Does the New Birth Precede Faith?

Based on 1 John 5:1, pastor John Piper and most Calvinists think so:

Here’s the text in question:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1, ESV)

John Piper and most Calvinists look to the Greek tenses to build their case, that the new birth precedes faith in Christ for salvation.

They argue:

1.  Because “who believes” is a present tense participle (continuous action),

2.  And “has been born” a perfect passive (completed act with continuing results),

3.  That the apostle John is saying that the new birth precedes faith in Christ.

But I really don’t think the apostle John is saying what John Piper and other Calvinists are saying, that the new birth precedes faith.

In fact, it’s more reasonable to conclude that John is pointing to a believer’s active faith as mere evidence of having experienced the new birth without actual reference to time.

To continue arguing that the new birth precedes faith, Calvinists need another proof text. 

1 John 5:1 is not it.

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31 Responses to Does the New Birth Precede Faith?

  1. Matt says:

    I think you’re right on this. They would need another text to base Calvinism on.

    Do you suppose that John might have been referring to the moment of belief as the time when one “has been born of God”?

  2. T.C. R says:

    Matt,

    I think John’s emphasis is on the nature of his readers faith rather than when it occurred, because of the spurious faith of some (2:18-27).

    John seems to be encouraging confident faith (5:13-15) through his letter. So I take the various “born of God” through the Letter as pointing to nature rather than time of faith.

  3. Iris says:

    It is so not wise to base our beliefs on one statement and its tenses. The Word of God is consistent. When we read and study it enough, we give up some “pet” interpretations that make my way of seeing the text plausible. The Apostle John was addressing those who believe – the point of when is not his point.
    In other words, I agree with you.

  4. TC:
    I agree with you as well. It seems pretty clear-cut to me. But what is the significance that Piper attaches to his interpretation? Is he using it as an argument for some sort of Calvinist order of salvation or something? As in the new birth being the “irresistible grace” that precedes faith?

    • T.C. R says:

      Justin,

      Grudem defines regeneration as follows:”Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again” (using language from John 3:3-8).” (Systematic Theology, p. 699)

      Yes, it has to with one understanding of Calvinism’s order of salvation: regeneration, faith and repentance=conversion and so forth.

  5. Kevin Walker says:

    T.C.,
    Amen, and amen!

  6. I’m an Arminian, but only slightly more than Calvinist (at least today). I have no problem with that text or what Piper is saying in DIRECT relation to that text (without his obvious undertones), whether I’m 55% Arminian today, or 55% Calvinist tomorrow.

  7. Lionel Woods says:

    All the apostles were Calvinist T.C

    • T.C. R says:

      Kevin,
      Some Calvinists could be desperate at times to prove a particular point.

      Dan,
      If you’re in agreement with Piper, How does that work while remaining an Arminian?

      Lionel,
      So too was Abraham.

  8. Peter Kirk says:

    Surely even by the dubious kind of logic Piper is using 1 John 5:1 does not imply that “the new birth precedes faith in Christ for salvation”. What it implies is that the new birth does not follow faith, at a later time. It does not rule out simultaneity. Nor does it rule out that new birth is a consequence of faith, if it is an immediate consequence. That is of course the Arminian position, that everyone who has (proper saving) faith in Christ is immediately born again – and so there are no people who even for a very short period have faith but have not been born again. So this verse does not at all imply Calvinism rather than Arminianism.

    • Good words, Peter. I knew I thought that, but just couldn’t express it! 🙂

    • T.C. R says:

      Peter,
      But seem to be approaching this verse asking when rather than what. What’s your basis for such?

      So it becomes a battleground for both Arminians and Calvinis. The when question is the wrong one to ask of 1 John 5:1.

      By the way, NOT all Calvinists follow the ordo salutis of a John Piper.

      • Peter Kirk says:

        TC, I agree that “when” is the wrong question to ask of this text. But even if you do ask it you don’t get the answer Piper claims to get. So he is doubly wrong.

