiving of His gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8) in His Son.
God has absolute authority over His creation, and therefore He determines the rights of all people. We have no rights unless they are given to us by God.