AN OPEN LETTER TO JOHN MACARTHUR OF "GRACE TO YOU" MINISTRIES A CRITIQUE OF "YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN"

Updated: May 8

The Gospel Defender Journal Volume 30 January - February 2022

Vol 30 - No 1 (Jan - Feb)
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"Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel." Apostle Paul - Philippians 1:15 - 17

John:


Although I do not agree with some of your interpretations concerning certain doctrines within God's Word, over the years, with interest, I have listened to many of your radio broadcasts and have read most of your publications. Your books and pamphlets/booklets occupy the space of two shelves of my library. I appreciate your "conservative" approach to theology and acknowledge that you are one of very few theologians who do not fear to publicly defend the sanctity of God's Word against the ongoing, relentless attack upon it from various current societal trends of liberalism, not only theological but also political.


One of your most recent publications is the subject of this letter. Upon my request I received and read the nineteen-page booklet, You Must Be Born Again, authored, of course, by yourself. To your credit, this booklet, as are all the materials produced by "Grace To You" ministries, is professional in its appearance, a compliment to the cause of our Lord. But, not surprisingly, its content is a great disappointment as far as helping those it is designed to help to understand the meaning of Jesus' statement to Nicodemus in John 3:3 and 3:5 regarding the subject of being "born again," an absolute necessity for one who wishes to "see" and to "enter the kingdom of God." Its contents are incongruent with what presumably was to be its intended purpose: to explain both the meaning of and the manner in which the "second birth" is effectuated. Regrettably, it is merely one more "religious" document authored by a respected and an esteemed theologian that will mislead anyone who chooses to read it, to study it, and to accept it as truth.


For the sake of helping those who read this "open letter" to understand the serious nature of my criticism of your booklet, in general it misleads those who are uninformed and unlearned in God's Word concerning the doctrine of the new birth; and, in particular it misleads those who believe the doctrine of the new birth to believe they have been "born again" when, in fact, they have not. Further, unfortunately your booklet will influence those who seek to be "born again" to believe a reformation doctrine concerning it that is not true but that you repeatedly champion. Sadly, it only adds more confusion within the world of Christendom that is already severely and needlessly divided over the simple gospel message of salvation through the atoning work of Christ. This division could be healed and unity could be realized if only the Bible were permitted to speak for itself without the intrusion, interference, interjection and influence of the dogmas and formal "confessions of faith" that corrupt its message, that have been authored by uninspired men, many of whom, in response to apostate Roman Catholicism, began this adulteration of Scripture in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation.


The best way to articulate my criticism of your booklet in some sort of orderly way is to go through your written work, page-by-page (or, to borrow a phrase from your ministry, "one-page-at-a-time") and cite the various errors made not only in this booklet but also repeatedly made in other writings and radio broadcasts of "Grace To You" regarding how one is "born again," or is saved from sin.


You state in the last sentence of page 1 that "The church needs to recover - and faithfully uphold - what it actually means to be born again." On this point, I could not agree with you any more than I do; and, it is probably true that a few "churches" and "theologians" agree with the both of us while disagreeing with our conclusions concerning the way in which that is realized, for the issue is not that one must be "born again"; the issue is how this birth "happens." And, this is the issue with which I find fault with the booklet about which this letter is written. It errs in teaching the truth concerning how the "new birth" is actuated.


Another statement written on page 1 with which I also agree, i.e., at least part of it, is: "When faced with the question of how to become born again, too many Christians are quick to recommend a rote prayer to recite or a progression of steps to follow." The booklet returns to this thought on page 9: " . . . none of the New Testament writers . . . prescribed a prayer or a process, because there are no steps to recreating yourself."


As already stated, having listened to many of the "Grace To You" messages and having read several of the ministry's materials, I know that you do not believe in the so-called "sinner's prayer" for salvation to which I believe you refer when speaking of "a rote prayer." Neither do I. Of course, the reason for not believing that this "rote prayer" has any salvific efficacy is quite simple: as we both know, it is not taught in Apostolic doctrine and therefore no one in the Scriptures who sought salvation was ever exhorted to pray this prayer. And, as you also know, most of the divided "religious world" encourages almost ad infinitum unsaved people to recite this prayer in order to be saved. It is one of the biggest lies ever to come from the mouths of those who, in ignorance, claim to be messengers of God's truth when, in fact, they are ministers of Satan. The part of your above referenced statement with which I do not agree concerns the phrase, "progression of steps to follow." Below, I will have more to say about this objection.


