God Moves First
Published Nov. 8, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. - John 1:12-13
One of the great pieces of literature in human history is the prologue to John’s Gospel. The phrasing is majestic. The statement of the human condition is both concise and filled with meaning. In some ways the whole Gospel is summarized in a few sentences and yet, the Gospel does not speak of the Word again using that term. Scholars, commentators and preachers have poured over this one passage time and time again always gleaning more from it than the last time they read it. But in some ways we miss this little short part of the whole. We read “In the beginning was the Word…” And we read “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We tend to skip over John’s first statement of new birth.
And yet, to understand the rest of the Gospel of John this little piece of scripture is important. John is speaking of a new creation; of our becoming a new creation. But most Christians miss it. We miss who is the main actor in our birth. We are taught that we have to do something to bring the new birth about. Surely we have to put forth an effort! Like the crowd in John 6 we ask, “What must we do to work the works of God?” At the very beginning of John’s Gospel, John sets the story straight.
We are not born of the will of human beings. This means that our physical DNA does not determine our place in God’s salvation story. As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave or free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is not because of our hard work that salvation comes. Salvation is not by human decision; either our own or someone else’s. We are born of God. We become children of God because it is God’s will.
God is always the prime mover. Yes, God allows human free will and we have decisions to make. But even our ability to make those decisions come because God moved first. God moved first in Jesus Christ. God moved first in sending those who preached the word. God moved first in having such grace that we can hear Him as He calls to us. God moves first. We respond. God always moves first. The New Creation is never something that we have done but rather something that God does in us and through us.
Big Merle was a friend of mine in prison at the Jordan Unit. A group of us went in every week so the residents could gather for prayer groups. Big Merle got his name because even sitting down he was almost as tall as I was standing up. One day I walked up to greet Big Merle and he said, “Scott, I learned something this week.” I asked, “What did you learn, Merle?” “I learned that it isn’t about me. It is all about God.” The new creation is not about me. It isn’t about you. The new creation is all about God.
“Born” is one of those words we have often skipped over when we read the Bible. Most of us don’t give it a lot of thought. We have heard that we had to be “born again” since we were little children. But our idea of that phrase is a few tears at an altar often at church camp or at a revival. That isn’t what John was talking about. Our new birth may very well start that way but it is hardly a good description of what the new birth means. In fact, John doesn’t actually mean to tell us that we have to be born again. John tells us we must be born from above.
The word John uses in chapter 3 verse 3 of his gospel has a double meaning. The direct meaning of the word in Greek was to be born from above. After long development it had also come to mean “again.” John uses this play on words to emphasize his meaning. Jesus tells Nicodemus you must be born “ἄνωθεν” (anothen). Nicodemus immediately interprets the word to mean again. “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?” Jesus replies, “Unless you are born of the water (water baptism) and the Spirit (Spirit baptism) you cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus is speaking of nothing less than a complete new creation within our own beings. In the water we are buried with Christ (Romans 6) so that we can rise with Christ. It is a whole new being. Paul goes even further in his letter to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me …” This is a completely new way of being. We can no more create this new way of being than we could will ourselves into existence in the first place. All we can do in the process is surrender and let God have control. God does everything else.
In John 9 we see a wonderful picture of this new creation. As Jesus and the disciples are walking along they meet a man born blind from birth. Jesus takes some clay from the earth and spits on it and plasters it where the man’s old eyes were or should have been. Jesus then tells the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. When the man obeys he receives his sight. As you read through the discussion that follows you learn that the sight the man received that day was more than physical. The man saw and believed in God’s Son. Jesus created new eyes for this man – eyes that were not just physical in nature but spiritual as well.
As the discussion with the leaders of the Jews unfolds we find that they have physical eyes but they have no spiritual sight. They were religious. They were spiritual as the world counts spiritual. They were leaders and attended synagogue every Sunday. But they could not be part of the new creation. They would not do what God commanded. They were physically alive but spiritually dead. They needed a new birth. But because they would not believe there was no new birth available to them. This was not because they were bad people as the world counts bad. It was because they would not recognize God as being the one who always moves first. They demanded their own way and so remained dead in their sins.
But to those who will believe – we are called children of God!