What is wrong with Calvinism and John 3:16? Calvinism teaches that Jesus only died for the elect upon the cross and only those who are regenerated by God can believe in Jesus. Calvinism teaches a doctrine called Limited Atonement which means that Jesus died upon the cross only for God’s elect, and the gospel is not for the whole world or everyone (John 3:16; John 4:42; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2). Calvinism teaches that only those who are regenerated (born again) by God will be able to choose to follow Jesus, and this is called the doctrine of Total Depravity. Total Depravity and Limited Atonement comes from what is called the 5 Points of Calvinism, which has the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints).
The context of John 3:16 when examined demonstrates that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone to receive or reject. The Bible teaches that Jesus died upon the cross for the whole world, for everyone, and that anyone who trusts and believes in Him receives eternal life and becomes born again. The Bible teaches that humanity is fallen and needs to be saved, and only those who turn to Jesus Christ will be set free and be saved. The Bible teaches that before Jesus death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead that no one was regenerated or born again (John 7:39; John 14:17; John 20:22). How did people trust and believe in God? Did they have free will, the ability to freely choose to trust and believe in God? Yes, they did have free will, which means they had the ability to freely trust in or reject God. Free will does not mean a person saves themselves, it does not mean they are saved by their works, and it does not mean that they are taking the credit for their salvation. The Bible teaches that salvation is a gift of God, that a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and when someone becomes born again it is the supernatural work of God. (John 1:12-13; John 3:8; Acts 15:7-11; Romans 3:21-31; Romans 4:3-5; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9).
- What Calvinism teaches on Total Depravity and Limited Atonement:
Quote from Canons of Dordt on Total Depravity: “Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.” (Total Depravity, Canons of Dordt, III & IV, Article 3)
Quote from John Calvin on Total Depravity: “What can a dead man do to obtain life? But when he enlightens us with the knowledge of himself, he is said to raise us from the dead, and make us new creatures.” (John Calvin, Total Depravity, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 14, Section 5)
Quote from John Calvin Commentary on John 3:16: “For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.” (John Calvin, Limited Atonement, Commentary on John 3:16)
Quote from Canons of Dordt on Limited Atonement: “For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father” (Limited Atonement, Canons of Dordt, Second Point, Article 8)
- What Born Again Means in John 3:1-18
These Scriptures are the focus point on what the Bible teaches concerning what being “born again” means. Nicodemus comes to Jesus stating that he realizes Jesus is a teacher that has come from God and that God is with Him. How could Nicodemus realize that Jesus has come from God and is a teacher of God “without” being born again yet? How could Nicodemus have a form of trust (belief) in Jesus as being from God without being spiritually alive? Calvinism teaches that a person who is not spiritually alive (born again) cannot understand spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) Nicodemus was not born again yet as Jesus clearly says to him, “you must be born again.” Calvinism teaches a person has to be first born again to be able to recognize spiritual things is wrong. The truth is that Nicodemus had the ability to come to Jesus with a belief in his heart that Jesus came from God and yet he was not born again yet.
The Bible teaches a person must born again to “enter” the kingdom of God (John 3:5), what does that mean? The word “enter” means to go into. What separates man from being able to enter into the presence of God in the heavenly realm? Sin is what separates anyone from being able to enter into the presence of God in the heavenly realm. Jesus came to give His life for the world as John 3:16 clearly teaches. Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that a person must be born again, a new birth or a new creation. Nicodemus was missing what Jesus was saying (John 3:8-13) concerning the spiritual birth and Jesus clarifies this in John 3:14-18: “14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The clear indication of what Jesus is teaching is that a person must make a decision on following Christ. Jesus spoke of Moses lifting up the serpent as an example of teaching this spiritual truth. The Israelites were being judged for their disobedience and God sent serpents to bite them and many were dying. God then gave them a chance to be delivered from the snakes by telling Moses to made a fiery serpent and Moses did so, and all those who “choose to look to this serpent” would not die. (Numbers 21:6-9) Jesus used this example of truth in reference to Himself as being lifted up and all who look to Him will be saved. Jesus did not say, “a person must first be made spiritually alive to believe in Him”, but Jesus stated that all those who believe in Him will receive eternal life. The clear context of John 3 has nothing to do with a person having to be regenerated first and then they can choose to believe in Jesus, but rather this is the choice for anyone (whosoever) to make.
- What is Wrong with Calvinism and John 3:16?
The doctrine of Total Depravity and Limited Atonement are not accurate and are unbiblical according to the Scriptures, which is demonstrated in the context of John 3:14-16 with Numbers 21:6-9. Jesus taught Nicodemus that He was the Messiah to come, He was going to be lifted up (death and resurrection), and pointed him to Moses in Numbers 21:6-9 on all those who looked to the bronze serpent and lived. The gospel is clear in John 3:16 that Jesus died for the whole world, for everyone, and anyone who puts their trust in Him and believes receives eternal life and becomes born again.
Those who teach Calvinism (TULIP, 5 Points of Calvinism) is the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation are teaching a different gospel, a false gospel, and misrepresenting the gospel message (Galatians 1:6-9). Those who teach that free will is a man centred gospel in which a person saves themselves is false and they misrepresent Christians who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. There are some who have gone to far in their theology which has caused divisions in the body of Christ, and this is unfortunate. It is also important to understand that there are gracious and loving Calvinists who believe what they believe but do not make it a salvation issue or an area of division. To those of you who are gracious and loving, thank you.
This information is to examine Calvinism and to examine the context of what John 3:16 teaches about Jesus giving His life for the world, and if the gospel message is for everyone? The gospel is good news, and the good news is that humanity has a Savior that loved them and gave His life for them. The good news is that anyone can put their trust in Jesus, believe in Him, and be saved. Jesus is the Savior for the whole world, for everyone, and this good news is for the anyone to receive or reject.
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