In perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture in the New Testament, Jesus made a statement to a man named Nicodemus that has echoed through history. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). From this point, we can know assuredly that the phrase “born again” was not coined by Jimmy Carter. Instead, it was coined by Jesus Christ. But, what exactly does being born again look like and how does it happen? How can a person have assurance that they have or have not been born again?
Defining the New Birth
First of all, we must look into John 3 to see the true definition of the new birth. It may come as a bit of a shock to some, but Jesus was not commanding Nicodemus to be born again. Furthermore, Jesus has never commanded us to be born again. What Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus was the fact that unless a person is born again, that individual will not see the kingdom of God. The new birth is necessary to see and inherit the kingdom of God, but the new birth is outside of our power to merely perform it. Contrary to popular evangelical opinion, you’re not born again when you “ask Jesus into your heart.” In fact, we don’t see people asking Jesus into their hearts in the New Testament. In the New Testament, we see references to regeneration, repentance, and faith. The work of salvation involves ten specific points and being born again (regeneration) is one of the ten.
Order of Salvation:
1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
2. The Gospel Call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)
3. Regeneration (being born again)
4. Conversion (faith and repentance)
5. Justification (right legal standing)
6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)
7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)
8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)
9. Death (going to be with the Lord)
10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)
*List taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Chapter 32.
In order to illustrate His point regarding the sovereignty of God in the act of regeneration, Jesus went on in John 3:7-8 to make the following statement:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Just as the wind comes on its own and blows across the landscape, we cannot see the wind, control the wind, or prevent the wind. The wind comes and the only thing we can do is observe the effects. In the same manner the Holy Spirit moves upon people and causes them to be born again by applying the power of the gospel to them. This is what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church at Ephesus and said these words:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Paul placed the emphasis of the new birth upon the power of God as He “made us alive together with Christ” and as he concludes, he points out that it’s a work of grace. In short, the new birth is not something that we perform in the flesh (Titus 3:3-7). It’s completely a work of God.
Assurance of the New Birth
We do not cooperate with God in the work of salvation. From start to finish, the work of salvation is a work of God. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1), He sent His Son to die for us (Is. 53), He commissioned His followers to preach and teach the gospel (Matt. 28), He commissioned the Holy Spirit to provide the new birth (John 3), and then He gave to the new believer the gifts of repentance and faith (2 Tim. 2:25; Eph. 2:8-9).
Just as there is evidence that a wind storm has blown across the landscape as it leaves debris and other visual effects behind, we can have assurance that we’ve been born again based on the following biblical evidence:
- The new birth causes a person to repent (2 Tim. 2:25; Mark 1:15).
- The new birth causes a person to have faith in Christ alone for salvation (John 14:6).
- The new birth causes a person to hate sin (Ps. 97:10).
- The new birth causes a person to love God and His righteousness (Mark 12:30; Matt. 6:33).
- The new birth causes a person to hate the world (1 John 2:15).
- The new birth causes a person to have an appetite for holiness (1 Pet. 1:16).
- The new birth causes a person to desire to follow Christ in baptism (Matt. 28:19).
- The new birth causes a person to desire to identify with the people of God through a local church (Acts 2:42-47).
- The new birth results in a love for God’s people – not a hatred and dislike for them (1 Pet. 4:8; 1 John 4:7).
- The new birth causes a person to want to know more about God through His Word – the Bible (Ps. 119; Ps. 19).
- The new birth causes a person to change in order to conform to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 12:1-2).
A true child of God will not walk away from Him. Some people talk about how they were a Christian for many years before they finally walked away from God. That is simply not true. The only reason a person can walk away from God is because that individual was never a true Christian. Genuine Christianity is a permanent reality. It does not mean that a life of rebellion and hardship will not occur, but it does mean that the rebellious person will be disciplined by the loving Father and brought to a place of repentance and restoration (Heb. 12:6).
Do you love the world and the things of this world or do you love God? Read 1 John and ask yourself at the conclusion of each paragraph, “Is this me?”
