1st John 5:1

1st John 5:1-5 (see also John 3:31st John 4:6John 1:13)
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

​A fundamental teaching of Calvinism is that unless a man is made preemptively Born Again (which places him in Christ), he cannot repent, believe and be saved. 

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “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)

Although this may sound completely foreign to the Bible, Calvinists insist that man is so entirely corrupted by sin, that only those who are Born Again with a new heart, and a new spirit, are capable of sincere repentance and genuine faith in Christ. However, not all Calvinists agree:

Calvinist, D. James Kennedy: “Our faith and our repentance are the work of God’s grace in our hearts. Our contribution is simply the sin for which Jesus Christ suffered and died. Would you be born anew? There has never been a person who sought for that who did not find it. Even the seeking is created by the Spirit of God. Would you know that new life? Are you tired of the emptiness and purposelessness of your life? Are you tired of the filthy rags of your own righteousness? Would you trust in someone else other than yourself? Then look to the cross of Christ. Place your trust in him. Ask him to come in and be born in you today. For Jesus came into the world from glory to give us second birth because we must--we MUST--be born again.” (Why I Believe, p.140, emphasis mine)

No doubt, Kennedy believes that regeneration precedes faith, as did Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, but it is also true that they believed that another form of regeneration, comes after faith:

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon: “If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. But you will tell me that I ought to preach it only to those who repent of their sins. Very well; but since true repentance of sin is the work of the Spirit, any man who has repentance is most certainly saved, because evangelical repentance never can exist in an unrenewed soul. Where there is repentance there is faith already, for they never can be separated. So, then, I am only to preach faith to those who have it. Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.” (The Warrant of Faith, emphasis mine)

​Question: If a person is already Born Again, before believing in Christ, then what does believing in Christ actually accomplish? Wouldn’t he already be saved?

Answer: Calvinists, aside from the quotes by Kennedy and Spurgeon, must admit that their theology requires that a person who is Born Again is not yet “saved.”

​Question: How can a person who is Born Again, not be saved?

Answer: A person who is Born Again must be saved, just as surely as those who in Christ are saved. Recall from 2nd Corinthians 5:17 that those who are in Christ, are new creatures, which speaks of the new birth. Therefore, to hold a position that being Born Again doesn’t necessarily equate to salvation, also requires that being in Christ doesn’t automatically equate to salvation.

​Question: How can a person who is in Christ, not be saved?

Answer: If faith in Christ results in salvation, then anyone in Christ, must be saved, because according to Ephesians 1:13, the only way to become sealed in Christ is by hearing and believing the Gospel, and that’s where the Calvinist argument unravels. Besides, there’s no such thing as an elect unbeliever. (Compare Romans 8:33)

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “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)

It is agreed that some form of regeneration must precede faith, as Kennedy and Spurgeon would doubtless agree, but the question is what kind of regeneration? Is it the full blown regeneration of new birth in Christ, or is it a preceding grace of enlightenment, as in Arminian, Prevenient Grace? John 1:9 states: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Such enlightenment may include God enabling someone to believe, such as when the Holy Spirit opened the heart of Lydia, according to Acts 16:14, in order to enable her to respond to the Gospel. The Holy Spirit also is said to convict the world of its sin, according to John 16:8. At Revelation 3:20, Jesus is said to knock on the door of our heart. These are the types of things that Arminians envision as the preceding regeneration of the Holy Spirit, while not being the regeneration that comes with being made fully regenerated and made Born Again in Christ, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

​In order to understand Arminianism, you must know that there is a difference between the type of regeneration whereby the Holy Spirit pierces (Acts 2:37), opens (Acts 16:14) and pricks hearts (Acts 26:14), vs. the type of regeneration whereby the Holy Spirit indwells hearts. (1st Corinthians 3:16)

