Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith In John 3:3, 6?

Probably the favorite Calvinist proof text for their doctrine of irresistible regeneration is John 3:3, 6. Here Jesus directly addresses the doctrine of the new birth. Calvinists and most Biblical theologians correlate the new birth with regeneration. Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can “see” or “enter” the Kingdom of God unless they are first “born again”. Calvinists see in Jesus words the teaching that regeneration precedes faith. They point to two aspects of what Christ said to Nicodemus which they believe demonstrate that Jesus was teaching that the new birth precedes faith.

First, Calvinists lay great stress on the parallel between spiritual birth and physical birth. They will often argue that a sinner can no more decide when he will be reborn than a child can decide when he or she will be physically born. The problem with this approach is that Jesus nowhere says that we are to understand his words in this way. What about labor pains? What about the passage through the birth canal?  What about conception? Should we also seek to draw parallels from these aspects of physical birth? If not, then why not? How do we know which parallels should be drawn, and which should not. The best approach is to let Jesus instruct us.

Christ’s emphasis in these passages is the need for new life and does not deal with the issue of how that life is attained until later in the chapter. If we follow Jesus’ discourse we will discover that Jesus answers the question of whether we should draw such a parallel with physical birth. All we can rightly deduce from John 3:3, 6 is that no one can see or enter the Kingdom of God until they are born again. He does not tell us how one becomes born again until later in the passage. We need to be careful not to read our doctrinal biases into Christ’s words before he has had an opportunity to further explain them.

Second, Calvinists lay great stress on the word “see”. They argue that one cannot believe in Christ until one first “sees” the Kingdom. They believe that “seeing” must precede “believing”. Since one cannot “see” the Kingdom of God until one is born again, then it would seem logical that one cannot believe what they “see” until they are born again. This is the more significant Calvinist argument. But will it stand up to scrutiny?

There are a few problems with this argument. First, “seeing” the Kingdom of God does not necessarily mean “seeing” the need for the redemption offered in the atonement of Jesus Christ. One does not necessarily need to fully comprehend the nature of God’s Kingdom in order to recognize one’s need for a redeemer. This is a false correlation that is not supported by the text. Second, it seems better to understand “see” and “enter” as metaphors for full experience. The Greek word for “see” in this passage is also used as a means of “experiencing” something in other passages. In Acts 2:27, 31; 13:35 and Heb. 11:5 the word is used of experiencing either death or corruption. It is used in 1 Pet. 3:10 for experiencing “good days”. It is used for experiencing “sorrow” in Rev. 18:7 (especially note how John uses “see” in John 3:36 and 8:51 for experiencing eternal life).

The TDNT (the one volume abridged addition) says of eidon [which is used in John 3 and the other passages mentioned above] and horao [another word for “see”] that:

Often the verbs mean “to perceive” in such senses as “to experience,” “to note,” “to establish,” “to realize,” “to know,” “to judge,” “to mark,” “to heed”. (pg. 710)

Calvinist D.A. Carson says of “see” in John 3:3:

To a Jew with the background and convictions of Nicodemus, “to see the kingdom of God” was to participate in the kingdom at the end of the age, to experience eternal, resurrection life. The same equivalence is found in the Synoptics (cf. Mk. 9:43, 45 ‘to enter life’, parallel to 9:47 ‘to enter the kingdom of God/); it is particularly strong in the Fourth Gospel, where ‘kingdom’ language crops up only here (3:3, 5) and at Jesus’ trial (18:36) while ‘life’ language predominates. One of the most startling features of the kingdom announced in the Synoptics is that it is not exclusively future. The kingdom, God’s saving and transforming reign, has in certain respects already been inaugurated in the personal works and message of Jesus. (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According To John, P. 188 )

Since Jesus uses “enter” to further describe “see” it seems unreasonable to conclude that Jesus is speaking of anything other than fully experiencing God’s Kingdom. He is describing the transition from one sphere of existence to another.

This was especially relevant in light of the Jewish understanding that they would experience God’s Kingdom on the basis of being a descendant of Abraham. Nicodemus would have approached Jesus believing that he was already entitled to a share of God’s Kingdom on the basis of the promises given to Abraham in Genesis 13:14, 15 and 17:18. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came they would simply move into His Kingdom on the merits of God’s promise to Abraham’s descendants and on the merits of obedience to the Mosaic Law. While the Jews believed that they could earn heaven on the merits of their works, they seemed to primarily believe that they were unconditionally promised the eternal inheritance simply because they were circumcised Jews. F. Leroy Forlines describes this important Jewish understanding of salvation.

