Egomarkarios seems convinced that the relationship between regeneration and faith in Scripture is faith first, regeneration second, and he doesn't like the Reformed ordu salutis. This is a fairly common argument from Arminians and others. In the past, Steve and I have discussed the relationship between them from 1 John, for example 1 John 5 and the causal relationship spelled out in 1 John 3:9. I've also noted grammatical parallels with texts like John 8:43.
However, I've not spent much time on John 3. The comments section in the above thread, however, has led me to make some observations upon which I would like to expand a bit.
"But how could an unregenerate man believe if regeneration is an act of God that gives you faith?"Yes, Ego, this is quite the quandry isn't it? But it is no quandry for Reformed theology, because we give the same answer as Jesus gave. You're asking the right question, similar to the one Nicodemus asked. It's only a quandry if you underwrite it with the assumption that since Nicodemus is being "blamed" for his lack of faith, he is therefore to blame for his unregenerate state.
In other words, you are tacitly assuming, without benefit of argument that ability limits responsibility.
But what exactly is Nicodemus "blamed for" in this text? The most explicit statement of "blame" is not clearly his lack of faith, but it is very clear the fact that he was a teacher of Israel yet did not understand that a man must "be born of water and the Sprit?" To take your own argument, if the OT never stated that a man must be born of water baptism (to pick up on your connection to Acts 2:28) to enter the kingdom of God, then how could Jesus "blame" him for not understanding such a thing? It seems to me that your own argument refutes itself when you really look at the text.
So, you need to ask yourself some questions here:
1. Your own question: How could an unregenerate man believe if regeneration is required for faith? That's a good question. Also, from whence does man lack of faith stem? God's refusal to regenerate or man's own love of his own evil? If (a) why? Is God obligated to regenerate sinners? If (b) then is God really to blame?
2. Why does man require regeneration in order to believe? Does man have the power to believe from the natural state? If so, where is the supporting argument?
3. How could Jesus hold Nicodemus responsible for not understand something the OT Scriptures did not actually teach? The Jews had no doctrine of water baptism for the new birth. Seems to me you need to figure out how "born of water and the Spirit" connects to the OT.
Exactly my point...and Jesus' point. Nicodemus' lack of faith had nothing to do with his unregenerateness. His unregenerateness had to do with his lack of faith.
No, that is exactly the opposite of what this text teaches and what Reformed theology teaches. Faith is not required in order to be regenerated. Rather faith is the evidence of regeneration. That's the point of the "mystery" language and its placement with the language about "signs" not only in Nicodemus' first words in this passage, but the accounts immediately before - turning water to wine and the sign Jesus prophesies about His resurrection.
We know the wind moves by the signs. What signs? Well Jesus turned water into wine - a sign he was from God. The resurrection proves Jesus is the Lord of Life. When the wind hits your face or the leaves rustle, you know the wind is moving. (Saving)Faith is the sign in man that evidences the working of the Holy Spirit.
However, if we follow your logic, all of this is inverted.:
Wine is turned into water in order for God to work.
1. Jesus must rise from the dead in order to be Lord (Jesus said in John 10 that He already had the authority to do this.)
2. The rustling of the leaves causes the wind to blow. - This is one is particularly absurd, isn't it. Do you really believe this?
3. Faith (or for sacramentalists baptism) is required in order to be regenerated. Based on 1 and 2, this is obviously fallacious.
Ego, you have mistaken the effect, or rather the evidence (faith) for the cause (the Spirit's regenerating work).
Here's a question: Why does one man believe and not the other?
Let me say here that this is a question all Arminians, indeed anybody that objects to the Reformed ordu salutis must eventually ask. Here, however, I'd like to expand on why, in brief, the Reformed view makes the best sense of this question.
One thing that our synergistic friend has not considered here is the way this text fits into John's Gospel as a whole. We must never interpret a passage in isolation from another. John's Gospel employs what a pastor friend of mine once called a "stair step" or "shingle" structure in which one section builds upon another. John writes such that an idea expressed later is often epexegetical to the text immediately preceding. At the "micro" level, we see this in passages like John 6:44, 45, where 45 is epexegetical to 44. This is why, for example, if all people without exception are drawn (as is the common objection arising from the use of John 12:32 by Arminians), then universalism is the result. Likewise, in John, one pericope builds upon another in a similar fashion.
We can divide John's Gospel into two sections or "books."
1. The Book of Signs (1:1 - 12:50)
2. The Book of Acts of Salvation or The Book of Glory (13:1 ff).
John 3 is, obviously in the Book of Signs. Let us briefly consider what has gone before in relation to "signs."
First, we have John the Baptist's testimony. His testimony was, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me haas a higher rank than I, for He existed before me." John's testimony was a sign that "the kingdom of God was at hand."
John's baptism was a sign. Of what? Repentance.
