The Right to Become God’s Children (John 1:12)

John 1:12

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name…

John 1:12 – Context

John 1:9-10

9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 

Jesus Christ came into the world as a light. He came to reveal God to the entire world. He did not merely come for the nation of Israel, but for men from all nations. This is because He is the Creator of all mankind. 

3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 

– John 1:3 NKJV

The Gospel of John was written at a time when most Christians were Gentiles. And these Christians (both Jew and Gentile) suffered persecution from unbelieving Jews as well as the Romans. This is one of the reasons John begins His Gospel with this universal perspective. He wants to make it clear that the Jewish Messiah is not merely for Jews, but for all of mankind. 

We see evidence for this as we read through John’s Gospel. In chapter 3 we find one of the most famous verses in the Bible. To us it sounds so commonplace. But to a first-century Jew, it would have sounded unthinkable.

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

– John 3:16 NKJV

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Washed & Renewed (Titus 3:5)

Titus 3:5

…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…

titus 3:5 – Context

Titus 3:1-3

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 

Paul had just written in Titus 2:11-14 that the grace of God leads men away from sin and towards righteousness and godliness. Paul here continues to urge Titus to live righteously in the sight of all men. God has not called us to be rebellious and contentious. In the past, Christians were sinful like all other men, but God redeemed us to be a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

Titus 3:4

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 

Previously in Titus 2:11 Paul stated that the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to the world. He makes it clear that the result of receiving and submitting to this grace is a holy life. Jesus came to make us into a godly people. He came to set His people free from slavery to sin so that they can live righteous lives to His glory. 

Paul now mentions the grace of God again, but this time he wants to go back and focus on how we first received that grace. The result of God’s grace in a person’s life is holiness. But where does this reception of grace begin, and how does it take place?

Titus 3:5

5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 

Before mentioning how grace is received, Paul wants it to be clear that God’s grace is the cause of salvation, not our righteousness. We do not receive the grace of God by works of righteousness which we have done. If we merited God’s mercy and grace it would no longer be called mercy and grace. The fact that we did not deserve salvation is the reason that it is called mercy and grace, kindness and love. So here Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cause of salvation is nothing other than the mercy of God. 

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Born of Water & Spirit (John 3:5)

John 3:5

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5 – Context

John 3:1-2

1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “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.” 

Nicodemus was a sincere and God fearing man. A leader and teacher among the Jews. He knew what was happening in Israel. He was aware of the Messianic hopes people had that Christ would come and free the Jews from Roman occupation and bring in the new age of God’s kingdom. He was aware that John the Baptist had come baptizing in the Jordan River calling the nation to repentance. 

The Israelites had been exiled into Babylon centuries before, and though many had returned, many had not. The Jews were in the land again, but they were not in control of the land. For this reason the people of Israel were still waiting for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled which stated that God would bring them back from captivity, and establish His kingdom among them which would extend its borders to every part of the earth. 

Nicodemus would have understood the significance of John baptizing in the Jordan River. It was in that place that the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua in order to conquer it. And so it was a fitting place for the prophecy of Isaiah to begin its fulfilment. Isaiah 11 speaks of the return from exile and the establishing of the kingdom through the “root of Jesse.” Through the coming of this king, the meek would be shown mercy and the wicked suffer wrath, and even the Gentiles would seek after Him. Isaiah speaks of this return from exile as a second exodus in the following verses:

11 It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. … 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. 

– Isaiah 11:11, 16 NKJV 

This prophecy would have been familiar to Nicodemus, and he would have understood, as most in Israel did, that John was preparing a highway not only for the remnant, but also for the great king! This was John’s public testimony to the religious leaders of the Jews found in the first chapter of John.

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” … 23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” … 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” … 33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.‘ 34 “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” 

– John 1:20, 23, 26-27, 33-34 NKJV

Nicodemus desired to learn more about this man whom John had testified about. Not only had John testified about Jesus, but the miracles which Jesus performed confirmed that God was doing something among His people through this Nazarene. So Nicodemus went to find out more.

John 3:3

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus immediately begins to tell Nicodemus about the kingdom of God that had now arrived in Israel. And Jesus tells him how to get involved in it. But this would not have been an easy word for Nicodemus to accept. It is hard to imagine that he couldn’t understand the implications of what Jesus was saying, but it seems he tried hard to avoid those implications.

Continue reading “Born of Water & Spirit (John 3:5)”

Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 4)

Gratefully, this is my last post on Ephesians 2:5-6 for the foreseeable future. We have been considering this passage in order to make one simple point: These verses are not a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. 

Exegesis first & last

I am keenly aware that since Calvinists hold to their particular form of Total Depravity, monergistic regeneration is a logical necessity if anyone is going to be saved. This doctrine is closely tied to other doctrines in their system as well, which is why focusing on one doctrine and one verse at a time can be difficult for my Calvinist brethren. 

They tend to see individual Scriptures through the lens of systematic theology, and often say something to the effect of “The passage cannot say people are saved by choosing to believe, because other verses teach Total Depravity, and therefore they cannot choose to believe.” If we take the bait and go to those passages to look at the context, and find their exegesis is faulty, we will soon find ourselves looking into the context of verses related to Unconditional Election. This will lead to verses on Divine Sovereignty, Limited Atonement and sooner or later back to Monergism. But it is a difficult task to deal with one verse at a time in context.

