Archive for the ‘Soteriology’ category

Trusting in the Sinner’s Prayer vs. Trust in God’s Electing Purpose

September 21, 2008

The doctrine of election is regularly a cause for controversy within Christian circles. Particulars of this doctrine cause debate even within groups that hold to the same general school of thought. An example of this can be seen in the debate earlier this week between Calvinists concerning the relationship of God’s love to His electing purpose, found on the Pyromaniacs blog. Christians, of course, seek to avoid an unhealthy interest in controversies (1 Tim 6:4) and to avoid foolish controversies (Tit 3:9); therefore, many evangelicals have concluded that it is better to avoid this controversial doctrine. [This is a misapplication, I would argue, of the verses just mentioned.] Those avoiding this doctrine imagine that they are dispensing with a point of theology that is merely cerebral- something that may be interesting to scholars, but that does not effect a Christian’s daily life. What is often overlooked is the inherent usefulness of this doctrine evidenced by the way it is presented in Scripture. At the end of Romans 8, for example, the doctrine of election is presented as the basis for a believer’s assurance of salvation- that, despite the turmoil of day-by-day experience, the one who has faith in Jesus can live with confidence that he or she will be preserved by God eternally.

Churches in the Southern Baptist denomination have, as a whole, tended to de-emphasize the doctrine of election, and yet remain committed to the doctrine of eternal security (the teaching that the one who is truly born again, as evidenced by sincere faith, need never fear God’s ultimate rejection). Without the foundational doctrine of election, Southern Baptist churches have had to rest the full weight of eternal security on the personal experience of faith.

Contiguous with the developments outlined above, Southern Baptists (and other evangelical denominations) have begun to regularly utilize the Sinner’s Prayer in evangelism. When presenting the gospel, the example of the New Testament is that we should urge listeners to repent of their sins and to trust in Christ. For those who have not been raised in sound churches, these are alien concepts, and so it seems beneficial to present a model on how to call on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith. From this impulse, the Sinner’s Prayer was born. After the gospel has been faithfully presented [and I would argue that the gospel presentations I was taught in Southern Baptist churches were indeed faithful to Scripture- substantially the same as what Mark Dever presents HERE, though even more detailed], then the listener is asked if he or she desires to repent of sin and trust in Jesus; if he or she says ‘yes,’ then the listener is led to repeat a prayer that summarizes the main points of the gospel presentation, applying the gospel to the individual [i.e., instead of saying, “The Bible says that all have sinned,” the listener is led to pray, “I confess that I am a sinner,” etc].

As presented above, the idea of the Sinner’s Prayer does not necessarily sound like a bad thing; I believe that the practice of the Sinner’s Prayer arose out of genuine concern for sinners and for the fact that there is an objective truth to the gospel. But, as I reflected on this over a number of years, something about the entire gospel presentation leading up to the moment of guiding someone in the Sinner’s Prayer seemed strange to me. For it became apparent that the activity of leading someone in this prayer was considered the most important part of evangelism. “If the Sinner’s Prayer is so important,” I reasoned, “then why do we not find this in the Bible? Why, when we see the apostles presenting the gospel in Acts, for instance, do we not read that they led their hearers in something like the Sinner’s Prayer? Why is there no text in the New Testament that tells us the exact words that should be prayed in the Sinner’s Prayer, so that we can be sure we are doing it right?” These questions were what started me on a journey of theological reflection that has resulted in my becoming more Reformed in my beliefs concerning salvation.

The problems with the Sinner’s Prayer are compounded when joined to the concept that our eternal security is finally based on the personal experience of faith. For, in the Southern Baptist circles in which I was raised, the sincere praying of the Sinner’s Prayer was closely identified with the personal experience of faith. So that when someone considered whether he or she was truly, eternally saved from God’s wrath, he or she was reminded of whether the Sinner’s Prayer had been prayed with sincerity. This situation leads to at least two discernible, negative results. First, I have spoken with many people who are leading lives entirely contrary to God’s Word, yet they are sure that they are saved from God’s Wrath because they have sincerely prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at some point in the past; in other words, they have a false assurance of salvation. Second, those who are more spiritually sensitive and realize something of the deceitfulness of their own hearts live in constant doubt of their salvation, considering the fact that they might be wrong about their own sincerity when saying the Prayer, or that the Prayer may have been worded incorrectly and thus be doctrinally unacceptable to God. In his sermon on election that I linked in a previous post, Dr. Russell Moore gives a great, personal illustration of this second negative result: (more…)


