The Necessity of the New Birth: A Theological Exegesis of John 3:3-7

I.          INTRODUCTION

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). Just the same as Nicodemus, you and I likewise must be born again to see the kingdom of God. It means that unless we are born again, we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family, and we will not go to heaven. Unfortunately however, the term “born again” has either come to mean as being a member of a certain religion or the name of a religion itself as in our case where the term “born-again” has been equated with Evangelicalism or Protestantism.

According to John Piper, Jesus’ teaching about the new birth confronts us with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead; we are morally selfish and rebellious; and we are legally guilty before God’s law and under His wrath (Ephesians 2:3). When Jesus tells us that we must be born again, He is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty. Moreover, teaching about the new birth is unsettling because it refers to something that is done to us, not something we do. In the same way that we do not decide nor control our physical birth, it is God who causes the new birth, not us (1 Peter 1:3).[1] This paper will attempt to expound on John 3:3-7 through the use of the historical-grammatical method.

II.         HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Authorship

The fourth gospel does not specifically assert its author’s name but only refers to the author as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in 21:20, 24. The internal evidence indicates that the author was (a) an apostle (1:14; cf. 2:11; 19:35), (b) one of the twelve disciples (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”; 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20; cf. 21:24-25),, and still more specifically, (c) John the son of Zebedee. The external evidence from the church fathers supports this identification (e.g. Ireneus, Against Heresies 3.1.2). The title “According to John” however, was attached to it two or three decades later after the book was published. From the end of the second century on, there is virtual agreement in the church as to the authority, canonicity, and authorship of the Gospel of John. An argument from silence in this case proves impressive.[2] Therefore, it has been accepted henceforth by the Christian community that this gospel was indeed written by John the son of Zebedee, who was one of the three closest disciples of Jesus Christ together with Peter and James (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23; cf. Luke 22:8; Acts 1:13; 3:1-4:37; 8:14-25; Galatians 2:9).

Purpose and Audience

The author himself provides the reason for the writing of the gospel in John 20:30-31, where it says: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John selected the signs he used with the apologetic purpose of creating intellectual and spiritual conviction about the Son of God. The key verb in John is “believe”, and requires both knowledge and volition.[3] John’s original audience most probably consisted of both Jews and Gentiles living in the larger Greco-Roman world in Ephesus and beyond toward the close of the first century A.D. He frequently explains Jewish customs and Palestinian geography and translates Aramaic terms in to Greek, thus showing awareness of non-Jewish readers. He also present Jesus as the Word (“Λογος”) become flesh against the backdrop of Greek thought that included Stoicism and early Gnosticism. Nevertheless, John likewise shows awareness of Jewish readers as he demonstrates Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, and the Son of God who was sent by God the Father to reveal the only true God and to provide redemption to humanity.[4]

The Gospel of John presents a strikingly different picture of Jesus from that of the synoptic. Allusions to the opening chapter of Genesis can clearly be seen, i.e. “in the beginning”, as reference to God’s word as a creative power. The prologue of John 1 presents us with the story of Jesus as the coming of the Divine Word to humanity and that there is no other way to truly know God except through the Word that has dwelt with man in the form of Jesus.

 Date and Place of Writing

Since none of the arguments concerning the exact dating of the Gospel of John, scholars suggest that the probable writing of the same occurred anytime between A.D. 55- 95. As to the locus of its writing, four places are commonly proposed by scholars, namely, (a) Alexandria; (b) Antioch; (c) Palestine; and (d) Ephesus.[5]

III.         LITERARY CONTEXT

The theme of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Son of God and that by believing in Jesus, people can have eternal life with God. John 3:3-7 belongs to topic heading 2:23- 3:12 of section 2:1-4:54. The section 2:1-4:54 where 3:3-7 is included belongs to the large unit of 1:19-10:42 where Jesus discloses Himself in word and deed. This first large unit may be divided into four major sections, to wit: the prologue (1:1-18); Jesus’ early ministry, specifically, His signs, works and words (2:1-4:54); more signs, works and words, but now in the context of oppositions (5:1-7:53); the periscope of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11); and climactic signs, works and words in the context of radical confrontation (8:12-10:42).

