Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13 reads:

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

This text has often been used by both Arminians and Calvinists as a proof text for our positions.  The Arminian sees the receiving in verse 12 whereas the Calvinists sees the being born of God in verse 13.  Both are correct of course.  As an Arminian, I believe that both verses fit together in God’s perfect plan for salvation.  The honor of being adopted as a child of God comes not by the flesh.  This is a key point of true Christianity.  Christians are not Christians because we belong to Christian parents or come from a Christian home.  We are not Christians because we belong to the Christian religion or to a Christian church.  We are not Christians because we make moral decisions to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.  We may not even be a Christian simply because we have been baptized as a Christian.  Salvation, the glorious work of regeneration by the Spirit of God, happens by the work of God’s grace.  The new birth is the greatest miracle in our lives.

Matthew Henry writes about verse 12:

The true Christian’s description and property; and that is, that he receives Christ, and believes on his name; the latter explains the former. Note, First, To be a Christian indeed is to believe on Christ’s name; it is to assent to the gospel discovery, and consent to the gospel proposal, concerning him. His name is the Word of God; the King of kings, the Lord our righteousness; Jesus a Saviour. Now to believe on his name is to acknowledge that he is what these great names bespeak him to be, and to acquiesce in it, that he may be so to us. Secondly, Believing in Christ’s name is receiving him as a gift from God. We must receive his doctrine as true and good; receive his law as just and holy; receive his offers as kind and advantageous; and we must receive the image of his grace, and impressions of his love, as the governing principle of our affections and actions.

The true Christian is the one who receives Christ, who trusts in Christ alone to save them by His grace from their sins.  This is not about works.  This salvation is not based on what I do to obtain that salvation.  This salvation is wrought by God’s grace through the preaching of His gospel through His Word (1 Peter 1:23).  The disciple of Jesus humbly accepts the Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and is able to save us (James 1:21).

In verse 13 the Evangelist writes that this salvation comes to us by God.  Many Calvinists see in verse 13 the working of God’s sovereignty in salvation.  They see this verse as denying free will as John adds that this salvation from verse 12 comes “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  

What is John the Beloved teaching us in verse 13?  Is he teaching us that free will is not involved in salvation?  Is he teaching that regeneration is the divine act of God alone and that God must first regenerate a person in order for them to believe and become a child of God?  Many presuppose this to be the teaching.

I see verse 13 as teaching that this salvation, this regeneration is not based on:

  1.  Race (not of blood)
  2. Flesh (not of the will of flesh)
  3. Another Disposed to do so on our behalf (nor of the will of man)
  4. God alone!  (but of God)

Let make briefly deal with all four.  First, John says that our race (in this case the Jews from verse 11) could not save us.  The Jews believed that their race made them children of God by virtue of Abraham (John 8:31-47).  Paul dealt with the same issue in Romans 9.  The Jews claimed to be the elect of God by virtue of their blood.  John is saying that salvation and being adopted as a child of God has nothing to do with blood.  Praise God for this truth!

Secondly, corrupt flesh cannot save itself.  Because of our sins, we cannot save ourselves.  The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  When we sin and rebel against God in our flesh, our flesh cannot save us.  We cannot will our flesh to salvation.  We cannot will our flesh to do what is just and right.  Our righteous deeds in our flesh are but filthy garments before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).  Corrupt flesh only wants to please itself and never the Lord (Romans 3:10-18).  We need the aid of the Spirit of God to be saved.  We need the Holy Spirit to convict us and to show us our sins (John 16:8).  We need the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit does all this when the gospel is preached though He does not make us believe.  This act of belief is ours that we do by His aid (John 1:12).

Thirdly, one cannot will another to salvation.  I desire that my children be saved but I cannot earn them salvation nor can I will them to salvation.  I pray for their salvation and I pray for their repentance but I cannot make them believe nor can I will them to heaven.  This is an act of God.  The saying is true that God has no grandchildren.  God only has children (v. 12).  Thus while Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.  Salvation comes for each person who is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this salvation is not because a parent or another willed it so but because God willed that whosoever comes to Him through Christ Jesus will be saved (John 3:14-17).  Thus Jews could not will Gentiles nor forbid them.  Salvation comes through Christ alone and He grants salvation to whosoever comes to Him (Romans 10:9-13).  All can come and be saved but only those who do repent are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).

Lastly, the miracle of regeneration comes through God.  God saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  The cross testifies to God’s willingness to save sinners (Romans 3:23-25).  Romans 5:8 tells that God demonstrates His own love toward us.  God doesn’t just say that He loves us but He has proven His love through the cross.  This salvation is the work of God.  God sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity (Galatians 4:4-7).  Being born again is not the work then of our bloodline nor of our corrupt flesh seeking to earn salvation by our works nor is it willed to us by another disciple but our salvation is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and died for us (Galatians 1:4).  Regeneration is the divine grace of God at work in us who believe.

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