Sun, Sep 08, 2002
75 - Regeneration and Impersonal Love
1 John 5:1 by Robert Dean
Series: 1st John (2000)

Regeneration and Impersonal Love; 1 John 5:1

Titus 3:5 NASB "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."

We have phase one salvation because we believe in Christ—faith alone in Christ alone. In Titus 3:5 we see that there is a breakdown of this concept of being saved. It can be taken from the Greek that this is a synonymous repetition that the washing of regeneration is the renewal by the Holy Spirit; it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us. So regeneration precedes full salvation. In other words, there are logical steps that precede salvation. What we can say is that first perfect righteousness is imputed to the believer. At that same instant and instantaneously God declares that individual to be justified. He is declared to be just not because he is personally righteous or moral but because he has received the perfect righteousness of Christ. We are clothed in His righteousness, we have received that imputed righteousness, and God the Father looks at us in terms of Christ's perfect righteousness. So first there is the imputation of righteousness, then there is justification by faith alone, then we have at that instant regeneration and we receive a new human spirit and are then spiritually alive. That is the process.

What has happened is that teachers have come along who are teaching that regeneration comes before faith. There are two passages that they base that on and we want to ask what the Bible teaches about this.

In Ephesians 2:1 Paul states: NASB "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." That is a reminder to the Ephesians that they were born spiritually dead. That doesn't mean anything else other than that before salvation they were still positionally in sin; after salvation they were positionally in Christ. [2] "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." The "in which" refers to sin, so verse 2 is a description of sin, of the word "sins," and it concludes with the fact that "this is the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience. [3] Among them … " To whom does the "them" refer to? The sons of disobedience. So verse 2 explains the last word in verse 1; verse 3 explains the last phrase in verse 2.  " … Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." The English Bible ends that were with a period but the Greek does not. [4] "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us." The subject here is God; it is not back in verse 1. Verse 1 is dependent upon what happens in verse 4. Paul piles up all of these clauses at the beginning to give a little background before he hits the main idea, which is God. Then he has a relative clause following "God" which is describing God—" being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us."  [5] "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), [6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly {places} in Christ Jesus." There are three key verbs in vv. 5, 6: God is the subject; "made us alive together with Christ"; "Christ raised us up He together"; "made us sit together in the heavenly places." That is a threefold compound verb for what God does for us at salvation. Then we have a purpose clause in verse 7: "so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." So v. 7 describes the ultimate long-range purpose of our salvation. 

Notice something at the end of verse 5. Following the first of the three compound verbs we have the parenthetical thought: "by grace you have been saved." God made us alive together with Christ and Paul says, "By grace you have been saved." That is the main thought of this whole section from v. 1 to v. 9. Grace means it is a free gift; it is not due to anything that we do. God says it is ours whether or not we take care of it, no strings attached.

Review: The main subject of the lengthy sentence in the original Greek is God in verse 4. There is a three-fold compound verb: being made alive together, raised together, and seated together. There is an independent, grammatically unrelated clause that applies to being made alive together, the action of God, and that is by grace, and is summarised by faith.

That idea—by grace you have been saved through faith—is then picked up and expanded, sort of like an overlap. Then Paul is going to add the idea that you were dead in trespasses but it is by grace you have been saved. Then he is going to pick that idea up again in verse 8. Eph 2:8 NASB "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…" "Faith" is a feminine noun in the Greek; "that" is a demonstrative singular pronoun that is in the neuter gender. A pronoun must always agree with its antecedent in case, number and gender. So a neuter gender pronoun cannot refer to a feminine gender noun. The problem is that many popular teachers say that the "that" refers to faith, and they come up with abstruse reasons that have nothing to do with Greek grammar in order to demonstrate that, and their conclusion is that the faith is the gift, i.e. "that [faith] is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…" According to that your faith is a gift of God, and the kind of faith that is exercised at salvation is a "special kind" of faith, i.e. "saving" faith. What they do, then, is place the significance on the kind of faith exercised at salvation and not the object of faith.

It is the object of faith that makes it salvific. The reason we are saved is not because we have a special kind of faith but because our faith is directed to the proper object of faith which is the Lord Jesus Christ. The word that is used for faith throughout the Scriptures is the same word that is used for the every-day use of faith. It is not a special quality of faith that saves, it is a faith directed toward the proper object, which is the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we look at the construction of verse 8 we have the statement: "For by grace you have been saved," which is picked up from verse 5, "through faith." The "through faith" is a completely new idea that is not germane to the subject of the verse. The subjective of the verse is "For by grace you have been saved." Then we have, "and that not of yourselves." It is the grace salvation that is not of yourselves; it is the grace salvation that is a free gift of God. What we learn from Ephesians 2:8, 9 is that the end result of our salvation is "by grace"; that these verses do not teach that faith precedes regeneration. Regeneration precedes the final result, the salvation.