Additionally, I find no fault in what you have written on page 2 of the booklet being examined: "It's possible that the better translation of Christ's words in verse 3 [of John 3 - my citation] would be, "Unless one is born from above [your italics]." Certainly the "new" or the "second birth" of men does not come "from below" or from ourselves, dwellers on this earth. Only God can re-birth a lost soul.


So far, so good, but as the old cliché says, "all good things must come to an end" and from this point forward, as a critic of You Must Be Born Again, it is incumbent upon me now to cite, "one-paragraph-at-a-time," what I believe this booklet teaches erroneously.


Citing Nicodemus' question in verse 4 of John 3, it is stated that "Christ's whole point is that of man's own volition and effort, he can't [your italics] [be born again - my addition]." Of course, this is the Calvinistic approach to God's Word concerning soteriology, the theology to which you subscribe. As a Calvinist you do not really believe in the free-will of men (in spite of the fact that I have heard you deny this "charge") and therefore it is not possible for any man to have any role - to cooperate with God - in the securing of his own salvation.


But what is worse, if this is possible, in doing so, you actually deny the sovereignty of God (which you emphatically preach and teach, His sovereignty being a doctrine with which I agree) by denying this sovereign God His divine right/power/authority to establish whatever required conditions He chooses to establish for men to obey that result in their salvation. John, the doctrine that you so tirelessly advocate and defend, God's absolute sovereignty, actually strips God of His own sovereignty! According to the theology to which you militantly adhere, God's absolute sovereignty limits His own sovereignty and must be interpreted as meaning that nothing that man does or does not do to receive salvation will be accepted by God, including even those acts of obedience that he is commanded to do by that sovereign God that result in receiving salvation.


Let me be quick to confess my agreement with you that man cannot possibly "force" the sovereign, omnipotent God to birth him "from above" any more than man can "force" this God to do anything else. But, man can decide to do what God has ordained to be necessary - to be obeyed - to bring forth the spiritual birthing process (as well as to decide not to do what God has ordained to be obeyed for being spiritually birthed). If this is not true, then man is nothing more than a programmed- robot creation of God.


This may be a poor illustration but nevertheless I offer it for your consideration. Neither you nor I can "force" a fish to bite our bait; however, we can lure that fish to bite it by making the bait attractive. Is this not what God does through the ministries of "fishers of men" with the gospel message of Jesus Christ? The only difference is that as "fishers of fish" we choose the bait; as "fishers of men," we use the "bait" that God gives us which is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, inclusive of all its component "parts."


Next, you ask on page 2 of the booklet under review, "What role did you play in your physical birth?" You also answer your question: "Of course that's an absurd question - you played no role and made no contribution whatsoever . . . to assume you had anything to do with your physical [my emphasis] birth is an insane idea." Of course, this is true concerning one's physical birth but this is not the birth about which Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus. (And, this is why Nicodemus was confused; he was thinking of and interpreting Jesus' statements as referring to a physical birth when Jesus was speaking of a second birth, a spiritual birth.)


You continue your comparison of one's physical birth to one's spiritual birth by writing: "To assume you had anything to do with your physical birth is an insane idea. To assume you have anything to do with your spiritual birth is equally insane. It's utterly absurd . . . [page 3:] To be born again, or born from above, is a work in which you play no role [my emphasis] . . . Christ is saying it is entirely a work of God and God alone [your emphasis] . . . It's God's work alone." It is necessary here to make the following points:


First, you describe the "second birth" as a "work" and it is. (As will be shown later, your choice to describe it as a "work" is an accurate but unfortunate word choice on your part that actually contradicts the doctrine you have chosen to promote concerning who effectuates the new, spiritual birth.) It is a spiritual "work" as contrasted to a physical "work" such as a mother birthing her newborn baby; however, you limit this "work" to be a monergistic [your italics] "work," a one-sided or a one-person "work" - "God's alone" - as opposed to a synergistic [my italics] effort in which man cooperates with or does in conjunction with God's "work," or even more accurately stated, does in obedience to God's command. The doctrine that you advocate teaches that man has no part whatsoever in his being spiritually "born again." To be clear, for the sake of those who read this letter, God is the only participant in this birth according to you; man is only an "object" upon which God "works," or operates. To carry this concept to its logical end, it is not even necessary for man to love God to be "born again." John, this is too much for any reasonable person to accept!