John Calvin: “Furthermore, as Christ is given to us for our sanctification and brings with him the Spirit of regeneration--in short, as he united us to his own body--this is another reason why no one can have faith unless he is born of God.” (1, 2, 3 John: Calvin/Henry, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.88, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “…those who believe are already born of God.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.23, emphasis mine) 

Calvinist, James White: “And what is the inevitable result of being born of God? Belief that Jesus is the Christ. ...this means that in 1 John 5:1 the belief in Jesus as the Christ is the result of being born of Him. ... Therefore, sheer consistency leads on to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works.” (The Potter’s Freedom, p.288, emphasis mine)

So here it is at 1st John 5:1, that Calvinists seek to prove that being made “born of God” is what irresistibly or effectually enables us believe in God and become saved. 

Objection #1:  The Calvinist is taking the passage out of context. The apostle John is contrasting true Christians from false pretenders. He is not saying, “Look, here is how you become a Christian: You must first be elected to be made born again.” Calvinists have taken a passage on the birthmark of a believer, and rendered it how to become a believer? In other words, have Calvinists have taken a passage on the characteristic of a Christian and rendered it the causation of becoming a Christian?

Objection #2:  Adrian Rogers explains: “No unbeliever can have the Spirit of God in him.” (Learning to Possess your Possessions: Romans 7:1-4, emphasis mine)

If that’s true, then Calvinism becomes unglued, since Calvinism insists that certain “elect” unbelievers among the alleged, eternal flock of the Father, are Born Again in Christ by the Holy Spirit, through which they then become believers.

Objection #3:  In 1st John, several terms are used to define genuine Christians:

1) The “love of the Father” is in him. (1st John 2:15)
2) He is one who “abides in [Christ].” (1st John 3:6)
3) He is “born of God.” (1st John 3:9)
4) He is among “the children of God.” (1st John 3:10)
5) He has “eternal life abiding in him.” (1st John 3:15)
6) He “knows God.” (1st John 4:7)
7) He “overcomes the world.” (1st John 5:5)

So if we are to assume that being “born of God” is what makes someone believe, should we also assume that 1) having the love of the Father, 2) abiding in Christ, 3) being born of God, 4) being the children of God, 5) have eternal life, 6) knowing God and 7) overcoming the world are also what “precedes” becoming a Christian?

Adrian Rogers: “You are not saved by submitting to His Lordship. You are not saved by seeking His lifestyle. You are not saved by showing His love. But if you are saved, you will do all of those things. You’re saved by the grace of God.” (Birthmarks of the Believer: 1 John 2:3-11, emphasis mine)

Adrian Rogers: “You live the Christian life not in order to be saved, but because you’re saved. I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but Jesus did not say to this man, ‘Walk, take up your bed and rise.’ He couldn’t walk until he was up, and you cannot live the Christian life until you receive the Christian life.” (Jesus is God’s Answer to Man’s Disability: John 5:1, emphasis mine)

The Calvinist presumes that we have the Christian life in order to be saved. However, that presupposes that a person “born of God” is lost in order to be saved.

The following statements describe the nature of the new birth:

Jerry Vines: “The lost man or woman has no desire for the things of God. Unregenerate souls have no interest in finding out what God wants them to be and to do. But the new-birth experience puts into our heart a desire really and actually to do what God wants.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.49, emphasis mine)

Jerry Vines: “When we are born of God, his seed, a new nature, remains in us. The new life we receive from God at the moment of salvation is the seed, the new dynamic.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.117, emphasis mine)

Jerry Vines: “But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ through the new-birth experience will give you a new nature, the nature of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ can meet the battles for you and conquer them, giving you victory.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.184, emphasis mine)

​Question: When exactly is a person made born again?

