He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn. 1:11-13)
God’s plan of salvation has always been simple. This passage, as well as in the words of Christ in the third chapter, makes it clear that to be saved one must only believe in and on Jesus Christ. The Philippian jailer, trembling, approached Paul and Silas and asked the important question, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Their reply was the simple salvation message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). God would most surely save him. We must never deviate from such a clear and plain message.
I would like to start by pointing out that believing is not a work, salvation is not obtained by anything we can do. However, there are some that would trouble us and tell us that to say that we must believe on Christ is a work. The best way to explain this would be to compare us to beggars. When one gives something into the hands of a beggar, the beggar has not done any work, but has merely reached out his hand and received a gift. That is what salvation is to us, a gift. It is not our full hands giving something to Christ but rather it is our empty hands receiving something from Him.
While the salvation message is simple, understanding the doctrine behind it is not. When I became a Christian I was told that “you are either a Calvinist or an Armenian.” This, though, is not the case and I can now boldly say that I belong to neither school of thought. I believe them both to be daughters of Rome and false doctrinal systems. The debate arises, though, on how to reconcile seemingly different ideas concerning the absolute Sovereignty of God in salvation (born of God) and the responsibility (believing) of man in salvation.
Remaining doctrinally sound is like walking a tight rope; if we lean too far in any one direction we can lose our balance and fall. In the book of Amos we see God introduce a plumb line by which he was going to judge Israel. (Amos 7) A plumb line is an instrument that is used to judge whether or not a structure is level. I am glad that we have a perfect plumb line by which we can judge all things. THE WORD OF GOD.
First of all we find in verse twelve the apostle explaining that man is responsible (as many as received . . . Jn. 1:12). Then we find that man is ultimately responsible for his own soul. Christ told us the same thing in these words, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). We find also that the gospel itself is described as a command. Paul told us that Christ would come with vengeance upon those that obey not the gospel (II Thess. 1:8). Moreover, we also see repeated the command for men to come to Christ and to repent of their sins. (Matt. 11:28; Acts 17:30; to name a few)
Secondly, we see in John 1:13 a description of God’s total sovereignty, for that which happens in the new birth is completely and totally of God. This teaches us that there is nothing at all in a man that can save him. While the Calvinist is busy trying to deny every verse of Scripture that teaches man’s responsibility, the Armenians fanatically deny man’s total depravity. This is one truth that we need to understand – that man is not able to save himself or in any way aid in his salvation. We have the assurance of Scripture that the work that is done did not come from man. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8, 9) Paul again tells us “. . . it is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Rom. 9:16)
We often get frightened when someone challenges the free will of man, but the fact is that man’s will is not free to do as he pleases. Man’s will is enslaved to his nature. No creature can do anything that is beyond the creature’s nature no matter how much the will of that creature longs to do it. Man may will to fly but his will is limited by his nature. We are created in the image of God. We find in the Bible that there are some things to which God cannot do – such as “lie”. (Titus 1:2) This is because the will of God cannot go outside the bounds of His nature. Man’s will is patterned after the Creator, for we see that while God is love, and willing to save all that would come to Him, His nature is holy and just. Therefore He cannot save those who do not turn from their sin and come to Him. (I Pet. 3:9; Rev. 21:27)
How do we then reconcile these two seemingly different ideas? The fact is we do not need to. The Bible declares both as truth. Man is responsible for His salvation, and God is Sovereign in all things including man’s salvation. We must remember that our thoughts are not His thoughts and our ways are not His ways (Isa. 55:8). God is infinite in His understanding and knowledge. His ways are past finding out. Nevertheless, as we approach our text we will try to shed light upon both of these teachings, by learning that man is unable without the help of a greater force, the Holy Spirit. “. . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)
I. Not of Blood. (John 1:13)
We come now to the first point of our text to find that our new birth is not of blood, it is not of Human Descent. This strikes hard at man’s basic pride. No one is saved because of who they are. We know that God is not a respecter of persons. There are lots of people in this world that are counting on that they are from good Christian families, have grown up attending church, and have been involved in the work of God all their lives to save them. They assume that they are saved. I have personally talked to people about their need of salvation just to have them reply to me that they “grew up in church,” or “their mom and dad raised them to be good Christians.” What are these people really trusting in? As Pharisees trusted in the fact that they were “children of Abraham” to save them, so there are many today which hold to the same doctrine (John 8:33-44). There is a cult that believes that they are Israel, and because of that, they believe that they are saved. They are trusting in who they are or who their family is to save them. Nevertheless, our text tells us that salvation does not derive from human descent.