Second, on page 9 of the booklet being examined, you return to the idea that the "second birth" is a "work." This is not a bad word to use in the context in which you use it to describe what God does but I do believe that much theological wrangling could be avoided were the word "act" or "response" used in the place of "work" when referring to the role that man plays in being "born again." In other words, God's spiritual birth of a person from a lost state to a saved state is a "work" that He does - not what the recipient of that "work" does, i.e., when and how the lost person "acts" or "responds" in the manner that God prescribes for the "second birth" to be realized. What man does is not a "work"; it is an "act" of responsive obedience. This is a matter of semantics, perhaps, but the poor, misuse of words has been and is the cause of much religious division including the one under discussion here.


Third, on page 3, you once again state that "No one is going to enter ['God's kingdom' - your words] based on his own works," those "works" being described by you as being "a better person, or more religious, virtuous, or philanthropic." I agree with the essence of your statement. One's "religious work(s)," or otherwise (including "acts" of obedient response), do not merit or earn one's salvation. You return to this subject on page 9 when you state that the words of Nicodemus in verse 3 " . . . shatter any hope in the efficacy of good works." Here we once again agree.


The question becomes, "Who is it that has been given the authority to determine or to define what is a 'religious work' as it applies to the doctrine of the 'second birth' or to the entire doctrine of salvation for that matter?" I am confident that you do not claim such authority and I certainly do not. Hopefully, and I am certain that such is the case, both of us agree that it is only the Word of God that can rightly claim this authority. So, let us go to that authority; but, before we do, allow me to quote even further what you have written concerning this matter. It is on page 9.


" . . . none of the New Testament writers told anyone to do something [your italics] to be born again. They consistently called on [my emphasis] sinners to repent and believe. But they never prescribed a prayer or a process . . . " John, can you not hear what you have written? No "New Testament writers told anyone to do something to be born again" but were "called on [is this not being 'told . . . to do something"? - my question] . . . to repent and believe." Several Biblical examples could be cited that demonstrate that your statement is utterly false but I will cite only two.


One, Apostle Peter's statement in Acts 2:38. After preaching to a multitude of persons the truth regarding their murdering their Messiah and His subsequent resurrection from the dead, they asked, "Men and brethren what shall we do?" If Peter's theology had been that stated in the booklet you have authored, he should have responded by saying, "You have no role to play in your own forgiveness. This is God's work alone. None of you are going to enter God's kingdom based on your own works. There is nothing that you can do." But, as you well know, Apostle Peter said there was something that they not only could do, but that they had to do: "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . " Until you or someone of your theological persuasion explains the meaning of the words of this verse in some sensible, logical way that legitimately negates the obvious meaning of those words, these words will forever stand on their own.


Two, Apostle Paul's statement in Acts 16:31. After his and Silas' miraculous release from the Philippian prison, the guard responsible for keeping them incarcerated asked in verse 30, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" What is stated above about Peter's reply and what is stated about the statement that he did not make is also applicable here. It is not necessary to repeat it. As did Peter, Paul said in verse 31 there was something that the jailer "must . . . do": "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ . . . " Not only must we repeat that until you or someone of your theological persuasion explains the meaning of the words of this verse in some sensible, logical way that legitimately negates the meaning of those words, these words will forever stand on their own; but, we are compelled to remind you that it was an inspired Apostle of Jesus Christ who named a specific "work" that had to be done by the jailer to be saved: he had to "believe," i.e., he had to have saving faith. It was asked of Jesus in John 6:28, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He sent.' "


Your frequently stated refrain that there is nothing anyone can to do effectuate his being "born again" is repeated on page 10 where it is written that "The new birth is a unique and unilateral work of Creator God . . . . There is nothing you can do to save yourself." This tenet of Calvinism flies in the face of what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 2:40 - "[You] be saved from this perverse generation." The translation of the Old King James Version is not wrong when it records this verse as follows: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." Both translations accurately state Peter's command for his unsaved audience to do something to be saved from their sins. And, they did; they were baptized for the reason stated in Acts 2:38. They were chosen by God as His "elect" only because they elected to believe and to obey His Word.