In 1 John chapter five John is still talking about the abiding Christian life and avoiding shame and embarrassment at the judgment seat of Christ. One of the major themes that John has introduced in chapters three and four is that the believer must abide in Christ in order to come to a position of knowing God. (Knowing God is not another phrase for salvation) As we come to understand the dimensions of salvation we begin to appreciate who God is more and more and we begin to fall in love with Him. Knowledge comes only after we are saved and after a certain level of spiritual growth and understanding of the Scriptures, and then as we come to know Him we come to love Him. This means we have to understand his Word, know His Word and apply His Word or we don't really love God and we don't love one another. We have to reach that stage of spiritual maturity otherwise there is going to be some embarrassment at the judgment seat of Christ. 

In 5:1-3 John is concluding what he began in verse 4:17, i.e. "By this, love is perfected [matured] with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. [18] There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected [matured] in love." 

1 John 5:1 NASB "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the {child} born of Him." The issue in the first part of this verse is the Greek construction. He begins with a present participle—"Who ever believes that Jesus in the Christ is born of God." The main verb is "is born." Notice how it is translated in the English as a present tense. In Greek it is a perfect passive indicative. The perfect means it refers to an action that has been completed in the past. Whenever there is a perfect tense it emphasises either the completion of the action, which is called an extensive perfect, or it is emphasizing the present results of that completed past action; that is called an intensive perfect. This is emphasising the present consequences of regeneration. You were born again at some time in the past when you put your faith alone in Christ alone and at that instant you were regenerated. So he is emphasising the present reality of a past action, and it is translated in the English as a present tense; but in actuality it is a perfect tense in the Greek. That perfect tense is preceded in the context by a present participle, and here is where things get a little complicated. Participles don't have time per se, they are all related to the time aspect in the main verb. So an aorist participle precedes the action of the main verb. A present tense action goes along with the same time as the action of the verb, and a future tense would come after the action of the verb. Well this is a present participle and that indicates that believing would be viewed as cotemporaneous with being born again. That doesn't really tell us anything. The problem is that we get a number of people who come along and look at this perfect tense and they want to say that is past action. What that means is that we are regenerated first and then we believe afterwards. They interpret this verse to relate to phase one salvation because of the phrase "believes that Jesus is the Christ."

This grammar is not uncommon in 1 John—a perfect tense main verb preceded by a present tense participle. What we have to do is look at the other examples of this in the Greek to see exactly how John uses it.

1 John 2:29 NASB "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness [present participle] is born [perfect tense] of Him." So this indicates that the one who practices righteousness has already been born of Him. So practicing righteousness comes after we are born.

1 John 3:9 NASB "No one who is born [prefect tense] of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." So a consequence of being born of God is that we cannot sin—while abiding.

1 John 4:7 NASB "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [present participle] is born of God and knows God." Here we have the same construction. There it seems like loving is a consequence of being born.

1 John 5:1 NASB "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the {child} born of Him." But if we look at the other examples, that seems to indicate that Jesus is the Christ is a consequence of being born of God; that faith comes after regeneration.

1 John 5:4, same construction: NASB "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." Because we are born of God a consequence is overcoming the world.

1 John 5:18 NASB "We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him." So not sinning would be something that is a consequence of being born of God.

Those are the verses where we have this perfect tense of ginao [ginaw], the verb for regeneration. The key verses are 1 John 2:29; 4:7; 5:1. Looking at them again we see the phrase "the one who practices righteousness," present active participle, "is born of Him." So the practicing righteousness here looks like it is a consequence of being born; 1 John 4:7, loving a consequence of being born; 5:1, whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, so believing seems to be the result of being born.

Some observations: First, in 2:29 the phrase "who practices righteousness" isn't the Greek prasso [prassw], meaning practice, but poieo [poiew] which means to do: "Whoever does righteousness is born of Him." Second, all three of these statements (2:29; 4:7; 5;1) have to be understood in the same way. That means that if 2:29 is talking about what happens after salvation, the Christian life, then 4:7 and 5:1 have to be talking about the Christian life. In other words, we are not talking about what happened at salvation, we are talking about what the believer looks like after salvation. We have to treat them the same because they're consistent. In 2:28 the theme was to abide in Christ, so he is addressing believers with the command to abide in Christ so that they won't experience shame at the judgment seat of Christ. This means that contextually from 2:28 to 5:3a John is not talking about being saved. He is not addressing salvation, he is addressing Christian life truth, the subject of what the abiding life looks like. He is not addressing the question of how we get saved. It would not be consistent for him to suddenly in the midst of this whole section, this dealing with what the biding life looks like, introduce something about phase one salvation or justification.

