John Chapter Three: Jesus Teaches Calvinism

By: Deji Yesufu

Let me state upfront that the title of this essay is actually meant to be a “click-bate”. A click-bate is a social media cliché that describes what content producers do when they provide a title to their content that compels people to click on their work and then read or watch what they put out there. But while the title is a click-bate, it also carries some element of truth in it: Jesus taught Calvinism during his ministry. This is why R. Bruce Steward wrote a booklet titled “The Doctrine of Grace in the Gospel of John”. In that booklet, Steward traced out TULIP from the whole gospel of John and he was clearly not reading into the text, but showing that the gospel Jesus and his Apostles taught was fundamentally Calvinist. At Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan, where we have been studying the book of John and have only just concluded John chapter 3, we were thoroughly blown away by Christ’s emphasis on the doctrines of grace in his response to Nicodemus’ enquiries. It is these doctrines of grace, or Calvinism, that I wish to bring to you my readers today.

As we studied chapters one and two, two lessons crystallized in the congregation: the first concerned the deity of Christ and the second one concerned how men perceived Christ. As John wrote his first chapter, I believe that the Apostle’s immediate audience, which was the Jews, was uppermost in his mind. John would have been thinking: how would the Jews receive the man Jesus Christ? So he laid out an argument at the beginning of his gospel: he made the point that Jesus Christ made the world and because only God could create, Jesus Christ is indisputably God (John 1:3,10). Obviously, this was a controversial statement in first-century Palestine, and could have cost the Apostle his head; but he wrote it anyway. 

If the Jews could comprehend and believe in the divinity of Christ, then the natural next step was to believe in him. In John chapter 2, we saw two incidents: first at the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine; and, at the temple, where our Lord whipped the money changers. The two incidents led his disciples to believe in Christ. If they had little faith in him before, their faith increased by observing our Lord in those circumstances. But John 2 ends on a very queer note: a number of people came to believe in Jesus, but Jesus would not entrust himself to them because their faith was superficial: their faith rested on the signs they saw – which reminds one of the futility of pursuing signs and wonders like modern Pentecostals do. In Chapter Two, we saw true faith and false faith.

Then chapter three opens with Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus. And the Pharisees’ opening statement was quite revealing for us at church. Nicodemus said: “…Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him…” The “we” in this statement would primarily have been the whole Pharisee and Sadducee community and generally would have included everyone who had ever observed Christ’s ministry. Nicodemus is saying that there is no way one was to look at Christ’s earthly ministry, and not conclude that he was divine. It is interesting to know from this verse alone, that these men knew that Christ was from God, yet they would not listen to him; they knew that he was from God, yet they would not believe in him; they knew that Christ was from God, and yet they crucified him. It is this fact that leads us to Christ’s enunciating the first principle in all of Calvinism: “You Must Be Born Again!

Jesus Christ replies to Nicodemus and helps him to realize that mental acceptance of a fact is not sufficient to save the soul. Even if God were to rend the heaven and declare from there (which he did in a sense in Matthew 3:17), many would still not believe. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…” And then Nicodemus asks the first of his two questions: How can a man go back into his mother’s womb when he is old and be born? It is also important we state his second question: how can these things be? These two questions lead Jesus to state some fundamental principles with regard to how salvation comes to men and what we should do when we enter into the field of evangelism.

How a Man is Saved

The first principle of Calvinism is “total depravity”. It is a concept that teaches that the sinner is dead in his sin and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-2) and he is unable to make a decision for God. Sinners are like Ezekiel’s dry bones: they are dead and beyond hope, except life comes from God and brings them alive. Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus, shows him that salvation is initiated by God alone: you must be born of the Spirit – salvation is monogerstic; you do not cooperate with God in salvation. The analogy with being born of the flesh is given so that we may realize that just as a child is born after a man and a woman come together, and without recourse to the opinion of that child, so is spiritual birth a work of God alone without reliance on our opinion. If anyone could have been born again in first-century Palestine, it had to be those who knew their scriptures (the Pharisees) and who could tell that Jesus was from God (John 3:2). But in spite of all that these people knew, God chose not to open their eyes to the divine realities in Christ.

