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John 3:3–5

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5).

Understanding the depth of our sin and misery is the first step to understanding the sovereignty of God in salvation. If the intentions of our hearts are wicked from our youth (Gen. 8:21), if we possess corrupt natures from the moment we come into existence in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 51:5), and if we enter the world dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 1:1–3), then we need the Lord to act upon us and in us if we are to escape this condition. Being wholly disinclined to obey our Creator, there is no reason why we would submit to His way of salvation in Christ Jesus. Such a provision is completely odious to those who are as wretched in their transgressions and as enslaved to sin as Scripture describes.

God must take the initiative if we are to do any good, and this includes the good of trusting in Christ Jesus alone for salvation. Since the Lord “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), believing in Jesus is a good thing, but since it is a good thing, we cannot do it until the God-hating inclination of our hearts is removed. We need a new disposition to love the Lord, nothing less than a new heart that is able to trust in our Creator’s gracious provision of salvation. We need regeneration, and regeneration must precede faith if we are to have faith at all. We are not given new hearts after we believe; rather, we believe because the Spirit takes the first step and gives us new hearts.

This understanding, that we must be “born again by the Spirit of God” to fulfill God’s good call that we have faith, is taught in today’s passage and repeated in question and answer 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Our Savior tells Nicodemus in John 3:3–5 that no sinner can see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it, without being born of the Holy Spirit. There is a sovereign, regenerating work that the Spirit must perform in us — He must open our blind eyes to see the kingdom and then give us the willingness to turn from the broad way of sin and follow the narrow road of Christ that leads into His blessed dominion. John Calvin says that Jesus, in today’s passage, makes “a simple statement, that we must be born again, in order that we may be the children of God, and the Holy Spirit is the Author of this second birth.” Regeneration precedes faith, and to say otherwise is to rob God of His sovereign glory in salvation.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Many people believe in what John Wesley called prevenient grace, a weaker form of divine grace that restores our ability to choose the good without changing the dispositions of our heart entirely. But Scripture never presents this view of God’s salvific grace. If God wants someone in His kingdom, He is going to get that someone. If you believe, it is ultimately because God chose you and not because you, of your own accord, chose Him (John 15:16).

For Further Study
  • Jeremiah 31:31–34
  • Ezekiel 11:14–21
  • Romans 2:29
  • Hebrews 8

Adam, Our Federal Head

Our Original Likeness

Keep Reading The Apocalypse of John

From the January 2012 Issue
Jan 2012 Issue