Over the past couple of days, I have been debating with a brother in Christ who follows reformed theology. In common terms, he is a 5 point Calvinist. I have asked him, like I ask anyone with whom I debate, to take off theological glasses and view the Word of God as is, letting the Scriptures speak for themselves. I have written on the subject of “Predestination” and you can read it here.
In this article, I would like to explain, using the Scriptures, that God calls us to be reconciled with Him and in order to be reconciled, we must respond to God’s call by bowing our knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When this happens, we are born again into the family of God.
I. God with Abraham
In Genesis 12, God chooses to reveal Himself to Abraham. This is a perfect example of the grace of God. Abraham did not deserve it. God made promises to Abraham and Abraham believed God and demonstrated his faith through obedience. In Genesis 15, Abraham bows his knee to God as Lord and because of his faith in action, he is made righteous before the Lord. In Genesis 17, Abraham is transformed from the inside out. This is what Jesus calls being born again and Calvinists call “regeneration”. Abraham’s character is changed. His character is molded together with God’s character. Abraham is now able to obey God the way that he is supposed to obey. There is a clear series of events. God comes to man with a message of grace. There is a calling. Man accepts God’s offer and bows his knee to God as Lord. Man is transformed from the inside out. This is the pattern that we see in the New Testament when Jesus calls His disciples.
II. Jesus with His disciples
God tells us that no one seeks after Him. We have all turned away. He comes to us. He initiates the reconciliation process. He makes it possible for us to be regenerated. Let’s take a look at this process in Matthew 4.
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
The first thing that we see here is that Jesus goes to the people. He does not wait for people to come to Him. Secondly, Jesus teaches the people, calling them to repentance. The message of the Gospel has to change their minds before they can respond. In other words, they have to understand the message. Repentance means to have a change of mind about something. In the spiritual sense, change your mind about who you are before God and who God is. Jesus explains this to the people before calling them. Thirdly, after teaching repentance to the fishermen who were going to become His disciples, He called them to follow Him. Now the ball is in their court. They are fully depraved and unregenerate before God yet they have to choose to answer the call, now that they have had their minds changed about who they are and who God really is. The men who would become the disciples answered the call and then the transformation of their lives took place. I believe that the disciples were born again on the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Their regeneration took place after they understood the message of the Gospel and accepted what God had to offer. They follow the same pattern that we saw in Abraham back in Genesis.
III. Saint Paul
Many in the reformed camp us Paul as the ultimate example of a person who is regenerated before accepting the message of the Gospel. Is that really the case? Let’s take a look at the event in Acts 9 and find out.
1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus,
In Paul’s case, first we see that Paul is blind spiritually yet he can see physically. He is on a mission from God to persecute Jesus. Since God cannot persecute Himself, Paul is not serving the Lord. He is depraved. On the way, Paul encounters Jesus and Jesus blinds Paul physically to reveal his spiritual blindness. Jesus gives a calling to Paul and Paul responds to the calling. We do not know the entire conversation between Christ and Paul but, from what we saw in Matthew 4:17, Jesus preached repentance to Paul. Obviously, Paul had his mind changed about himself and about God. This is repentance. Paul answers the call that Jesus gives. When Paul meets Ananias, he receives the Holy Spirit and is born again. The same pattern that we saw in Abraham and Jesus’ disciples is once again demonstrated in Paul’s case. If we follow the Scriptures to the conclusions that are presented here, there is a clear order:
- God initiates a relationship with man
- Man hears and understands the message of God
- Man repents (has his mind changed)
- Man answers the call (receives the offer that God proposes)
- Man is born again (regenerated)
- Man is discipled (taught to be a learner/follower)
This is why I cannot accept all of what reformed theology teaches. There are many points on which we agree, like the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but, on regeneration before faith, we cannot because this is not what the Scriptures teach.