Having listened to "Grace To You" and having read many pieces of your literature, I know that you are adamantly opposed to the doctrine that immersion in water "in the name of Jesus Christ" is necessary to receive salvation. I do not believe that I am being hyperbolic when I say that many of the adherents of the theology to which you subscribe abhors this doctrine. Having tried to understand why theologians of the camp to which you belong have such an intense aversion to this doctrine I am able to think of only one reason, or at least the main reason: it has been made into a sacrament of the apostate Roman Catholic church and some of her offspring. This has caused you to greatly err in your approach to this doctrine.


The baptism of Acts 2:38 is not the sacrament of those apostate religious organizations. The baptism of Acts 2:38 pre-dates Roman Catholicism by several hundred years. Roman Catholicism corrupted that baptism by making it to be "work" of human merit wherein one "earns" his or her salvation. This was not its meaning or its purpose with the first-century, New Testament church that Jesus built that to this present day continues to exist. It was through the baptism of Acts 2:38, as well as through repentance and belief, that God's grace was, and is to this day, extended to all who will obediently submit to His "scheme" of salvation.


Again, who has been given the authority to define or to designate the baptism of Acts 2:38, a baptism that is administered by immersion in water "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," as a human "work" by which the baptismal candidate merits salvation? Certainly, the Word of God teaches the futility of thinking that any "religious work" will save. But this it never does concerning the baptism of Acts 2:38, the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5.


Neither time nor space permits me to enter into a lengthy discussion of the age-old theological debate centering on "faith/grace versus works." Beside, you are as familiar with this debate as I. I know that you know that it was not until the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century that Zwingli pronounced in the first quarter of that century his "finding" that the baptism of Acts 2:38 was a "work" of human merit; it was then that baptism in water was declared to be a "work" of man rather than a "work" of God as Scripture clearly teaches it to be in Colossians 2:12 and elsewhere. Although I know that you know this, I do not hold out any expectation that this historical fact will persuade you to cease and desist from degrading and diminishing the obedient "act" of immersion to be solely for the purpose enunciated in holy writ: to receive the forgiveness of sins, i.e., for salvation, and the "gift of the Holy Spirit." I hope you will surprise me.


Next, you write on page 9 that "The new birth is not a synergistic process. It's not a team effort. You did nothing to initiate or empower God's transforming work. He chose you of His own will. He gave you spiritual life as an exercise of that will. It's His work alone."


If what you mean is that God took the first "step," the first "move," in our being "born again," I would not disagree; but this is not what you mean for you have written more than once that being "born again" is not a "process" or a progression of "steps." Rather, God, alone, without any responsive action of our own to God's Word, is what re-births men. It is not hearing God's authoritative voice through His Word that leads to man's re-birth; it is not one's belief in Christ and His resurrection that leads to man's re-birth; it is not one's repentance that leads to man's re-birth; nothing that man does - not even his obedience to God's Word - leads to his re-birth. Man does absolutely nothing and can do absolutely nothing that leads to his re-birth! It is simply at God's sovereign whim, with respect to certain persons He has pre-chosen, who He "zaps" with salvation even though it is said of Him in Romans 2:11 " . . . there is no partiality with God" and in I Timothy 2:4, He " . . . desires all men [not only the 'elect' who He chooses because of their obedient response to His Word - my commentary] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."


John, I John 4:1 exhorts us to " . . . not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." So, let us "test" the theology that is taught in the booklet that you have written.