We are confronted with two seemingly contradictory concepts in the New Testament concerning the Jewish viewpoint of their own salvation. The first is the concept of unconditional salvation of all Jews as the seed of Abraham. It was this viewpoint that caused John the Baptist to say, ‘Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham for our father; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham’ (Mt. 3:9; see also Jn. 8:33-40). The other viewpoint is that they were depending on their own works. This viewpoint is set forth by Paul when he said, ‘But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works’ (Rom. 9:31, 32). (Quest for Truth pg. 347-emphasis his)

Forlines then goes on to argue that even the Jewish view on justification by works was in the context of the corporate righteousness of Israel. The Jews then did not view salvation as individual but as corporate, based on the promises made to Abraham and on the corporate righteousness of Israel. He explains,

It appears that these two observations about salvation among the Jews are mutually exclusive. However, from all that I can gather, Jews were not as concerned with harmonization as some of us are. They were more content to let some loose ends dangle in their thought. E.P. Sanders astutely observes, ‘Rabbis were not concerned with the internal systematic relationship of their statements.’ (ibid. 348)

He then concludes with,

Their concept of unconditional corporate election of all Jews was by far the more basic of the two thoughts. All the rest of their thoughts must be weighed in the light of that foundational thought. (ibid. 348)

This is the cultural context in which this dialogue between a leading Jew and Jesus takes place. Jesus is correcting two fundamental misconceptions of the Jewish understanding of salvation. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God unconditionally. They must be changed. They must be reborn. This change does not take place corporately but individually, “No one [individual] can see” or “enter” the Kingdom of God without first being reborn. The Kingdom of God is not unconditionally guaranteed to them. They cannot enter the Kingdom until their sin has been dealt with, for the Kingdom of God is a holy Kingdom. There is need for real atonement before one can enter into the life of God’s Kingdom. Since sin brings death “you must be born again”. How does this happen? Nicodemus asks Jesus this same question in verse 9, “how can this be?”

Jesus quickly directs Nicodemus to the necessity of atonement. He says in verses 14 and 15, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So how does one attain the new life necessary for seeing and entering the Kingdom of God? He must look to the lifted up Messiah and believe in him. While Calvinists lay great stress on the analogy of spiritual birth with physical birth, they virtually ignore the implications involved with the analogy of the bronze serpent that Jesus specifically used to answer Nicodemus’ question of how one becomes born again (vs. 9).

The Israelites in the desert were dying from the deadly venom of snake bites. The only way they could escape certain death was to look to the bronze serpent that God had provided for their healing. Those Israelites were dying until they fixed their gaze on the bronze snake. Jesus correlates this “looking” to the snake with “believing”. When someone believes in Christ the blood of atonement is applied, the curse of sin and death is broken, and new life begins. If the Calvinistic interpretation of John3:3, 6 is correct then Jesus chose a poor analogy to explain to Nicodemus how the new life begins. If their view is correct then we must also believe that the Israelites in the desert were not given life as a result of fixing their gaze on the bronze serpent, but were rather first given life so that they could then look to [or “see”] the serpent. In this view they looked to the serpent because they had already been cured of the venom’s deadly effects. They would not have looked to the serpent to secure life; they would have looked to the serpent because they had already been given life. I would venture to say that no Calvinist believes that the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent because they had already been cured and given life. Since this is the illustration that Christ chose to explain the nature of his atonement and the means by which we attain life, it is absurd to believe that Jesus was teaching that the new birth precedes faith in John 3:3, 6. Consider the parallels,

The Bronze Snake:

The Israelites had to look to the bronze serpent to escape the deadly effects of the venom and experience life, “Anyone who is bitten can look at [the serpent] and live…when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake they lived.” [Numbers 21:8, 9]

The Crucified Messiah:

Only those who look to the Messiah’s atonement by faith in His blood will escape the deadly effects of sin and experience new life, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [as a necessary atonement], that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-16]

Rather than allowing Jesus to explain His own teaching, the Calvinist wants to “explain” what Jesus meant before He does. If we want to understand what Jesus meant by His comments in John 3:3, 6, we only need to keep reading. If we can resist the temptation to read our theology into his comments we will soon discover that one is born again by believing in Christ and thereby appropriating the benefits of His atonement. Only after the blood of the “lifted up” Messiah is applied through faith can one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.

When Jesus said that no one can “see” or “enter” the Kingdom of God unless that person was born again, He was teaching the necessity of the application of His atoning work. Only when sin is dealt with in the life of the individual can that person experience life and move into the sphere of God’s holy Kingdom. Jesus made it clear that the soul cleansing benefits of His atoning work are given only to those who “believe” in Him.

Nicodemus may have walked away confused and frustrated but Jesus perfectly explained to him why the Jewish view of salvation was inadequate. The only way for anyone, Jew or Gentile, to attain the life of the Messianic Kingdom is for them to personally put their faith in the atoning work of the Messiah. While John 3:3 and 6, when read in the context of the entire chapter, lends further weight to the Arminian view, it fails as a proof text for the Calvinistic doctrine of regeneration preceding faith.

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30 Responses

  1. WELCOME BACK! And you can only imagine how welcome you truly are! That post was your best yet. Especially in light of what I have been experiencing over the last two days.

