Jesus says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Clearly, spiritual rebirth or regeneration precedes spiritual reconciliation and communion.
Later, Jesus says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) The natural man is born through water. When a mother’s water breaks, her child comes forth. Similarly, one is born when the Holy Spirit breaks forth. Man’s first birth results in hell. Man’s second birth results in heaven.
Jesus then complicates issues by explaining the sovereign unpredictability of the Holy Spirit, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear it sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)
Reconciliation and communion flow from regeneration or the second birth, and the second birth follows the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit. There is a real sense in which one’s salvation is completely outside of himself. Spiritual reconciliation is the result of God’s choice. Spiritual reconciliation is the result of God’s mercy. Spiritual reconciliation is the result of God’s grace. Spiritual reconciliation is the work of God, and not of man.
However, the question comes forth, “What about all those verses that speak of man’s responsibility to repent, believe, have faith, sacrifice, follow him, pick up one’s cross, lay down one’s life, die to self, call upon the name of the Lord, and profess his name before men?” Does not man have some part to play in cooperating with the grace of God? Specifically here, in the context of John 3, does not Nicodemus have a responsibility and a requirement to respond properly to Jesus’ exhortation?
Jesus puts the ball back in Nicodemus’ court, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:15) Jesus is alluding to the story found in the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, and in doing so he is calling Nicodemus to action:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)
Jesus understood the Israelites had broken God’s Law and were living in open rebellion against him. Again, they complained about the Lord’s leadership, provision, and character. Therefore, the just and holy God exercised his wrath. He disciplined them with fiery serpents that took the lives of many. In response, the people mourned and repented. Then, true to the character of God, he provided mercy and grace for his friends. God used his mediator to provide his means — the serpent-topped pole. God then gave his invitation or command, “He [who] would look at the bronze serpent [would] live.”
Therefore, what is Jesus’ advice to Nicodemus? What does Jesus have to say to “whosoever” desires salvation and reconciliation with the Father? What should one do to find peace with the holy and angry God?
First, one should not fixate on the hidden decrees of God. No one can read God’s omniscient mind. No one has access to the Lamb’s Book of Life written before the foundation of the world. No one has access to the Holy Spirit’s Day-at-a-Glance to see where he is going next. God is going to do what God is going to do, and he is both sovereign and unpredictable.
Second, one should obey and be blessed. One should look and live. One should repent and believe. It is the duty of every person to choose whom they will serve. All sinners are commanded to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Whosoever desires to be rescued from the fiery judgment of God can receive such full and free salvation. So, no one should be passive. No one should sit back and wait for God to do what God is going to do. One should not be a Hyper-Monergist or a Hyper-Calvinist. Those who look to the serpent-laiden pole are saved. Those who look to the despised man hanging on Calvary’s tree are saved. Look and live!
Thirdly, one should be humble. While rejoicing that one responded with faith and repentance, one should recognize why one responded with faith and repentance. No man comes to the Father unless the Father draws him. All who are drawn by the Father come. Men love Christ because Christ first loved them. An arrogant Christian is an illogical and ungrateful fool.
Fourthly, one should make sure they are not a Hyper-Monergist in all other areas of life. God is sovereign, and he has sovereignly determined to exercise his sovereign decrees through the decisions and actions of men. So, as one pursued God for justification, one must pursue God for daily sanctification. As one trusts in the immutable providence of God, one must pray and wait to see how God will use their effective supplication. One must recognize that God is the one who provides daily bread, and one must plan, invest, work, and save. One should recognize that the number of the elect is eternally set, and one should evangelize to save men’s souls from hell. And in parenting, one must recognize his inability to affect the heart of his child, and one must discipline and love in order to secure God’s covenantal blessings for one’s children.
Yes, it gets confusing, but God is sovereign and man is responsible. So, while rejoicing in the monergistic work of God, cooperate with him and reap the benefits of God’s synergistic plan.