The beloved apostle John wrote often on the theme of spiritual birth. When introducing his Gospel he mentions early on such a birth:
But, to everyone who did accept [Jesus] [The God] authorized to become children of God, because they believed in his name. These were born, not from blood - that is, from a fleshly desire, or a male desire -- but from God. [John 1;12, 13 NCMM]
We are not born as children of God. We are born “in sin” even as was David. [Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12] God cannot have sinful children. [Deuteronomy 32:4, 5] In order to become a child of God one must be “adopted” or “authorized” as John says in John 1:12. [Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5] Such adopted persons become “born anew” or “born again.” [John 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23]
There are four different expressions for a God-Birth in the Christian Bible. 1) John 3:3, gennethe anothen, “born again” is the same as John 3:7 “born of the spirit”; 2) James 1:18, “he gave birth to us”; 3) 1 Peter 1:3,“having been born again”; 4) The expression, “having been born out of God,” occurs most often in 1John. (See also 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 4, 18) Only Peter comes close to the popular expression “born again.”
However, the varied expressions refer to two acts of God: a) justification; and, b) regeneration by spirit. The Divine seed implants the conviction of sonship with its attendant hope through spiritual “enlightenment” and “revelation.” (See Ephesians 1:18 in Nazarene Commentary) 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again not through a seed of corruption but rather incorruption by the enduring Word of the living God.”
How does one know they have been “born of God”? How can one recognize others who have experienced a true spiritual rebirth? This is a subject the apostle John explains in what is called First John. Consider the five elements involved in a God-birth.
John first introduces this subject by writing in 1 John 3:1-3:
Now grasp the character of this loving concern the Father has bestowed on us so that we should be called “Children of God.” And truly this is what we are! For this reason the worldly people do not recognize us because they do not recognize the Father. Beloved, at the present time we are “Children of God.” However, what we are to become has not yet been revealed to us. We only know that when the time comes for the Son’s Appearing we will exist after his resemblance. We shall actually behold him as he exists in reality. Now all persons with this hope purify themselves exactly as the Son is pure.
First, John writes that a person truly born of God is characterized by the practice of righteousness. In other words the person is law abiding, not lawless. This is particular true of God’s Law. Consider what John taught:
If you know that he is righteous you also know that everyone who continues in this righteousness has originated from the Father. [1 John 2:20]
Or, “If you realize that God is righteous you will also realize that those God-born continue in righteousness.” These are fully aware of what God’s commandments are having studied these in His Word. John uses the word “commandment(s)” 14 times in his first epistle. [1 John 2:3, 4, 7, 8; 3:22-24; 4:21; 5:2, 3]
This is in imitation of the King himself for Paul writes of him in Hebrews 1:9, “You loved righteousness, and hated lawlessness.” We have learned righteousness from he example of our Lord Jesus. Children of God are characterized by a righteous character.
Related to this is the second identifying feature: one who has truly been born of God does not habitually sin. That is, does not practice sin as a constant exercise. John writes:
Every person who has been born of God does not practice a sin because His sperm remains within such a person and so is incapable of habitual sin because of being born of God. In this manner the children of The God and the children of the Devil are manifest -- every person not practicing righteousness is not from The God, nor is the person not loving his brother. Because this is the message that you heard from a beginning: we should be loving one another. [1 John :9-11]
Or, “Anybody who is God-born never habitually continues in a sin because God’s seed resides within that person. This is the reason the person is unable to continue in a course of habitual sin because of being God-born.”
John writes that the child of God, “Does not practice sin.” [Or, MON: cannot go on sinning.] Like a child taking after his human father, a child of God cannot habitually practice sin because the in-born characteristics, like DNA, remain in the one “born from above” or having been begotten by spirit. [See 1 John 5:18.]
John explains why: “Because His sperm remains within.” The Greek is sperma. [Or, TCNT: for the very nature of God dwells within him; RSV: God’s nature abides in him; WEY: a divine germ remains in him; WMS: because the God-given life principle continues to live in him.] Having the “seed of God within” causes the Christian to desire to follow a course of righteousness and love. It becomes the natural bent of mind to want to go in the right direction.
John says the child of God, “Is incapable of habitual sin.” [Or, WMS: cannot practice sinning; MON: cannot go on sinning.] (Compare Romans 7:18, 19.) Clearly there is a difference -- and no contradiction between Paul’s admission of the difficulty of the human race (particularly corporate Israel) of practicing bad even when one hates it -- and this habitual sin here. For Paul, a spirit-begotten son of God himself, confesses to a “practice” of that bad he does not wish. This is in indwelling rule of sin inherited from Adam. The “sin” mentioned in John is that habitual, willful, premeditated rebellion with full understanding of the consequences and with no concern regarding the outcome.
The genuine child of God is characterized by a loving concern for others demonstrated in seeking their highest good. Often when John mentions “love” he uses the Greek AGAPE with the article and so it is not just love in general but The Love. That is love of a divine order learned from the Father through the Son. John writes:
Beloved, may we continue to love one another, because the love is from The God, and every person who is loving is born from The God and such a person knows The God. The person who is unloving does not know The God because The God is love. [1 John 4:7, 8]
Or, “My loved ones, let us all continue to have a loving concern for each other, because this kind of loving concern is from God. Every individual who continues to show loving concern is God-born. Such a person has an intimate relationship with God. The individual who refuses to show loving concern has no intimate relationship with God because God is love.”