    Being back at college is not only challenging because of the load that I am required to read, but also because of the interaction I have with other students. When I was cornered over the issue of the Purpose of Regeneration (something I had never truly considered), I was taken aback.

    Little did I realize that ONLY reformed commentaries insisted that the Purpose of regeneration was for the sinner to believe in Christ. ALL other commentaries insisted that faith precedes regeneration and then defined what the Purpose of regeneration was for.

    You can imagine how happy I was to visit your blog tonight. Thank you. I will give a direct link to this post for further study.

    Thanks again,
    Billy

  2. The bigger question is do the Articles of Remonstrants teach regeneration before faith?

  3. I look forward to the post where you reconcile the articles to fit what you are saying. It seems to me that most Arminian’s do not follow the direct teaching of Arminius, yet the claim they do and at the same time denounce every other theology.

  4. ‘Since God will not bestow salvation on any one, except on him who believes’

    Does this mean that man plays a role in his salvation? Does this not then put a conditon on grace? If faith comes before grace what then did God forsee about my faith? Does this mean that my faith is separate from him? Where did my faith come from? Could not then some have more faith than me and would I then have different faith before grace then i would after grace?

    It all seems strange to me. One problem I guess is if we say that He only save’s the elect and its a small number, but why does it have to be a small number? does the Scripture not tell us that the saved are of great numbers, too many to count? It is hard for me to find a Calvinist that believes only a few people are elect and that the vast majority of people are lost.

  5. Faith then results in God’s gracious act of regeneration

    So God’s Grace which is suppose to be unmerited in anyway really is merited on my faith in him?
    Sounds like unmerited to me, i will give you my unmerited grace because you believe, see how nice i am.

  6. anonymous,

    Thanks for stopping by. You said,

    “The bigger question is do the Articles of Remonstrants teach regeneration before faith?”

    Surely you do not mean that what the Remonstrants taught or belived is a more important question than what the word of God teaches?

    Are you referring to the articles of Remonstrants where it is implied that one must be born again in order to have faith? I will likely do a post on that subject in the future. Feel free to stop by with your comments when I do.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Why harden hearts? Why is is said that it is good to hide and conceal these things from them? is that not God passing over them by not even making it where they can understand? Seems like we want to limit what God can and can not do.

  8. I will not be trying to reconcile anything. I am not committed to everything that either the Remonstrants or Arminius taught and believed. Every Calvinist that I have ever debated has objected when I brought up specific teachings of Calvin that demonstrated the problems with their theology. They constantly remind me that one does not have to agree with all that Calvin said in order to be a Calvinist. I think it is only fair to give Arminians the same freedom.

    I do stand with Arminius and the Remonstrants against the doctrines of Calvinism, though we may differ on some of the details.

    It is quite clear that Arminius denied any gracious working of God (regeneration or otherwise) that necessitated saving faith in the individual. If faith were caused irresistibly in the individual it could not truly be a condition.

    For example,

    “If any one says, “God wills first absolutely to save some particular person; and, since he wills that, he also wills to bestow faith on him, because without faith, it is not possible for him to be saved.” I tell him, that he lays down contradictory propositions — that “God wills absolutely to save
    some one without regard to faith,” and yet that, “according to the will of God, he cannot be saved without faith.” Through the will of God it has been revealed to us, without faith it is impossible for any man to please God, or to be saved. There is, therefore, in God no other will, by which he wills any one to be absolutely saved without consideration of faith. For contradictory wills cannot be attributed to God.

    If any person replies, “God wills the end before he wills the means leading to the end; but salvation is the end, and faith the means leading to the end,” I answer, first, Salvation is not the end of God; but salvation and faith are the gifts of God, bound and connected together in this order between themselves through the will of God, that faith should precede salvation, both with regard to God, the donor of it; and in reality. Secondly. Faith is a CONDITION required by God to be performed by him who shall be saved, before it is MEANS of obtaining that salvation. Since God will not bestow salvation on any one, except on him who believes, man is on this account incited to be willing to believe, because he knows that his chief good is placed in salvation. Man, therefore, tried by faith, as the means, to attain to salvation as the end; because he knows that he cannot possibly obtain salvation except through that means. And this knowledge he does not acquire except through the declaration of the divine Will, by which God requires faith from those who wish to be saved, that is, by which he places faith as a condition in the object, that is, in the person to be saved.” [“The Apology or Defense”, Works of James Arminius, Weslyan Heritage Collection]

    The bottom line for Arminus and the Remonstrants was that the grace of God that leads to regeneration is resistible. On this point, I fully agree.

  9. Matthew 11:25,26
    At that time Jesus answered and said “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”

  10. You said,

    “Does this mean that man plays a role in his salvation?

    Only in the sense that one either accepts it or rejects it.

    “Does this not then put a conditon on grace?”

    Saving grace is accessed by faith (Rom. 5:2)

    “If faith comes before grace what then did God forsee about my faith?”

