From the Word
Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child.
1 John 5:1, RSV
Though John’s language is plain and simple, yet in the ears of men generally it is unusual and unintelligible. What, according to the world’s construction, is implied by the statement, “born of God?” To the world there is no birth but physical. Hence such doctrine as our text sets forth will ever be strange, unintelligible, incomprehensible, to all but Christians. But these speak with new tongues, as Christ says they shall, for they are taught and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
When the Scriptures speak of being born of God, it is not in a human sense; the reference is not to the conditions of our temporal lives, but to those exalted ones of a future existence. To say we must be born of God is equivalent to saying that if a man is to be redeemed from sin and eternal death, to enter into the kingdom of God and into happiness, his physical birth will not suffice; all that nature, reason, free will and human endeavor may afford is inadequate. Physical, indeed, answers for everything in the way of temporal possession and achievement, every desirable and exalted thing of earth; but all such possession and achievement serves only the physical existence; it is swept away by death, to which event it is ever subject.
Hence there becomes necessary a new and different birth. The demand is for a divine birth, a birth in which parentage is wholly of God; a birth signifying the operation of God’s divine power in man, a power achieving something beyond the attainment of his natural capacities and effecting in him new understanding and a new heart. The process is this: when the individual hears the gospel message of Christ — a message revealed and proclaimed, not by the wisdom and will of man, but through the Holy Spirit — and sincerely believes it, he is justly recognized as conceived and born of God. Through that faith, for the sake of his Son, God accepts us as his children, pleasing to him and heirs of eternal life; and the Holy Spirit will be sent into our hearts.
This doctrine condemns those arrogant teachers who presumptuously expect to be justified before God by their own merits and works. The Scriptures clearly teach the very reverse. It is sheer human effort, and not being born of God.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 150–51.