I am very proud of my family. My Father is the pastor of my church, my grandfather was the founder of my church, I have an uncle who is a worldwide evangelist, and I have another uncle and aunt that have been missionaries in Panama for more than thirty years. However, despite all this, I was still on my way to a devil’s hell at the age of twenty-one. My family’s achievements had no power to save me. My new birth did not occur because of the righteousness of my lineage. The Bible teaches that righteousness is only of God, and is not passed down through the generations of man. Righteousness (being right with God) is something that is received, not handed down through our parents. (Jn. 1:12)
The Bible teaches that sin and death are passed down through all generations. The Bible tells us that by Adam’s sin we all became sinners. (Rom. 5:12: keep this thought in mind during this study) We all were in Adam when he sinned. We find that Adam was created in the image of God, but Adam then rebelled against God and sinned. Adam lost that “image” in which he was created, and begot his children in his sinful image (Gen. 5:1). The sentence of death is passed upon all men, and we are all sinners from birth. In the fifty-first Psalm David lamented his own sinful state and although he was a man after God’s own heart, he said that he was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin.
Therefore, we find that the very nature of man is depraved and fit for nothing but hell and judgment. (Eph.2:2, 3) The Bible declares none to be good but all to be sinners deserving of hell. (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23) The Lord tells us that the father does not die for the son’s sin or the son for the father’s sin but “every man shall die for his own sin.” (II Chr. 25:30) Man is now completely sinful in his nature and condemned in the eyes of God. (Jn. 3:18) Sin not righteousness, is passed on to man. Salvation is not in human descent.
Ezekiel 18, teaches that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Calvinism teaches that God is pleased to set some aside for hell). This chapter tells the story of three generations of men. The first man mentioned feared God and walked in all his statutes. This man’s soul was saved alive. His righteousness was received from God. (II Cor. 5:21, Rom. 8:2, 3) His son, after seeing all that his father did and the way he walked, turned aside and followed wickedness. His life was not saved, not because of his father’s standing, he chose to die in sin. After this wicked man died, his son, after seeing all that his father had done, turned to the LORD and walked in the way of the LORD. This man was saved. Everyone is responsible for their own soul and no one’s salvation is acquired by human descent.
II. Not of the will of the flesh.
We come to the next point of our text. The New Birth is not of the will of the flesh – in other words it does not derive from Human Design. Salvation is not of works as we have seen already. However, if you were to ask the “average professor” of religion how he was saved, the typical answer would be his telling you something which he had done in his own power. The fact is that most people that go to church are lost and on their way to hell because instead of simply putting their trust (faith) in Christ they trust in their own fleshy effort.
I cannot leave this point without stressing the confusion over the New Birth doctrine. Within what is considered the “Christian community” there are many “different ideas” about what it takes to save you. No, there are not many roads leading to the same place, these ideas may be called false ideas, because there is only one way for true salvation.
Catholicism teaches you about seven sacraments (as a means of grace) which a person must do in order to be saved. This is salvation by “works of human design”. There is a denomination which teaches the necessity of a water baptism in order to be saved. Is this not also a “salvation of works”? Others teach “salvation by grace” but with that teaching they add that if you fall into sin you can lose your salvation. (It must be stressed here that salvation is forever and if it could be lost there would be no chance of regaining it: Jn. 10:28; Heb. 6:4-6) However, the biggest problem with “loosing ones salvation” is the fact that it places salvation upon “man’s ability to keep from sinning”, (We shall address this when we deal with the change after the New Birth). All the above teach a “salvation by fleshy effort (works)”.
I believe with all my heart that Scripture teaches that if someone enters into “salvation” with any of the above notions, that person is deceived and still in his sins, condemned and on his way to the lake of fire. (Jn. 3:18) It is time for us to get back to God’s simple plan that salvation is based solely and completely on Christ alone. No doubt, there are people in our churches that will die and spend their eternity in torment because they trusted in themselves and what they could do, and not on Christ alone.
Church membership will not save. Baptism will not save. You could be baptized in every creek and pond (and know every tadpole by name), but if that is what you trust in to save you, you will split hell wide open one day. Giving tithes and offerings will not save. Preaching or teaching Sunday School will not save. Soul winning and talking about Christ does not make you a Christian. You can stand on your head, light candles, quote scripture, talk in an unknown tongue, say the sinner’s prayer, or do good deeds, and all this, and whatever else you or any other man on earth can think of to do, will not, in any way, bring about the New Birth.