    God’s prevenient grace precedes and enables the response of faith. Faith then results in God’s gracious act of regeneration.

    “Does this mean that my faith is separate from him?”

    It is a complete trust in Him and the merit of His blood (Rom. 3:21-25)

    “Where did my faith come from?”

    You and God. It comes from God in that God enabled you to respond to His grace. It comes from you in that it is your genuine response to God’s grace.

    “Could not then some have more faith than me and would I then have different faith before grace then i would after grace?”

    Could you elaborate on this. It is a little hard to follow.

  11. “It all seems strange to me. One problem I guess is if we say that He only save’s the elect and its a small number, but why does it have to be a small number? does the Scripture not tell us that the saved are of great numbers, too many to count? It is hard for me to find a Calvinist that believes only a few people are elect and that the vast majority of people are lost.”

    The issue isn’t so much how many are reprobated in the Calvinist scheme but rather whether it is consistent with God’s loving nature to arbitrarily pass over those He could save. The other issue has to do with the genuineness of God’s offer of salvation if He makes it impossible for many to respond.

    The Bible does seem to make it clear that in comparison to those who will be saved, there will be a far greater number who will be lost.

    Matt. 7:13-14,

    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

    So comparitively speaking there are “many” who will be lost, and “few” who will be saved.

  12. “So God’s Grace which is suppose to be unmerited in anyway really is merited on my faith in him?
    Sounds like unmerited to me, i will give you my unmerited grace because you believe, see how nice i am.”

    Faith does not merit salvation. Faith is the condition that God requires must first be met. A condition is not necessarily meritorious. Faith, is in fact, the total reliance on the merits of Christ’s blood. Salvation is conditioned on faith, not merited by it.

    You may want to check out my post on “The Nature of Saving Faith”.

  13. You may also want to check out my post, “Is Arminian Theology Synergistic”.

  14. “Why harden hearts? Why is is said that it is good to hide and conceal these things from them? is that not God passing over them by not even making it where they can understand? Seems like we want to limit what God can and can not do.”

    You are kind of all over the place. Are you truly seeking answers, or do you just like to argue?

    As far as hardening hearts I have a few comments.

    1) That God hardens hearts does not imply that the one hardened was never given a genuine opportunity to respond to God’s grace.

    2) Most scholars see God’s hardening in the sense of giving one over to one’s stubborn rebellion rather than an active hardening on God’s part. Even most Calvinists see God’s hardening as passive. Look at this entry from “Vines Expository Dictionary” regarding those “fitted” for destruction,

    3. KATARTIZO: to make fit, to equip, prepare (kata, down, artos, a joint), is rendered “fitted” in Rom. 9:22, of vessels of wrath; here the Middle Voice signifies that those referred to fitted themselves for destruction (as illustrated in the case of Pharaoh, the self-hardening of whose heart is accurately presented in the R.V. in the first part of the series of incidents in the Exodus narrative, which records Pharaoh’s doings; only after repeated and persistent obstinacy on his part is it recorded that God hardened his heart.)

    3) If Total Depravity is true in the way that Calvinists define it, then what need does God have for hardening hearts? We are all naturally rebellious God haters, so what is there to harden? That is why even most Calvinist see God’s hardening in a passive sense. God simply denies the reprobate the grace necessary to turn and be saved.

  15. “While Calvinists lay great stress on the analogy of spiritual birth with physical birth, they virtually ignore the implications involved with the analogy of the bronze serpent that Jesus specifically used to answer Nicodemus’ question of how one becomes born again (vs. 9).”

    That is flat out wrong. Have you ever examined any sermons by Calvinist preachers?! Look at my own blog, beginning with October, 2005 through November, 2005. You’ll se plenty of messages of looking to Christ and His sacrifice in order to be saved.

    Are you familiar with Luther’s “Bondage of The Will”? Or Edward’s “Freedom of the Will? It would seem your definition of “unable to respond” is deficient. Hostility is the reason people don’t come to God. See John 3:19-20; Romans 1:18-32, which are descriptions of the entire human race, not just a few. Hence, the need to be born from above in order to even see the Kingdom.

    Peace.

  16. Mark,

    You said,

    “That is flat out wrong. Have you ever examined any sermons by Calvinist preachers?! Look at my own blog, beginning with October, 2005 through November, 2005. You’ll se plenty of messages of looking to Christ and His sacrifice in order to be saved.”

    My point was not that Reformed preachers never mention this, but ignore the implications as I have argued in my post. The implications are that one must first look to Christ in faith before they can experience new life in Him. Do your Calvinist preachers say this? Do you? If you do then we are in full agreement.

  17. I could not help noticing the irony when people incorrectly try to draw such strong conclusions from making a direct literal comparison between our physical birth and our second spiritual birth – i.e. Nicodemus himself fell into similar misgivings within the passage,
    “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”.

    I appreciate the mindset that seems to be promoted in this blog, one that seeks to begin by first drawing our understandings from the scriptures instead of injecting a theological system of thought into them.