The first section includes the stories about Jesus’ first sign which, is the changing of water into wine at Cana (2:1-11), His words and actions in the clearing of the temple (2:12-17), and the utterance about Jesus’ replacing the temple (2:18-22). The inadequate faith of those who trust Him is then shown at the juncture of 2:23-25 now sets the stage for the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1-21), which is the subject of this study.[6]

Nicodemus is described as a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews (1:1), which meant that he was a member of the Jewish religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Albeit the Sanhedrin does not possess civil authority because it rests with the Roman Empire, they still had significant influence over the Jewish population as they were the ones charged with the interpretation and proclamation of the Laws of Moses or the Torah. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus took place at nighttime probably because Nicodemus was afraid of anyone seeing him confer with Jesus, with the latter considerably being hated by his fellow Pharisees. Nonetheless, Nicodemus did not hesitate to address Jesus as “Rabbi” (1:2) as he recognized Jesus as a teacher of the Law who came from God due to the “signs” that Jesus performed (2:23) notwithstanding His lack of formal rabbinical training. Jesus then tells Nicodemus outright about the necessity of being born again (3:3-12) or what we would call “regeneration”. The topic of regeneration however is not just limited to the book of John but is actually taught in other parts of the New Testament. Below is a table of passages where the new birth or regeneration is mentioned:

John 1:13 “born…of God”
John 3:3 “born again”
John 3:5 “born of water and the Spirit”
John 3:6 “born of the Spirit”
John 3:7 “born again”
John 3:8 “born of the Spirit”
Eph. 2:4-5 “God…even when we were dead…made us alive together with Christ”
Col. 2:13 “you, who were dead…God made alive together with him”
Titus 3:5 “he saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”
James 1:18 “he brought us forth by the word of truth”
1 Peter 1:3 “he has caused us to be born again”
1 Peter 1:23 “you have been born again”
1 John 2:29 “everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him”
1 John 3:9 “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning”
1 John 4:7 “whoever loves has been born of God”
1 John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”
1 John 5:4 “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world”
1 John 5:18 “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning”

IV.          LITERARY STUDIES

3 “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[7]

Jesus’ answer begins with the word “Amen” (Gk. “άμην”) which is of Hebrew origin (“אמן”) transplanted into the Greek New Testament that signifies trustworthiness or truthfulness, i.e. verily, truly. The fact that Jesus begins His statement thus stresses the veracity of whatever He is about to say. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the word “amen” was said twice, which was a device employed by ancient writers who did not possess the technology of a computer that can embolden, underline or italicize certain words, to stress the importance of what they are saying.

Jesus stresses that it is He who says what He says, i.e. “I say to you”. This assertion contrasts with what of the rabbinic training that Nicodemus was accustomed to in that the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of Jewish religious law would always quote other eminent scholars and scribes for authority. Instead of doing the same, Jesus Himself would issue a command or an interpretation of God’s command by His own authority.

In stressing the necessity of regeneration, Jesus used the conditional term “unless” from the Greek word “έάν μη” which means “except”, “if not”, “before” or “but if”. The use of this word makes regeneration a conditio sine qua non before entering or seeing God’s kingdom. John Gill explains it thus: “Christ assures him, that he must be “born again”; in distinction from, and opposition to his first birth by nature; in which he was vile, polluted, carnal, and corrupt, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity, and was a transgressor from the womb, and by nature a child of wrath; and in opposition to, his descent from Abraham, or being born of him, and of his seed; for this would be of no avail to him in this case, nor give him any right to the privileges and ordinances of the kingdom of God, or the Gospel dispensation”[8]

The terms “born again” from the Greek words “γέννάω ανωθέν”, can also be translated as “born from above”. Here, it can be seen that the intent of the author is to show that this rebirth is from above or from God. This discussion of the need for spiritual rebirth further develops the earlier reference to the “children of God” who are “born of God” (1:12–13; cf. 8:39–58; 11:51–52).

In this verse, “Kingdom of God” refers to the reign of God in the hearts and lives of the believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in His body, the Church (cf. Matthew 5:10). The word “kingdom” here is a translation of the Greek word “βασιλεια”, which properly means royalty, that is, abstractly, rule, or concretely, a realm, or figuratively, a reign.[9] Genuine believers, i.e. those who have been born again, will increasingly reflect Christ’s love, obey His laws, honor Him, and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

4 “Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Here, Nicodemus clearly understood Jesus’ words in a literal way, hence, his confusion and dumbfoundedness.

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.”

Again, Jesus uses the words “Amen, amen”, which signifies and stresses the veracity and importance of His following statement.

The phrase “born of water and the Spirit” refers to spiritual birth, which cleanses from sin and brings spiritual transformation and renewal. Water here does not refer to the water of physical birth, nor is it likely that it refers to baptism. The background is probably Ezekiel 36:25–27, where God promises, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean. … And I will give you a new heart. … And I will put my Spirit within you.”