Jerry Vines: “When a man realizes that he is lost, needs Jesus, repents of his sin, and puts his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, at that moment he is born again and becomes a member of the family of God.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.58, emphasis mine)

Jerry Vines: “Salvation is being born into the family of God and becoming aware of the presence of God in your life.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.60, emphasis mine)

Jerry Vines: “Being born into the family of God brings the privilege of sins forgiven.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.59, emphasis mine)

Jay Carty: “Spiritual birth requires a decision. Spiritual deadness doesn’t. As a matter of fact, failing to decide is considered a decision against God’s solution and leaves a person spiritually dead.” (Playing with Fire, p.37, emphasis mine) 

That is exactly right. Although we don’t make ourselves Born Again, when we surrender our heart to Christ, through a conscious decision to receive Him, God the Father makes us born again through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)

​To summarize:

The natural man does not seek to please God. (1st Corinthians 2:14)

The faith-producing Gospel (Romans 10:17), through which the Holy Spirit operates, brings the natural man conviction of his sins and the awareness that he is lost. (John 16:8)

Those who receive Christ, God the Father ordains to eternal life in a new birth.

The new birth brings the privilege of redemption, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a new nature which desires to please God.

Adrian Rogers: “Do you know when we have been saved, we are born again, and we are born from above, and when we’re heaven-born, we are heaven-bound, and when we’re heaven-born and heaven-bound, we’re heaven-blessed, and there are some radical transformations that take place in our lives. And when we’re born from above, there are some birthmarks, there are some traits of the twice-born because not everybody who is talking about heaven is going there; not everybody who says he or she is saved is saved.” (Birthmarks of the Believer: 1 John 2:3-11, emphasis mine)

So the context of 1st John 5:1-5 identifies who is really a Christian, that is, who is really Born Again, and the answer to that question is that the one who believes that Jesus is Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God, he is a true Christian. 1st Corinthians 12:3 states: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Jesus states: “‘Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.’” (John 8:24) When you “test the spirits” (1st John 4:1), if anyone denies that Jesus is the Messiah, realize that they are from the world, rather than from God

Being “heaven-blessed,” as Adrian Rogers puts it, speaks of what we have in Christ. In Him, we are made into a “new creature” (2nd Corinthians 5:17), for which the Holy Spirit dispenses the gift of a “measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) However, does this negate the fact that faith is also received from hearing of the word of Christ? (Romans 10:17) No. It is by the power of the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit dispenses faith, that unbelievers receive the faith necessary to repent, believe and become saved. Now in Christ, as the Born Again believer, the Christian receives ever increasing faith, necessary to fulfill the call of God in their lives. Ultimately, the Calvinist is pressing into duty, a passage that is not talking about how to become a Christian, but the mark identifying what a true Christian really is.

​Question: What impact does the Calvinist doctrine of a preemptive regeneration, whereby certain pre-selected individuals are made involuntarily born again, have upon a Calvinist’s attempt at evangelism? In other words, if you believe in Calvinism, what is the point is asking a lost person whether or not they would like to be made born again, if a person has no conscious say in whether they are made born again?

Answer: According to Calvinism, no one is able to want to be made born again until after he has already been secretly and unknowingly been made born again. Therefore, for a Calvinist to ask an unsaved person whether they would “like” to be made Born Again, makes no sense, because if they say “yes,” then according to Calvinism, it’s only because they were already made born again. If they say “no,” then according to Calvinism, it’s only because they are not already Born Again.

Calvinists typically (with the exception of D. James Kennedy), do not believe in a “prayer of salvation,” which they term a “work of prayer.” To a Calvinist, not only would this fail to obtain salvation, despite what Romans 10:13 states, but on the basis of being “Decisional Regeneration,” would give people a false sense of security. For more on this point, here is a link to an article on How to become Saved.

​Question: Is the “living and active” Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), alive enough to penetrate the heart of any spiritually dead sinner? Can the Gospel persuade any unregenerate sinner to confess his sins and repent?

Answer: To a Calvinist, Yes, if they are fully regenerated, which is really a No, which is why you will hardly ever hear a Calvinist be so forthright about their beliefs to come right out and say: Yes, the Gospel is “dead and inactive,” apart from a full regeneration of preemptive New Birth in Christ.

Here is a link to a Blog discussion on this passage.