What John is saying in 5:1 is exactly what he has been saying in 2:29 and 4:7, that is, the believer who is manifesting his family birth does righteousness. The believer who is manifesting his family birth loves his brother and the believer who is manifesting his family birth continues to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. On the other hand, the believer who is not manifesting his family birth sins; he hates his brother. The believer who is not abiding, not walking in the light, rejects Jesus as the Messiah. This is exactly John's point here because as he has already stated part of the problem with the false teachers that he is dealing with is that they have started teaching that Jesus wasn't the Messiah, that He didn't come in the flesh. They were Docetists, they were teaching that Jesus didn't really appear in the flesh. In 1 John 4:2 the spirit of error mentioned there is teaching that Jesus is not the Messiah, and that is related back to 1 John 2:19 where John says: "They went out from us, but they were not of us." He says that these false teachers once associated with the apostles and were using their former association to give their ministry credibility. This doesn't mean that they weren't saved, it just means that they go into false doctrine after they were saved and because they were into false doctrine they were no longer in fellowship, no longer abiding, and they will experience at the judgment seat of Christ.

Therefore what John is saying here is not phase one salvation. He is looking at the person born of God in each of these verses, a person who is in the family of God and who is continuing to abide. He is assuming this is a growing believer. In the other two verses he says the person born of God doesn't sin; he is assuming the person born of God and abiding doesn't sin. He is looking at a person who is manifesting his new birth. There are certain things that are going to characterise a person who is manifesting his position in the family of God. And that is, they are going to love their brother, they are not going to sin, and they are going to continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But a disobedient believer in reversionism, living in carnality, walking according to the flesh and not paying attention to the truth of Scripture, then he is going to hate his brother, is not going to practice righteousness, and it going to get caught up in false doctrine and may even reject the deity of Christ and that he is the Messiah. That makes sense when we look down to verse 13 where John says: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." The point is there were those who weren't continuing to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. As a result of that John is addressing them as one evidence of their carnality.

Faith comes first, then regeneration. Neither Ephesians 2 nor 1 John 5 can support the pernicious doctrine that regeneration precedes faith. If regeneration precedes faith then our volition is not involved at all in our salvation. That goes along with the hyper-Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election, that God just chooses us and then is going to regenerate us, and then He is going save us and we don't have anything to do with it at all. It happens because God made the decision and our will wasn't involved at any point. The concept of regeneration preceding faith isn't in John's mind at all but we had to address it because that is the error that we face in our modern times.

What John is saying is that whoever is manifesting their position in the family of God is going to love one another. This is what he goes on to emphasise in the second half of the verse: '…whoever loves the Father loves the {child} born of Him." He is still dealing with what it means and how it is evidenced that we love God.

1 John 5:2 NASB "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments." We know we love God when we do what He says to do. So we are ruled by an external system of integrity—the character of God—and we live according to that external system of integrity which is God's plan for our lives. In order to live according to that plan we have to know it. In order to know it we have to make the knowledge of God and His Word the highest priority in life. So John follows a rigorous stair-step of logic here and he concludes it in 1 John 5:3 NASB "For this is the love God of [for God: objective genitive], that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

1.  The person who loves God also loves the child of God whom He has begotten.

2.  The person who loves the child of God loves God and keeps His commandments.

3.  Love for God consists in keeping His commandments, therefore love for God consists in making the knowledge of His commandments and the application of those commandments the highest priority in life.

4.  To get to that point requires a tremendous amount of spiritual maturity. That is why the issue in all of this is maturity. Loving God and loving one another only happens when we have reached a level of spiritual adulthood. It doesn't happen when a person is a spiritual child. Only by becoming a spiritual adult can we be sure that we are going to make it at the judgment seat of Christ, not lose rewards and not embarrass ourselves and the plan of God.

5.  It doesn't have anything to do with gaining salvation or the approbation of God so that we will spend eternity in heaven. It has everything to do with glorifying Him so that we are demonstrating the opposite characteristics of Satan in Satan's fall. Satan said the creature can exalt himself, be absorbed with himself, and do it his own way and be successful. God is demonstrating through the church age that the only way the creature can have real success in life and in eternity is to be completely oriented to God's plan, to love God, and to manifest just the opposite characteristics of Satan. Not arrogance but humility; not hatred but through genuine love.