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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "The Gospel of John." To view all parts, click the link below.
Christ is the living Light that was spoken at the beginning, John says. He is therefore the living Word (Memra/Logos) through which all things were created at the beginning and through which all things are again being made new.
The question is HOW? What is the process? How does the first creation set the pattern for the new creation, so that we may understand it?
Even as Christ manifested light at the first creation, so also is He manifesting the light in the re-creation process, beginning with His incarnation and ministry in the earth. But this time, the creation must be renewed, not re-created per se. The present world order has again become chaotic and needs to return to the divine order.
The first attempt to bring order from chaos put the responsibility upon a man who was created and formed (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). Though Luke calls Adam “the son of God” (Luke 3:38), Adam was not a begotten son but was created with the rest of the world. But in this re-creation, God switches tactics so that the sons of God are begotten in the same regeneration that the Firstborn Son of God was also begotten.
Life begat Light that was alive. That Light is also the glory of God, as we will see. Mortal men are both dead and blind and are unable to see the Light until Christ heals their blindness. That is why one of the miracle-signs presented in John’s gospel is where Jesus healed the man born blind. We are all born blind, as it were, but He is the light of the world, and until He opens our eyes by a sovereign act of His own will, we remain spiritually blind.
So John 1:11-13 says,
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born [gennao, “begotten”] not of blood [“bloodline”], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
First, the Greek word paralambano, translated “receive,” means “to associate one’s self with.” The opposite would be to shun, or to refuse fellowship or association with Jesus Christ. In this case, “His own” was the nation of Judah as a whole, or Judea (Greek name). All nations are represented by their leaders in an official capacity, and those leaders (Sanhedrin) rejected Jesus as the Messiah when they condemned Him to death.
Yet on another level we see individuals within the nation who did indeed “receive Him.” Not only the twelve and the seventy but also the thousands who received Him on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Many of those were from out of town who had come in a pilgrimage to keep the feast, yet many years later James reminded Paul that there were still thousands in Jerusalem who had received Him (Acts 21:20). These, however, did not constitute the nation itself, because they had no authority to decree or speak in an official capacity.
Nonetheless, those who received Jesus were given “the right to become children of God.” This right came from the temple in heaven, not from the temple in Jerusalem. By fellowshipping with Him, they became part of His body and partook of His essence. When John says, “even to those who believe in His name,” we see that it is by faith in Him. The Greek word pistis, “faith,” is a noun, but there was also a verb form that is lacking in the English language. Hence, we cannot properly say that we faith Jesus but must change the wording to say that we believe Jesus.
Yet we should understand that to have faith is the same as believing. A believer is one who has faith. For John, faith is the basis of sonship, whereas in Paul’s writings, faith is the requisite for justification (Romans 4:2, 5). For James, faith was expressed and therefore evidenced by one’s works (James 2:18). All of these writers are in harmony, but each focuses on a different aspect of faith.
John says that the children of God are not merely created but begotten (gennao). The NASB renders it “born” (John 1:13). The Greek word has a double meaning, as Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes on Matthew 1:2,
“begat. Gr. gennao. When used of the father = to beget or engender; and when used of the mother it means to bring forth into the world.”
So Matthew 1:2 says, “Abraham begat Isaac,” for it is plain that men beget, while women give birth. So also in Luke 1:13 Gabriel told Zacharias, “your wife Elizabeth will bear [gennao] you a son.” It is clear that Zacharias begat John the Baptist, while Elizabeth gave birth to him.
We must always look at the context to see how gennao should be translated. Unfortunately, most translations render it “begotten” only when they are absolutely forced to do so. This is probably to accommodate the multitudes of Christians who are accustomed to the term “born again” but who are unfamiliar with being “begotten from above.” So the NASB renders 1 Peter 1:23,
23 for you have been born again [gennao] not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
“Seed” does not give birth. Seed begets. Men have seed; women have eggs that are seeded. To speak of being “born again” by imperishable seed does not create a proper understanding of Peter’s teaching. This misinterpretation has caused confusion among believers, for they think that their faith brings them to birth, when in fact their faith is the imperishable (immortal) seed which begets Christ in them.
The birthing takes place later, even as we see in the natural cycle from conception to birth. If we study the feast days and their application to individuals, Passover represents the time of conception, Pentecost is the time of development and growth, while Tabernacles is the time that the sons of God are brought to full birth. Such teaching is relatively unknown, largely because so few understand the dual meaning of gennao.