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Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 3)

This is the continuation of my last post. We are still addressing the Calvinist argument that Ephesians 2:5-6 teaches monergistic regeneration because the text does not show any action on the part of man. In the last post we brought our first witness against this argument, namely the immediate context. In verse 5 it includes the phrase “by grace you have been saved.” We noted that Paul expands on this phrase in verses 8. In those verses he teaches that we are saved (i.e. justified) through faith. The grace of God saves us, and we receive that grace through believing. The fact that the same phrase is used in verse 5 and verse 8 shows us that the same topic is being taught in both verses.

But we have another witnesses against the monergistic reading of Ephesians 2:5-6. So without further ado, let’s put our second witness on the stand.

Witness #2 – Colossians 2:11-13

The context of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is very similar to his letter to the Ephesians. There are some slight differences, but the topics he covers are basically the same. What is pertinent for us is the parallel passage to Ephesians 2:5-6 found in Colossians 2:11-13. 

Colossians 2:11-13

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 

Continue reading “Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 3)”

Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 2)

It Teaches Justification, not sanctification

In the first post of this series we went through Ephesians 2:1-10 to show in context why Ephesians 2:5-6 are not valid verses to use as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. We noted that when Calvinists quote this passage with that in mind they are in error. The passage does not teach that God by grace does an internal work of transformation in the heart of the sinner. 

The passage is not teaching that the sinner is actually taken out of their sin and raised up to the right hand of God with Christ Jesus. Instead the passage is talking about a positional change, from being condemned in sin, to being accepted and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. It is teaching us about the new status we have in Christ Jesus as adopted children. So, though it is talking about regeneration (rebirth), it is addressing the positional aspect of the new birth, not the transformative aspect. To use theological terminology, it is speaking about justification, not sanctification. 

Continue reading “Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 2)”

Are You Sure You Wanna Use that Verse? (Eph. 2:5-6 – Part 1)

They Beleive What?

The condition of the lost sinner is termed “total depravity” by Calvinists; not merely moral depravity, but total constitutional depravity; not merely unwillingness to repent and believe, but inability to repent and believe. The work of grace which they say is required is called “monergistic regeneration.” Monergistic means that this work is done unilaterally by God. God does not wait for the sinner to meet any conditions before transforming him, but God does it unilaterally whenever and to whomever he chooses. And regeneration is an old theological word meaning rebirth, or as moderns usually say, “born again.” So, the conclusion is that because sinners are incapable of repenting of sin and trusting in Christ, God unilaterally causes them to be born again. Only after He does this can the sinner genuinely repent and trust in Christ. 

In the next few posts we want to look at the go-to proof-text that Calvinists often cite as biblical evidence of monergistic regeneration. Hopefully we will see very clearly that this is probably not a passage the honest Calvinist will want to use again in the future since it fails on at least 3 major points to confirm their doctrine. The passage we will be considering is found in Ephesians 2:5-6:

5 …even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Continue reading “Are You Sure You Wanna Use that Verse? (Eph. 2:5-6 – Part 1)”

Monergistic Circumcision? Is That Really A Thing?! (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Which Comes First?

Does the Bible teach that people must be born again (i.e. regenerated) before they can repent and believe? This has been debated among evangelicals going back to the Reformation, and can be seen even earlier in the writings of Augustine. Calvinists and Lutherans teach monergism, which means they believe people must be born again before a person can repent and believe. Arminians believe that being born again is a divine gift given to people when they place their trust in Christ. In this post we will look at one of the common proof-texts for monergistic regeneration.

Many broken Microphones

Deuteronomy 30:6

6 “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Continue reading “Monergistic Circumcision? Is That Really A Thing?! (Deuteronomy 30:6)”

Dancing on the Edge of Calvinism

Enticed by Calvinism

There have been times in my life where I desired to accept the Calvinist theological system. Primarily because of the great blessings I have received from sitting at the feet of the puritans, reading their writings. I deeply appreciate their devotional depth and their focus on the glory of God in all things. Calvinism, at least in its classical form, also emphasizes the need for holiness, a need that I have recognized from the first day Christ saved me. This is a basic aspect of the Christian faith that is obviously lacking in our day in which worldliness is rampant among those who confess Christ. Besides these reasons for desiring Calvinism, there is the simple fact that embracing a tradition that already claims to have an airtight logical grid through which to view every verse of Scripture was very tempting to my lazy heart. But I was never able to embrace it, though I honestly tried to accept as much of the system as I could without throwing God’s word under the bus. 

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When You Believed

There is a common teaching in evangelical circles that a person receives the Holy Spirit the very first moment they believe in Christ. Many have never questioned this belief. But when asked for a verse that teaches such a doctrine, Ephesians 1:13 is usually the first mentioned. I am sure there are others, but this verse is the strongest proof text I know of for the doctrine. So let’s briefly consider what it is teaching.

Eph 1:13

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 

Many think that this verse teaches that the moment one believes they automatically receive the Holy Spirit. But actually it does not, as other verses show.

Acts 11:17

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

In this verse Peter says the Apostles received the Holy Spirit “when they believed.” But we know that though they believed in the Gospels, they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost. So the term “when we believe” does not mean the moment we believed, but as a result of our faith.

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