Election vs. Foresight

September 15, 2008

As it is impossible to deny the reality of divine election upon even a cursory reading of the scriptures, it appears that the method common in many Baptist and other Protestant circles, in an effort to unite election with the human perspective of fairness and free will, is to redefine election, to strip it of any real power. You may hear reasoning such as “God looked down the corridors of time to see who would believe” and so elected them. I expect that many through the ages, and perhaps even some on this site (as the archives may attest), have aptly used scripture to show the problems with such a notion (logical inconsistencies aside), but as I have recently been reading Calvin on this, several relevant excerpts of his are given below. It is copied from the John Allen translation, as I’ve become somewhat accustomed to that one. The emboldened fonts are added here.

It is a notion commonly entertained, that God, foreseeing what would be the respective merits of every individual, makes a correspondent distinction between different persons; that he adopts as children such as will be deserving of his grace, and devotes to the damnation of death others, whose dispositions he sees will be inclined to wickedness and impiety. Thus they not only obscure election by covering it with the veil of foreknowledge, but pretend that it originates in another cause [other than God’s good pleasure]. Nor is this commonly received notion the opinion of the vulgar only, for it has had great advocates in all ages….

God’s sovereign election of some, and preterition [passing by] of others, they make the subject of formal accusation against him….

Now, it is of importance to attend to what the Scripture declares respecting every individual. Paul’s assertion, that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), certainly precludes any consideration of merit in us; for it is as though he had said, our heavenly Father, finding nothing worthy of his choice in all the posterity of Adam, turned his views towards his Christ, to choose members from his body whom he would admit to the fellowship of life. Let believers, then, be satisfied with this reason, that we were adopted in Christ to the heavenly inheritance, because in ourselves we were incapable of such high dignity. He has a similar remark in another place, where he exhorts the Colossians to give thanks unto the Father, who had made them meet [fit] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints.” (Col. 1:12)  If election precedes this grace of God, which makes us meet to obtain the glory of the life to come, what will God find in us to induce him to elect us? Another passage from this apostle will still more clearly express my meaning. He hath chosen us,” he says, before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, that we should be holy, and without blame before him” (Eph. 1:4-5); where he opposes the good pleasure of God to all our merits whatsoever.

Calvin summarizes his main theme in this, showing that the scripture,

stating them to have been chosen that they might be holy,” fully refutes the error which derives election from foreknowledge; since Paul, on the contrary, declares that all the virtue in men is the effect of election… This overturns any means of election which men imagine in themselves… For say, ‘Because he foresaw they would be holy, therefore he chose them,’ and you will invert the order of Paul. We may safely infer, then, If he chose us that we should be holy, his foresight of our future holiness was not the cause of his choice

And what consistency would there be in asserting, that things derived from election were the causes of election? A subsequent clause seems further to confirm what he had said – “according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in himself.” (Eph. 1:9) For the assertion, that God purposed in himself , is equivalent to saying, that he considered nothing out of himself, with any view to influence his determination.

– excerpts from “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Book III, Chapter XXII

 While here Calvin may appear to be dealing with outward works, he shows in other places that this divine catalyst of election certainly applies to our will also. Perhaps in a future post more on this would be warranted. For now suffice it to say that immediately following Paul’s exhortation to believers to “work out” their salvation, he plainly states, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) Now, if even we as those regenerated have need for God to grant us wills to please Him, how much more those still in need of conversion?

Sola gratia,



Debating Calvinism: Reflections

July 30, 2007

The other night I did something I hadn’t done it quite some time: I had an in-depth discussion on Calvinism with someone who does not share my belief in the famous “5-points”.

Nevertheless, since the interaction, I have reflected back on why discussions like this are sometimes a bit frustrating. Each side can quote scripture, of course, and there was plenty of that coming from my side. But here are a few reasons –other that just looking at scripture– why it’s just not as simple as looking at a few verses in trying to reach common ground between the two polar opposites:

  • There is a clear ‘language barrier’ that so often hinders these types of discussions. That is, when we use the term ‘Calvinism’, it is often misunderstood to mean something that it is not. Also, when the term ‘free-will’ is used, it likewise, is often defined in a manner different than we Calvinists intend.
  • (more…)

Wanted: Theologically Consistent Proofreaders To Help Megachurch Pastors

May 5, 2007

I’m not going to blast all megachurches here, after all there have been some good ones, at least . . . a few good ones. But I’ve noticed that some of the most popular of these mega-pastors could use some theological proofreaders. What’s needed is somebody with theological consistency, almost any Calvinist would do, as would an Arminian who is committed to remaining thoroughly consistent with his beliefs.

