This is one of the most famous terms in all of the Bible. Preachers often echo this divine imperative during evangelism: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. You must be born again.” What does it mean and why do we need it? It means new life from God, eternal life, and we need it in order to live a holy life as God intended.
John 3:3-8: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
1st Peter 1:3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1st Peter 1:22-23: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.”
The relevance to Calvinism is that Calvinists teach that due to the Fall of man (i.e. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden), no one is able to believe in or accept the gospel (i.e. the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity or Total Inability) unless they are first made Born Again— secretly, without their conscious knowledge of it—with the result that the reborn convert (pre-selected through Calvinism’s doctrine of Unconditional Election) will now not only be able to receive the gospel, but will be remade to irresistibly want it (i.e. the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace). This is also how the doctrines of TULIP Calvinism are linked together. The key question, though, is not whether it is logically connected but whether it is biblically correct.
Non-Calvinists agree with Calvinists on the absolute imperative of being made “Born Again,” and also on the fact that we cannot make ourselves Born Again, since that is something that only God can do, but where we disagree is over the question of whether there is a requirement made by God that we must fulfill before He will make us Born Again. The requirement is receiving His Son. God will give no spiritual blessings apart from it. (Ephesians 1:3) Jesus said, “I am the way” and He is. (John 14:6)
Doug Sayers: “Whatever it means to be born again, both sides of our debate would agree that we couldn’t make ourselves born again. It is not in our power and we are never commanded to make ourselves born again. Thus, the real question before us is whether there is a requirement, which we must meet before God will make us born again. The Calvinistic answer to this question is ‘No. There is no requirement’. We saw the same in their view of reprobation. In their system, there is nothing that anyone can (or should) do to be born again, and there is nothing that anyone can (or should) do to be reprobate. The Calvinist insists that there is absolutely nothing, which God requires of sinners before He makes them born again. They only need to be chosen for it…based on nothing in themselves. Again, God would be making people born again against their present will. Once again, I trust you can see why they have been called fatalists for centuries. They’ve earned their reputation.”102
What do Calvinists believe?
We don’t come to Christ that we may become Born Again. We are made Born Again first so that we can come to Christ.
Non-Calvinists disagree. If a person comes to Jesus, then and only then (and certainly not before) will they be given: (a) salvation, (b) eternal life, (c) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and yes, also (d) the right and privilege of becoming a reborn child of God with reblown life inside them.
Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
John 20:22: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Those who are spiritually dead, cut off and separated from God, can come to Christ and receive new life from Him, in order to be able to walk with Christ, so that they may be able to live as God intended. Calvinism teaches that there is no human requirement for becoming Born Again, but only that one must be secretly chosen for it.
Question: So, then, what must a man do to become saved?
Calvinist Answer: Believe in Christ.
Question: And how is one able to believe in Christ?
Calvinist Answer: By first being made Born Again.
Question: And how is one able to become Born Again?
Calvinist Answer: Nothing. You must be secretly chosen for it.
So, then, if there is nothing a person can do to become Born Again, except to wait until activation—and becoming Born Again is necessary to believe in Christ—then it follows that there is nothing that a person can do to believe in Christ and become saved, unless they are first activated by forces completely beyond their control. Think about how that might impact evangelism. Calvinists insist that it shouldn’t, because evangelism is a command, and moreover your audience might be seeded with Calvinism’s elect. For non-Calvinists, though, thinking Calvinisticly would significantly impact their evangelism, and not in a positive way. We already know that Calvinists and non-Calvinists strongly disagree on matters pertaining to evangelism—Calvinists reject what is commonly known as an “Invitation” or the “Altar Call.” So, even though Calvinist insist that their theology should not impact evangelism, it evidently does.
102 Doug Sayers, Chosen or Not?: A Layman’s Study of Biblical Election & Assurance, CrossBooks, 2012, p.300-301.