A friend of mine recently asked me what I made of John 1:11-13:
He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Calvinists (of the sort who deny free will) like to point to this passage, especially verse 13, as proof that man cannot choose to place his faith in Christ.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that “His own” in verse 11 are the Jewish people. “Borne not of flesh and blood” refers to the fact that it is not physical dependency that determines one’s placement within the promise of Abraham. This sentiment is also echoed elsewhere by Paul in Romans and Ephesians.
Verse 13 is very far removed from verse 11 in that Jesus is primarily addressing the notion by the Jews of his day that they were among the chosen people and because of that they were guaranteed to be the “children of Abraham” who were to inherit all of God’s blessings.
So verse 13 is emphatically stating that the blessing is not seminal. It does not pass down generation to generation no matter what the fathers or “will of man” is. The Jewish audience of John would likely remember Jacob and Esau here and how Esau was not included in the promise even through his father clearly wanted him to be.
This idea of the promise not coming in the form of the law or according to the way the Jews expected it to come is at the heart of John’s whole gospel. To make verse 13 to be about a philosophical notion of whether man can actually place their faith in Christ is actually to go against the whole book John wrote by ripping it out of the clear context it is in.
For example, John goes from his introduction straight into John the Baptist who preaches according to the soon to be Old Covenant based on law. Then John moves to Jesus, then Nathan (law), then back to Jesus (wedding). So I would say that verse 13 is simply referring to the core theme John is writing about throughout his book, namely that Jesus is the promised messiah through which the blessings foretold will come.
In sum, you can’t say that verse 13 of chapter 1 has anything to do with our inability to place our faith in Christ since that is exactly what John is persuading his audience to do.