First, it was to "scattered" Christians that Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle. In 1:23 of that epistle it is written that Christians have "been born again [my emphasis], not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God which lives and abides forever . . . " God took the initiative to reveal His Word, His "seed," which produces a new spiritual life, but man is not "born" of that Word without first "hearing" it and believing it - Romans 10:17. "Faith comes," or is produced, from "hearing" that "seed," or Word. This is something that men must do to receive salvation; they must hear and believe the Word. "Hearing" and believing are not something God does for men. Men themselves must do this. Can one be saved without "hearing" and believing the Word? It is anti-scriptural to think so.


Second, it was to Christians that the writer of Hebrews stated in 5:9 that the Son of God "became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey [my emphasis] Him." Returning to Peter's first epistle, he wrote in 1:22 that the Christians to whom he was writing had " . . . purified [their] souls in obeying [my emphasis] the truth . . . " Another Apostle, Paul, reminded the Thessalonian church that God will deal out "retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey [my emphasis] the gospel of our Lord Jesus." How can (1) one "obey" Him, (2) "obey" the truth, or (3) "obey" the gospel without doing something is beyond my understanding. John, if one can "obey" these things without doing something please explain how this is accomplished.


"God alone causes us to be born again," you write on page 9. The question becomes, "How does 'God alone' 'cause us to be born again'? What does God do? How does God 'cause' this? Where in the Word of God is it stated or even suggested that the "second birth" ever occurred without the person who was reborn doing something in response to God's Word?" In every case of conversion in the New Testament the initial "cause" of the "effect," the "second birth," was the "hearing" of God's Word which was divinely authored by God. Did God "cause" or "force" those conversions to hear His Word? (I suppose one could make a case for this were he a hyper-Calvinist who believed that every action of man was predestined and God-caused.) There are examples in the book of Acts of His Word being preached where some who heard it responded and some who heard it did not. What made the difference?


You will answer that God, in His sovereignty, selected certain ones to hear and believe, thus necessitating the conclusion that He, in His sovereignty, chose some not to hear or to hear but not to believe. This is Calvinism at its core: the predestination of some for salvation and the predestination of others for damnation. That doctrine totally refutes the innate attribute of God of His loving all men without respect of persons. The divine revelation says that He " . . . so loved the world . . . " without any restrictions or limitations or conditions.


The errors of the booklet that you have authored continue. Frequently when speaking of the Calvinistic tenet of "irresistible grace," i.e., God's choosing those whom He has predestined to be saved and the absolute impossibility of their rejecting or resisting His grace that makes that possible, you cite Ephesians 2:1. In the booklet under discussion you do so again and write that "Sinners are 'dead in [their] trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), utterly unable to save themselves. They can't do anything to trigger the new birth; it is an independent act of divine mercy." The key word is "trigger."


It is true that God does indeed "trigger" the "second birth" by first, loving "the world" (" . . . He first loved us" - I John 4:19) and then giving to that "world" His Word that reveals the means by which one can be reconciled to Him. But, nowhere does His Word say, or even suggest, that one can do nothing but wish and hope and wonder if he is one of the chosen, predestined, "elect" rather than being one of the chosen, predestined, "damned." Your statement at the conclusion of that paragraph that "You didn't do anything to save yourself. You couldn't; you were dead," has already been shown to be a false statement but allow me to add the following.


God forbid that I deny the veracity of Ephesians 2:1. Before my being "born again" I was indeed "dead in [my] trespasses and sins." No one know this better than I. But, being "dead in . . . [my] sins" does not mean that I was also brain dead without any ability to reason or think. Spiritually dead? - yes! Physically dead? - no! The only way in which your theology of Ephesians 2:1 works is in the case of persons who are both spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins" and also physically dead. Any person who died while in the state of being spiritually "dead in [their] trespasses and sins" certainly cannot be "born again" spiritually. Hebrews 9:27 is quite clear on this matter: " . . . inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" - no second chances, no purgatory.


But, a person who is spiritually "dead in [his or her] trespasses and sins" can be "born again" while they are physically alive. They are the only ones who can be. It does not take a supernatural, miraculous, irresistible, direct "zap" of God's grace for this to happen; it takes the preaching and/or teaching of God's Word to the spiritually dead, and their "hearing" it, believing it, and subsequent obedient response to it. Being "dead in trespasses and sins" does not mean that one is not able - is incapable - to understand what he must do to receive God's forgiveness after they are taught His Word. If that is not true, the church is wasting her time preaching the gospel to the lost.


