Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “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?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
Calvinists believe that this means that unless one is Born Again, he cannot believe in the Gospel. But that is not what Jesus said. The “least in the kingdom of heaven” is greater than John the Baptist (who was the greatest under the Old Covenant), which speaks of what the New Covenant accomplishes. (Matthew 11:11) One cannot “see” or “enter” the kingdom of God apart from being a reborn Christian, and if John the Baptist needs something more, then how much more of Nicodemus, a Pharisee?
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “While the Spirit does blow where it listeth, YOU DO hear the sound of it, even though you don’t know where it is from or where it is going. You won’t know where a tornado came from or where it’s going, but you sure do know the sound of it! Heck, when you hear the sound of it, you know where you don’t wanna be! The very best text to compare and contrast this one with is the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. The text plainly states that the people heard the sound of the Spirit coming, came running, and were saved by listening to Peter. Far from teaching the exclusive bestowal of salvation on one and not the other, putting these two verses together is actually an invitation to listen for the Spirit, and when you hear Him, RUN TO THE SOUND OF THE WIND. And for your sake, LISTEN TO HIM when you get there!” (SEA)
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, explains: “The Reformed view of predestination teaches that before a person can choose Christ his heart must be changed. He must be born again.” (Chosen By God, p.72, emphasis mine)
Sproul adds: “A cardinal point of Reformed theology is the maxim: ‘Regeneration precedes faith.’ Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ.” (Chosen By God, pp.72-73, emphasis mine)
This is why Calvin also stated: “…those who believe are already born of God.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.23, emphasis mine)
This may come as a real shock to most Christians, because it seems to go without saying, that a person is made Born Again by the Holy Spirit only after he first believes in Christ. What you are about to find out, is that the Bible indeed affirms that you are made Born Again only after you first believe in Christ.
Arminianism agrees that unless God does a supernatural work in our soul, we will never choose Christ, and hence God’s Prevenient Grace of convicting hearts (John 16:8), pricking consciences (Acts 26:14) and opening hearts to respond to the Gospel. (Acts 16:14) However, that is not Regeneration. Regeneration is not about opening hearts. That’s Prevenient Grace. Regeneration is about changing hearts, and doing so in the new birth when the “new creature” receives a “new heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26) This occurs “in Christ.” 2nd Corinthians 5:17 states: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Sproul said that Calvinism rests upon the premise that “Regeneration precedes faith.” Yet, while keeping in mind that regeneration, as the new creature, occurs when you become in Christ, notice that Ephesians 1:13 says that you do not become sealed in Christ until after you first believe in the Gospel, and hence the Cardinal point of Reformed Theology goes up in smoke. Ephesians 1:13 states: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” So if the regeneration of being made Born Again is restricted to those who are sealed in Christ, how can a person be made Born Again (Regenerated) before he is sealed in Christ? Stated another way, if according to Calvinism, “Unless a man is made born again, he cannot believe in the Gospel,” AND IF being made born again is a facet of regeneration, AND IF regeneration is a facet of what is alone reserved in Christ, then Calvinism requires that a person become preemptively placed in Christ, in order to gain access to these vital elements, i.e. a new heart and a new spirit as the new creature (Ezekiel 36:26; 2nd Corinthians 5:17), in order to ensure that the decision of the elect may become irresistible, as in Irresistible Grace. Problem: a person does not become sealed in Christ until after he has first believed in the Gospel. (Ephesians 1:13) Hence, Preemptive Regeneration is toast.
John Calvin writes: “‘He cannot see the kingdom of God’ means the same thing as entering into the kingdom of God, as the context soon indicates. But people who think ‘the kingdom of God’ means ‘heaven’ are mistaken. It is rather the spiritual life, which is begun by faith in this world and daily increases according to the continual progress of faith. So the meaning is that no one can be truly united to the church and be reckoned among the children of God until he has first been renewed.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66, emphasis mine)
In other words, to Calvin, unless a man is made Born Again, he cannot enter spiritual life. However, if you are in the kingdom of God, you are saved. Hence, unless one is Born Again, he cannot be saved. Thus, one hears the Gospel, believes the Gospel, and is sealed in Christ unto new birth in being made Born Again, and by virtue of being made Born Again, he is saved. In contrast, Calvinism teaches that one is made Born Again in Christ, hears the Gospel, believes the Gospel, is sealed in Christ, and then is saved. Hence, Calvinism is an utter mess and ought to be scrapped.