Dave Hunt should not apply for this proofreading job. I say that because I get his Berean Call newsletter and I’m always amused at how Calvinism is taken to the cleaners in it, and then in the same newsletter there are materials for sale in his bookstore which include things written by Calvinists.  Go figure.

But the kind of thing that needs to be theologically proofread include this book by Chuck Smith, the founder of the Calvary Chapel line of churches; the book is called The Gospel According To Grace, and you will find it online

Here are the parts of Chuck Smith’s book that I don’t understand.  I mean, I do understand them, but . . . I don’t understand why they would be together in the same book:

In Section 9 entitled "Chosen" Chuck Smith writes:

"… salvation stands by election alone and not by works. God calls and elects whomever He wishes. I can’t honestly look at myself and say that God elected me because I’m so good. God simply acted on the basis of His own divine sovereignty. The fact that God chose to elect me thrills me …"

The Calvinists in the audience stand up and cheer. But wait, there is something for everybody. Here’s what Chuck Smith says a few pages later in Section 10:

"If you confess Him and believe in Him, He’ll save you, because He keeps His word. ‘But what if I’m not predestined?’ You’ll be saved anyhow. … [a few sentences later]: All men are equal in His eyes."

He explains this obvious contradiction by saying:

"We discussed the sovereignty of God in the last chapter. Now we come to the matter of human responsibility. Here the truth finds balance."

Chuck Smith is not alone in his odd theological balancing act, a while ago Alan over at Calvinist GadFly wrote about the
similar contradictions of Rick Warren found in Saddleback’s literature.

So often contradictory ideas like this are explained-away as a "paradox" in scripture that man can not resolve. In
this video clip however, Robert Reymond is quoted as he explains that such a "paradox" would be indistinguishable from an actual contradiction.  All of us, including the mega-pastors above, would be quick to say that there are no contradictions in the bible, and with that in mind Reymond’s words should be something that we all try to get a grasp of, before we misuse this term “paradox”.

Limited Atonement: Practical Ramifications

April 18, 2007

In light of Jerry Falwell’s recent statement that he and Liberty University consider the doctrine of Limited Atonement to be heresy, it would be beneficial for us to reflect on the doctrine of Limited Atonement, and why it is such a beautiful, important, scriptural truth.

Specifically, many people may question why it is necessary whether one believes in Limited Atonement or not. Is it really worth arguing over? Obviously, Jerry Falwell believes it to be a serious issue. But our view of the atonement has many basic, practical and theological applications to our Christian walk. Here are just a few of the issues that are at stake here:

A few theological ramifications of Limited Atonement:

  • Only the doctrine of Limited Atonement captures the intimate, personal aspect of the atonement and of the gospel. With a general, non-specific atonement for all men without distinction, the intimate, special love that Christ has for His elect is lost. Christ gave Himself for you specifically; you’re not just another face in the crowd. Christ is your mediator; He is not yours just the same as He is for the wicked. You have been crucified with Christ; you have been cleansed by His blood. Christ died for your specific sins in a way which the lost world cannot claim. Christ laid down His life for His sheep, they hear His voice, He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. This is vital to understanding the depth of the love of God towards His bride -and ultimately our infinite unworthiness as objects of His gracious love.
  • Limited Atonement purifies Christ’s work on the cross. His sacrifice is perfect; He did not fail as Mediator. Christ did not go to the cross with the intention of perfecting people whom the Father had not chosen out of the world; His mission was accomplished in full. There is no dissention in the Godhead between Christ offering a sacrifice for someone and the Father refusing to receive it. God was sovereign in planning the cross (Acts 4:27-28), and God is perfect in all that He does. This enforces the reality of God’s sovereignty in all things, including the atonement. He perfected whom He chose; He did not attempt to reconcile the world, only to have the majority of His creation reject His sacrifice. Christ’s work is perfected, purified, and He certainly has sat down at the right hand of the Father, having accomplished all that He was given to do.

