I’ve been having trouble reconciling what John 1: 12-13 says about the invalidity of the ‘will of man’ in the (re)birth of the children of God in baptism and the necessity that the recipient of the sacrament to be willing to receive it. It is even more confusing when considering the parents’ will in the case of infant baptism.
Gospel of St. John Chapter 1 (Haydock)
12 But as many as received him, he gave to them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.
13 Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of will of man, but of God.
Could it be that the passage refers only to God’s irreplicable act of cleansing us in baptism and not referring to man’s cooperation?
“not of bloods” (plural is the Greek) - semen was thought to be generated from the blood of the male, and it was said to mix with the menstrual blood of the female, as a seed planted. Thus, a more accurate sense might be, “not of the bodily fluids of sexual union”
“nor of the will of the flesh” - this new birth is not from a human appetite; it is not part of the natural appetite for procreation
“nor of the will of man” - it is not something we naturally look for; we think all the makings of life are already here with our natural birth and we look around us to find what will make us happy, make us alive and we do those things. And when we know about this new birth, we have no ability to make our will happen. And we cannot simply say it is ours because we want it or read about it in Scripture, or because we ask for it to God. It literally has to be done to us and has not happened simply because we want it or pray for it.
“but of God” - the new birth is something done to you. How? God sent his Son. His Son gave this life to his disciples, and gave them authority to grant it to all who sought it from them. They baptized us, granting us the Holy Spirit. because we believed in his Name and came to them saying, “Here is water, is there anything to prevent you from baptizing me (from giving me this new birth into the People and Family of God)”[Acts] And they taught us to observe everything he commanded them.[Matthew]
When isolated verses seem problematic, it is best to consult the catechism on the subject. In all matters, remember that the Church retains the power of binding and loosing. The Catholic (and Orthodox) Church is not confined to what is in scripture, as the Church preceded the scriptures.
You have pointed to a great problem amongst bible Christians - that of understanding and interpreting the scriptures, since they use the bible (which appeared later on in the nascent Church) as sole rule, lacking any form of authority or Church council to decide matters.
From the Catechism:
1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:
When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.42
2002 God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. The promises of “eternal life” respond, beyond all hope, to this desire:
If at the end of your very good works . . ., you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed “very good” since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.52**