To John “the Love” is the hallmark of the true child of God. He counsels, “May we continue to love one another.” Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words clarifies: "Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son, I John 4:9, 10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Romans 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself, cp. Deuteronomy 7:7, 8." (1981, Volume 3, page 21)
1 Peter 1:22 urges, “Love one another intensely from the heart.” (NW) Based on 1 John 3:16, 17 this love is no mere abstraction, or feeling of sentimentality, but manifest, according to John, in physical charity. This self-surrender of love manifests the spirit of
Philippians 2:4, “Pay attention not just to your own self but also the concerns of others.” As well as 1 Corinthians 10:24, “Let everyone continue to seek self-interests but the interests of others.”
The reason John gives is, “Because the love is from The God.” [Or, KNX: springs from God; WMS: originates with God.] The origin of “love” is not from Christ as he confessed he can “do nothing of himself,” but rather from that Absolute Source of goodness -- God. The first expression of “love” was the Son and the ultimate expression of “love” is through the Son and by the Son’s own sacrifice.
Thus are children of God identified because, “Every person who is loving is born from The God.” [See 1 John 3:6, 9; 4:16. It seems he speaks of a divine kind of love as well limiting his thought to those who have “received” Christ (John 1:12, 13), and experienced regeneration. (John 3:3-5)
This is also visible proof that, “Such a person knows The God.” As elsewhere “know” (ginoskei) is more than intellectual knowledge. It is rather an intimate relationship with the Father. (Romans 8:15-17)
In contrast the opposite is also true: “The person who is unloving does not know The God.” [Or, WEY: has no knowledge of; RHM: doth not understand.] Despite all claims and attestations, those without love, those who do not manifest or characterize themselves as loving persons, do not “know” God in intimate acquaintance. They are liars and hypocrites according to John. Because, “The God is love.” God is the absolute personification of “love”. It is interesting to note John does not say, “The Son is love.” In this he echoes Moses at Exodus 34:6, Yahweh, Yahweh, a God compassionate and beneficent, slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness and loyalty.” (Compare also Micah 7:18)
Is it not enough to be just humanitarian and righteous, repelled by evil. There is another important factor involved. The child of God has a deep conviction that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Christ. John declares:
Every person believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of The God, and every person loving the One born continues to love the One who caused his birth. [1 John 5:1]
John excludes no one from the opportunity of becoming one born of God. For he says, “Every person.” [Compare the Greek of John 1:12 and Romans 8:14.] This prospect is open to “everyone” and not limited as if by a predetermined number.
Those who believe Jesus is the Christ may be adopted as children of God. [Compare John 3:16; John 20:31.] John’s purpose is to confirm this conviction in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. In these verses he emphasizes once again the two prime features: faith and love.
No only believe Jesus is the Messiah, but also loving the Son of God. That is, Jesus Christ. There are at least 5 ways in which Jesus became the Son of God: a) his creation; b) human birth; c) spiritual birth at his baptism; d) by his resurrection; e) by his enthronement as King. [See notes elsewhere in Nazarene Commentary.] Loving the One begotten of God also loves the One who gave birth to His Son. [Or, WEY: loves the Father.] One cannot love Jesus without also loving the Father. Note the Holy Ghost is missing here.
Finally, John makes it clear that the Fatherhood of God is dependent on endurance, or final victory over the worldly social order under the power of the “god of this world.” [2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19] This conquest involves two important matters: obedience to God’s commandments and victorious faith. John writes:
For this is the love of The God that we observe His commandments, and his commandments are not a burden, because everything born of The God continues to conquer the world. And this is the conquest of those who have conquered the world -- our faith. [1 John 5:3, 4]
Or, “And none of His commandments are a heavy burden because every person God-born is victorious over the world. Our faith -- this is our victory in conquering the world.”
No true child of God fails to endure, but because of being born of God is a world-conqueror. John says, “Everything born of The God continues to conquer the world.” [Or, TCNT: because all that has received new life from God conquers the world; KNX: whatsoever takes its origin from God must needs triumph over the world; WMS: every child of God continues to conquer.] This reflects the Nazarene himself when he says at John 16:33, “You will be oppressed in the world. Be courageous for I have had my own victory over the world.”
John words, “This is the conquest,” reminds one of the stirring words of Revelation 12:11 and Revelation 15:2 -
Revelation 12:11 And our brothers conquered the Dragon
by the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their witness.
They loved not their souls until death.
Revelation 15:2 And I saw a sea of glass mixed with fire
and those coming out
of their conquest of the wild Sea Beast,
and the Image of the wild Sea Beast,
and the number of it’s name.
The victorious stood upon the sea of glass
holding harps of The God.
John declares that it is deep conviction that is the key to this victory. He says, “The victory that defeats the world is our faith.” [NEB] The word group “faith” (believe, conviction) occurs about 100 times in John’s Gospel and epistles. It is a word the beloved apostle loves for he was an eyewitness to the greatest faith ever known - that of Jesus the Nazarene.
What a blessed privilege to be acknowledged and authorized as children of God. Now possessing the Father’s DNA as it were we walk in righteousness, abhor unrighteousness, love one another, maintain faith in our Lord, and enjoy our continuing victory over the worldly social order. How we long for the final and irrevocable celestial adoption as spirit children of God. How we long to “behold His face.” [Revelation 22:4]
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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