Those who get born again, are saved by the will of God – salvation is premised on God’s initiative and never on the will or initiative of a man. John touched on this fact in John 1:12-13 – “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The man who will be born again, must be born of God – not of the will of man or the will of the flesh. This fact will put to sleep the often-made remark that somebody “can give his life to Christ”. No one can give their life to Christ until Christ first gives his life to us. The initiative starts always with God because the sinner is dead in his sins and trespasses and is unable to choose God. Jesus taught Calvinism long before Calvin was; indeed, I dare to say that Jesus Christ is a Calvinist! Or, perhaps we should say that Calvinism is biblical theology.

How Evangelism Must Be Carried Out

Now the end of every true biblical theology is not for people to sit on their high horses, sharing their newly acquired insights in social media debates; the end of any genuine biblical comprehension must be evangelism. If it has pleased God to save us from our sins; if God would bypass the high and mighty, the learned, and bring salvation to none-entities like us, what should we do henceforth? Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus, particularly as he replied to his second question, showed us the implication of genuine biblical Calvinism: evangelism. Christ leads Nicodemus back to the Old Testament and reminds him of Moses and the bronze snake. In this passage, the children of Israel had sinned and God had sent snakes to bite them. The same God provided a remedy in the bronze snake and instructed Moses that all the people needed to do was to look at the snake and they would be saved. In the same guise: all men in our world today have sinned and are bitten by the snake of eternal hopelessness – they are heading to a grave without God and without his Christ. They spend all of their lives providing solutions to a problem only God has answers to.

The job of the minister, who himself has been saved from God’s wrath, is to help people look at the bronze snake. Jesus tells us that that snake is a picture of the crucified Christ. C. H. Spurgeon, while reflecting on this passage, used to say “There is salvation in a look!” The duty of the evangelist is simply to get people to understand their state: people need to know that they have been bitten by sin and are heading to a Christ-less grave, and then the evangelist is to point people to the crucified Saviour. “Repent and believe the gospel…” is the Christian message. It is in John chapter 3, that we encounter the powerful biblical summary expressed by Christ himself: “…for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…” God’s association with men on earth is one of divine love. It is why he gives sinners rain and provides them food in their season. God continues to give men life so that one day they may realize their state and turn to the Savior. Christ reminds us in this same passage that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it but to save it. Evangelism and salvation are the end of any genuine Calvinistic preaching.


I became a Calvinist after God, through scriptures, helped me to understand the security of my salvation in Christ Jesus –  I can not lose my salvation. The mistake that I made was to spend all the time rejoicing in that security and not venturing out to present this salvation to others. The reality of our day is that unsaved men are all around us. Probably the biggest challenge with Christianity today is that we have just as many unsaved people in the world as we have them in churches – including Calvinist churches. Genuine Calvinism is one that encapsulates the heart of Christ’s teaching in John chapter three. Calvinism does two things: it helps the professor of religion to re-examine his faith. Despite Nicodemus’ position in the religious order of his day, Christ still brought him back to the first principle: “…are you born again?” Genuine biblical preaching and discipleship leads Christian professors to examine over and over again whether what they profess as faith in Christ is the real thing.

Second. Genuine Calvinism would lead us to find God’s elect and to bring the gospel to them. It took believing Moses’ words for those bitten by the snake to look at the bronze snake.  While salvation is all of God, some of the fruit of the work of the Spirit is seen in what the professor of religion does. Anywhere there is true conversion, there will be repentance. There would also be faith. The looking at the bronze snake could also be likened to repentance and faith. So, Calvinism does not nullify evangelism; rather, it intensifies it. As evangelists, our duty is to raise up the crucified Saviour and call all men to believe in him. Amen.

Deji Yesufu Pastor Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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