Posted in John 12.32, John 17.1-5

The Meaning Christ gives in John 12:32-33 and 17:1-5: Counterargument to Haden Clark, Part II

The Meaning of “Draw” in John 12:32-33

Today, we return to Haden Clark’s article entitled, “Everyone whom the Father gives” John 6:37 (Read Here). We are going to briefly look at John 12:32-33 and John 17:1-5. In my previous post (Read Here)we saw how the verb helkuo (draw) is used in the Bible in the sense of being “pulled,” “dragged,” or “hauled.” It is an act of force placed upon an object or a person.

In John’s gospel he used it to describe the action of Peter drawing a sword (John 18.10), or the disciples hauling a net teaming with fish into the boat, or onto the shore (John 20.6; 20.11). Outside of the gospel narrative we see it used in the book of Acts to describe the treatment Paul and Silas received as they were being dragged before the governing authorities in Philippi (Acts 16.19). This sense of being dragged occurred again to Paul when the Jews wanted to kill him (Acts 21.30). And we find James using the term to denote what the rich were doing to the poor, dragging them into court (James 2.6).

Each time the word is used it does not denote being “granted permission” as Clark has claimed (line 34), but as a force applied to an object or person. “Yes,” you say, “but what of John 12:32?”

  • “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12.32; NET).

Clark states the following:

“There is no indication from the text that Jesus is teaching unconditional election, or effectual calling.

To further bolster this point, it should be pointed out that the word “draw” in John 6:44 is also used in John 12:32…So, if you think John 6.44 teaches that you must be “drawn” by God in order to believe in Jesus, and that this ‘drawing’ is infallible, then in order to be consistent you must affirm that all people (John 12.32) have been drawn by God and since this drawing is infallible, everyone is saved (universalism)” (lines 31, 32-33).

My Response:

First, I would like to point out that Clark denies that this “drawing” of the Father to the Son could possibly be effectual at the outset. That is to say his conclusion is assumed from the beginning. Witnessed by his accusation of Reformed Christians having “ripped [Jesus’ words] out of context…[giving] a Calvinistic interpretation” (line 3), placing undue emphasis on the word “draw” in John 6:44 because he wants to “ignore the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology” (line 7).

Second, he too believes that you must be drawn by the Father in order to believe in Jesus or why else would he make the following statement: “God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world…” (line 35). The distinction is found in how he believes the Father’s “drawing” is accomplished. He believes it is universally going out to everyone.

Third, he is reading into the statement recorded in John 12:32, his theological understanding of the matter. By making “draw” in this text mean what he thinks it ought to mean, and this in turn a struggle with the word “all.” That is to say, believing in an atonement that is “unlimited,” along with the freewill ability of fallen mankind, Clark assumes that John 12:32 means God intends to save all people and so “draws” (i.e., grants permission) to all people to come to Him, placing their faith in Him.[i]

Fourth, this is an example of the “either/or” fallacy. Clark claims that either you take ‘draw’ in the sense of effectual calling to Christ—i.e., universalism. Or, you understand it to mean that God draws “all,” but “all” have the first right of refusal (stemming from #3 above). However, there is a third option: “Draw” does mean effectual calling in John 6:44, but “all people” is not speaking about every person on the planet—i.e., universalism—in John 12:32, but “draw[ing]…all people” from every tribe, tongue and nation.

John 12 in Context

In order to understand Jesus’ statement here you are required to follow the flow of the text, just like we had to with John 6. When did this event occur? Why is Jesus saying what He is? What sparked it? What type of people were there?

John in his gospel does a wonderful job of presenting two types of people. There are those who worship God, and this is evidenced by belief in the Son whom He sent. And there are those who are antagonist to God, and this evidenced by disbelief in the Son; displayed in their inability to see, hear or comprehend the truth presented to them. John first presents this reality to his readers in the opening chapter of the book:

  • “The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but this own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire [i.e., will] or a husband’s decision, but by God”” (John 1.9-13)

In John 12 we see the same two categories put on display. In the previous chapter Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but seeing the evidence did not sway hardened hearts. Keep that in mind.