On July 4th, the judge for the Casey Anthony trial provided a long and detailed instruction list to the jurors prior to their deliberation time. During his instructions, he used the term “depraved” on several occasions regarding the mindset of a murderer. As I listened to his instructions and continuous use of the term “depraved” it became clear that murdering a child is something that depraved people do. But, what exactly does “depraved” mean?
According to the legal world, the term depraved means, “Depravity of mind refers to the state of mind which is contrary to justice, honesty or morality. Depravity of mind is a condition where there is a deviation or departure from the ordinary standards of honest, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of the society. Depravity of mind can also be described as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a person owes to another, or to a community” (http://definitions.uslegal.com/d/depravity-of-mind/). It seems that the judge’s use of the term “depraved” was a means of describing the actions of someone who has gone to a level of sinful actions that is beyond the normal acts of our society. If that is true, we must distinguish the difference between what the judge intended by his use of “depraved” and what the theological world means by the same word.
In the theological world, the doctrine of depravity is used to describe the normal actions of people within our society who are outside of Christ. In other words, it is almost the opposite of what the judge was meaning by his use of the term depraved. Within the theological world, depravity is used to describe the sinful condition of the human heart outside of the grace of God. What exactly does this mean?
What Depravity DOES NOT Mean
In some cases, people in the theological world differ on the use of the terms depraved, depravity, or total depravity. Below are two incorrect descriptions of total depravity as used in the theological world.
1. Total Depravity: The belief that man, outside of the grace of God, is as bad as he could possibly be in his state of sinful living.
2. Total Depravity: The belief that man is bent toward evil and has a strong appetite for sin, but still retains his ability to choose God.
The depraved sinful soul is not as bad is it could be, but it is completely unable to choose God, desire God, or love God. Why? Because the Bible claims the sinner is “dead” and “does not seek after God.”
While many good definitions have been used, it is important to use the Bible to define theological terms in order to preserve the best understanding of the word. Below you will see two specific definitions of depravity as found in the theological world and verses that are used to most accurately define the doctrine.
Jonathan Edwards: “Corruption of man’s nature, whereby his heart is wholly under the power of sin, and he is utterly unable, without the interposition of sovereign grace, savingly to love God, believe in Christ, or do anything that is truly good and acceptable in God’s sight.”1
Wayne Grudem: “It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin-our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies.”2
These two definitions provide a good overall glimpse into the understanding of original sin and depravity within the theological world. However, the Bible makes the case clearly that we are all depraved sinners – from birth – and can do nothing good in the sight of God worthy of salvation. Furthermore, not only is the depraved sinner unable to choose God on his own, he doesn’t have the desire (appetite) for God. See this doctrine clearly taught in the following Scripture passages.
The English translations of the Bible only use the word “depraved” a few times. The New American Standard Bible translates Romans 1:28 as follows: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” The term being translated “depraved” is the Greek word, “ἀδόκιμος.” It literally means, “That which does not prove itself such as it ought, unfit for, unproved, spurious, reprobate.” This same Greek word can be found in the following verses – Romans 1:28, 1 Cor. 9:27, 2 Cor. 13:5, 2 Cor. 13:6, 2 Cor. 13:7, 2 Timothy 3:8, Titus 1:16, and Hebrews 6:8.
Romans 3:10-11 – as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
Notice two specific details in this verse. First, there is none righteous. This is essential because depravity means to be completely crooked and perverse before God. Secondly, not one sinner understands God. This speaks of his intellect and mental capacity to understand the grace of God. Last of all, no sinner seeks after God for salvation. This includes both Jew and Gentile. Sin has corrupted the mind, emotions, and will leaving the sinner completely crooked and unable to turn to God for salvation.
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
The point of this verse is to demonstrate that all sinners are incapable of coming to Christ (choosing God) on their own. It is a complete impossibility. It requires the preaching of the gospel and the convincing power of the Holy Spirit before a sinner will call out to the Lord for salvation. When a person turns to Jesus from their normal sinful behavior, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Salvation should not be considered the act of man’s free will.
John 1:11-13 – He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This is one of the key passages in Scripture that prove the doctrine of depravity. As the text says, all of God’s children are born again by the work of God – not their family relationships and privileges, not according to the desires of other people, and not according to the will of the sinner. When taken in the light of God’s completed Word, this verse squares clearly with Romans 3 and John 6. Man can’t respond to God, choose God, become born again, or do anything to secure his own salvation. The work of being born again is a supernatural act of God in the heart of a sinner that brings them to life spiritually.
