Does 1 John 5:1 Prove Faith Leads To Regeneration?

A while back I made this statement to someone who had visited my blog and was questioning the belief in regeneration leading to faith: “You won’t find a bible verse that says ‘believe and you will be born again'”. The person responded by saying: “Is 1 John no longer a part of Scripture? ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’“. Although this is not the only verse that I would cite to support my position, in this post we’ll examine that verse, 1 John 5:1.

Depending upon which English bible translation you are looking at, this verse might appear to support the assertion that faith precedes regeneration, or it may appear to support just the opposite in other translations. For example, here are some translations that some might cite in favor of the view opposite of mine:

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ IS BORN of God”, NASB
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ IS BORN of God”, KJV
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ IS BORN of God”, NKV
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ IS BORN…”, NIV

However, in these translations, it appears that the opposite is the case – that people who believe have been (past tense) born again.

“Everyone who believes … HAS BEEN born of God”, ESV
“Everyone who believes … HAS BEEN born of God”, NRSV
“…believing that Jesus is the Christ… HATH BEEN begotten”, YLT
“…believes that Jesus is the Christ… HAS BEEN born” WUEST

And so we can see that, so far as our English translations are concerned, there is room for some controversy. In order for us to get to the bottom of this, I’d like to cite an excerpt from page 287 of The Potter’s Freedom, as it does an excellent job of drilling down in this passage:

Generally such a passage would be understood to present the following order of events: 1) Believe that Jesus is the Christ, and 2) you are born of God. Yet, the original readers of this text would not jump to such a conclusion. In reality, the most literal rendering would be, “Every one believing (present tense participle, emphasizing both the on-going action as well as the individuality of saving faith, “each believing person”) that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (a perfect passive verb, “has been born by the agency of God”). In John, “the one believing” is very common, and it is no accident the the emphasis falls upon the on-going action of faith. The one believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. If a person is now believing that Jesus is the Christ in a true and saving fashion, they are doing so because, as a completed action in the past, they were born again through the work and agency of God. The verb “to be born” is passive: they were caused to be born by another, that being God. They did not cause their own spiritual birth. And what is the inevitable result of being born of God? belief that Jesus is the Christ. Just as all those who are given by the Father to the Son come to the Son (John 6:37), so too all who are spiritually reborn through the work of God have as the object of their faith the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some Arminian exegetes might object to this interpretation. A means of testing the consistency of the exegesis offered of this passage would be to ask how such a person interprets these words from John:

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)

Every consistent protestant would say, “the reason one practices righteousness is because they have already been born of Him. We do not practice righteousness so as to be born, but instead the birth give rise to the practice of righteousness”. And such is quite true. But, this means that in 1 John 5:1 the belief in Jesus as the Christ is the result of being born of Him. The verbal parallel is exact: in 1 John 2:29 “the one practicing righteousness” is a present participle; in 1 John 5:1 “the one believing” is a present participle. In both passages the exact same verb in the exact same form is used. Therefore, sheer consistency leads one to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works.

There is some further discussion of value about this passage in various systematic theologies that are available. If I remember correctly, Wayne Grudem addresses this passage, and perhaps Robert Reymond as well. Feel free to cite any others, if you have them handy; I’m interested in hearing from some other sources on this passage.

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11 Comments on “Does 1 John 5:1 Prove Faith Leads To Regeneration?”

  1. Mark Says:

    John 1:11-12 provides a clear link between believing, receiving Christ, and being born of God:

    John 1:11 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, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
    (NASB).

    Comment by Adam Clarke:

    Joh 1:12 –
    Gave he power – Εξουσιαν, Privilege, honor, dignity, or right. He who is made a child of God enjoys the greatest privilege which the Divine Being can confer on this side eternity. Those who accept Jesus Christ, as he is offered to them in the Gospel, have, through his blood, a right to this sonship; for by that sacrifice this blessing was purchased; and the fullest promises of God confirm it to all who believe. And those who are engrafted in the heavenly family have the highest honor and dignity to which it is possible for a human soul to arrive. What an astonishing thought is this! The sinner, who was an heir to all God’s curses, has, through the sacrifice of Jesus, a claim on the mercy of the Most High, and a right to be saved! Even justice itself, on the ground of its holy and eternal nature, gives salvation to the vilest who take refuge in this atonement; for justice has nothing to grant, or Heaven to give, which the blood of the Son of God has not merited.

  2. Bob Hayton Says:

    Great post! But I have a question. I am Reformed and I tend to think 1 John 5:1 supports my view re: regeneration preceeding faith. But I wonder if it is so explicit as to be a proof text or not.

    Here’s what I mean. The verse does not explicitly teach that the new birth causes faith. It simply says, if you find ongoing faith, you have found someone who has been born of God. It never gets into the specifics of saying whether it was the inital faith which led to the birth in such a way that if you ever find faith, you are sure to find someone also born of God, or not.

    Basically, I think we should affirm that the verse does not do what apparently some non-Calvinsits claim — that is, it does not explicitly set up faith as the cause of the new birth.

    Am I correct here? I’d actually like to be incorrect, if you know what I mean.