You return to this subject on page 16 saying, "The sinner is like Lazarus, dead and rotting in the tomb (cf. John 11:39), incapable of helping himself or responding to stimuli of any kind. He's lifeless until God, who spoke creation into existence, speaks life into his dead corpse. Only when God bids us to come forth (v. 43) can we respond."


John, it is true that physically dead men, as Lazarus was, cannot respond "to stimuli of any kind"; but, I reject your proposition that spiritually dead men are not able to respond to the "stimuli" of God's Word. Every convert of the New Testament who was "dead in [their] trespasses and sins" did, including Saul of Tarsus! It was while they were in that unspiritual state that they heard and believed and obeyed God's Word. It was then that they were "born again" - not by their being irresistibly infused with the Spirit of God.


" . . . the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword . . . " - Hebrews 4:12 The "gospel of Christ [that is revealed in God's Word - my note of explanation] is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . " - Romans 1:16 " . . . the message of the cross [that, again, is revealed in God's Word - my commentary] is . . . the power of God . . . . it pleased God through the foolishness of the message [that is revealed in God's Word - my note of explanation] preached to save those who believe." - I Corinthians 1:18, 21 For one to accept and believe your salvation theology forces one to diminish, if not outright ignore and reject the power of God's Word to convict a lost soul of his sins and to effectuate his obedience to being "born again." This I cannot do.


The introduction to another error promoted in the booklet under consideration begins on page 11. I certainly do not have any issue with your rejection of the idea that the "water" of verse 3 does not refer to "the amniotic fluid that is released before the birth of a child." For several reasons of which we both are aware, this cannot be the meaning of this verse although as recently as three weeks ago I heard this interpretation promoted by a self-appointed "Doctor" of theology; it is a foolish idea that sound theology rejects.


But, neither do I accept your theology that rejects this word as referring to baptism in water being necessary for salvation because it, believer's baptism, (which, by the way, is the only baptism recognized by the sacred scriptures as being valid for salvation), "had not been implemented yet." Using your hermeneutics, neither do John 6:53 - 58 and the parallel accounts of Matthew 26:26 - 28, Mark 14:22 - 25, and Luke 22:14 - 20 refer to the Lord's Supper for it too had not yet been instituted at the time the supper of these synoptic gospels was observed. Not only that, but as you well know, several parables were taught by Jesus that pre-figured or foreshadowed certain truths concerning the kingdom of God on earth, the church. Jesus did much preparatory or anticipatory New Testament teaching during His earthly ministry and His John 3 discourse to Nicodemus is one such example; when the New Covenant was inaugurated, immersion in water would be a condition that must be met for any new birth to be realized.


The next error of this booklet is that found on page 12 on which you cite three Old Testament passages, Ezekiel 36:24 - 27, Ezekiel 11:19-20, and Jeremiah 31:31 - 33, each of which is a prophecy teaching that when the New Covenant of God was inaugurated, He, God, would put His Spirit in His people. As you have written, this would be an act of God's regenerative work.


Commenting on Ezekiel 36:24 - 27, you write: "This is God's description of His regenerating work - He washes us of the corruption of our sin and indwells us through Hs Spirit." God's Word is true so the obvious question concerning God's part in the salvation of men is this: "When and how does God indwell us 'through His Spirit'?" That He does is indisputable. In addition to Acts 2:38, this act is cited at least eighteen times in the New Testament.


There is no possible way we can answer this question without God revealing the answer to us. John, we both know people who believe with all their heart, mind, and soul that God's Spirit indwells them when we know that He does not. But, how do we know that He does not? For that matter, in the case of those who are "legitimate" Christians, how do they know that He does? It is only by appealing to God's revelation. So, let us appeal to the Scriptures once again. The first one is one to which we have referred repeatedly.