 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here, Jesus distinguishes between the physical (“σαϱξ”) birth from the spiritual (“πνεϋμα”) birth. As descendants of Adam according to the flesh, the entire human race has inherited the sinful nature and hence, spiritually dead in our transgressions. That is why spiritual birth, which cleanses from sin and brings spiritual transformation, is necessary (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).

7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

To be sure, Nicodemus was evidently puzzled and marveled by what Jesus told him. The word “marvel” here is from the Greek word “θαυμάζω”, which means to wonder; by implication, to admire.[10]

In the English language, the word “you” is meant for either singular or plural. However, the change from singular (“σοι”) to plural (“ύμας”) probably is meant to include Nicodemus and his fellow Sanhedrin members. The plural also carries broader application to all people, as in everyone “must be born again”.

The word “must” is translated from the Greek word “δεί”, which is the third person singular active present of “δεω”; also “δεόν”, which is neuter active participle of the same; both used impersonally; it is (was, etc.) necessary (as binding): – behoved, be meet, must (needs), (be) need (-ful), ought, should.[11] By using this word, Jesus stresses the indispensability of the new birth as a requirement to see the “kingdom of God”.

V.          LIFE APPLICATION

What it Means to Me

Living in a predominantly Roman Catholic country where religiosity is the norm, I have seen how millions of Filipinos would sacrifice their lives, liberty and property in order to gain that much coveted salvation. Although they confess Christ as their Lord and Savior, it is clearly apparent that they are still trying to earn their way to heaven through the merits of their own good works. Surely, however, in the passages that this study has presented, it is only through the spiritual rebirth that a person can truly and unselfishly do good works that would please God. As a physically dead person cannot produce anything, neither can spiritually dead persons produce spiritually meritorious good works. It is only by being born again to a new life can man truly do something beneficial. Only regenerated children of God in Christ can see the Kingdom of God.


[1]John Piper, Finally Alive. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Desiring God, c2009) p.49.

[2] D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, c2005) p. 229.

[3] Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, The Wilkinson and Boa Bible Handbook. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c2002) p. 337.

[4] The ESV Study Bible, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, c2008)

[5] Supra, p. 254.

[6] Supra, p. 227.

[7] Text is from the English Standard Version 2007

[8] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Public domain).

[9] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, e-Sword, c2012.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

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The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints

As I was reading the chapter on Perseverance in the book Renewal Theology by Dr. J. Rodman Williams, there were some persistent questions that kept on bothering me. Dr. Williams speaks of the security of salvation, to wit: “Hence, there is no way of falling out of God’s love and care and concern. Grace is unconditional. This means that God perseveres, whatever man may do, in the undergirding and sustaining of all who truly believe. God never fails. The security of salvation rests—let it be repeated—not in ourselves, but in Him.” However, on the next page, he says that true believers—Christians—can and indeed do fall away (apostatize) from the Faith. To be sure, Dr. Williams did provide ample passages from Scripture proving both statements. So if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Those of the Reformed (Calvinist) camp, quoting 1 John 2:19, would say that those who apostatized were not genuine Christians and were never saved in the first place. As a staunch Calvinist, I held on to that position. But when I took another look at that passage, I realized something. Although I noticed this prior to reading Renewal Theology, I’ll just use the words of Dr. Williams therein: “However, John is here referring to unbelievers—indeed ‘antichrists’ who have been in the Christian fellowship but who do not in faith truly belong, and who by their defection exhibit this.” He further states that the word ‘apostasy’ itself means a departure from the faith and that it would be a contradiction in terms if we would say that a person who never had the faith could apostatize from it. I see the point. So, lo and behold, I have changed my view! But the question begs us, if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Because Scripture simultaneously teaches predestination, election, perseverance (or eternal security) on the one hand and the falling away of true believers on the other hand, then we have to believe both to be true without making it appear that the Bible contradicts itself. In his article entitled A Tiptoe Through TULIP, James Akin provided the Thomist, as in St. Thomas Aquinas, view on predestination. According to Aquinas, we should distinguish between predestination to initial salvation and predestination to final salvation, to wit: “the gift of final perseverance is the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . [A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.” [ST I:II:109:10]. James Akin further posited that “The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther.” Herein I have found the solution to this apparent dilemma, one that sufficiently harmonizes biblical doctrine.

Habemus Papam!

