On Sunday morning, I delivered the second message in my series on John’s Gospel. It’s on John 1:6-13 and titled “The True Light.” You can listen below or download on Spotify or iTunes.
John 1:13, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
This verse continues the thought of verse 12. All of those “children of God” from verse 12 have been “born” in verse 13. But before telling you how they were born, he tells you how they weren’t born.
First, they weren’t born of “bloods” (lit. plural). Many interpreters understand “bloods” to refer to the many bloodlines involved with being of Jewish descent. This means that becoming a child of God is not happening for anyone simply because they are a descendant of Abraham. Simply being a Jew is not going to make you a child of God.
Second, they weren’t born “of the will of the flesh,” which some people take to mean the “desire of the flesh,” which would mean physical procreation.
Third, they weren’t born “of the will of man.” And the word for man is not the generic Greek word for mankind but the specific word that is used for a male or a husband. In those days certainly, sexual activity was always viewed as something that happened at a man’s or especially a husband’s initiative. And John is saying that no man can cause this birth to happen.
John makes clear that neither ordinary physical descent from Abraham nor physical descent from anyone in particular is going to make a child of God. On the contrary, the only ones who become children of God and thereby believers in Christ are those who have been born of God. Jesus will flesh this out more clearly in his conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3. In chapter 3, we find out that this birth is not physical or a consequence of a physical father. This birth is spiritual and happens as a consequence of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes to people who are dead in their trespasses and sins and giving them new spiritual life. And with that new spiritual life comes sight to once blind eyes, hearing to once deaf ears, and feeling to a once cold and dead heart. So that all that stuff that you couldn’t do because of the deadness of sin you can now do because of the new life of the Spirit.
People often ask, “Which comes first? The new birth or the believing?” Does believing cause one to be born again, or does being born again cause one to be able to believe? Which is it?
You already know the answer. Can a dead person really see and hear the gospel? No, they can’t. They must be awakened by the new birth first. But don’t believe me just because I say so. Believe John. John says it in no uncertain terms in 1 John 5:1:
1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God…”
The perfect tense of “has been born” is very important here, but unfortunately gets left out of too many modern Bible translations. Nevertheless, the perfect tense of “has been born” means that birth occurs before the present tense of “believes.” Being born of God, therefore, enables believing.
Have you ever wondered why some of your children are believing and some of them aren’t? Have you ever wondered why you believed the gospel when you heard it preached to you that year at youth camp but so many of your friends didn’t? Have you ever wondered why you came to faith when you were 15 but not when you were 10 even though you had been hearing the gospel all through that time?
I hope you are already beginning to understand why. If you’ve got some children who are believing and some who aren’t, it’s not because some of your children are smarter and more spiritually sensitive than the others. If you believed the gospel at youth camp while your friend didn’t, it’s not because you were smarter or more spiritually sensitive than your friend. If you came to faith at age 15 but not at age 10, it’s not because you were smarter and more spiritually sensitive at age 15 than you were at age 10.
Neither you, nor your children, nor anyone else who has ever lived (save One) has ever been smart enough and spiritually sensitive enough to believe in Christ. All of us have gone astray. None of us were doing God. None of us were seeking God (Rom. 3:10-12). But God was seeking us. And in his wise and good providence, he causes the wind to blow where he wishes (John 3:8). And the Holy Spirit will arrive invisibly but leave visible effects of the new birth when he arrives. So if you are a believer, it is because you have been born again by the Holy Spirit and by the living and abiding word of God.