John 3:3 – Calvinists say that this absolutely proves that you have to be born again before you can believe.
John 3:3 – Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
I was recently told that “John 3:3 (a man must be born again before he can repent and believe.) In this super clear verse our Lord and saviour himself tells Nicodemus that he cannot even see the kingdom of God unless he is born again first, surely that puts to rest that regeneration must take place first and foremost.”
Well, I admit that it is super clear that Jesus told Nicodemus that he couldn’t see the kingdom of heaven unless he was born again first. But how can this then translate into regeneration coming first and foremost, especially before repentance and belief in Christ? There is no reasonable basis for this in the slightest. When the calvinist talks of regeneration, he means the equivalent of being born again, although he prefers the term “regeneration” because “being born again” may introduce a problem of whether this then is the equivalent of “being saved”, which some calvinists then change to “justified”. (They love their “verbal gymnastics”!) We are justified by faith (Romans 5:1) which effectively means we are put into a just or right relationship with God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Thus, justification is effectively the equivalent of salvation, or “being saved”. However, why not then just call it by the straight-forward term “being saved”?
The problem arises when calvinists teach about justification; they may not mean the same as “being saved”. Calvinists often fuse both sanctification and justification, making them both part of the same process, thus both are taught as being “daily”. However, justification is something God does at the moment we are saved, while sanctification is an ongoing process of cleansing us from sin, not once off as is justification. Thus, “justification” may be used as a synonym for “salvation” (“being saved”), not “sanctification”.
Calvinists also may use the term “justification” when discussing people being made right with God, while avoiding the term “being saved” because that looks like making a decision to be saved by Christ. Calvinists openly reject any idea or thought of people making a decision to be saved by Christ because that would require the free will of man, something they also totally reject. They teach that we do not choose God; He chooses us!
Paul Washer (a calvinist) says:
“The question is not whether you would like to pray this prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart — after all, you know, the handle to your heart is on the inside and if you do not open it Jesus cannot come in.
My friend, Jesus is Lord of your heart and if He wants to come in, He will kick the door down.”
This is why calvinists reject traditional evangelism which asks man to make a decision for Christ; they believe that no man may be saved unless he has been chosen as one of God’s elect from before the foundation of the world! They teach that if you claim to be a Christian because you made a decision to receive Christ into your life, then you are still lost in your sins and going to hell. (If you doubt this, please do research to check this out!)
Todd Friel (another calvinist) says concerning the sinners’ prayer:
Brace yourself for this one: with very few if any exceptions, anyone who asked Jesus into their hearts to be saved…is not. If you asked Jesus into your heart because you were told that is what you have to do to become a Christian, you were mis-informed.
(“Ten reasons NOT to ask Jesus into your heart.” By Todd Friel)
Yet another calvinist, John Piper, even tries to get that great teacher AW Tozer on his side by quoting him favourably (from “Knowledge of the Holy”) in a video in defense of TULIP. However, no matter what Piper quotes from Tozer, in that same book (“Knowledge of the Holy”) Tozer says the following concerning the free will of man. Read it very carefully, for Tozer is teaching the free will of man.
God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it.
(Page 76, Knowledge of the Holy, AW Tozer)
The Bible says clearly that we must believe on Christ before being saved.
Acts 16:31 – And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
Romans 10:9 – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Each of these is quite explicit concerning that fact.
So how is it that the calvinist can claim that we cannot believe until after we are born again (for which they use John 3:3 as a proof verse). If “being born again” means “being saved” (a reasonable assumption), then how can it be that we cannot believe in Christ until after we are saved (or born again)? Thus, their preference for the use of the term “regeneration” which means “born again”. It doesn’t look as bad because it helps to avoid that conflict in their doctrines which comes from trying to teach that we are saved before we can believe in Christ. Calvinists all too often use verbal gymnastics to avoid any straight talk on such issues. If the wording doesn’t sound right, then change the word to confuse others. “born again” is now “regenerated” and “being saved” is now “justified”.