Acts 2:38 not only reveals to us how to be "born again" - to be saved from our sins; it also reveals to us how and when one receives the indwelling Spirit of God. It is when one "repent(s)" and is "baptized" "in the name of Jesus Christ." That is when and that is where one "receive(s) the gift of the Holy Spirit," i.e., when He indwells us. If the receiving of Him "happens" at any time or at any place other than that which is stated in Acts 2:38, for my personal edification, kindly cite the Biblical reference.


Furthermore, Acts 5:32 says that the Holy Spirit is given to "those who obey [God]." Surely, you do not believe that lost men first receive His Spirit and then are saved! Or, do you? What is it that one must "obey" to receive the Holy Spirit as a "gift?" Is it not that which is stated in Acts 2:38? But, we are going in circles. Unfortunately it is necessary that I continue to expose the errors of your printed work.


On page 15 you refer to Nicodemus' "human depravity," a subject that is, of course, a key component of Calvinism and a common theme of the "Grace To You" preaching ministry. Calvinism promotes "total depravity" (rather than "human depravity"); I believe that "total depravity" more accurately describes your theology about the "degree" of men's depravity. I too believe in the depravity of man, but not that all men are "totally depraved." Such depravity would make it impossible for any one to do anything right, not just religiously. All men are not rapists, murderers, sadists, thieves, etc. because not all men are so depraved. There are some among us who are very generous philanthropists; some among us have very little personal wealth but do wonderful, benevolent services for the benefit of those who are very unfortunate regarding their health and possessions. This is not to suggest that those who do these noteworthy deeds of benevolence are saved or that they are not depraved in the sense of Romans 3:10 - 18; but it is to state that these people are not totally depraved, having no ability whatsoever to do anything good for any one.


Again, referring to Nicodemus, you write that "He should have understood that salvation was not some external religious activity, but that it's an internal transformation wrought by God alone, in which He washes away our sin [my emphasis], gives you a new heart, and plants His Spirit within you." I have already addressed the matter of how God "plants His Spirit within you," and am pleased to note that you recognize that the implantation of His Spirit follows the washing away of sin, not before, which, by the way, is the "order" in which Acts 2:38 speaks, so I will focus upon the words "washes away your sin."


This is a strange choice of words of words for one to use who does not believe there is any salvation efficacy in immersion. I need not tell you that Saul of Tarsus was urged in Acts 22:16 to "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins . . . " Of course, Saul did not "wash away [his] sins" by, in, or under his own "power" or self-will but through the "power" of Christ's blood. When Saul responded in obedience to what he was told to do, his sins were "washed away." And, we know that it was also at that time that he received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. Hurriedly, we move on with our task of revealing the several errors made in You Must Be Born Again.


On page 17 you ask, "How did [the] believers [of the book of Hebrews] get rid of their depravity and wretchedness? How did they escape the slavery of sin? It was nothing we did for ourselves. God graciously called us out of death, out of darkness, out of ignorance and blindness, into life and the light of His truth." Yes, God did "graciously" call them. But, something else also happened. In obedience the Hebrews believers did something. They responded to that call. God could have "called" them for the remainder of their lives on this earth but without their responding to His call not one of them would ever have been saved. A person can call us by phone until the phone "rings off its hook," but unless and until we answer the call we will never know for what purpose we were called. God's calling was His act of grace; men's response to His call is the manifestation of their obedient faith to God's call.


John, you close your small booklet on page 19 saying, "Tradition tells us Nicodemus was baptized by Peter and John . . . " I am bewildered why you thought it was necessary to append this bit of traditional information to your booklet as part of your conclusion. If Nicodemus was in fact immersed, we must ask, "For what purpose?" Any purpose one might give for Nicodemus' hypothetical immersion that is not the purpose identified and articulated in Acts 2:38 carries no water (excuse the pun). It would have been not the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:4 and therefore it would have had no salvific efficacy. It could have been not as an "outward sign of an inward grace" for that doctrine was never preached or taught by any Apostle. Immersion "in the name of Jesus Christ" was never taught by any New Testament Apostle or New Testament teacher as being evidence of one's having been saved before it was "administered"; in every case it was always taught as being for the purpose of receiving salvation. Nor could it have been for the purpose of becoming a member of any local congregation. That doctrine too was never preached or taught by anyone in the New Testament.