Stephen Hitchcock comments: “In this context, ‘seeing’ and ‘entering’ the kingdom of God is not believing or even Regeneration, but the actual realization of salvation on that last day, which comes as the ultimate result of that second birth which is according to the Spirit and not as Nicodemus presumed upon, which is according to the flesh.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.152)
Hitchcock writes: “If Jesus was referring to a total inability to perceive the things that relate to the kingdom of God then He would be wasting His time telling Nicodemus, as Nicodemus would have needed to be born again before he could perceive anything that Jesus would have to say to him! Jesus’ desire was to see Nicodemus enter that very Kingdom of God that he falsely presumed upon. It was not Jesus’ purpose to confuse Nicodemus with a Calvinistic understanding that he cannot become a believer in Him unless he is first regenerated. Jesus is working with Nicodemus’ expectation of the Jewish hope about the Kingdom of God and seeking to correct that false assumption.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.153)
The Philippian jailor asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) Both the jailor and Nicodemus understood that salvation could only be attained after they did something, namely, by opening the door to Christ who stands knocking with the supernatural power of the Gospel. Even if, as Calvinists believe, that a man can have no part in his own salvation, or he will claim that he had a hand in saving himself, the fact is that these men understood that they were responsible for first doing something to meet God’s requirement for salvation. Faith in Christ precedes eternal life (John 3:16), and the result is being made Born Again with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told Nicodemus: “You must be born again,” to which Nicodemus responded, “How can a man enter his mothers womb a second time?” The point is that Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he had to do something in order to become born again (not that he makes Himself born again since that is something that the Holy Spirit does), and Nicodemus understood that it was up to him to make the first move to becoming born again. This is why he asked about re-entering his mother’s womb. “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?” However, this does not discount the fact that only God can make a person Born Again, or the fact that Jesus Christ first draws all men to Himself (John 12:32), standing at the door of our heart knocking. (Revelation 3:20) The point is that God the Father will not make a person born again until they first open the door to His Son according to John 3:16. On the other hand, if the origin of faith is being unilaterally and preemptively made born again in Christ in order to believe, as Calvinism teaches, then what could Nicodemus do but quietly wait and hope that God someday, unconsciously and secretly places him in Christ and makes him born again in order to believe?
John Calvin writes: “…we were born exiles and complete strangers to the kingdom of God, and that there is perpetual opposition between God and us until he changes us by a second birth. For the statement is general and includes the whole human race.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, also states: “The corruption of sin extends to his mind as well as his will; consequently, no one seeks God. Because man is dead in trespasses and sins, God must regenerate him and even grant him the faith to believe.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.179-180, emphasis mine)
In this way, Calvinists teach that since man suffers from Total Depravity, the Holy Spirit must make him Born Again, quickened, regenerated and given the faith to believe in order to receive the gospel. However, that is the very opposite of what Paul taught at Galatians 3:2: “This is the only thing that I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” To this, John Calvin responded: “When they heard the Gospel, they received the Spirit. It was not to the law therefore, but to faith that they owed the admission of this blessing.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.47, emphasis mine) Therefore, Calvin admits that it is to “faith” that they owed the admission of the blessing of receiving the Holy Spirit. However, Calvinism teaches the very opposite, in that it is to the Spirit that that they owed the admission of faith. So Calvinism has it backwards. Therefore, you can only receive the Holy Spirit after you have received Christ into your heart by faith, and not before. This is due to the fact that before you receive Christ, you are “enemy” of God (Romans 5:10), “having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
How many times can you be born of the flesh? How many times can you be born of the Spirit? What does that tell you about eternal security for those in Christ? You’ve been born into it. However, there is a judgment for Christians. Paul states: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2nd Corinthians 5:10)
There are Christians who believe that they can be saved twice. In fact, they believe that they have been saved, and re-saved, many times over. But such a proposition would suppose that a person could be born again, and again, and again, and again, all of which must dismiss the finality of birth.