    God bless you and keep you

  18. […] Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6? […]

  19. […] The only one who is forcing things into the text is Gordan. The fact that Gordan has to resort to statements about including physical life in the context of John 5 and the absurd idea of eternal regeneration is sufficient proof of that. There is, furthermore, no hint of conflating regeneration and justification in anything I have said. It is true, however, theologically speaking, that justification must precede regeneration. If that were not the case we would have sinners enjoying the new life prior to being forgiven. This may not be the “death knell” of Calvinism, but it should certainly be the “death knell” of the Calvinist doctrine that regeneration precedes faith. Does Regeneration Precede Faith? Does John 6:44 teach Irresistible Grace? Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith In John 3:3, 6? […]

  20. AP,

    natamllc/michael here.

    I followed your link from Dan’s blog and I am reading your position on regeneration and faith now.

    I highlight this:

    [[Nicodemus would have approached Jesus believing that he was already entitled to a share of God’s Kingdom on the basis of the promises given to Abraham in Genesis 13:14, 15 and 17:18. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came they would simply move into His Kingdom on the merits of God’s promise to Abraham’s descendants and on the merits of obedience to the Mosaic Law.]]

    That is an interesting insight to me!

    I am not sure I am on the same page with it though?

    I would remember that for these Jews, especially when Jesus makes this note of Nicodemus to him, Nicodemus:

    Joh 3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

    Remembering the Scriptures I come to two things.

    One is this phenomenon, or “ability” of Christ, now risen and for us it is the only relational position we will ever have with Him, before rebirth or after, He opens “their minds” to understand Scripture:::>

    Luk 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
    Luk 24:26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
    Luk 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

    We now know that Christ’s Resurrection assignment is to build a dwelling for God that the gates of hell can prevail against.

    And here from the writings of Moses, I deduce that Christ.s Spirit, then, in the days of Moses, is teaching them, the children of Israel, that there is going to be an earthly “spiritually aware” Kingdom expression of the Eternal Life Kingdom in Heaven established inside the boundaries of the Promised Land to Abraham when he writes this :::>

    Exo 23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
    Exo 23:21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

    This earthly expression of this Eternal Life Kingdom of God on earth is so terrifying to this “carnal” Jews, we read this in chapter 20:::>

    Exo 20:18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off
    Exo 20:19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
    Exo 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
    Exo 20:21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
    Exo 20:22 And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.

    My point is, under the circumstances, what Adam lost, God then determined that Abraham’s children would gain back to demonstrate His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven itself. But that was only predetermined to be to establish this in our day that the Eternal Life Kingdom of God would now come by the work of Christ through the True “Sons of God” as noted at Deuteronomy 32:8*. This Eternal Life Kingdom of God is described somewhat here by Paul the Apostle when he writes this:::>

    Rom 5:17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

    And John writes this about that here:::>

    Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
    Rev 5:10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

    The idea of “Faith” coming before “regeneration” is an interesting argument. Why do you suppose it is so important that one comes before another?

  21. Michael,

    Thanks for dropping by. The ordo salutis is important because if regeneration precedes faith then unconditional election seems to necessarily follow. Arminians, however, reject the Calvinist ordo salutis primarily because we believe the Bible clearly teaches that faith precedes regeneration. It seems to us that the Calvinist ordo salutis is derived not from Scripture but from the necessities of a theology that affirms unconditional election and sees a strict parallel between spiritual death and the inability of a physical corpse.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  22. Ben,

    thank you for your kindness and willingness to dialog with me on these things.

    Off first, I do not consider myself either Arminian or Calvinist. I simply have not taken the time to be a scholar of these historical persons and the links from their writings to contemporaries, scholars and their writings to know either position.

    Of course, after 30 plus years of study I have my own thoughts on the Word of God and the meanings.

    Are you a scholar of Arminius? Are you a scholar of Calvin?

    I visited Calvin’s church, or so I was told that the church services I attended in Geneva were in the very building Calvin preached from after he returned there to Pastor that group in Geneva.

    I have been to Holland but know very little of James Harmensen. I am aware of the Council at Dort and the international gathering of Preachers and Teachers. I cannot say I have any sense about it or why.

    Unconditional election refers to Who doing what, why and when to who? How is this one, Who, unconditionally electing who? Why is this a big deal in the order of Salvation?

    I remember the dramatic events that led me to pick up the Bible and read it for myself about 35 years ago. I am an Indian from a Northern California Tribe and on our reservation the Roman Catholic Priests were the religious leaders and we were never encouraged to read a Bible for ourself. When I did, I got to verse 21 of Chapter one of Matthew’s Gospel account and it struck me that Jesus is the Savior and as the Scripture reads, “you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins”. I was so full of torments and turmoils that that very verse seemed to spiritually cut through it all and bring me Peace! Praise God.!

    Anyway, please respond to my inquires. I look forward to what you have to say.