Of course, some calvinists just come straight out in the open and teach this anyway.
For example, Loraine Boettner who wrote in his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Page 75:
A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.
Yet others, though, shy away somewhat from this conflict, preferring to call it “regeneration” with an acknowledgement, when required, that this equates to “being born again”, and only occasionally saying that it means “being saved” (usually only when forced to admit it).
Often, though, a calvinist “teacher” will claim that “regeneration” means “being born again”, yet “being saved” (or “justified”) is a separate process again. This, while even more untenable from a Biblical viewpoint, gets them away from admitting that we have to be saved by Jesus before believing in Him. Yet the question still remains: how is it that we can be saved by Jesus before we are able to believe in Him who saves us?
Some try to explain that although salvation is separate from regeneration, yet it is so soon after regeneration that the order doesn’t really matter anyway. For example, MacArthur appears to say that two separate processes are involved when you are born again. He says that firstly God calls you by moving to change your heart (“regeneration”), and then He removes your sin (“justification”). MacArthur seems to imply that you are called through regeneration, then saved by justification, that is, you are saved by regeneration before you are saved by justification! (Verbal gymnastics that confuse the issue are common with many calvinist teachers.)
In the following, note that the term “regeneration” isn’t used, but it is strongly implied in the moving of God into your heart. Calvinists describe regeneration as the process where God removes your heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh; thus moving into your heart would have to be seen here as the calvinist “regeneration”. Calvinists just don’t like to say many things straight up-front; they have a strong tendency to wander around and around in circles, rarely getting straight to the point! That way it’s more difficult to nail them down on a specific point.
The word “justified’ in Romans 8:30 means “to be made right with God.” How does that happen? The sin in your life must be removed. God must take your sin and put it on Christ (Rom. 3:23-25). When He moved into your heart and called you to Himself, you were made right with Him. Some people wonder how much time there is between God’s calling and our justification. I don’t know. That would be like asking how much time it takes for a bullet to go through two sheets of paper. The distinction between calling and justification is theological; there isn’t necessarily a time lapse. You are called to be justified. The calling is when God moves to change your heart, and justification is the result. (MacArthur website) (Underling mine)
(Note that MacArthur actually states that he doesn’t know the answer here! – “I don’t know.”
But it matters little how quick it might be; if the order is wrong, the order is wrong – end of story! For MacArthur, it appears that you are called (when God regenerates your heart) before you are justified (made right with God, that is, saved). Thus, you are regenerated (born again) before you can be saved! It might be almost instantaneous, but not quite instantaneous! No matter how fast it is (like a bullet going through two sheets of paper!), it’s still in the wrong order. This sounds very much like “being born again” before you are “saved”, no matter how close they are in time!
Piper says something similar, that man must be born again first, then he is seemingly “saved” by seeing Christ for who He is; he calls it “faith”. The two acts are so close (according to Piper) that they cannot be distinguished from each other.
Man is dead in trespasses and sins. … He cannot make himself new, or create new life in himself. He must be born of God. Then, with the new nature of God, he sees Christ for who he really is, and freely receives Christ for all that he is. The two acts (new birth and faith) are so closely connected that in experience we cannot distinguish them.
So for Piper we must be “born of” God before we can be justified (saved) by faith in Christ? So how is Jesus the way, the truth and the life, no man may come unto the Father except through Him, yet the Father can save us before we can come in faith through Christ? The calvinists claim that they are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, yet in their doctrines, Christ appears to play a secondary role until after we are saved! If we are saved in order that we might believe (cf. Loraine Boettner above), then we are saved before we are able to believe in Christ. That would mean that believing in Christ is not what saves us. So why would the Bible say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31) if we had to be saved before we could believe in Christ?? You are wrong, calvinists!