"Somewhere," you write on page 19, "between chapter 7 and chapter 19 [of John - my addition], heaven came down on Nicodemus." I would like to suggest to you that just as one does not know when that supposed event happened to Nicodemus, one does not know for certain if "heaven" has "come down" on them in the manner that you persistently teach. Except we have the testimony and evidence of holy writ telling us when, where, how and if we have been "born again," we cannot ever be sure that we have been.


At the expense of redundancy I must make the following observation. Not only is it crucial that those who wish to be "born again" know how to be, it is also crucial for them to know whether or not they been. Your booklet offers no hope or assurance to anyone who reads it that they have, without question been "born again." How does one actually know beyond any shadow of a doubt that he or she has in fact been "born again" based upon the theology of You Must Be Born Again? The truth is, they don't.


I have listened to you preach that no one who is "elect" (and, thus, "born again") has the letter "E" imprinted anywhere on their body proving they are one of God's "elect." Therefore, you have preached, "we must preach the gospel to everyone, even to the non-elect." Supposing that is true, and it is, not because you have said it but because Christ commissioned the church to "preach the gospel to every creature," how do we preachers and how do those who hear our preaching know that one has truly been "born again?" May I be so bold as to ask, "How do you know that you have been?"


Feelings are not proof for they are subjective. We both know people who "feel" they are saved when they, in fact, are not. Having "fruit of the Spirit" is not proof. We both know people who show in their lives this "fruit" but who do not believe in Christ or His gospel. Knowledge of God's Word is not proof. Again, we both know people who know more of God's Word than those who profess to be Christians. "Faithfulness" to church assemblies and church activities is not proof for we both know people who do not profess any kind of relationship to Christ but who like church people and who enjoy attending church activities. Being charitable toward the poor or toward the church is not proof; people who have no affiliation with any "church" often give to the "church" when a need is made known. Living good, clean, moral lives is not proof. We know people who have no interest in Christ, His church or His Word who live better lives than some "church members." So what is it that proves one has been "born again?" Not even believing the theology that you and others teach is proof of anything other than they believe the theology that you and others teach. Again John, I respectfully ask, "How do you know that you have been 'born again' ?" You cannot point to any of the foregoing as proof. How do you know that you have not been deceived by thinking you have been "born again" when, in fact, you have not?


You are cautioned not to reply, "Because I do what the Bible says." This would be an admission that you believe that you have been "born again" based upon something that you do or have done. But, if the re-birth of man is solely a "work" that God has performed upon man without any "action" on man's part, how do you know without any equivocation, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God has in fact performed an invisible, spiritual operation on you and has chosen you as one of His elect?" The fact and the truth of the matter is, you don't and you can't. Nor can anyone else. This is why your booklet is so dangerous. It suggests that God re-births a person without that person having any proof that He has. How many people you have led to believe in a false hope only God knows. Prayerfully, you love God enough to repent of your message that is the subject of this letter.


I have faith but not a blind faith. My faith is built on evidence - the evidence and the testimony of God's Word. I have faith that I have been "born again" because I have obeyed what God's Word has told me to do to be "born again." It was on February 13, 1972 that, because of my belief of God's Word that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Who resurrected from the dead and because of my decision to obey God's command to repent of my sins, that I obeyed the Scripture to be immersed into His death for the purpose of receiving "the forgiveness of [my] sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." I know exactly when, where, how and that I was "born again."


It is no "accident" that God offered men an "obedient" act by which he can know the precise point in time he was "born again." This removes any doubt or question in one's mind whether or not God did indeed re-birth us. Your booklet offers no such assurance to anyone. Even the "elect," as you understand them, can only hope they are among the "elect."


I hope this "open letter" finds its way to your desk. Knowing the world-wide ministry that you have and all the demands and responsibilities that are placed upon you, I do not hold out much hope that you will read or even see this. But, should you, please know that although I disagree with much of what you preach and teach concerning being "born again," I do appreciate your untiring efforts to call men and women to repentance. I only wish that you would also call them to the waters of immersion where and when they will receive the salvation for which they yearn and become one of God's "elect."


Sincerely,


Rick Breidenbaugh





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