  23. Michael,

    Thanks for sharing that about yourself. I had assumed you were thoroughly Calvinistic in theology from reading your comments at Dan’s blog. I am happy to see that is not the case. Perhaps there is hope for you yet 🙂

    Are you a scholar of Arminius? Are you a scholar of Calvin?

    I am not a scholar of either though I have read both (more from Arminius than Calvin, though I have probably read more Calvinist works than Arminian).

    Unconditional election refers to Who doing what, why and when to who? How is this one, Who, unconditionally electing who? Why is this a big deal in the order of Salvation?

    I am not sure I am following some of what you wrote here. Unconditional election means that God selected some for salvation prior to creation and reprobated the rest. This had nothing to do with whether those who were chosen met any conditions (like faith).

    In Arminianism salvation is conditional in that God sovereignly decided to make salvation conditioned on the human response of faith and to condemn sinners for rejecting Christ (Jn. 3:16-18, 36). However, Arminians also affirm that God must first enable us to believe before we can put faith in Christ.

    It ties into the ordo salutis because if regeneration precedes faith and irresistibly produces faith, then it follows that God only wants some to be saved since many do not believe. Therefore, salvation and election is unconditional. If faith precedes regeneration and the grace which enables faith is resistible, then it follows that salvation is conditioned on the way we respond to God’s grace. The one who does not believe is condemned because he or she did not meet the God ordained condition of faith and not because God “passed them over” or actively reprobated them.

    Not sure if that addresses the source of your confusion. If I misunderstood your question please feel free to ask again.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  24. Ben,

    no, it opens up many more questions though.

    Let me come at it like this. I am not a Calvinist and I have not read any of his works other than more commentary of his works. The same goes for Harmensen.

    But as to this idea of unconditional “election” I pose this as a frame of reference from which I come to rationalize what that is then.

    God, “Father and Son and Holy Ghost” does not “wrestle” with believing in the other two. They are “Faith”. With them, there is no unbelief.

    The devils, Satan, the beast, the false prophet, Death and Hades, along with those whose names are not written in the book of Life, I propose to say “have faith”, or believe that there are these we Christians worship: We worship the one True God , Our Heavenly Father, who reveals Christ to our hearts and minds so that we can have faith in Him and His Cross Work; Jesus Christ, who reveals by His Own “will” God Our Heavenly Father to us so that, by His Grace, Mercy and Peace, we now “can” have no other gods before God; and the Holy Ghost, who, “with Our Heavenly Father”, participates in our “revelation” of the Trinity as expressed by the Spirit of Truth, Jesus Christ, while living as a human being when living in the world we live in now so that we are without error or uncertainty about Their offer of Salvation to us now being wrestled from their grip and deceitful schemes to keep us blinded to the Glory of God found in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

    Now we are thrust into a “spiritual” warfare against the forces of this age whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy our souls.

    Paul the Apostle wrote and I certainly embrace by affirmation that we were not given a spirit of fear or weakeness when wrestling with evil forces of this age but Christians are given a Spirit of Power, Love and Sound Mind.

    With the Spirit’s sanctification work working effectually in me too, I am set apart to exercise Faith in the Promises of God.

    This morning I was touched by this very Spirit of Grace, Mercy and Peace as He opened my mind up to understand a little more some Scriptures I have pondered for many many years.

    Here are the Scriptures, found in Job 36:

    Job 36:7 He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
    Job 36:8 And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction,
    Job 36:9 then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
    Job 36:10 He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity.
    Job 36:11 If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness.
    Job 36:12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge.

    When I read these verses, I cannot help but wonder if there might be a misunderstanding of the meaning of unconditional election in some?

    Do you come away with the same sense, Ben? I would be surprised if you said no? 🙂

  25. Michael,

    Please forgive me but I am having a hard time following you again. Are you suggesting that election is conditional or unconditional? Could you explain what you see in the passages you have cited that pertains to the nature of election?

    Thanks,
    Ben

  26. Ben,

    sure, I will try! 🙂

    I smile because trying is something I do, not God.

    Does God try? 🙂

    The verses:

    Job 36:7 He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted.

    THIS IS A STATEMENT ELIHU MAKES ABOUT THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. HE SAYS GOD APPOINTS SOME OF ADAM’S RACE TO BE SET AS KINGS ON THE THRONE FOREVER.

    Job 36:8 And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction,
    Job 36:9 then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.

    OK, HERE COMES THE TROUBLE. HERE IT IMPLIES SINFUL BEHAVIOR SO GREAT CHAINS AND CORDS OF AFFLICTION ARE EXPERIENCED BECAUSE OF THEIR WILFUL BEHAVIOR CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL AND APPOINTMENT TO BE A KING FOREVER.

    AGAIN, GOD REVEALS THEIR ERROR TO THEM. WOW, HE REVEALS MY ERROR TO ME TOO!

    Job 36:10 He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity.

