My first question is about John 3:1-8. I was sharing this scripture with a friend and he said the water here is the same living water referred to in Jeremiah 2:13. Therefore the water is not literal but being born again by God who is the living water. I believe the scripture in John 3 is referring to literal water. How acceptable, biblically, is his view? The second question is about predestination and salvation. My friend says that if God is completely sovereign over everything, then there is no free will and if there is free will then God cannot be completely sovereign over all things. With this logic God has to predetermine who is saved and who is not or else he is not completely sovereign. How can we both have freewill and have God be sovereign over all things?
About John 3:1-8, Jesus tells Nicodemus here that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless one is born of the water and the Spirit.” As far as I know, all take the “Spirit” here literally to be talking about the Holy Spirit. It is only reasonable, then, to take the water here to be literal as well. This is a somewhat veiled reverence to baptism in Jesus’ discourse. A parallel scripture which talks about how to be saved, which implies how to enter the kingdom of God is Acts 2:36-39. In this passage, people who have been convinced they were responsible for the death of Jesus and are lost ask what they should do about this. They are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and that at this time they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here, like in John 3:5, we see the connection between salvation, baptism/water and receiving the Holy Spirit. Surely this is the most obvious understanding of John 3:1-8.
Of course, there are those who teach that baptism has no connection with salvation. Well, naturally, they find a way to excuse away the rather obvious understanding of John 3:6, but I say the meaning is quite clear. I will admit that the allusion to baptism is a bit indirect in John 3:1-8, so this is perhaps not a really strong proof-text for the necessity of water baptism for entering the kingdom of God, but surely it is by far the most reasonable interpretation of Jesus’ statement.
How your friend could see a connection between John 3:1-8 and Jeremiah 2:13 is a mystery to me. That is a stretch, to say the least. Jeremiah 2:13 in the NIV says, “My people have committed two sins; They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” In this passage, God is telling his people–Judah–that they have broken faith with him. They have turned away from God, the source of true life (metaphorically expressed as the spring of living water). God is calling them to repent and to turn to him. What a passage involving God talking to the Jews about repentance and returning to him has to do with how a Christian comes into the Kingdom of God is not clear to me. It is true that Jesus does offer us the Holy Spirit, which is a spring that wells up for eternal life (John 4:14), but what God is talking about in Jeremiah 2:13 is something different. I have a feeling that your friend heard this from someone else, but I may be wrong about that.
About God’s sovereignty, if, in God’s sovereignty, he chooses to delegate to us the right to choose whether or not we will respond to Him, how does that reduce his sovereignty? It is God’s sovereign will that we have the free will to decide whether we will serve him or not. A sovereign king has the right to give certain freedoms to his people. As long as that freedom comes from the king, having that freedom does not reduce the sovereignty of the king one bit. Your friend is spouting Calvinistic logic, but such logic cannot undo what the Bible says, and, besides, as I said above, it is not very compelling logic. Joshua told God’s people to “choose today who you will serve.” Was he just faking them out? In Deuteronomy 30:19-20 God appeals to his people to choose life and blessings rather than death and destruction. This is God speaking here. God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), yet he does not force us to be saved. Jesus called the rich young ruler to make a decision. This was not pseudo-choice, pre-determined by God. God’s will is that we all know him, but God’s will is not always done (Matthew 6:10), otherwise Jesus would have asked us to pray that his will be done. Why is God’s will not always done? The answer is rather obvious. Because he, in his love and power, created creatures who have wills of their own. This is what love does. Love gives freedom. Love gives choice. God gives us free will. The not-so-logical “logical” argument of your friend does not change what the Bible says, which is that we have a choice to make whether to serve God or not. Calvinism/predestination is false doctrine, but apparently your friend was taught this doctrine.
How can we have free will and yet have a sovereign God? Simple. Because the sovereign God, in his sovereign position as God, made it so. It is God’s sovereign will that we have our own sovereign will over how we use the things he has given us. Love gives a choice.