Pope Francis

This morning, I woke up with a surprising news from my wife, Fifi. We have a pope! That was the announcement the world was anxiously waiting for; the election of a new pope in the person of 76-year old Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J., now Pope Francis I. It has been reported that Cardinal Bergoglio was actually the man who received the second highest number of votes during the 2005 conclave which elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy, who then took on the name Benedict XVI.

Hailing from Argentina, he is the first Latin American and Jesuit pope in history. The Society of Jesus is best known for its work in education and the intellectual prowess of its members. A good example of Jesuit legacy in the Philippines is the Ateneo de Manila University, which is known for its high quality education especially in the areas of philosophy, theology, law, science and the liberal arts. Ironically however, according to Yahoo! News, “The Jesuit order was founded in the 16th century to serve the pope in the Counter-Reformation and some members of the Society of Jesus, as the order is officially called, think no Jesuit should ever become pope.”

Justin Welby

Unbeknownst to many, the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis happened just more or less a month after the installation of the new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, who succeeded the Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams after the latter retired at the end of December 2012. Archbishop Welby officially became the 105th Archbishop of the See of Canterbury on February 4, 2013 and will be officially enthroned on March 21, 2013 at Canterbury Cathedral.

As an Evangelical Christian, it may seem that the elections of new heads of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church do not matter to me. Nevertheless, the Bishop of Rome, being the leader of around 1.2 Billion Catholics throughout the world, is in a very influential position. The Archbishop of Canterbury, on the other hand, is leader of around 80 Million Anglicans worldwide. These new leaders, especially the Pope, can be important catalysts of change in our time. Hence, it is necessary for us to know where they stand on major issues of the world, both theologically and politically. In fact, after reading some of his books, I became an admirer of the previous pope, Benedict XVI, due to his conservative stance on important moral questions, not to mention his intellectual and theological acuity. Although I recognize our theological differences, it is vital for Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant, to take a stand against the growing secular humanism of our society brought about by the minority, albeit noisy, advocates of homosexual “marriages”, freedom from religion, intolerant “tolerance”, abortion, fornication, and other forms of immorality.

Let us pray fervently to God for all our pastors and leaders that they may lead us to a life of righteousness and strengthened faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all the glory honor and praise, hallelujah!

The photo above registers this moment. One can distinguish Protestant pastor Carlos Mraida with his hand over Begoglio's head; to Mraida's left in the photo is pastor Norberto Saracco of the Pentecostal Church of Argentina. The bearded monk with his back to the camera is Fr. Cantalamessa wearing the Capuchin habit.This encounter was born from a meeting at the Pontifical Gregorian Universtity in Rome, where the Catholic leader of the Movement of Charismatical Renewal met Protestants, who invited him to preach in their temples. The initiative spread and has generated gatherings like this one in Buenos Aires."
Pastor Carlos Mraida with his hand over Cardinal Bergoglio’s head; to Mraida’s left in the photo is Pastor Norberto Saracco of the Pentecostal Church of Argentina. The bearded monk with his back to the camera is Fr. Cantalamessa wearing the Capuchin habit.
This encounter was born from a meeting at the Pontifical Gregorian Universtity in Rome, where the Catholic leader of the Movement of Charismatical Renewal met Protestants, who invited him to preach in their temples. This initiative spread and has generated gatherings like this one in Buenos Aires.

The Meaning and Method of Sanctification

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

Many of us have already heard the word “sanctification”. Several years ago, there was even a song entitled “Sanctified” by a famous Filipino rock band named Wolfgang, but I have never really understood how the song pertains to sanctification. I mean, did the writer of the song truly understand what being sanctified really meant?

Sanctification, according to Dr. J.R. Wiiliams in his book Renewal Theology, refers, accordingly, both to an action and to a condition or state. To sanctify means to make holy or be made holy; and to be holy means to be set apart for some special purpose. As Christians who are members of the body of Christ, the Church, we have been chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before God (Ephesians 1:4). Sanctification therefore, is the goal of the Christian life and the intention in the sanctification of the whole person is renewal in the likeness of God. In the book of Genesis, it says that mankind was created in the image and likeness of God (1:26-27). However, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, the image of God in man has been marred ever since. That’s why God needed to send His one and only Son, Jesus, so that in Christ, as the agent of sanctification, we may once again be sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2) through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, the energizer of sanctification.

Nevertheless, unlike regeneration and justification, which are purely works of God, sanctification is also the task of man. It is in the process of sanctification that man’s cooperation is required. As believers in and disciples of Christ, we are commanded in several places in Scripture to be holy (2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14). It is here and only here that we participate in the salvific plan of God. We are instructed as children of God in Christ “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12, NASB).