    HE OPENS THEIR EARS TO INSTRUCTION IMPLYING FREE WILL ON THE PART OF THE KING TO ACCEPT THE CORRECTION AND BE SET FREE FROM THE INIQUITY THEY HAVE GOTTEN ENTANGLED INTO.

    Job 36:11 If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness.

    IF THEY OBEY GOD GOD REWARDS THEM FOR THEIR OBEDIENCE, HENCE, GRACE AND MERCY ARE OFFERED FOR THEIR SALVATION. THEIR SALVATION HERE IS DESCRIBED AS DAYS OF PROSPERITY AND YEARS REMAINING IN PLEASANTNESS!

    I ASK YOU BEN, WHO WOULD NOT WANT THAT OUTCOME?

    WHEN I SEE HOMELESS BUMS ON THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO OLD AGED AND POVERTY STRIKEN I REALIZE THAT WHAT ONE SOWS ONE REAPS AND THERE REALLY IS NO RESPECT OF PERSONS WITH GOD.

    Job 36:12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge.

    The Apostle Peter makes a similar distinction when we see he uses two different Greek words, the English word, “knowledge” translated in his letter to those under his Apostolic care. And of course I suppose the controversy surrounds this Chapter 1 of 2 Peter and the words, “calling” and “election”?

    The two Greek words are:

    ἐπίγνωσις
    epignōsis
    ip-ig’-no-sis
    From G1921; recognition, that is, (by implication) full discernment, acknowledgement: – (ac-) knowledge (-ing, -ment).

    and

    γνῶσις
    gnōsis
    gno’-sis
    From G1097; knowing (the act), that is, (by implication) knowledge: – knowledge, science.

    That first word, epignōsis, is found at these verses of Chapter 1 of 2 Peter, verse 2,3,and 8.

    The second word, gnosis, is found at these verses of Chapter 1 of 2 Peter, verse 5 and 6.

    The one word deals with the realm of the Kingdom of God in Heaven itself and the other word deals with the laws of nature in this world, these present heavens and earth.

    So how does a Gracious God keep His Sovereignty allowing for us to keep our free will and see some come to Salvation and some not so fortunate?

    What I am surprised about is how people take sides on whether or not there is unconditional or conditional election, irresistable or resistable Grace and with clarity declare they are right and they are wrong!

    Aren’t you? 🙂

    But to a question I am dying to ask you Ben, what can you say about those mysterious words and meaning implied at Genesis 6? Could this be what Jesus was thinking about when He gave explanation for the weeds and wheat parable of Matthew 13?

    Could this be Jesus’ own exegesis of the “mysteries” of the Kingdom of God?

    And furthermore, how is it that the demons believe and tremble?

    It seems to me, the beast believes, the false prophet believes, Satan believes, Death believes, Hades believes, Believers believe and those whose names are not found in the book of Life believe.

    The question then, it seems to me, is why do some believe and not everyone else?

    Didn’t Paul the Apostle deal with that question when we read what he wrote here?

    2Co 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
    2Co 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.
    2Co 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

    Hope that helps but knowing me, probably not! 🙂

  27. […] one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.” (taken from my post, Does Jesus Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?) Dominic: Or of 1 Corinthians 12:3-”no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the […]

  28. Ben,

    As you know I’ve been reading a lot of John’s gospel for months now. I came back to chapter 3 this morning because of this text. It’s caused me a lot of confusion for two reasons. 1–my Calvinist background has tinted it a certain color; the typical interpretation (as your post shows) leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions. 2–it’s kind of a tough passage (especially vss. 1-8). I mulled it over for a while this morning and came up with some thoughts, and then reread this post which was along my same line of thoughts. Please let me know if I’m off my rocker here. (I’m short on time, so I won’t be putting in all references)

    Nicodemus being a Pharisee comes by night to Jesus. One interpretation says he was a secret believer, but I now lean toward him maybe coming by night to avoid criticism and talk of the common people since he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (vs. 2). As far as I know, this is the only confession of the Pharisees making any claims that they believed in Jesus or his signs. Later Jesus will tell them to believe the signs because they prove he is who he says he is (not sure of the reference). The rest of the exchange shows Jesus speaking of the “you” plural, meaning “you Pharisees.” So I think he was trying to figure Jesus out, and I’ll grant he even did it on his own possibly, but not necessarily. We know that the Jews often looked to the Pharisees to see what they thought about Jesus, but they wouldn’t really give themselves away (except Jesus knew, and shows it here that they essentially were hardened and loved the praise of men rather than of God).