Ephesians 2:1-5 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Paul makes it abundantly clear in his writings to the church at Ephesus – man is dead spiritually. To be dead spiritually is to spiritually lifeless. Therefore, in order for a person to be born again, God has to act upon that dead lifeless soul and breathe life into them. Just as Jesus did in a supernatural manner at the tomb of Lazarus when He called Lazarus from the tomb and he responded by coming back to life, that same thing happens when the divine call of salvation takes place in our lives through the power of the gospel of Christ. Although many people have insisted that man in his own free will can choose God – these verses clearly teach the exact opposite. What can a dead man do? The imagery is abundantly clear – the dead man can do nothing! Salvation is by God’s undeserved grace for God’s eternal glory.
Unlike the legal use of the term depravity, within the theological world it clearly means the opposite. Rather than being a “departure from the ordinary standards of honest, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of the society” the term depravity as defined in the theological world is the ordinary state of sinful behavior among those who are not rescued by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. Depravity, as defined theologically, is normal behavior among unsaved people rather than a departure from normal behavior. Abnormal behavior is a departure from sinful living that results in a desire for God, the belief that Jesus Christ is the ultimate treasure that is above and beyond all things this world has to offer, a desire for His Word, a longing to willfully please Him. This can only happen through a supernatural work of God by His grace and for His glory.
Since the verdict of the jury was read regarding the Casey Anthony trial, a firestorm of statements have been offered through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. In fact, I tweeted, “One day Casey Anthony will stand before a greater Judge – King Jesus! #caseyanthony.” I later tweeted, “One day we will all stand before the same Judge that Casey Anthony will stand before – King Jesus! Being a good parent is not good enough.” Many people have suggested that Casey Anthony should burn in Hell for what she did to her daughter. The fact is, we all deserve the same Hell that Casey Anthony deserves. It doesn’t matter if Casey Anthony’s daughter was still alive and Casey was a model citizen of Orlando – she still deserves Hell. In fact, we all deserve Hell because we have all sinned against God. Murder is not what determines if a person deserves Hell. Any sin we have committed causes us to be separated from our God and in need of divine intervention and salvation by God’s grace.
If you are reading this post today and realize that you too are guilty before God and need to be reconciled to God, you must realize that reconciliation is only possible through Jesus Christ. God the Father sent His Son Jesus to die a brutal death and pay for the sins of every person who would call upon Him for salvation. Following the death of Christ, He was buried and then rose again from the dead 3 days later – proving that He is the Son of the living God. If God has opened your eyes to the truth of the gospel and made you realize that you need the same salvation that Casey Anthony needs – you should call out to God today and ask Him to save you. Remember, being a good parent is not good enough to reconcile you to God. You need Jesus’ righteousness. He is literally the only way of salvation!
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 10:13 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
For the glory of God alone!
Pastor Josh Buice
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1. Jonathan Edwards , Freedom of the Will (WJE Online Vol. 1) , Ed. Paul Ramsey page 432.
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 497.
NOTE: If you would like to talk to someone about how to be forgiven of your sins and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, I will be happy to talk with you. Contact me by filling out the form – by clicking here.
Because we have the free will to make the choice to obey or disobey the speed limit on the way home from work, does that mean that we also have the free will to obey God and repent of our sin? Is it possible that our human ability to make certain decisions is different than those decisions that relate to our spiritual life?