The Bible says, “all our righteousness’ are as filthy rags.” Man just wants to puff himself up with pride and think that he can earn his way but he will not make it. Man is depraved and man’s fleshy effort cannot please God. (Rom. 3:9-18, 8:8, Gal. 5:4) If there could be any one saved by the effort of the flesh it would not be 99% of professing Christians. There are many other religions made up of people with far greater zeal. Islam produces men and women that believe their religion so much that they are willing to give their own lives for it. What a shame that the “average professor of Christianity” will not even live for Christ. Christians can smoke cigarettes, drink, and fornicate but will not live the way God told them to in His Word.
The Jehovah Witness’ and Mormons are out every day trying to win converts but the “average Christian professor” who can make it to his job every day, won’t even consistently make it to church on Sunday morning or will show up – twenty minutes late. The Muslims pray five times a day with their face in the dirt; the “average Christian professor” will not even pray five minutes. The Orthodox Jews will daily walk by the very letter of the law while “Christians” may dust off their Bible for church once a week. The Atheist and Humanist will bombard our government, schools, and media, to get his views across but “born again” believers will not even hand out a Gospel Track. If fleshy efforts saved any it would save these, not the weak professing “Christians” of our day. Fleshy effort will not save.
Also, we need to realize that we are not saved by fleshy feeling. There are too many people that base their salvation on some kind of experience that they have had. If it is an experience that one seeks to assure heaven the devil will surely give him one. (II Cor. 11:14) There are people that go to the apostate evangelistic meetings to be “slain in the spirit”, or get teary eyed by the music program or come forward and repeat a prayer, and then go home thinking that the experience they had saved them. Some, also, may go to a Charismatic church and start speaking gibberish and go away thinking that that is proof of salvation. They can produce nothing from the Scripture which would say that what they did or experienced would save them; they just simply placed their faith in the experience. But, the Bible tells us that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. (II Cor. 5:7)
When dealing with men regarding their soul, after asking if they were saved, I have often heard the reply, “I feel in my heart that I am saved.” But salvation is not about feeling – it is a knowledge based on the Word of God. Many people who think they are saved because they feel in their heart that they are do not know what the Scriptures say about their heart. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Only a fool trusts his heart; especially if he trusts his heart on eternally important matters which will forever effect the soul.
I believe that “modern” Christianity has failed. We have gotten used to unscriptural terms (like “just invite Jesus into your heart”) We do not even know how to really bring people to Christ. We have been so busy trying to give people a salvation experience that we have let many slip into eternity without Christ. What a tragedy! We have become really good at preaching heart-warming messages, telling tear-jerking stories, giving convincing invitations, and the “right sales pitch” at the alter, that we have forgotten how to simply give the gospel and to let God do the work. No one can be saved by our enticing words. (I Cor. 2:4) We can never play the part of the Holy Spirit. No one will ever be born again by fleshy feelings.
III. Not of the will of man.
We have now come to the last part of John’s list concerning what does not constitute the New Birth. This is the part that will be the most controversial. We do not expect to get support from the Calvinist or the Armenian camps. The passage clearly states that man’s will does not save him. We are not saved by human desire. Man has no choice on when he comes to Christ. We often hear testimonies that end with a person saying, “I found Jesus.” Well Jesus was never lost – we were. It would be more correct for us to say, “Jesus found us.” Christ found Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul was not looking for Christ. Rather, Christ sought Paul. The same situation applies to us. We are not seeking God, but God is seeking us. We have nothing to glory about concerning our efforts. May we joyously look upon the words of Christ, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Let us start by looking in the book of John where it is stated, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John 6:44) There it is – in a nutshell. No one has the ability to come to Christ unless that person is first drawn by the Holy Spirit. This strikes right at the heart of Arminianism and the most accepted doctrine in most modern churches – “easy-believism.” It may be easy for one to believe but not for the person to get to a place where he is able to believe. This takes the work of God. There are a lot of churches and Christian colleges, that teach people how to win soul. What these people are really being taught is to get a person to repeat a prayer after them (the sinner’s prayer), and if he does, to encourage him into believing he is saved. They have a powerful sales pitch, a few selected verses of Scripture, and a nice printed prayer, so that they can go out to see how many they can catch. All this is done so that they can brag about the number of people they have “led to the Lord.” This is easy-believism. The Bible rejects it, and so must we. I heard a sarcastic person say, “Well, what is the alternative hard-believism?” No! How about impossible. The verse says, “No man can come . . . except” (John 6:44) We must realize that unless the Holy Spirit is present, the person we are dealing with cannot be saved.