    Nicodemus uses the word “unless” and Jesus responds with his own “unless” phrase, used elsewhere to show a necessary condition (c.f. John 6:44). Nicodemus claims they believe in Jesus, but Jesus is showing that he really doesn’t believe. This unfolds more in the following verses and is a common theme in John’s gospel about the Jews. Jesus tells him that he needs to be born again. Calvinists are quick to point out that he doesn’t command him to be born again, but this doesn’t require us to hold to Irresistible Grace or regeneration before faith as they’d like us to think. He is stating a fact, that is that Nicodemus and the Pharisees think they are right with God but they are not God’s children at all (i.e., they are the devil’s children, see chapter 8). They are deceived. They think because they are Jews (of the flesh maybe, v. 6) that they are entitled to salvation, as you pointed out in this post.

    Calvinists have confused me with their logic with verses 6-8 at this point. They say that since we had nothing to do with our own birth, then we can’t possibly have anything at all to do with our spiritual birth. This is partly true, but their interpretation seems deceiving. If we interpret verse 8 as such, they it really makes no sense. There is a total disconnect using their logic. Follow me here: Verse 6 means that God must cause us to be born again and we have no part in it. Verse 8 means that God brings new birth wherever/in whomever he wants and we have no say in it. So how can everyone who’s born of the Spirit be like the wind? Are they blown around, not knowing where their new birth came from or where it goes? You pretty much need to throw out 8b since it does nothing for the Calvinist interpretation. Besides this, Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus as you wrote that he must believe in the crucified/risen Christ and “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (vs. 15). So why on earth would Jesus tell us we need to be born again, then believe, then have eternal life? And what purpose would there be in Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed something to happen to him, but not tell him if God was even willing that he should be saved? Maybe Nicodemus was a reprobate? The rest of the Pharisees certainly never repented in Scripture, so why tell Nicodemus that they had to be born again?

    On the other hand, if this passage is not about Irresistible Grace/Regeneration, and we carefully read the full background context, we get something different. You have instead the Pharisees thinking they are right with God, claiming they have faith but they don’t per Jesus. Jesus says essentially that they’ve been born of the flesh, whether that means Abraham or of Jewish descent, or just that they are alive physically but not spiritually. John has already told us that whoever receives/believes in Jesus will be born again (1:12-13; 3:15, 16, 18). We have the Jewish context of Israel receiving their long-awaited Messiah, and these guys don’t have the right kind of faith. So Jesus corrects Nicodemus’ understanding of what it means to know that God is with Jesus, doing signs, etc. He tells him that he must have the faith of a true son of God, as so many others did who believed through the ministry of John the Baptist, whose purpose was to lead Israel to Christ (1:7, 31).

    So it’s not so much that God must do a work in you and you have no say in it, but that God must do a work in you and you need to have the right kind of faith. He never corrected anyone else like this (with Nicodemus), except for those who mistakenly thought they had the right kind of faith (e.g., the rich young ruler or the Pharisees throughout the gospels). This view seems to make much more sense out of the entire section, not to mention the general theme of John, including the Jewish context. Especially when you get to 3:21 where it says, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” The Pharisees were not of God, but Jesus was calling them to believe and become part of the true family of God. They had not done works of righteousness “in God” but in the flesh.

  29. I forgot to add this: John 3:8 speaks about the person born of the Spirit being like the wind. I really think this analogy speaks more about the effects of the Spirit on a person than it does about their inability. We see the effects of the wind, and we are sure that the wind has blown. Jesus may be saying here, “Nicodemus, you think you believe in me (v.3) but there are no effects visible that show true belief (v.8), which comes from being ‘born of the Spirit of God.'” And Jesus certainly knew better than anyone else whether Nicodemus or the Pharisees were children of God (John 2:25). If we interpret verse 6 as telling us about the effects of God’s Spirit and not so much about man’s inability, then we can understand the passage as a whole and it all ties together.

    I have not read any commentaries on John yet, but I’d be interested to read and hear if anyone else has had those interpretations. I also found the Carson quote intriguing. That doesn’t help his cause much. To “see” almost certainly means to experience in this context.

  30. Now Dimly,

    Concerning John 3:8, your comment reminded me of a comment on the passage I read a while back:

    “This refers to the unseen supernatural work of the Spirit, and then gets applied to believers. The text affirms that just as the World does not understand the Spirit and does not perceive his origin or his destination, so they do not recognize the divine sonship of believers in Christ or their destination in Heaven with him. The new birth is based on the Holy Spirit’s will of who he wishes to regenerate. The context reveals that the Spirit wishes to regenerate those who place their faith in Christ.

    Calvinists make much of this verse as somehow teaching that regeneration is unconditional. And they do this with similar texts as well which say that salvation (or whatever salvific blessing happens to be in view) is subject to God’s will. But this is major question begging and eisegesis and assuming, for the text doesn’t say God’s will in these matters is unconditional at all. Quite to the contrary, such statements usually if not always appear in a context that makes God’s will clear, the condition he sovereingly wills must be met for him to save or regenerate or etc. It is really a bizarre thing if one thinks about it to think that a statement saying that some particular thing is to go according to this or that person’s will, to then assume it is unconditional. That is almost never the case and is the exact opposite of what just about anyone would naturally assume with such statements.”

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