But one thing cannot be denied: that ‘being born again” must equate to “being saved” and therefore, because, in the Bible, belief comes before “being saved”, then belief must also come before “being born again”. If the calvinists like the term “regeneration”, then it must equate to “being born again” and “being saved”, in which case belief must still come before “regeneration” (see Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9). But the calvinist then says that faith to believe in Christ is a gift given to us by God after we are regenerated. But why would we need faith to believe after we are already “born again” or “saved”? Truly calvinism is a confusing belief system!
One lie always needs another lie to defend it, and then you have two lies, which then need one or more lies to defend them, and so the pile of lies becomes so great that, like a house of cards built too high, it just falls over, crashing to the ground. It just didn’t have the solid foundation of the word of God beneath it!
So, getting back to John 3:3, does this verse really prove that regeneration must take place before anything else, even belief?! This teaching is unbelievable! There is absolutely nothing in John 3:3 that proves or even suggests that one must be born again before believing in Christ! Unless, that is, they were to change John 3:3 to read, “Except a man be born again, he cannot “believe in” (or “have faith in”) the kingdom of God.” And, that is exactly what they actually do! Note the following:
Further, Christ places regeneration by the Spirit as a requirement before one can “see,” i.e., believe or have faith in the Kingdom of God. He states quite emphatically that a sinner who is born of the flesh cannot believe the good news of the Kingdom until he is born by the Spirit. Thus according to the teaching of Christ, we believe because we are “born again.” We are not “born again” because we believe!
(P 8, Studies in the Atonement, Robert A. Morey)
Of course, this makes a quantum leap in assuming something that doesn’t exist in the first place: that the word used for “see” in John 3:3 (oida) can mean belief or having faith. The Greek word oida does mean to physically see, or even mentally see, that is, with understanding, or even to be skilled in something. It cannot, however, be used in the sense of someone believing or having faith in something that they “see”. There is absolutely no sense of belief or faith in the use of this Greek word!
So, (a) they make an assumption (“see” = “believe in” or “have faith in”), (b) state it as a fact, and hey presto, (c) their statement is proven true!
Note that, according to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the evidence of things not seen, yet calvinists would have us believe that faith is actually the seeing of things! And how may we as Christians walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), if seeing is the same as having faith? But once a calvinist lie is spoken, it must then be defended by another lie and yet another lie, such that finally we get an unwieldy confused mess of contradictory statements. But the calvinist still defends his teachings by claiming that the only way to interpret the Bible is through the guidance of the doctrines of calvinism.
Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who cannot accept any truth unless it be taught by their Watchtower Society, the calvinist takes the doctrines of calvinism and defines the Bible truth accordingly. He claims that the Bible is truth, yet teaches that this same truth can only be interpreted in accordance with those doctrines of calvinism. If there is any conflict between calvinism and the Bible, they will reinterpret the Bible accordingly, claiming that the end result is the absolute truth.
I challenge calvinists to put aside all their calvinistic doctrines and seek the truth of the Bible on its own statements of absolute truth. They claim “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone) yet cannot interpret the Bible without reference to calvinist doctrines. In many ways like this they are very similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses!
So, I cannot see how it can be so super clear that John 3:3 teaches that we must be born again before we can believe. It simply says we must be born again before we may see the kingdom of God. The faith to see the kingdom of heaven rests upon our response by faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ through the free will that God has graciously permitted mankind to have. That response by faith to God’s promise of salvation comes before we receive that salvation (that is, born again). And thus our faith becomes our righteousness (Romans 4:5) when God graciously accepts our worthless lives for redemption.
Romans 4:5 – But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
The Bible teaches clearly that we must believe before we may be saved; any teaching that says otherwise is a heresy! If any calvinists actually believe their doctrine is correct (and therefore my statements are incorrect), then please let them carefully refute my statements above, using the Bible alone as their authority. If they cannot refute them, then they must accept that they are supporting a non-Biblical doctrine. Silence will be interpreted as an inability to answer scripturally.
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