Revisiting the New Birth

Everyone who believes that l Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).

In an earlier article, we discussed major waves and undercurrents that occur in John’s letter.  One large wave that occurs regularly is the new birth.  The new birth connects a number of major currents throughout his letter.  The illustration below identifies these connections.

 

New Birth Passage Connecting Practice
1 John 2:29 Righteous/Righteousness
1 John 3:9 (2 times) Does not sin
1 John 4:7 Love
1 John 5:1 Believe
1 John 5:4 Overcomes
1 John 5:18 Does not sin

 

Notice that the sum of the Christian life in the family of God arises from the new birth.  Each time John begins a new line of thought, he starts out with the truth of the new birth.  Upon viewing how he discusses and applies the new birth, a pattern emerges.  The chiasmus defines this pattern.  A chiasmus defines the structure of a written work.  That written work can be in the form of a song or poem.  In the case of John, it appears in this letter.

The chiasmus refers to an inversion structure as shown in the illustration below:

 

1 John 2:29 – Righteous

            1 John 3:9 – Does not sin

                        1 John 4:7 – Love

                        1 John 5:1 – Believe

            1 John 5:4 – Overcomes (Righteousness implied)

1 John 5:18 – Does not sin

 

Notice two structural elements about John’s letter.  First, he reverses the beginning at the conclusion.  When he first addresses the new birth at the beginning, he highlights “righteousness” followed by “does not sin.”  At his conclusion, he reverses the order, placing “does not sin” at the conclusion at 1 John 5:18.  In arranging his message in such a manner, John emphasizes that living life pleasing to God is one in which one does not practice sin.  Not only does he make this statement twice but he also concludes his chiasmus with it for giving greater attention to the believer’s separation from sin.

In the middle of the chiasmus (1 John 4:7; 5:1) where he again refers to the new birth, John cites the two major themes in his letter: love and believe.  Righteousness and not sinning, in essence, refer to the same practice of the Christian life.  Love and the verb form of faith, believe, come as gifts from God through the new birth.  Their close proximity to one another in the letter illustrate that Christians cannot truly love without faith.  That faith gives evidence that one knows God (5:8-12).  Since both love and faith derive from the new birth (4:7; 5:1), they work together in demonstrating that one truly knows God.  That knowledge works its way out on the horizontal plane toward others.

We must realize that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original letter.  These divisions did not arise until the 15th century.  Given this as the case, the flow of John’s thought process in his letter naturally followed from the various mentions of the new birth.  In other words, statements about the new birth acted as lynchpins for connecting the practices of life before God.  The new birth connects righteousness to love and love to faith.  Together the life of God shines through in the believer through the expressions of God’s nature and character.

Notice how John treats each practice.  They are always in reference to the character and nature of God.  In his first mention, John states,

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).

The reason we can practice righteousness in the first place is because God is righteous.  He showed His righteousness to us in Christ.  John just finished discussing another theme of abiding (2:24-28).  Righteousness is the practice of abiding or not practicing sin.  All three truths refer to the same way of living: abiding (2:24-28), righteousness (2:29), not continuing in sin (3:1-9).  The practice of abiding flows naturally into John’s thought of righteousness.  The practice of righteousness encompasses the practice of not continuing in sin.  All three focus on horizontal relationships within God’s family, leading to the practice of love (3:11-4:12).

This practice of love also arises from the character and nature of God just as righteousness does.  Notice how He points to God as the source of love.  He must necessarily reveal His love to us for us to learn how to practice it (4:7).  As creatures alienated from God, love is not natural to us nor do we truly know how to love.  Rather, we pervert it and make it into something it is not – a romantic or emotional notion or something predominately sexual.  Not only must He reveal love to us, He must teach us how to love.  Jesus revealed God’s love (4:9), and the Holy Spirit teaches us how to love (4:14-17).  For this reason, John makes love the core of the new birth.  Love reveals the nature and character of God in the new life He gave us.  It expresses itself in righteous living toward God and others.  It gives us confidence before Him, because it reflects back to Him the essence of who He is.

Although God reveals both righteousness and love, they do not come to fruition until one believes.  Knowing God’s righteousness and love arises from faith (5:1-3).  However, even this faith has its source in the new birth (5:1).  The grammatical tense John uses with his mention of the new birth is the same for every occurrence.  He writes with the perfect tense each time he refers to the new birth.  The perfect tense in both the Greek and English indicate a past action that continues into the present.  John indicates that this action is the new birth.  That is, the new birth gives rise not only to righteousness and love but also to faith.  We believe as a result of the new birth.  Therefore, all the expressions of living the Christian life come from God.

What we are and what we do must arise from God.  We would never know how to live life the way God ordained it unless He revealed the characteristics of that life to us.  The life of God in us through the provision of Christ’s death and the work of the Holy Spirit gives all we need to live righteously, to love God and others, and to have victory over the evil one.  As it works its way from us, the Holy Spirit gives assurance that we belong to God (5:6-8) and grants confidence when we see Him face to face when He comes again.  Think on these gifts of God and consider how they show up in your life.

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