Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Does John 1:13 mean that man has no choice in the matter of salvation?


Many people who are of the Calvinist camp of theological interpretation believe that John 1:13 is proof that God irresistibly saves the elect without consideration of their choice in the matter. Here is how the verse reads:

"children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."

If we are going to deal with verse 13 we need to take a look at the context beginning primarily with verse 12. In John 1:12 it says "to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Receiving the word of Christ is a choice, it's the act of faith that leads to being a child of God (see also Romans 10:17).  In verse 13 when John says "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," we have to look at it in light of the preceding verse, which clearly says men must make a choice to receive Him. Nonetheless, let's unpack verse 13 in a bit more detail.  

1. Born, not of blood- means not a natural birth but spiritual.
2. Nor the will of the flesh- means not because of sexual desire that leads to pregnancy.
3. Nor the will of man- not because of someones desire to have a child.

John is drawing a parallel between natural childbirth and spiritual rebirth.

Natural childbirth is:
-Born of blood
-Conceived through the will of the flesh (sexual desire)
-Initiated due to the will of a married couple

Spiritual childbirth is:
-Born of the Spirit
-Conceived through the will of God to save men.
-And initiated in God seeking to save the lost, not the lost having the ability to seek Him.

So even though men must "receive Him to become children of God (v. 12)" the process originates and is initiated by God not men (v.13). This is perfectly consistent with the non-Calvinist doctrine of prevenient grace, which teaches that God draws all men to Himself through Christ but they retain the ability to resist Him if they choose. However, since Calvinists deny that men have any say in the matter of our salvation they cannot reconcile their systemic with the clear point the John makes regarding man's responsibility to receive Him personally.

Therefore, we must conclude that when taking the verse's context into consideration John 1:13 means that God is the One who initiates, enables, and completes our salvation but we must comply (by grace) with His initial drawing in order to become His children. This interpretation is able to remain consistent with the entirety of the text while the Calvinist position must ultimately deny that man in fact is responsible to personally receive Christ to become a Child of God. For more information on "is Calvinism Biblical" Click here.

Written by: Kyle Bailey, M.Th

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