In a previous post, I sought to describe how humanity lost free will through the fall of Adam’s transgression (Romans 5:12). Therefore, it should be clear – although man once experienced a libertarian free will in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned against God, sin entered the world – and things drastically changed (like child birth and physical labor). When sin entered the world, it literally spread to Adam and Eve and their seed to follow (all of humanity). Therefore, when we were born, we had a natural bent toward sin based upon the shackles of sin that held our will in bondage. Rather than being able to live without sin, we actually never enjoyed that option! When we reached an age to make volitional and conscious choices – we chose to sin against God.The term depravity is a theological term that is derived from two Latin words, de, meaning “completely” and pravus, meaning “crooked.” Therefore, the term depravity literally means completely crooked. Is that an accurate description of the human heart? Would it be an accurate statement to suggest that we are 100% crooked as a result of our sin? Rather than describing our hearts through logical arguments and theological terms, let’s examine the Scripture to see what the Bible says.The Human Heart:
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (ESV)
The Human Weakness:
Romans 3:11 – no one understands; no one seeks for God. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse teaches that nobody, with their own free will, will ever desire to seek God.
Ephesians 2:1 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse teaches that all of humanity prior to salvation were in a state of spiritual death (not just a bad sickness).
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse teaches that no person can approach God until God actively and sovereignly draws that person to Himself.The Human Will:
Romans 9:16 – So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse teaches that it’s not the human will that causes salvation, but God who causes salvation by extending mercy to the individual.
John 1:13 – who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse teaches that a person is born again by the power of God – not the will of man. Could it be any more clear than that?
James 1:18 – Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (ESV)
NOTE: This verse clearly teaches that it is God who brings us to life spiritually by His will – not our human free will.Once these verses are clearly understood, the weakness of our human flesh and the beauty of God’s great mercy become very clear! Rather than arguing about systems of theology (Molinism, Calvinism, or Arminianism) – people should submit to what the Scriptures teach. While it is good to have a theological system to follow as a general guide – it’s best to allow Scripture to speak without being muzzled or redefined.At the end of the day, the Bible is absolutely crystal clear! The human heart is in complete bondage to sin and desires to continue down that road until God intervenes. If God does not intervene – every person will continue on a pursuit of sin and will eventually go to hell for eternity. When that day arrives – it will not be God’s fault. Each person is responsible for their own sin. However, each person who is saved by God’s intervention causes God to be praised – not the will of the human flesh. May we see our salvation the way the Bible describes it and the way God intends it – for His praise and glory alone!
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace“
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” – Chris Tomlin
Pastor Josh Buice
I have been thinking about the subject of the free will of man in recent days. I grew up in an SBC church and I have always been an SBC pastor. Therefore, I have heard many preachers proclaim the free will of man from the pulpit through the years. Today, within the church, it seems that many people are continuing to talk about the free will of man, preachers are preaching on it, evangelists are proclaiming it, and books are teaching it. After all – we are free – right?
The best way to define yourself and your own position on theological issues is to do so on the basis of the biblical evidence found in God’s Word. Rather than listening to your favorite preacher or reading a website devoted to the subject, the issue should be properly defined according to the sufficient, inerrant, inspired, and infallible Word of God. Therefore, what does the Bible teach us about the subject of man’s free will?
The Proof of Free Will
When God created Adam and Eve (the first two created humans on planet earth) they possessed free will. They had never sinned and were not created as sinners. They were created in the image of God and without sin. The creation of God was good in His sight. The Word of God records two verses that help us see that they were free to choose right and wrong – without any constraints upon them. Genesis 2:16-17 – And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it youshall surely die.” The proof of Adam’s free will is demonstrated in the fact that God warned of what would happen if he chose to disobey God.
The Loss of Free Will
I remember learning about dinosaurs in elementary school as a kid. They taught about big animals with great detail, but I had never seen one in my life! The teacher explained further that the dinosaurs were no longer in existence. They had all died (never mind what she said about how they died). As we think about the free will of man – we should consider it in much the same way as we do the dinosaurs. It once existed, but it doesn’t exist any longer – in the same way as Adam and Eve experienced it.The paradise of God in the Garden of Eden was lost when Adam and Eve chose to exercise their free will and sin against God. They were not forced to sin. The choice they made was completely within the realm of their own free will. It was their choice and they disobeyed God. As a result – they experienced the taste of sin and the consequences thereof. The Bible records the truth about their sin and consequences in Genesis 3. In Romans 5:12, Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
Not only did Adam and Eve receive the consequences of their sin, but so did the rest of humanity! All of humanity, being connected to Adam and Eve, are now born with the stain of sin upon their soul according to Romans 5:12. Paul said that death has now passed to all men because all have sinned. That is also clear from Romans 3:23 where Paul claims that all have sinned against God. However, a text of Scripture in the Old Testament allows us to see that we are all born as sinners. King David said, in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”Therefore, it is abundantly clear from Holy Scripture that when Adam and Eve lost their free will – all of humanity lost their free will as well. What exactly does that mean? How has humanity lost their free will? It simply means that we, unlike Adam and Eve, have never experienced the privilege of life unshackled from the chains of sin with the ability to not sin. From birth, we have always had a fleshly bent toward sin.
