With this study, we continue our examination of the prologue of John's Gospel.
13. . .children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
This verse is a continuation of the thought that was begun in verse 12: "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God--" (John 1:12). John continues here: "--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." In verse 12, we were told how we may receive the "right to become children of God"; here in verse 13, we are told that our "sonship" of God comes not through adoption, but through birth. This is the new birth, regeneration, as it is called by theologians. In verse 12, John spoke to us about the new birth from a human point of view, that we must "believe in [Christ's] name" in order to "become children of God". Here in verse 13, John speaks to us about the new birth from a Divine point of view, giving us the source and origin of our new birth: we are "born of God". To underscore his point and to circumvent theological errors, John also lists some things that are not the source and origin of our new birth. We are not born "of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will".
As mentioned, in verse 12, John told us that all "who believed in His name" are given "the right to become children of God." Most of us, upon reading this, would assume that this "right to become children of God" comes through adoption. We would think that God adopted us into His family. John, however, is saying much more. Here in verse 13, we find that it is not adoption that John is speaking of, but birth. This is the new birth. John says: "Children born...". We are "born of God", given a new birth. This has staggering implications. To be "born of God" is much different than being "adopted by God". First, a new birth (rather than an adoption) implies that God is the source. Man could conceivably devise legal rules, and then fulfill them, so as to make an adoption possible; but only God the Creator could arrange for a new birth. Just like natural birth, the new birth is a miracle of God. Second, birth implies a drastic change; whereas, adoption does not imply such a change. One could be adopted and still be the same person, not undergoing any changes. New birth, however, gives rise to a new person, a new creation. As Paul wrote: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Cor. 5:17). Those who experience the new birth have new appetities, new desires, new strengths, new talents, new values, as they are "born of God". Third, birth implies a more dramatic process of change than does adoption. Adoption is a legal proceeding, a formality. Birth is a physical process, even a painful process. Many are brought to their new birth through affliction. "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy" (Ps. 126:5).
John in verse 13 gives us three negatives and one positive concerning the new birth. It comes not from "natural descent", nor "human decision", nor "a husband's will" (the three negatives), but rather, we are "born of God" (the positive). The three negatives were given by John so as to circumvent common misconceptions concerning the new birth, and the salvation that accompanies it. The birth comes not from "natural descent". The family, race, ethnicity, country, in which you belong has no bearing on the whether you are born again. This statement specifically was given by John to repudiate the belief of many Jews at the time that they were saved from God's wrath simply because they were children of Abraham. This same attitude can be found today also. Many think that they are born of God because they live in a Christian nation, or because their parents are Christians. Nor does the new birth come as a result of "human decision". But wait, you might say, didn't John just tell us: "Yet to all who received [Christ], to all who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12)? Is not "receiving Christ" and "believing in His name" a "human decision"? Apparently not, for John also tells us that the new birth does not come from "human decision". How can these two sections of the same sentence be reconciled? They can be reconciled if we realize that the faith with which we "receive Christ" and "believe in His name" comes not as a result of a decision by us, but from God Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). Again, the faith itself is "not from ourselves", but is "the gift of God". So too, the new birth comes not from "human decision" but from God. Nor does the birth come from "a husband's will". Man cannot "will" his salvation. None of his own works or beliefs can bring about the new birth. It is not men who decide how a man can be saved, but God. Many people think that they can decide what saves a man. They come up with their own ideas about who gets saved. For instance, many think, "Well, if I'm just basically a good person, I will be saved." No. Being "basically" good will not save you. God has provided two ways of salvation for men. We can (if we are able) perfectly follow His law, and thus, not deserve His wrath. Unfortunately, noone in the fallen human race is able to perfectly follow God's law. The other way that God has provided is through His Son, Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed on our behalf, to pay for our sins. It is through belief in this work of Christ that we are saved. No other way is sufficient, because all other ways to salvation are inventions of men, the product of their own wills. Though man rules on earth, his will is very limited in the spiritual realm. "A husband's will" is insufficient to bring about the new birth.