The vision of the Holy Spirit (mentioned in Matt. 3 as well) was a sign that Jesus is the Lamb of God and confirmed John's testimony.
While the first of Jesus public signs is the turning of water into wine (John 2), John records another sign before this. In the calling of Nathaniel, Jesus' words to Nathaniel serve as a sign - a private one directed at Nathaniel.
The cleansing of the Temple was a sign, fulfilling Psalm 69:9. Jesus then gave a prophetic sign when He prophesied His crucifixion and resurrection. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
What do all of these have in common? They all point to the identity of Jesus - and this is the overall theme of John's Gospel in both the introduction and in the conclusion.
Thus, when we get to Nicodemus, what underwrites Jesus' reply is the simple fact that saving faith, eg. "understanding," is a sign that the Holy Spirit has come and done His work, eg. saving faith is a sign of the new birth. Ergo, regeneration precedes faith.
Also, to continue the discussion of signs, there are more. Jesus talks about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. This too was a sign to the people of Israel in his day. It was a sign of God's mercy to those who would look upon it and judgment to those who refused. Likewise, what is often lost in the exegesis of John 3:16 by the Arminian insistence on quantifying "world" is that the point is not to serve to talk about the scope of the atonement. Rather, the cross (the prophetic sign to which John is alluding) is a sign of God's love for the whole created order. How is it a sign, well, God loved the world so that the all the ones believing might have eternal life. It is a sign not of general atonement, but of particular atonement. It is given so that the believing ones might have eternal life - this is the nature of the sign to "the world." The world is witness to it - and that is the point of the public signs to testify.
Also, I'd like to point out something else. We have to remember that this gospel was also a letter. As such it is intended to draw the reader into it. It is supposed to get him to ask questions, like "What does this sign mean?" Ergo, there is some inherent ambiguity in the text that is explained the further we get into John's Gospel. For example, here in John 3, the work of the Spirit is described as a "mystery." However, by John 6, Jesus speaks more plainly, and by the time we get to the end of John's Gospel, what was ambiguous in the first chapters are clarified.
Here, Nicodemus is not clearly held out as one who does not believe. On the contrary, he is presented here as the exception to the rule. He is the only one of the Pharisaic party who actually comes to Jesus. Look at verse 2. This statement is exactly the OPPOSITE of the majority of the other Pharisees. He is depicted as coming a representative of the pious ones who did believe or were on the verge of believing, not those who utterly rejected Jesus. It is unclear when Nicodemus exercised saving faith in his life. It may well be that this is his conversion story. Jesus says what He says because Jesus recognizes the moving of the Holy Spirit in Nicodemus. The explanation of Jesus is (a) an editorializing from John to explain to the reader about regeneration and (b) "in plot" it is also Jesus Himself explaining what the Spirit is doing even as He speaks these words.
One of the questions Jesus answers with clarity in John 6:37 - 65 is "why does one man believe and not another." In the Capernaum synagogue Jesus gives his answer to explain why they do not believe. In John 6:66 - 71, the narrative concludes with Peter's confession. Why did he believe? The answer is in the previous pericope. That is how, for example, John's Gospel, as I wrote above is structured.
So, let's consider Nicodemus. As noted, it isn't altogether clear that Nicodemus does not believe. Rather, this could equally be an explanation of his belief. That's an ambiguity in the text.
Nicodemus confesses that he believes Jesus is from God because of His signs. He even comes to Jesus to do this.
In John 3, we are transitioning from the overall introduction to the Book of Signs into specific discourses.
John, with Jesus as his cipher, is also telling his readers that the religious leaders should have understood much more than the need to repent of their sins. They should have known all about what Jesus is discussing here. It's in the Scriptures (Ezekiel). "You being a teacher of Israel do not know these things?" This theme reappears, for example, in John 8.
This narrative ends with a statement that those who practice the truth come to the Light. These signs go hand in hand. Jesus signs evidenced God's work and His identity. These signs manifest God's work in the hearts of man - and that's the point of the narrative about the Spirit moving mysteriously like the wind. So, it serves not only to highlight the need for the new birth for men to believe but the reason that men like Nicodemus would, in fact, come to the Light. Nicodemus did that very thing, and John's Gospel later shows it.
To say that regeneration is evident after saving faith is therefore correct. To say that faith is required before regeneration can occur - or is the cause of it - is incorrect. The same is true of baptism. John is not teaching baptismal regeneration. Rather, baptism is a sign of repentance. Repentance and faith are necessary to see the kingdom of God. "Water" is a metaphor drawn from texts like Ezekiel, referring to the cleansing of the Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit is described as a mystery. He goes where He will - not where man wills (John 3:5 - 8, linked to 1:12 - 13). Why does one man repent and not another? Because the Spirit has worked in him. Why does one man believe and not another? Because the Spirit has worked in him. The synergist reading of this text would effectively confuse cause and effect throughout the Book of Signs if applied consistently.