The Bondage of the Will
Our free will has been lost in the sinful tsunami of Adam’s transgression. We are born, as King David said, in the bondage of sin. Therefore, as soon as we can choose between right and wrong – we choose wrong! The Baptist Faith & Message, Article III on Man, reveals the bondage of man’s will by stating:
By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.
We actually choose to sin. The Scriptures demonstrate that in the third chapter of Romans. Notice the following evidence regarding the bondage of the human will to sin. Romans 3:10-11 – As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.The biblical evidence points to the fact that man, if left on his own, will choose sin rather than the righteousness of God. Furthermore, if left alone in his choice of sin, man will not seek after God. Therefore, it should be plainly stated that no person on the planet experiences the complete fullness of free will like Adam and Eve experienced. A person can choose to pick up a fork rather than a spoon to eat meat at dinner. A person can pick the correct color combination of clothes to avoid being the daily joke at the office. However, if left alone, all of humanity is completely unable to choose God, desire God, or obey God. The will of man is in complete bondage to the chain of sin – and loves it. Therefore, man does have a free will, but we must clarify and place that statement under the necessary conditions of Scripture. Man is free to do many things and make many decisions – most importantly – man is free to sin. However, man is not free to obey God.
True salvation occurs when God unlocks and releases us from the bondage of sin (Ephesians 2:5). What is obvious about the grace of God is that it’s a gift – not something that comes about through cleverly constructed clichés at the end of a sermon. Grace is not of works! Grace is a work of God and does not require high pressure, slick presentations, or a story that causes tears at the end of a service just before the invitation. Grace occurs when God opens up the heart of lost sinners in order that they will change their sinful will and choose to obey God. That is exactly what happened in Philippi when Paul went there and preached the gospel of Christ! Acts 16:14-15 – One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized.
What happens if God leaves man alone to choose and make his own decision? The Bible tells us he will perish! 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and Romans 3:10-11 demonstrate that clearly. Therefore, the power of the gospel through the Holy Spirit must invade the decisions, choices, will, and corrupt humanity of each person before that person will submit to God and be saved. How does God get that message to the sinner? He does so by the preaching and teaching of the gospel (Romans 10:17). It is the plan of God to send the gospel, through His servants, to the ends of the world (Matt. 28:18-20).
Therefore, it is abundantly clear through the pages of Scripture that complete free will (libertarian free will) once existed – but no longer does! No matter what any preacher, evangelist, apologist, or even the system of Molinism says – man is unable to make the right decision on his own. The Scriptures are clear! Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9)! Salvation is a miracle! Salvation should cause us to praise God – not the persuasion of a preacher! Does man choose God upon repentance of sin? Yes! However, he did not act on his own free will in doing so based on 1 John 4:19; John 1:12-13; and John 6:44. When rightly understood – salvation is a rescue mission by God through His Son! God deserves all of the claps – not the repentant sinner – and not the gospel preacher.
Charles Spurgeon once said:
And if God does require the sinner – dead in sin – that he should take the first step, then He requireth just that which renders salvation as impossible under the gospel as ever it was under the law, seeing man is as unable to believe as he is to obey, and is just as much without power to come to Christ as he is without power to go to heaven without Christ. The power must be given to him of the Spirit. He lieth dead in sin: the Spirit must quicken him. He is bound hand and foot, fettered by transgression; the Spirit must cut his bonds, and then he will leap to liberty. God must come and dash the iron bars out of their sockets, and then he can escape afterwards, but unless the first thing be done for him, he must perish as surely under the gospel as he would have done under the law.
For His praise and glory alone!
Pastor Josh Buice