These theological ramifications also play a role in Practical Application:

  • In our evangelism, only the doctrine of Limited Atonement captures the reality of the wrath of God against personal sin. Limited Atonement is the only consistent safeguard against universalism, particularly from a witnessing and apologetics standpoint. If you’ve ever discussed the atonement with an unbeliever who has taken the time to think through the issues, then you understand that theological inconsistencies are hindrances to convicting them with the truth. If Christ died for all men without distinction, then why are there some who are punished in hell? Repent of what if Christ died for all my sins? Why would I worry about punishment if Christ already died in my place? Without a proper understanding of the wrath of God against sin, there can be no true conversion. Limited Atonement allows us to emphatically proclaim that God will punish sin, all of their specific sins, if one is not clothed in the righteousness that only comes through faith in Christ. Limited Atonement rightly and properly keeps the wrath of God as a prominent part of the gospel proclamation.
  • The doctrine of Limited Atonement affects how we read scripture. This is vital when we come to scriptures such as Romans 8:31, “If God be for US, who can be against US…who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” And Titus 2:14, “…Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.” He redeems US, He teaches US, He produces a PEOPLE. How we read scripture affects our level of growth and sanctification. Thus, the doctrine of Limited Atonement affects our sanctification in our fight against besetting sin.
  • The doctrine of Limited Atonement affects our holiness. Again, Titus chapter 2 brings this out beautifully: Christ’s death redeemed us from lawlessness and purified us as people zealous for good works. Christ’s death has already accomplished the sanctification and obedience for those whom He died for. We are not left to our own devices, we can know and understand that Christ has purified His chosen, that sanctification has been accomplished (Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 6:11), and with that knowledge we are armed to go out and fight against sin and the flesh. If Christ’s death is for all without distinction, then all men have been ‘attempted’ to be made pure and zealous for good works, and we are left to our own devices in rising up above and beyond the world as pertains to holiness. Jesus Christ has ‘perfected for all time those who are being sanctified’, Heb 10:14. He has perfected and will indeed sanctifiy those whom He died for on the cross.

In summary, the ultimate issue here is, what do the scriptures teach? Obviously there are two sides to this argument, but they can’t both be right. This doctrine’s most practical outworking is found in whether the scriptures teach Limited Atonement, or whether they do not. We cannot fully see why it matters what we believe in this area, but the scriptures clearly teach one way or another, and because they do, we are most obligated to find out the truth. From a Limited Atonement perspective, Jesus seemed to emphatically nail down the point that there was a certain group of people to which the Father sent Him to redeem, and since Jesus placed so much emphasis on teaching about this group, then we should certainly pay attention the depths of truth behind His words: John 6:35-40; John 10:11,14-18; John 10:24-39; John 17:1-11,20, 24-26).

True Church Conference and the Miracle of Conversion

April 11, 2007


In less than a month, I will have the privilege of live-blogging a great conference in my own neck of the woods.  The conference is called True Church Conference and is taking place May 3-6, 2007 at First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  The theme of the conference is “The Miracle of Conversion.”  I have included in this post the conference distinctives, bio sketches of the speakers, and the schedule.  If you are interested in registering or in need of directions, I have included the links to those as well at the bottom.  You can download this information by going to their online brochure (click here). 

:: Conference Distinctives ::

Doctrine Aflame

We desire to focus on the passionate preaching of the great doctrines of Scripture that are being neglected in today’s church. I’m convinced no doctrine is more neglected or misunderstood than the doctrine of conversion. Easy believism, decisionism, and manipulative altar calls have replaced the sound preaching of the Gospel calling sinners to repentance and faith. The result is an unregenerate church membership and bloated membership rolls. As Dr. Al Mohler writes, “We are reaping the harvest of doctrinal neglect. The urgency of this task cannot be ignored. Baptists will either recover our denominational heritage and rebuild our doctrinal foundations, or in the next generation there will be no authentic Baptist witness.”

Theology and Methodology

The conference will give much attention to how sound doctrine must govern the life of the local church. Today’s evangelical church is often driven by man-centered pragmatism, worldly marketing approaches, and entertainment.  And all this with a veneer of Christianity! We need the passionate, expository preaching of the truth, accompanied by an unswerving commitment that ALL methodology in the church MUST flow out of sound theology.

Local Church Centered

The conference is being held at the First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The church is located in the northwest part of the state and has about 1,000 active members. Jeff Noblit has been on the pastoral staff for 26 years and has been the Senior Pastor for preaching for 18 years. For the last two decades God has been blessing First Baptist in reforming both its policies and procedures to become more biblically healthy.

Application Intensive

During the conference, time will be set aside to discuss the practical “working out” of sound doctrine in the life of the local church. Plus, materials on baptismal counseling, membership policies and procedures, church discipline, and other matters will be made available to conference participants. There will be a large bookstore featuring trustworthy books and commentaries by both past and contemporary writers.