    Thanks,

    Bob Hayton

  3. Gomarus Says:

    Great post. Regarding Bob’s question:

    I have seen others view this as strong enough for a proof text — that regeneration precedes faith. You have asked if this is pressing the grammatical construction a little too far. I am no expert on the Greek. Perhaps alone 5:1 may not be explicit “proof,” but in light of the grammatical parallel in 2:29 and the general context of John’s passages, I think it is clear enough. In 2:29, “practicing righteousness” is the result of the new birth. It seems to me John is pointing to a cause-effect relationship. Just my $0.02


  4. I think that everyone is missing the point, that is, except James White. Consider this statement of his:

    Calvinist, James White, writes: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’).” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)

    Is this not a doctrine of preemptive placement in Christ, whereupon regeneration is had, along with redemption (Rom 8:1), the Indwelling (1 Cor 3:16), and being made “one spirit” with God? (1 Cor 6:17-18)

    The central argument is whether a person can be IN CHRIST before they ever hear & believe in the Gospel. More pointedly, can a person be IN CHRIST before they are sealed in Christ, as per Ephesians 1:13? I would think that the sealing is what PLACES them in Christ, and since that happens AFTER one hears & believes in the Gospel, the whole concept of preemptive regeneration goes up in smoke. Therefore, the battle lines are drawn. Can a condemned unbeliever, as per John 3:18, be IN CHRIST before he hears, believes and is sealed in Christ?

  5. Gomarus Says:

    Cause and effect do not necessarily include a temporal distinction. No one is suggesting that there are regenerate people running around who don’t believe in (or are not sealed in) Christ.

  6. Jim Pemberton Says:

    This half-verse is the presuppositional statement of a short string of logical equivocations in the following passage designed to demonstrate the equivalence of the first term with the last. The first phrase of verse 2, “By this we know that…,” seems to set up a conditional syllogism, but the rest of the passage through verse 6 only supports the equivocation of our faith and salvation. However, even we can have a logical equivocation between a cause and its effect if the effect has only one equivocated cause and the cause has only one equivocated effect.

    The reformed cause and effect for the first half of verse 1 is spelled out rather clearly in verses 7-12. It is the testimony of God Himself. Verse 10 contains what appears to be a tongue-in-cheek comment, “the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar.” Is God a liar? No. Therefore, we can conclude either that lying is contingent on the actions of the hearer or that God doesn’t give testimony to everyone.

  7. Tim Says:

    ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’

    Whoever is a clean child is in the bathtub. Were they a clean child before or after they were in the bathtub? Knowing the children I do, they were not and unless they stay in the bathtub they are likely to get dirty very quickly.

  8. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    To be born primarily means to be carried. Our modern English word comes from the OE word borne, which meant the same thing, to carry, not to be given birth to. It contains the though that is expresed by the Greek gennao which means procreate not give birth. Here is the deal. We think that a person is born when they are birthed and it is a slip from the proper usage which is taken in to the common vernacular. The one born is the one inside from conception through the jestation until the breaking forth from the matrix. Which by the way will not happen until we get our new bodies, but is also a present possession of the believer today. Heres the thing sparky! We need to let the Scripture define our ideas. Much of what is written is written in the form of parables. So, we are born again, that is begotten from above, or as also the word can be from the beginning born, or generated, gennao (created). But, creation of a new man begins with a conception, not a birth, and befor she goes into labor the child is born, get it? If we follow the simple childlike understanding that is presented by Jesus even a teacher of Israel should understand that befor a child can reach out if faith to the protective saving arms of its father, it must be birthed and before that it must be born and before that it must be conceived. It is beyond question which comes first– its is regeneration. Which is a bad term really because it tends to convey the meaning of something that has been reconstituted. But, the Scripture makes it clear that we a new creations, not recreations as if there was anything worth keeping around in this body of death. So, there shouldn’t be any question about 1 John or any other. John and Paul make it quite clear that the man without the Spirit cannot understand nor profess faith let alone possess it. So, the Spirit must come first and that “seed” never departs. Just when it becomes evident on the outside is a different question and I will leave you to discuss that with Solomon and his dear of poppy who really did not show us much of the Christ life. Have you ever asked this question, just when were they, or many of the others “born again?” You know, even Paul said that for this very purpose he was called from the womb. Timothy is said to have had the Spirit from childhood and the word there carries the meaning of unborn as well as infant or child. How’s about John the baptist? Want to guess when the disciples were born again.?

  9. Barry Estill Says:

    So,

    Do Baptists view one another with a jaundiced eye if they are not claiming to be born-again?

    Is being “born-again” critical to being a Baptist?

    Just wondering, kind of a 101 for me.

    Thx.

    Barry

  10. Jim Says:

    Barry:

    Hopefully we look at (all people not just) Baptists who do not claim to be born again with an EVANGELISTIC eye, obeying Paul when he said:

    “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11)

  11. Barry Says:

    I recently saw a bumper sticker that stated:

    “I was born okay the first time”

    It kind of makes you wonder if there are people who are perfectly content to have Christ as a central figure in their day to day life but don’t feel that being “born-again” has to be part of the equation.

    If you stop to think about it, there are a lot of people who do a tremedous amount of good in this world who don’t lean on this aspect and conversely one only needs to think of G.W. Bush and his claim to be “born-again”…

    Should the claim of being “born-again” be used as an aegis to protect us if we do ill?

    Thx.

    Barry


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