Physical and Spiritual Begetting
In John 1:13 the apostle makes the same point that Peter does in 1 Peter 1:23. Both emphasize the fact that we are not begotten by the mortal seed that comes from Adam. Instead, we are begotten, as Peter says, “through the living and abiding word of God.” Those who are begotten by mortal seed are like “grass” and “flowers” which spring up beautifully for a short season and soon die (1 Peter 1:24). By contrast, he says, the seed of the word (rhema) “abides forever” (1 Peter 1:25).
The point is that physical seed passes down mortality (death) through our earthly fathers, while spiritual seed is immortal and begets children after its kind. Those who place their hope and faith in their physical bloodline as the basis of their sonship, those who believe that they are inheritors of the promises of God on account of their genealogy or by their fleshly works or by their “free will” may still have need to be begotten by the Word.
Faith is not true faith unless its object is Christ and the word of God as taught by the apostles. One can have faith in virtually anything, but only faith in the word gives us the right to be called children of God. Hence, I cringe when I hear men claim that they are sons of God by virtue of their physical genealogy or by virtue of their own will.
John 1:13 clearly tells us three ways that men CANNOT become children of God:
1. “Not of blood” (i.e., bloodline, or genealogy)
2. “nor of the will of the flesh” (the result of in sexual desire and relations)
3. “nor of the will of man” (man’s decisions, vows, and intentions)
The first explicitly says that genealogy (earthly father) is not the basis of sonship. The second is similar in that sons of God are not begotten by the desires of the flesh, including sexual desire. The third says that the sons of God are not begotten by the power of man’s will “but of God,” that is, God’s will.
This third statement sets forth the New Covenant idea that we are children of God through the promises of God, not through the promises of men. The Old Covenant (Exodus 19:8) was made by the promises of men, whereas the New Covenant sets forth the promise of God, as we read in Hebrews 8:10,
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Whoever makes the vow or promise is the one responsible to keep it. When men said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8), they had to fulfill their vow in order to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” as well as “My own possession” (Exodus 19:6). That was another way of saying that they had to be perfectly obedient in order to be God’s people and for God to be their God.
The problem, as Paul later pointed out, was that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). The Old Covenant was designed to fail, not because the people’s intent was faulty, but because they were unable to live up to their own good intentions. Why? Because they had been begotten by mortal seed that carried the death penalty from Adam (Romans 5:12), and this mortal seed caused them to sin.
Those who depend upon the will of their mortal flesh are not yet truly begotten by the word. Those who depend upon “the will of man,” as most Christians seem to do by their own confession, should also examine the basis of their faith. If they say, “I am saved because I made a profession of faith and accepted Christ,” implying that it was done by their own will, their faith may be misplaced. Only God can say for sure, of course, for He alone sees the heart. But it is important at some point that we understand the apostolic teaching about sonship, so that we attribute our faith to its true Source.
The Light of New Covenant Revelation
When John took sonship out from the hands of men and put it into the hands of God and His will alone, he was defining the Light, which is the message or word that we must believe.
We need the revelation of the sovereignty of God, for this is the basis of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is based on God’s free will; the Old Covenant is based on man’s “free will.” Only one of these can succeed. When God gives us the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), it is because He has spoken the word and has caused us to hear His voice and to see the light of the word. Hence, it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4 KJV). He is the First Cause; we are only responders, and our fleshly will can take no credit for initiating our salvation.
The bottom line is that God has made a promise (vow) to write His laws in our heart and to make us His people and to be our God. If God fails to do this—if He fails to justify all men (Romans 5:18), if He fails to save all men (1 Timothy 4:10), if He fails to put all things under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:27, 28; Hebrews 2:8)—then He cannot pass the blame to men for resisting His grace. The New Covenant put the responsibility upon His own shoulders, whereas the Old Covenant had put the responsibility upon men’s shoulders.
It is God’s responsibility to work through His Holy Spirit to accomplish His original purpose for creation. To fail is to sin, for the Hebrew word khawtaw means “to sin, to miss the mark, to fail.” God purposed at the beginning to create a world in which the glory of heaven could descend. He created a good universe that heaven could marry. There is no divine marriage without full unity, and there is no full marital unity apart from a New Covenant marriage.
The real underlying question is whether or not we believe that God is indeed capable of fulfilling His original purpose. Was He wise enough to devise a plan that would succeed? Or is His hand shortened that He cannot save? Is He limited, as so many say, by His holiness? Or does His holiness demand that He must fulfill His promise and thereby succeed in His original purpose?
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "The Gospel of John." To view all parts, click the link below.