We also read this promise in the Bible which says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32) This verse of Scripture strikes at the heart of Calvinistic doctrine. The Calvinist will teach that God only elected so many, Jesus only died for so many, and that the Holy Spirit only draws those individuals. They claim that, while the gospel is preached to all and calls all to be saved, the Spirit will only effectually call those who were “chosen to salvation” and that this call is irresistible. To prove their argument they quote John 6:44.
But our passage here promises two things. It promises us power in our preaching: if we lift up Christ – the Spirit will call men. But more importantly, it promises opportunity for all to be called. The next objection which a reformed theologian wound raise, is that the Father draws in John 6:44 but here it is Christ that draws (Jn. 12:32), therefore the Father draws through the Spirit but Christ only through the Word. This objection holds no ground, for we learn that the Spirit is both the Father’s and the Son’s (Rom. 8:9; proof of the deity of Christ), and both draw men through the work of the Holy Spirit.
I love the word ‘world’ in the Bible. This word is all-inclusive and leaves no one out. John tells us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . . .” (John 3:16) There are those that want to argue that the word ‘world’ only means the elect but we need to be reminded that it is defined in the same verse as “whosoever.” Also, in the eighteenth verse it includes both believers and unbelievers, and in verse nineteen, the men who love darkness. There is no ground for anyone to limit the word “world” in this passage. This is the same ‘world’ that John tells us about when he says, “And he is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2) So not only did the Father send the Son for the whole world but Christ also shed his blood for the whole world. But wait, John does not stop there. We find John, moved by the Holy Ghost, saying, “And when he is come (the Holy Spirit), he will reprove (there is your drawing in Jn.6:44 and 12:32) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:8) So we have the full cycle: the Father desires all to be saved, the Son made it possible for all to be saved, and the Spirit draws all men to salvation.
This in no way glorifies men in salvation. Salvation is done at God’s will not man’s. (James 1:18) As we have already seen, man’s will is not free but is a slave to his depraved nature. It is the Holy Spirit who frees the will and allows man to decide. Through the work of the Spirit, man is given both the ability and will to come to Christ (Phil. 2:13). Many have the idea that they can postpone salvation. We, no doubt, have heard some say, “I’m not ready to get saved right now, but I will before I die.” Others have told us that they do not want to give up their sin, yet, but when they are ready they will come to Christ. It is fearful to say this, but a multitude of people will die in their sins believing that they can come to the Lord whenever they feel ready. Christ told Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth. . . .” (John 3:8) The wind is a picture of the drawing work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. You can see, hear, and even feel what the Spirit is doing while He is present, just as you do the wind. You cannot tell where the Spirit came from, where He is going, or even how long He will be present. All you know is that He is there at that moment. We are told, “. . . behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” (II Cor. 6:2)
Yes, the Lord has a certain time when He will accept the sinner. Yes, the Lord has only a certain time when He will send His Spirit to succor or help the sinner. (II Cor. 6:2) Yes, there is only that time which is called ‘the day of salvation.’ Sinner, if the Spirit is present to convict you of your sinful condition, to show you your inability, to show you the One who paid the price for your sin, and lovingly draws you to Christ, resist Him not. Now is the time! “See that ye refuse him not that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven . . . .” (Heb. 12:25)
One occasion that stands out in my mind is when I spoke to a man after church one night. We were in the parking lot of the church for almost an hour speaking about his need to repent and turn to Christ for salvation. He finally told me that he did not want to get saved right then but wanted to think about it. Before I gave him leave, I said, “Sir, you may have a hundred more chances to be saved. There may be a hundred more times that someone will open this Book and show you the way of salvation. The Spirit of God may come to you many more times and convict your heart of your need. But, Sir, this might be it, and this may be the last, and only time He will deal with you.” Sinner, do not take that chance. You are not saved by your own will, but you are saved by His will. “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts. (Heb. 4:7) O, what a loss it was to Israel when they missed the day of their visitation. (Luke 19:41-44) Christ is weeping over the lost soul which did not recognize his time as being right.
Our text in John tells us clearly, that we do not accomplish any part of the new birth experience; it is not in our descent, design, or in our desire. The text is perfectly plain about who is the source of the New Birth, “it is God Himself”. This is the doctrine which, in these last days, has been departed from, to which men cannot endure (I Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4). This is what needs to be preached in these days; man is totally unable but God is all-sufficient. The root of all heretical doctrine is the denial that salvation is completely and totally of God. Whether it be the belief that man can lose his salvation or work his way to heaven, it all stems from a denial of God. While there may be things that we may not agree on I hope that we will find common ground here, on this central point. Salvation is of the Lord.
“It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.” (Ps.18:32-36)