Last week, during our CLDP (Christian Life Development Program) class at Church of God, Barangay Almanza, Las Piñas City, we discussed the different stages of salvation and one of which, is sanctification. Although I have already learned about it in seminary, it was a good reminder nonetheless. By our own human will and effort, sanctification is impossible; but with God’s grace through the working of the Holy Spirit in us in Christ, we can rest assured that we are indeed on our way. To God be all the glory, honor and praise forever and ever!

The Dual Nature of Jesus Christ

One of most common marks of a cult is the denial of the Christian doctrine of the hypostatic union or the dual nature of Jesus Christ which is that of God and Man. Unlike the demigods of Greek mythology such as Hercules or the more recent Percy Jackson, Christ is both 100% God and 100% man; not 50% god and 50% man. Many portions of Scripture completely affirm His deity, showing that at no time did He lose His divine nature. Yet the Bible teaches, equally strongly, that Christ became fully human.

The Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ or INC), founded by Felix Y. Manalo in July 1914, strongly insists that Jesus has only one nature, and that is a human nature. Citing John 17:3, among others, they claim that only the Father is the one true God. According to Dr. Kenneth Boa, when someone realizes that Scriptures reveal Christ to be the complete God-man, he has three basic alternatives. First, he may decide to reject this revelation because it doesn’t make sense to him. Such a rejection would diminish or completely erase the Word of God’s authority in his mind. Second, he can try to reason it out, reword it, or illustrate it, as though it could be resolved like a paradox. In this case, people skirt the issue by minimizing certain Scriptures or avoiding a direct collision with the biblical data’s implications on this point. The third alternative is to acknowledge that no analogies or illustrations will really solve the puzzle and that the complete authority of the Word of God must be recognized, no matter how difficult some of its implications may be. All the biblical data is accepted by faith, and reason is made subject to revelation. Only when the Bible is approached this way can intellectual satisfaction be attained.

Just because our human intellect has difficulty grasping the truth of the hypostatic union, Felix Manalo and his “ministers of the gospel” deny the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus is God incarnate. By doing this, it behooves me to understand how a man, albeit a special man, as the INC calls Jesus, can save us from our sins by becoming the ultimate sacrifice of atonement. A mere man, no matter how special he is, cannot satisfy the infinite wrath and justice of God. Only God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, can be sufficient.

The Covenants in Scripture

As I was reading the book Renewal Theology about the covenants God made with His people, I was reminded of a certain theologian, a former Presbyterian minister turned Catholic, by the name of Dr. Scott Hahn. In his book, Rome Sweet Home, where he recounts his conversion to Roman Catholicism, he mentions that during his seminary days, his main interest of study was that of the covenant. As a Calvinist Presbyterian—and still even now as a Catholic—he believed that the overarching story of the Bible centers on the covenants God has made with His chosen people.

The relationship of God and humanity is, in a word, covenantal. God does not deal with His creation apart from covenant. Essentially, “covenant” is a bond or relationship between two parties. In the covenants between God and humanity, the Lord God sovereignly imposes the terms of these arrangements in accordance with His own will and good pleasure. In the history of Christian doctrine, it is the unique contribution of Reformed theology to have developed and systematized the biblical doctrine of covenants.

Biblical history is structured in terms of a series of distinct covenants. Following the traditional Reformed schematization, the divine covenants reflect the decretal purposes of God in creation and redemption. Standing behind the creation of the world is the eternal plan or counsel of God. One particular feature of that plan is the “Covenant of Redemption” (to use of older terminology) made in eternity between the Father and the Son respecting the salvation of God’s elect, those chosen in Christ by God the Father and effectually called to true faith and repentance in history by means of the regenerating and convicting power of the Spirit of God. Election to salvation is the proper purpose of redemptive covenant (the “Covenant of Grace” which spans the epoch from the Fall of Adam to the Consummation of history at the return of Christ). According to Dr. Williams, the essential components of a biblical covenant are the (1) parties; (2) promises; (3) ratification; (4) obligation; and (5) fulfillment. As a lawyer familiar with how human covenants—or contracts—are executed, I truly appreciate how this theology of the covenant works out. Article 1305 of the Civil Code of the Philippines provides that “a contract is a meeting of minds between two persons whereby one binds himself, with respect to the other, to give something or to render some service.” Article 1318 thereof further provides the essential requisites of a valid contract, to wit: (1) consent of the contracting parties; (2) object certain which is the subject matter of the contract; and (3) cause of the obligation which is established.

