“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””John 3:3 ESV
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”John 3:6-7 ESV
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV
In order to accept the testimony of God concerning Christ (i.e. believe the gospel), one must be born again. That is to say, that the natural man (the person who has not been born again), in his fallen state cannot believe/agree/accept spiritual things because they are foolishness to him, and he is unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
It is IMPOSSIBLE for the unconverted sinner to believe the gospel, because the gospel is a spiritual truth which must be spiritually discerned. Only those born of the Spirit can discern spiritual things, because they have been taught by the Spirit and they possess the mind of Christ.
The new birth, also called regeneration, is a product of the Holy Spirit giving spiritual life to an elect sinner. Jesus says that which is born of flesh is flesh (referring to the natural birth which every human being goes through) and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (referring to the supernatural birth which only the elect of God go through). In order to be able to understand and agree with spiritual things in general and specifically the gospel, one must be born again. This also means that only those who are born again are spiritual persons.
This necessary antecedent to belief of the gospel (the new birth) demonstrates the completely monergistic nature of salvation. God must make the elect sinner spiritually alive prior to them agreeing with Him regarding the righteousness established by Christ on behalf of His elect by His work on the cross. That is to say that regeneration precedes faith in the gospel.
One must be born again BEFORE they can believe the gospel. Sinners have no ability in themselves to make themselves spiritually alive-God must make them alive.
“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—
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”Ephesians 2:4-5, 8 ESV
The new birth entails with it two additional things that God gives to the elect sinner-repentance and faith. Repentance is the supernatural change of mind caused by God in the minds of His elect whereby He convinces them that the only acceptable righteousness before Him is that of His Son Jesus Christ, causing them to reject all of their past efforts to establish their own righteousness through false religion and failed attempts at legal obedience as dung. Faith is the supernatural ability to agree with (i.e. believe) the testimony of God concerning His Son-that Christ has satisfied the demands of God’s law on behalf of His elect and that salvation is secure because of His merits alone.
One can see that repentance and faith are very closely related. Both are from God, given to the regenerated elect sinner, for the purposes of rejecting their own “righteousness” and setting their minds on Christ as the sole source and hope of their salvation. They tell the elect sinner about God’s righteousness, His unfathomable mercy towards them, and demonstrates to them why He is just in forgiving them. Repentance and faith are gifts from God, freely given to His chosen people.
Really, those are amazing gifts from our God. How merciful and generous He is to give us, His regenerated elect, the gifts of repentance and faith. Look at what Paul writes-“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3:3-11 ESV
What a joyous text! You can discern the excitement of the Apostle as he tells of his repentance and faith-“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This is the response of a converted sinner who has been given repentance and faith from God! One who gladly counts all self-righteousness as loss BECAUSE of the SURPASSING WORTH of KNOWING Christ Jesus their Lord! To know Christ in this context means you know and believe the gospel-it means you have been taught the truth concerning Him and His work and you have been brought out darkness into the light! Praise God!
The natural man does not possess these gifts, because the natural man is not a spiritual person in his fallen, natural state-he has not been born again. Therefore, he cannot repent of his efforts to establish his own righteousness, and he cannot agree with God concerning the person and work of Christ.
However, the natural man can believe satanic lies about the person and work of Christ. In fact, any “gospel” that a natural man can believe in his fallen state (that is to say, prior to regeneration) is a false gospel. I wrote an article titled “God has no partnership with Satan,” where I made the case that false gospels are satanic lies designed to keep the unconverted sinner trapped to do his will.
I will list a few examples of these “gospels.” I’m known to pick on a few particular false gospels, although there are many more that could be added to the list I am about to give-
1) Lordship salvation. Lordship salvation is a false gospel that openly declares that men can believe it and yet not be saved. This is the first clue that it is a false gospel. They will tell you that you can believe the “gospel” but if you don’t produce works (sometimes called “changed affections”), then you were not truly regenerated. This perversion stems largely from a misinterpretation of James 2 and John 15.
There are many issues with Lordship Salvation, but I think this one may be the biggest. To claim that one can believe and yet not be saved is to deny what Christ said in John 3 and what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2. It is to say that natural men CAN discern spiritual things without being spiritual. It is to deny that the gospel is spiritual and must be spiritually discerned. One has to wonder exactly what Lordshippers understand as regeneration and faith. They will use James 2 as proof text to talk about “faith without works is dead.” My question-Is faith that is God-given as a gift dependent on the works of the sinner to stay alive? Is faith like a puppy? You get it, and then you have to feed it to keep it alive? If you don’t work (i.e. feed it) will it die? Does God make salvation of the sinner dependent on their working to keep their faith alive? Does God give a dead faith?
The obvious answer to these questions is no-the writer of Hebrews calls Christ the Author and FINISHER of our faith. Whatever James means by his statement, it doesn’t mean that it depends on the sinner to work to keep his faith alive. It also doesn’t mean that God gives a lame faith which needs upkeep and caretaking through works. If God has given one faith, it is because one has been REGENERATED. If one has been regenerated, then one is an elect sinner. One cannot be regenerated if one is not an elect sinner, because non-elect sinners have not had their debt to the law of God satisfied-they are justly dead in trespasses and sins. New spiritual life is part of what was purchased by Christ on the cross for His people. If you have been regenerated, it’s because Christ paid for your sins and you WILL BE saved BECAUSE that is what Christ came to do-save His people. The proof of this? Repentance from dead works and faith in the gospel.
James is talking about a very specific thing to a very specific group of people. Those who quote James out of context would do well to read the whole chapter which makes clear exactly what he means. What he means is beyond the scope of this article.
2) Arminianism. Arminianism is a false gospel that calls on unregenerated sinners to “make a choice” for Christ. In fact, this false gospel also teaches that the natural man in his fallen state can believe it by saying that faith precedes regeneration. They will say that after they believed they were born again, as if believing is a condition to meet prior to being saved. Again, this satanic lie runs up against the clear word of God. Further, what they claim to “believe” isn’t the truth. It is a complete lie because it is the complete opposite of the truth. It is diametrically opposed to the truth.
3)Tolerant Calvinism. This false gospel accepts Arminianism as a viable gospel and treats the truth about how God saves sinners as negotiable propositions with which one may or may not come to agree. Basically, the doctrines of grace are for the mature, and the half-truth/complete lie of Arminianism is for the immature. The reason for this is because most Tolerant Calvinists are former Arminians. Rather than flush their time in false religion as dung, they incorporate it into what they now claim to believe. They refuse to acknowledge that they were deceived, and claim that one starts in falsehood and grows into the truth. Again-see the subtle deception-they are claiming that the natural man can believe the truth.
This list could go on. The point is that any “gospel” that can be believed without regeneration is a false gospel that cannot save.
This is why it is important for regenerated elect sinners to stand up against falsehood. We must contend for the truth. We must declare the exclusive truth of God’s word. Not because we are arrogant or figure that we simply know better, but because the truth is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes it. It is the means by which God calls His people out of darkness and into the light. You don’t know if the person you are sharing with is one of God’s chosen people, so be patient, endure the evil thrown your way, and pray that God will grant them repentance. I’m speaking to myself on this point.