by Burk Parsons
When teaching on the doctrines of election and reprobation, the most common objection I hear is “That’s not fair!” Often, the one raising this objection to these doctrines will go on to argue that God would be unfair to command all people to repent and believe if
He had not chosen them before the foundation of the world. Based on such reasoning, many people have concluded that the doctrines of election and reprobation are not biblical and, therefore, heretical. Unfortunately, those who object to these doctrines are not merely contending with John Calvin; they are contending with the Word of God. Indeed, the doctrines of grace were taught clearly by John Calvin. However, they were also proclaimed boldly by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As a minister, what troubles me is not someone’s general lack of theological aptitude concerning the doctrines of grace; rather, I am troubled by a person’s bold opposition to the very doctrines that provide him with the necessary understanding to know and love God as He has revealed Himself to us. For God did not give us such difficult doctrines in order to confuse us; He gave them to us to comfort us so that we might have peace and hope while living in a fallen world.
At the outset of 1 Peter, we are told that according to God’s great mercy, God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading …” (1 Peter 1:3–4). In plain words, Peter tells us that God caused us to be born again, but this idea of being born again is not first introduced to us by Peter. It is introduced to us by John in his account of the conversation that took place at night between Jesus and Nicodemus who was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. Jesus responded to Nicodemus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was confused. He asked how such a thing is possible, and in His explanation, Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again’” (v. 7). This statement not only confused Nicodemus, it has confused people for nearly two-thousand years. How can Jesus tell us to be born again? His statement is not indicative, nor is it interrogative; it is imperative — it is a command. Simply put, the command of Jesus is to be born again; it is not merely a suggestion.
But where are those who object to Jesus’ teaching? Could someone not argue that it is not fair for Jesus to command us to do something that we cannot possibly do? When we are born physically, we are not the active agents in the birth — indeed every mother can testify to that truth. Similarly, when we are born again, spiritually, we are not the active agents in the birthing process. God, and God alone, is the active agent. As He gave our first parents the physical breath of life (Gen. 2:7), God breathes His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who regenerates our souls and transforms our minds (Rom. 5:5). As a result, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Whereas the Word of God commands us to be born again, it also explains to us that it is God Himself who has caused us to be born again. What is more, our rebirth is not an end in and of itself. By causing us to be born again, our gracious God has instilled within us a “living hope.” And so to answer the objection of those who assert that God is not fair in causing some to be born again while leaving others to their own, depraved conditions, I reply simply by saying that if God were to be just with us, we would suffer a most miserable eternity as agents of His wrath. However, because of His great love for us, He has spared us from His wrath. And not only that, He has awakened us from our rebellious slumber to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ — a hope that does not disappoint. Indeed, the hope that we have is not like the fleeting, wishful desires of the world; on the contrary, our hope is sure, for it is founded upon the promises of the God of all creation who has adopted us as His children and has provided for us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
Those who stand boldly in opposition to the truth that God works in us causing us to be born again are only doing so to their own misfortunes. And, by necessary inference, they must admit that it is completely up to themselves to be born again. But Paul reminded the Romans that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and even the very faith we possess is not manufactured by our own naturally wicked hearts but is assigned to us by God Himself (Rom. 12:3). All of salvation, from our election in Christ before the foundation of the world to our glorification has been accomplished by God alone. We are not the active agents in our salvation on account of the fact that dead people cannot save themselves. In fact, if it were not for the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, we could not even begin to realize our need to be born again. Praise be to God who predestined us in love for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the eternal purpose of His will (Eph. 1:5). Therefore, when we pray to the Lord God almighty, we pray not only to the one who spoke the world into existence but to Him, our heavenly Father, who is indeed the Father of our eternal life in Him.