Most Reformed theologians referred to the Old Testament (“Covenant”) covenants as the “Covenant of Works” and the New Testament covenant as the “Covenant of Grace”. I find these terms simplistic because if we analyze the OT covenants, the same were also by the grace of God. What I mean is, although on the surface God demanded certain obligations from the human parties, the existence of the covenant itself is due to the mercy and grace of God. God invited man into a covenant relationship with Him in order to give man a chance at redemption. In fact, all the OT covenants find their ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant of Christ in His blood.

How God Justifies the Ungodly

Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines provides the justifying circumstances which precludes an otherwise criminal from incurring criminal liability, to wit: (1) self-defense; (2) defense of relative; (3) defense of stranger; (4) avoidance of greater injury or evil; (5) fulfillment of a lawful right or duty; and (6) obedience to a lawful order issued by a superior.

In state criminal law, to be justified does not mean that one has not committed any crime but that in spite of having committed a crime, no penalty thereafter attached to the same. It means that although an act which would have otherwise been a crime had been committed, the person cannot beheld criminally liable because of the existence of reasonable—hence, justifiable—grounds therefore. In other words, there is a crime but there is no criminal.

In a similar way, when we talk about our justification before God, we are actually pertaining to God’s sovereign act of grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle Paul speaks of God as He “who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5 NASB) and that “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NASB). But why do we need to be justified in the first place? We all need to be justified “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:23-25 NASB) “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).

According to Dr. J.R. Williams, to be justified means to be declared or pronounced righteous. It comes from the Greek word “dikaiōsis”, which, in its verb form, is “dikaioō” as used frequently in Romans and Galatians. Dr. Martin Luther describes Christians as “simul justus et peccator”, or “righteous and at the same time a sinner”. This justification before God has two aspects: On the one hand, our sins are no longer imputed to us; and on the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is in turn imputed to us. Therefore, when God looks at us, He no longer sees our sinfulness but the righteousness of Christ. Oh, how great is the love of God that He gave us His own righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness! To Him be all the glory, honor and praise, Amen!

How God Calls Us to Salvation

When we talk about God’s “calling” to salvation, we are actually referring to two kinds. First, is the “general” or “gospel” call; and second, is the “specific” or “effectual/effective” call. The former pertains to the human proclamation of the gospel whether in oral or written form, such as the preaching done by a minister at the pulpit during worship services or evangelical “crusades”. The same can also be done on a one to one basis as with a friend. The latter on the other hand, pertains to God the Holy Spirit’s inner call which only the concerned person can hear. This effectual call is spiritual in nature unlike that of the gospel call which is physical in nature. Nevertheless, the effectual call almost always occurs either immediately after or at the same time as the gospel call.

However, within Christendom, there is an ongoing centuries-old debate between those who hold that God’s effectual calling is based on His unconditional election (the “Calvinists”) and those who believe that God’s effectual calling is based His election of those whom God knows will choose Him (the “Arminians”).

According to Dr. J.R. Williams, there is no predestination to death. About God he says: “He has no hidden agenda, by which He has already decided to save some and reprobate or bypass the others.” He further stated that “Christ came that people might rise rather than fall; He came as Savior and not also as Destroyer. However, His very coming precipitates a crisis in which some fall and others rise.” He then proceeds to quote Romans 9:33 where the text itself says that God lays a stumbling stone, a rock which will make men fall, in the person of Jesus. In the same verse, likewise in 1 Peter 2:6, it says that “whoever believes in Him (Jesus) shall not be put to shame.” Nowhere in these passages does it say anything about those “whoever” that will believe. He further quotes 1 Peter 2:8 to prove that the stumbling of the unsaved is due to disobedience and not to God’s predetermination. However, Dr. Williams passed over (pun intended) the part of the verse which says “as they were destined to do”. Therefore, we can conclude that albeit the stumbling of unbelievers over Jesus is due to their disobedience, this disobedience was still predestined by God by His preterition or passing over of the reprobates, thus, leaving them to their own devices.

It is understandable and natural that a lot of people resist (again, pun intended), the idea that God does not predestine anyone to damnation but we have to keep in mind that after the fall of Adam and Eve, the only thing that mankind justly deserves is punishment in hell. God is under no obligation to save any of us in the first place. Hence, God’s saving some and not all is actually already an act of mercy and grace on His part; and there is no injustice therein.