In Bethany…

John 12 opens up with an announcement of the Passover in six days (v. 1). Jesus is dining with those close to Him in Bethany (v. 2). The focus of the whole chapter is on Jesus, this is the passion week where He is about to lay His life down for the sheep (John 10.11; cf. 1.29, 36). During the dinner “expensive aromatic oil from pure nard” is used by Mary to anoint Jesus’ feet (John 12.3). Judas Iscariot complains about such an extravagant and wasteful display (vv. 4-6). Jesus rebukes him (vv. 7-8).

At this point the author tells the reader about “a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12.9). Which made the religious leaders all the more eager to not only kill Jesus, but Lazarus to (vv.10-11).

 In Jerusalem…

A large crowd, who in attendance for the week’s festivities, greets Jesus as he enters the city of Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey by laying down palm branches (vv. 12-13a, 14-15), accompanied with shouts of: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12.13b)

As the crowd continued to testify, including those who were “with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb” (John 12.17), more and more people came to see Him (v. 18). In frustration “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!” (John 12.19).

The Greeks…

In all of this commotion. With people pressing in to see Jesus, and to hear Him speak. We are told about something else of particular importance: “Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’ Philp went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus” (John 12.20-22).

This is a key section in John 12, because it identifies a shift from the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10.6; 15.24) to those that Jesus promised He would gather from another fold, and join them into one (John 10.14-16). Bear in mind that this passage parallels the Synoptic Gospel’s Olivet Discourse where Jesus promises judgment on unrepentant Israel, but promised redemption for those who believe His witnesses.

The desire of the Greeks (Hellenists), which represented the nations outside of Israel, to come to Jesus points to the promised blessing of Christ as the “seed of Abraham” (cf. Rom 4.7-18; Gen 15.4-6; 22.14-18).

The Life Promised, Offered Up…

Here lies the discussion of Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice. Here Jesus declares “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12.23). And so, the Lord enters into a brief discussion of why He must lay down His life. Comparing His life to “a kernel of wheat” that must die and be buried in order to “[produce] much grain” (John 12.24), he instructs what is necessary in order to produce (receive) “eternal life” (John 12.25). In other words, Jesus came to give life, to offer atonement for sin, and this was accomplished by being obedient to the Father’s will unto death. He had to die, in order to deliver and protect those that were His given from the Father.

Therefore, he explains to the crowd before Him: “The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life” (John 12.25). Jesus is the chief example of one who hates his life in this world—meaning He loves His Father in Heaven more than the cares of this world. The Holiness and righteousness of God is what our Lord sought more than anything else. Love for God drove Him to the cross.

What is true of the Christ, is likewise true of those who would have eternal life: “If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too” (John 12.26a). Which means what exactly? Christ laid down His life in obedience to honor the Father, and this is also required of His servants: “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12.26b). Why? Because they have demonstrated loyalty to the Son through obedience. The first step being belief (John 6.29).

Then Jesus confesses, “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12.27-28a). This prayerful testimony was then immediately answered by the One whom Jesus repeatedly told the people had sent Him. The very one who He said He reflected in this life (ff. John 12.49-50; see also: 5.19, 30; 8.28, 42). “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’” (John 12.28b).

Two different Responses and the Pivot…

What you will see, if you haven’t noticed it already, is that there are ultimately two responses given in regards to Jesus’ testimony and works. Belief or unbelief. And the key to remember at this point is that Jesus has already taught the difference between the two—only those whom the Father draws, believes (John 6.44). This is evidenced through those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

When the gathered crowd heard the voice of the Father some thought they heard “thunder” and “others…that an angel had spoken to him” (John 12.29). Jesus told them it was for their benefit (John 12.30), because the “judgment of this world” has come, and the “ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12.31). When? When will this be? Who will be cast out?

The answer is given in verse 32-33: “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)”

Notice that the reason Jesus said what He did in verse 32 is given in verse 33. He was telling the people in the clearest way possible that He was about to be crucified. This was nothing new, He’d said similar statements about His sacrificial death to His disciples and the crowds gathered about Him (e.g. John 3.14; 10.11-18; Luke 18.31-34). But the people failed to understand it.

