1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.
5 And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
(1 John 5:1-5, NASB).
“Whoever believes”; “Whoever loves”. Christianity is a very inclusive club. The bar to entry is very low. It is not based on a level of skill or character or heritage in order to join. One need merely believe. Sinful people, morally shiny people, rich people, poor people, important people, unknown people, talented people, untalented people – “Whoever believes” is born of God. It is an option that is open to anyone and everyone.
Belief and Mental Assent
What does it mean to believe? There is the thought hanging out there that belief doesn’t mean mere “mental assent”. I’m not so sure I agree with the assessment that “mental assent” has no value. John previously wrote
“And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
(1 John 4:16, NASB).
I think that knowing and believing the love which God has for us is a strongly mental affair. You know of it, and reckon it as true. I know there will be a firestorm to say so, but I think this reckoning of the thing as true is what is called “belief.” Perhaps mental assent is the very power the gospel requires. I think that the real issue isn’t mere mental assent vs. faith + works, but rather that kind of thing you mentally assent to will or will not empower you to bear fruit. Mere faith, mere mental assent, in the right thing does produce its fruit. In fact anything beyond “mere” mental assent smacks of some kind of work that adds to Christ’s work. If I say in my mind, my sins are very great, but Christ’s blood is greater, and I reckon His blood as sufficient, is there something more that I must do?
Notice the verbiage in 1 John 5:2, and how it supports this idea. First, there is John’s constant emphasis on knowing: (1John 2:3-5,11,13,14,18,20,21,29-3:2,5,6,14-16,19,20,24; 4:2,6-8,13,16; 5:2,13,15,18-20). Perhaps John does not share the current disdain for belief as “mental assent”.
Secondly, there is the signature passive voice. He doesn’t say, “Love God and observe His commandments!” He says, if you are unsure whether you have the kind of faith in Christ that makes you born of God, look at your community of faith. Do you all love each other? Do you wind up keeping God’s commandments? Is that all a growing and dynamic part of your lives together? Then it is true! You are born of God and live in a community of others born of God. If not, go back and examine your belief, you need more “mental assent” to the right things. You remain unconvinced about the love which God has for us.
I would then say that mental assent to the right thing, the power of Christ’s propitiation for our sins (1 John 1:7, 4:10), is the belief that overcomes the world. At its heart, the spiritual battle is a battle of belief, of mental assent, of what you ultimately reckon as truth. We put so little stock in belief! We put so little stock in the bedrock of our mind. This belittling of the power of belief is a shallow and fleshly enterprise. It is the belief which governs the pattern of our mind and it is our thoughts that governs our actions, and not vice versa.
Belief and Love – two sides of the same rupee
Belief and love are, according to this verse, intertwined. Belief indicates you are born of God, and engenders love for the Father and other believers. If you have believed that we are loved by God, you are going to love others that have been birthed into that belief. You will join the community of those whose relations are governed by grace and not by wrath. You will be among those whose consciences are satisfied with the path of justice as concerns each others’ offenses, because you will have a real way to forgive and truly love each other because of Christ’s blood. I think that the difference between love and a lack of love for someone really boils down to whether you are able to believe (to know and to reckon as true) that Christ’s death applies to them in this moment of their imperfection.
Jesus – The Unique and Exalted One
It is the incredible power of the gospel that giving over to mere belief, mere mental assent, has this power to give birth. It has this power to transform community. It has the power to produce action which is born of love.
Now, there is the notion given here that whoever believes that Jesus is “the Christ” is born of God. What does this term mean? He previously wrote that whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist. We said there that while the word “Christ” suggests the kind of anointing that befits royalty and priesthood, it most directly means that He is the chosen One of God. On reflection, I think that on a human level it means you think that Jesus is the big kahuna, the main dude, the guru of gurus, the king of kings, the central figure of history. If someone tries to say that He is a wonderful moral teacher, they are trying to bring Him down to the level of a normal but good teacher that anyone could aspire to become. This would not be saying that Jesus is the Christ. The impetus of the Spirit is to say something superlative about Him: He is the Lord of Lords, the King of kings, the Alpha and the Omega. When you start to say that there is no one else like Him, that He is the one door, the one way, the one savior, the only hope for us, the one and only person who is the exact representation of the radiance and glory of God, you are saying He is the Christ. I have no idea how this really fits with our best research and scholarship on the word “Christ”, but according to the text before us, clearly the division between saying that He is the Christ and denying He is the Christ is a key difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. The one exalts Him as an extremely singular figure and the other wants to minimize that. In other words, for our purposes, we can define it as being the issue that Christians support and non-Christians resist – the singular and unique significance of Jesus.
Born of God
Notice this incredible observation: simply believing that He is the Christ is the chief indicator of new birth. There is apparently no other condition required. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” There may be additional real world indicators, but simple belief regardless of behavior or absence of sin is the root signal of the new birth. “Whoever believes”.
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. We have Jesus, the Son of God, begotten not created, does that mean we become begotten not created? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no, of course not. For one thing, that would violate the meaning we articulated above about the meaning of Jesus being “the Christ”. He is unique.
So, what does it mean to be “born of God” exactly? You know what, there is all kinds of speculation we could do, all kinds of cross reference scripture we could look up. But, on reflection, I realized that this is the question John is answering, right in this verse. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, then whatever it means exactly, you are born of God. You don’t have to understand all of the molecular biological details to understand the effects of eating an apple. You don’t need to understand exactly what rebirth means to be reborn. However, if you are reborn, you will have this attitude about Jesus, that He is the singular anointed One of God. This very great love has been bestowed upon us, that we are called the children (born) of God. We have our genesis, our conception, our spiritual origin, in God, and the person who has that kind of spiritual DNA has the distinction of belief in Jesus as the Christ. So if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, you are born of God and are a child of God.