  9. I agree with you as well, TC – the emphasis was on the nature of their faith not the time. I think it miht be a bit nit picky and a despeate grasping to get into the nitty gritty like this, the order of salvation. Even we Pentecostals get ourselves in trouble now and again when we argue that spirit baptism follows faith and salvation “logically if not chronologically.”

    I don’t agree with proof texing like this, it messes with the overall flow and intent of John’s letters.

  10. Good thing I haven’t used this text, though I will be going back and studying this text in some depth…

  11. T.C. R says:

    Brian,
    I’ve learned that it is vitally important to ask the right questions of a text in question.

    A Pentecostal and I debated that issue recently.

    Douglas,
    Good for you. I’ll like to see your take on the matter.

    • T.C., I can agree with Piper for the facts of the verse. When the Spirit truly impacts the hard heart, life certainly has the ability to happen. Where I would not agree with Piper, is what he did NOT say. What he did NOT say, is that if the illustration were the Spirit being an “arrow”, the person would, in my opinion, have the opportunity (and will) to duck.

      However, I do believe that is has to be the Spirit that gives us life. That is simply Ephesians 2. The matter of the human will is the difference, in my view.

  12. T.C. R says:

    apprentice2jesus :

    T.C., I can agree with Piper for the facts of the verse. When the Spirit truly impacts the hard heart, life certainly has the ability to happen. Where I would not agree with Piper, is what he did NOT say. What he did NOT say, is that if the illustration were the Spirit being an “arrow”, the person would, in my opinion, have the opportunity (and will) to duck.

    However, I do believe that is has to be the Spirit that gives us life. That is simply Ephesians 2. The matter of the human will is the difference, in my view.

    Dan,
    The question becomes: When does the Spirit give new life?

    Peter Kirk :

    TC, I agree that “when” is the wrong question to ask of this text. But even if you do ask it you don’t get the answer Piper claims to get. So he is doubly wrong.

    Peter,

    I see your point. But I would turn to other texts for the simultaneous position.

  13. eskatologik says:

    T.C. R :
    Matt,
    I think John’s emphasis is on the nature of his readers faith rather than when it occurred, because of the spurious faith of some (2:18-27).
    John seems to be encouraging confident faith (5:13-15) through his letter. So I take the various “born of God” through the Letter as pointing to nature rather than time of faith.

    Two more verses and you’d have been to a solid exegetical point that serves to actually support the Calvinists position of monergistic action. re: 2:29, cf. 3:9. Surely, however, anti-Calvinists will not concur. That’s okay, too.

    However, checking several different texts, 5:1 doesn’t quite make the point Piper seeks to push; though posting this does not dis-prove, however, that regeneration>faith>obedience, which is ultimately Johns whole point of the letter, in my reading.

  14. T.C. R says:

    Eska,

    You have me baffled. I see no yielding.

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  17. Sean Flowers says:

    The only way it can be discerned whether one is of God is by their faith in Jesus as the Christ, as well as their love for other Christians. There is an incontrovertible and intertwining connection between believing and being born of God (hence, the author’s having mentioned both in 1 Jn 5:1).

    However, to add to the discussion: the passage really does not deal with pre-conversion. Rather, the author’s sole aim was to inform his readers that faith and love are the inevitable fruit of being saved (cf. Gal. 5:22). So, his intent in this passage really deals in the realm of what we might refer to as “post-conversion”.

  18. Sean Flowers says:

    Why, thank you, T.C.! XD

  19. Believer says:

    I read an interesting comment on another blog(Arminian Perspectives)by searching his archives on this very thing after being challenged by a calvinist to refute it. One of the easiest ways to deal with the Greek implications is to reference 1John 5:10 which has the same greek construction so if we were to push it we would end up with;
    1 John 5:10 (ESV) Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

    Did the “making a liar of God” precede the not believing?

  20. Sean Flowers says:

    Haha, that was hilarious! =D

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