Not unusual since, one cannot receive anything unless it is granted from above (John 3.27). Earlier in John’s gospel we see, though, that failing to understand is not necessarily God’s judgment against a person, but a temporary withholding of divine truth (comp. John 3.4, 9 with 19.39; also see: 11.21-27; 16.18-31). Therefore, Jesus gives them an answer.

He says,

  • “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light” (John 12.35-36a).

After this Jesus left them. And then John (the Beloved) makes the following observation:

  • “Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, so that the word of the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled. [Isaiah] said, ‘Lord who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him” (John 12.37-41; italics mine; cf. Isa 6).

The Holy Spirit’s indictment via John is pretty clear. Despite what people saw and heard from Jesus, many did not believe. He ties their unbelief to the testimony of Isaiah 6. God sent Isaiah to stiff-necked, hard-hearted sinners as well. And the point was not salvation, but judgment. God judicially blinded the eyes and stuffed up the ears of those who He deemed worthy of punishment. It should be noted that John does point out there were some amongst the crowd, even among the leadership that believed (John 6.42), but whether or not this was genuine faith or a temporary faith only God can say.

Why this is Important…

John 12:32 is often “ripped out of its context,” to use the words of Clark, but in a manner opposite than he intended. The text says,

  • “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We know from John 12 that being “lifted up from the earth” is Jesus identifying with His soon to be had crucifixion (cf. John 12.33). And we know from John 6 that Jesus says the Father will give to the Son a people as a gift by drawing them to our Lord. We also know that Jesus has said it is impossible for anyone to come to Him apart from this drawing of the Father (John 6.44). In other words, the divine act is necessary to come to Christ in belief.

We also know from other contexts that the word “draw” (helkuo) means to drag, pull, or haul. Like it or not that is how the verb is used in Scripture, but Clark denies its application for John 12:32 and then reads his own presuppositions into John 6.44.  This is because Clark assumes that God offered the Son for all people without distinction (i.e., atonement). And so, from his vantage point this is a natural (and necessary) way to read John 12:32.

The text of John 12, as with other portions of the Bible, indicates that the Father was not drawing all people to the Son. In fact, John 12 is an instance of God refusing to allow certain people to know the truth, and turn (i.e., come) Christ. Clark has written that this is because of a “temporary” condition that God eliminated once Jesus was crucified. Now God is “drawing all people to [Jesus]” just as John 12:32 says.

Question: Does “all” in this context mean “everyone, or every single person” on the planet in John 12?

Answer: It does not appear to be so. For the “all” could just as well mean those outside of Israel, which means salvation is not just for the Jew, but the whole world. Of which these “Greeks” (John 12.20), or Hellenists seemingly represent. As well as some of the common people (vv. 1-3, 11) and the religious leaders (v. 42), in comparison with those who do not.

Question: When Christ Jesus was crucified, did He at that moment “draw all people to [Himself]?”

Answer:

Nope. “But that’s what the text says He’ll do ?!?” To say that was Christ’s intention shows that you truly misunderstood Him. For it is to rip His words out of context, and to make Him a liar. The truth is that there have been many, many people who have not known the gospel of Christ throughout the centuries after His crucifixion and ascension. (Not to mention that His manner of death is called a stumbling block and foolishness to the world; Cf. 1Cor 1.23).

What of the natives of what we call the United States? Unless you are Mormon, the gospel did not reach these shores until pilgrims brought it from European continent. What of the deep parts of Africa, or Asia? We have instances where God prohibited for a time at least the spreading of the gospel during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16.6-7). Even if you argue that this was just a temporary withholding of the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it still proves the point that “all” does not mean every single person.

No doubt there were those who died before they ever “had a chance” to hear the gospel. Not to mention that we have historical record that proves God chooses some and passes over others (e.g. Israel vs. the nations). The fact is God has not drawn “all” people to the Son, unless of course you mean all kinds of people: rich and poor, wise and dumb, strong and weak, Jew and Gentile, master and slaves, Kings and peasants, male and female, old and young.

If you struggle with that, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But we are called to derive our knowledge and wisdom from God’s Word not our personal desires. I don’t know why God calls some, and doesn’t call others? But neither does anyone else. I realize that “mystery” is seen as a negative solution, but tell me:

“Are you in a position to demand proofs from God, why He does what He does, similar to an atheist?”

