Paul's Passing Thoughts

Believing Equals Baptizing Yourself into Christ?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 28, 2015

Christianity is a laity movement. It doesn’t exclude formal academia and higher learning; it simply recognizes that higher religious education is fraught with collectivist presuppositions and spiritual caste. The apostle Paul described what the assembly of Christ is mostly comprised of:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

Bottom line: aristocracy invariably glorifies God with a wink and a nod. Throughout history an emphasis on academia has always led to Gnostic-like movements invading the church, and for this reason, academia was suspect in the first and second-century assemblies. And as a result, those of the academic class were rarely allowed to be elders. The apostles often rebuked the saints for submitting to the intimidation of nobility and academic prowess.

When Christians investigate the Bible for themselves, they find stunning contradictions between the intimidating auras of religious academia and what the Bible plainly states. As a rule of life, discernment should never be in neutral.

This ministry has documented a plethora of teachings coming from one of the most trusted academiacs in all of evangelicalism, John MacArthur Jr. This post just adds another caveat to the heap. However, this isn’t necessarily a targeted criticism of MacArthur per se, but my criticisms concerning MacArthur usually take place in regard to his teachings that reflect the Reformed tradition in general.

And his assessment of John 3:8 falls into that category. The motif using John 3:8 as a proof text usually looks something like this:

Since salvation is strictly the result of God’s choosing, the Spirit travels about the earth giving spiritual birth to whosoever God chooses. No one can assess where the Spirit came from or is going—only the results of His work can be seen, and we take no part in it.

In the third session of the 2008 T4G conference, MacArthur stated the following:

And what Jesus doesn’t say is pray this prayer. What Jesus doesn’t say is here are the four steps, five steps, six steps or whatever. What Jesus says in verse 8 is just absolutely shocking to the free will world. “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear the sound of it. You don’t know where it comes from and where it’s going, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What in the world kind of an answer is that? Our Lord is saying it’s not up to you. It’s up to the Holy Spirit, and you have no control over where and when the Spirit moves. No control. This is a divine work. It has to be a divine work. Flesh just produces flesh. Dead people can’t give themselves life. Spirit gives life to whom he will, and you can see when it happens, but you can’t make it happen. It’s the Spirit’s work.

Notice that the premise for MacArthur’s conclusion is threefold: control, what the Spirit does, and the scope of His salvific work. Grammatically, the text is not saying that at all. The word “control” is nowhere in the text, but what is being spoken of is knowledge of the wind, NOT the control of it. Secondly, the wind comparison is not a comparison to the Spirit’s work, but describes the believer:

So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The text is clearly not talking about what the Spirit does, but “so it is” with those born of the Spirit. And what of them? They have no knowledge of where the new birth will take them. They are dying with Christ to end the old self and the life of the old self, and where their new life is going as a new creature is not known. In other words, it’s a matter of complete trust and unpredictability. Christ continually called on people to drop everything in their life right where it was, and follow Him. Same kind of idea.

Furthermore, MacArthur, like all of the Reformed, assumes the scope of the Spirit’s salvific work includes believing, but again, the text does not state that anywhere. The text specifically states that the Spirit baptizes the believer into Christ (“born of the Spirit”) which is the death of the old self and resurrection of the new. The new resurrected life of the believer, like the wind, is completely unpredictable and predicated on trust. This would have been particularly relevant to someone like Nicodemus who was a big man on campus in Israel, and would have been putting his aristocratic status in jeopardy by following Christ.

In fact, Christ emphasized belief in the following verses. You don’t need to be born again in order to believe, you need to believe in the new birth and choose it in order to receive it. Faith comes first after hearing the word of God, then choosing the new birth results in the new birth which indeed we have no control over, but that doesn’t mean we are unable to choose it.

I didn’t understand all of this when I became a Christian, but here is what happened. Through the preaching of the word by a guy named Mark Cline, I came to a belief in the facts about the gospel. But, I didn’t make a decision right away. Why? I didn’t want to give up the decadent life I was living. Intuitively, I knew a decision for Christ meant a new life. I didn’t want a new life, I liked the one I had although I was completely miserable. I was willing to risk an eternity in hell in order to hang on to the lusts I had at the time. When I finally prayed that God would save me, I knew it meant a new life—I just didn’t understand all of the theology. Prior to that, a guy begged me to “Just say the prayer” because believing alone saves. I declined because I knew salvation meant a new life, a life I did not want at the time.

Why would God give eternal life and then call on people to choose it? Why not give the new birth and then inform people that they have been born again? If people have no choice in the matter, why would God call on them to be persuaded? MacArthur, like all of the Reformed, makes belief synonymous with the ability to baptize one’s self into Christ. Supposedly, if you can choose, you also have the power to baptize into Christ. This is a huge leap in logic.


One Response

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  1. Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on April 28, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    Yes, it is the born again believer that is like the wind, NOT the Spirit. Also, this indicates a present continuing tense as well. I actually decided not to add this argument to the post, but it clearly implies that the believer is like the wind which comes and goes. The influence of the Spirit in this action is beside the point; the point is that this obviously encompasses more than original salvation. That’s why the best rendering applies it to the unpredictability of the believers new life. That’s the point, not some kind of statement by Christ that the Spirit cannot be controlled by mankind. The subject is the wind and the action of the metaphor applies to the believer–not the Spirit.


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