The New Birth in 1 John

As I noted in my last post the most natural thing to do after your born is to live. Life is the result of birth—it is a necessary consequence. So simple and yet so profound when you think about this in light of the new birth. 1 John gives us the practical side of the new birth. It catalogues some bits and pieces of what the new birth naturally brings forth in an individual. The birthing language of 1 John is quite pervasive. John uses various forms of the verb γεννάω, the Greek term for birth, around 10 times. 9 of these occurrences are in the perfect passive tense. Two things are significant about this. First, the new birth is something that happens to an individual not something they produce. We do not act but are acted upon in the new birth. The passive verb or participle communicates the passivity of the recipient of God’s new creation act. Second, when the verb is in the perfect it most often communicates a once for all act in the past with ongoing implications. The new birth cannot be repeated. Just as a human cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be reborn so a Christian cannot receive the new birth twice.  The new birth is efficacious—it will inevitably produce life in its recipient. Here are six significant texts that shed light on the life of one born anew in Christ.

1 John 2:29 

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born (γεγέννηται) of him. 

The practice of righteousness is the fruit of the new birth. Righteousness points to the new birth and new birth leads to righteousness. The text tells us that the life of Jesus is the pinnacle of righteousness. The new birth is intended to begin the process of conforming us into his righteous image. You can be certain, from this text, that a life that reflects something of Christ’s character is an impossibility apart from regeneration.

 1 John 3:9

No one born (ὁ γεγεννημένος) of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born (γεγέννηται) of God.

This is quite an amazing text of Scripture. The language of new birth brackets the text assuring us that all the contents in the middle flow from this divine gift. This verse teaches that it is impossible for a regenerate individual to live a life void of repentance. A believer will inevitably sin, to deny this is to be a liar (1 Jn 1:8, 10). The mark of a believer is not the absence of sin but the presence of repentance. Though the believer will plunge himself into darkness the fact that he is consistently driven back to the light demonstrates what he is really made of (1 Jn 1:5-2:3). This text makes clear that the new birth assures a believer that they will not, indeed cannot, continue on in sin. The new creation impulse and the Spirit residing within us will always win the day by leading us back to repentance. Though a righteous man falls seven times he gets back up—that is the mark of the regenerate man. This text does not specify how long a believer may remain in a pattern of sin or how quickly he will come to a place of repentance it just assures us that he will. As Luther rightly noted: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The new birth creates just such a life.

1 John 4:7

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born (γεγέννηται) of God and knows God.

The new birth brings about two things in this text. First, it creates in us a love for one another. In 1 John the “another” is referring to fellow members of the body of Christ. A man born anew will love his brother. This love, as 1 John makes clear, takes on the shape of the cross (1 Jn 3:16). A cruciform love is the inevitable fruit of regeneration. Sacrificial love issues forth from and points back to the new birth. The second thing regeneration brings about is a knowledge of God. Apart from the new birth knowing God simply will not and cannot happen. We are ignorant in our thoughts of God and cut off from his life (Eph 4:17-18). His sovereign grace expressed through the renewing work of the Spirit leads us back to himself.

1 John 5:1

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born (γεγέννηται) of God, and everyone who loves the One who birthed (τὸν γεννήσαντα) him loves whoever has been born(τὸν γεγεννημένον) of him. 

There are three things that the new birth is connected to in this text. First, the belief and confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the chosen Savior and Ruler, is created by the new birth. A crucified Messiah is one of two things to this world: madness or a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:22-25). It is only the power and wisdom of God to one slice of humanity (1 Cor 1:24)—those who have received the new birth. The new birth unveils blind eyes to the glory and truth of a crucified King (2 Cor 4:4-6). The natural eye cannot recognize the identity of the man on Golgotha. Only the spiritual eyes given by God can enable us to see him for who he is.

The second thing that the new birth is connected to in this text is a love for God. The text literally speaks of those who love the one who begat or birthed them. Just as a child loves the one who brought them into this world so the child of God loves the one who brought them this new life. Loving God does not come natural to us since the rupture of Genesis 3. God must bring about renewal for us to love him rightly. It is instructive to see the role of the Father here in the new birth. In John’s gospel there is a heavy emphasis on the role of the Spirit in the new birth. Here in 1 John the Father takes the front seat when it comes to the new birth. Every reference to the new birth in 1 John has the Father as the primary actor.

The third thing the new birth brings about is love for everyone else who has been born of God. There is a unique love that exists within a family united by their own blood. How much more then those who are united by the blood of Christ and the Spirit of God. The mark of the renewed life is a love for the Messiah, a love for the Father who begat us, and a love for the begotten

1 John 5:4

For everyone who has been born (τὸ γεγεννημένον) of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

The new birth brings victory. We become overcomers who cannot be defeated by the world in and through regeneration. God’s new creation work within us guarantees that evil will not have the final say. It guarantees that we will be on the winning side when all is said and done. It causes us to be overcomers in the present precisely because we are in Christ and his victory is secure. We must be careful to not read our cultural conceptions into the victory envisioned here. The New Testament only knows one way of victory—the cross. We overcome precisely through death–death to ourselves, dying for our brothers, and laying our lives down for the world. New birth unites us to the one true victor, Christ crucified, thus making his victory ours. It also creates in us the same cruciform obedience that marked his life and was the cause of his overcoming.

1 John 5:18

We know that everyone who has been born (ὁ γεγεννημένος) of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born (γεννηθεὶς) of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 

The new birth leads to two different things in this passage. First, John reaffirms what he said earlier about regeneration and sin. The man born of God does not continue on in sin. In the previous text (1 Jn 3:9) he emphasized the impossibility of this ever happening (he did this by using a phrase that stressed inability or lack of power—οὐ δύναται). Here in this text John just states it like a fact. A man who is born of God simply won’t continue in a pattern of sin. His life will be marked by a pattern of repentance.

The second result of the new birth is divine protection. When we are born into God’s family we are guaranteed his protection. God protects those who belong to him. Regeneration speaks to us about security and assurance. The evil one is after us but will not be able to lay his hands on us precisely because we have been reborn. Divine protection is therefore connected to God’s mercy. God is not obligated to protect us. As children of wrath, enemies of God, and rebels he is obligated only to punish us. New birth is a facet of God’s gracious intervention in our lives. It is part and parcel of being brought into God’s family and under his care.

Summary

The new birth is the saving work of  the Triune God. It is authored by the Father, accomplished by the Spirit, and grounded in the cross and resurrection of Christ. It is a movement of God whereby he brings life, renewal, and restoration to those dead in their sin. This birthing work also known as regeneration creates many things in the life of a Christian. The new birth produces belief in Christ, a knowledge of God, a love for God, a love for neighbor, a life of repentance, a life of righteousness, victory over the world, and protection from the evil one. It is a definitive act that has inevitable ongoing impact on the life of the believer. The natural result of the new birth is new life—a life no longer lived for self but for for God and neighbor. A life gladly dominated by the lordship of the Triune God. A life shaped by the centerpiece of God’s redeeming and revealing work: the cross.

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