Evangelism and Missions

Sound doctrine will always promote the preaching and sharing of the Gospel!  If a passion to glorify God by winning lost souls is not present, then our doctrine is invalid. A strong emphasis on evangelism and world missions will permeate the conference. All conference attendees are invited on Saturday afternoon to accompany members of First Baptist Church in street preaching and door-to-door visitation. True doctrine never results in cold intellectualism.

Modeling and Mentoring

Our first goal is that God will use the conference to continue the maturation of First Baptist, Muscle Shoals, in the truth. We believe the church should be reformed and always reforming. We also have a strong desire to encourage and help mobilize sister churches who are on the same pilgrimage.

To help serve this goal, each participating church will be assigned a private area for discussion and seeking God concerning the application of sound doctrine into the life of their church. We believe the conference will be used of God to strengthen your church’s pilgrimage to a more biblical and healthy church life.

:: Conference Speakers ::

Voddie Baucham is an author, Bible teacher, professor, and pastor.  He currently serves as Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. He is also an adjunct professor at The College of Biblical Studies in Houston and Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. His own post-graduate study focused on Cultural Apologetics.  Voddie is the author of The Ever-Loving Truth, a book which helps twenty-first century Christians apply God’s Word to contemporary life.

David Miller has been preaching for 42 years. He pastored for five years before serving as Director of Missions for Little Red River Baptist Association (Arkansas), a position he held for 25 years. An itinerant preacher, David has been in full-time evangelism (Line Upon Line Ministries) since 1995. He served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, for eight years. He currently prefers the title “Country Preacher-at-Large.”

Russell Moore serves as Dean of the School of Theology, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration, and Associate Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and co-editor of Why I Am a Baptist. He has written articles for various publications including Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and SBC Life.

Jeff Noblit is the Senior Pastor-Teacher of First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He has served on the pastoral staff for 26 years, the last 18 as senior pastor. Jeff is the founder of Anchored in Truth Ministries, an expository preaching ministry, and is the author of The Accountability Notebook and the witnessing booklet, The Great Answer to the Great Question.  He has written articles for various magazines and journals.

Paul Washer ministered as a missionary to Peru for 10 years, during which time he founded the HeartCry Missionary Society to support Peruvian church planters. HeartCry’s work now supports indigenous missionaries in Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. An itinerant preacher, Paul also teaches in the internship program at his home church, First Baptist Muscle Shoals. He is the author of The One True God: A Biblical Study of the Doctrine of God.

:: Conference Schedule ::

Thursday, May 3

1:00 p.m. Registration / Bookstore Open
6:30 p.m. Worship
7:00 p.m. Session 1: The Sovereignty of God & The Miracle of Conversion – Russell Moore
8:00 p.m. Session 2: The Sovereignty of God & The Miracle of Conversion – Russell Moore

Friday, May 4

8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast
8:30 a.m. Worship
9:00 a.m. Session 3: The Power of the Holy Spirit & The Miracle of Conversion – Voddie Baucham
10:00 a.m. Session 4: The Power of the Holy Spirit & The Miracle of Conversion – Voddie Baucham
11:00 a.m. Individual Churches Prayer, Discussion, & Lunch
2:30 p.m. Session 5: The Preaching of the Gospel & The Miracle of Conversion- David Miller
3:30 p.m. Session 6: The Preaching of the Gospel & The Miracle of Conversion- David Miller
6:30 p.m. Worship
7:00 p.m. Session 7: Church History & The Miracle of Conversion – Jeff Noblit
8:30 p.m. Q & A
9:30 p.m. Individual Churches Prayer & Discussion

Saturday, May 5

8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast
9:00 a.m. Worship
9:30 a.m. Session 8: Evidences of the Miracle of Conversion – Paul Washer
10:30 a.m. Session 9: Evidences of the Miracle of Conversion – Paul Washer
11:30 a.m. Individual Churches Prayer, Discussion, & Lunch
2:00-3:30 p.m. Street Preaching & Door-to-Door Visitation (optional)
4:00-6:30 p.m. Individual churches prayer, discussion, & dinner
7:00 p.m. Session 10: Believer’s Baptism & the Miracle of Conversion – Jeff Noblit
8:00 p.m. Q & A

Sunday, May 6

Sunday morning worship at First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals
9:30 a.m. Session 11: Missions & the Miracle of Conversion – Paul Washer
10:30 a.m. Session 12: The Glory of God & the Miracle of Conversion –Jeff Noblit

>> To download or view their online brochure, click here. 
>> To register
, click here
>> For directions, click here

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

March 9, 2007

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.