The point is that in order to enter the kingdom of God, he had to become something other than what he was. Simply being among the chosen race of Israel, was not enough. Consider Luke 3:8 which states: “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” As evidenced by the words of John the Baptist, many Jews had placed great confidence in their physical birth, and yet here at John chapter 3, Jesus had set aside the importance of physical birth in favor of spiritual birth.
Consider 1st Corinthians 6:16-17 which states: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
When a Jewish couple became “one flesh” in marriage, that which was born of their union was another Jew, and also a member of the chosen race of Israel. Deuteronomy 14:2 states of Israel: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” The Jews were a chosen people. But look at what 1st Peter 2:9 says about Christians of all races: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
When a person believes in Jesus, he or she becomes “one spirit” with God (1st Corinthians 6:16-17), and that which is born of that union is a member of the New Covenant, chosen race. That means that these uncircumcised, yet believing Gentiles are now among a chosen race!, that is, the chosen race of the redeemed in Christ. To summarize, you had to be born into the elect, Jewish race, and similarly, you have to be born into the elect race in Christ. You were physically born into Election in the Old Testament, and you are spiritually born into Election in the New Testament, through faith in Christ. If you are a member of the New Testament “elect,” it is purely so by spiritual, new birth.
In Christ, we are now free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), as the old creature in Adam was nailed to the cross with Christ. (Galatians 2:20) Once someone is in Christ through faith in Him and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, then by the principle of Mutual Inclusion, one must simultaneously therefore also be in the Father, because anyone who has the Son, has the Father also (1st John 2:24), because the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. (John 14:11) To the Arminian, our legal adoption in the Father is purely on the basis of our position in Christ, whereupon the Holy Spirit cries out in our hearts “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) In contrast, the result of Calvinistic, Unconditional Election is that your position in Christ is purely on the basis of an eternally hidden position in the Father with the ultimate end of being chosen to become in Christ. Arminian’s counter that Election does not end with being chosen to become in Christ, but rather begins with being chosen in Christ. (Ephesians 1:4) Calvinists place the foundation of Election in the Father while Arminians place the foundation of Election in the Son, and the only way to get to the Father, is through the Son. (John 14:6)
I’ve had a Calvinist tell me that he was predestined “to be” in Christ because the Bible says so. However, the Bible says no such a thing. Rather, the Bible teaches that we are predestined in Christ. That speaks of all that we have, and will ever have, in Christ, namely that in being a Christian, even being foreknown in Christ (Romans 8:29), we have a unique calling as Christians, as well as justification, glorification, and being conformed to the image of Christ, all on the sole basis of what God the Father has in store for those who are Christians in Christ, such that when God the Father sought a place for His grace, He found none other than His Son, and that all who are enjoined to His body through faith as “one spirit” with Him (1st Corinthians 6:17), may share in His grace. Therefore, Arminian Election and Adoption are hinged upon a foundation in Christ. In fact, the whole purpose of Ephesians chapter one is to expound upon all that we have in Christ, and not what we have in the Father independent of being in Christ.
If you are not in Christ, then you are not among the New Covenant elect. Unbelievers are condemned. (John 3:18) Believers in Christ are free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1) The elect in Christ are also said to be free from condemnation. (Romans 8:33) Therefore, there is no such thing as a New Covenant elect, unbeliever.
Therefore, who are “the elect”? They are Christians who have been spiritually born again into a royal, holy chosen race of the redeemed in Christ.
In summary, Jesus is explaining what is necessary to get to Heaven, rather than what is necessary to believe in the Gospel. Life itself is held out as an offer and a gift, to either be accepted or rejected: “...and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:40)