What about John 17:1-5[ii]

I’ve saved this for last, as it will not require much background information. Here is the text in question:

Clark writes,

“I included…John 17 because I find it especially helpful for interpreting John 6. John 17 brings together the theme of “Jesus’ hour” and “God’s giving of people to Jesus” (line 17).

My Response:

I can understand the appeal of using John 17 to offer some interpretative aid to John 6. However, you need to understand John 6 before you appeal to texts outside of it. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture is a wonderful tool, but one that should be utilized after careful exegesis of the text in question has been completed.

Clark quotes the first five verses, but then focuses on v. 2. So, I’m not going to quote the entire section. I would recommend you read the entire chapter to get the whole of it though.

John 17:1-2 reads,

  • “Jesus said these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven he said, ‘Father, the hour has come! Glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them—everyone whom you have given him.’”

Clark writes,

“…let the text interpret the text” (line 19)

My Response:

I agree with the sentiment to interpret the text accurately, which I am assuming what Clark means with the phrase “let the text interpret the text.” Again, this is something the reader must do, not the text itself.

Clark asks,

“Who has God given to Jesus? The text literally says, ‘just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them.’ (emphasis [his])” (line 20).

My Response:

I agree also that John 17:2 is a claim by Jesus that the Father has “given him authority over all flesh.” But that does not necessitate a giving in terms of salvation to all flesh. Jesus is not speaking about the atonement being applied or even offered to all people, but the authority He has from the Father, which He mentions in other places (e.g. John 5:21-29; Matt 28.18-20). The authority over “all flesh” here is in terms of judgment (cf. John 5.27). Either leading to life or death.

“How is that?” you might ask. The Greek conjunctive “hina” (in order that) demonstrates purpose, between the two clauses in v. 2. But to state that the purpose is to save all flesh is not consistent with the rest of what Jesus says in His prayer in John 17.

Notice that Jesus identifies those he will give “eternal life to” (John 17.2). In other words, He tells us who the “them” are. They are “everyone whom you have given him” (John 17.3), which is denoting a special relationship. This is clearly seen if you follow the Lord’s own words.

Clark claims that

“Jesus has given eternal life to ‘all flesh.’ Whether they accept it in faith, or not, is a different story, but it has been given” (line 21; italics mine).

My response:

But that smacks in the face of what Jesus actually says in John 17. For, the Lord identifies (or defines) what eternal life is— “that they know, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17.3). Eternal life is the gift one receives having been given to the Son, and this is evidenced by belief (faith); which “all flesh” has not been given (cf. John 3.3-8).

Clark says,

“God has given everyone, all flesh, to Jesus…He is eternal life, the bread of life, and he has given himself to the world, all flesh” (line 21).

My Response:

Well, who are “they?” that Jesus refers to? Does He speak of them in a universal sense in John 17? Or is that merely being presupposed? Jesus says, “they” are the ones “I have revealed your name to…;” which hints at the possibility of others that He has not “revealed the Father’s name to.” Though they are two different authors writing two different gospels, Luke quotes Jesus saying something nearly identical with what is recorded here in John 17:

  • “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him” (Luke 10.22).

Again, Jesus tell us they are “…the men[iii] whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17.6; italics added). This is not a reference to “all flesh” in the sense of every person, but “them” that the Father has given to the Son (cf. John 6.37-38). That they are the ones that are “drawn by the Father” (John 6.44) is evidenced by their belief (i.e., faith) in “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Furthermore, Jesus provides further proof of their distinction from the rest of mankind in that they are those who “hear and are taught by the Father” (John 6.45; paraphrased for clarity) in John 17:7-8. Then he specifically identifies them as objects of his love and concern by saying the following:

  • I am asking on behalf of them. I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you have given me, because they are yours, and all my things are yours, and your things are mine, and I have been glorified in them” (John 17.9-10; emphasis added).

And if this were not enough proof that Jesus has specific people in mind, He then seeks the Father’s preserving, protective sanctifying power on them:

  • “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given to me, so that they may be one, just as we are. When I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given to me, and guarded them, and none of them has perished except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture would be fulfilled…I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one…And I do not ask on behalf of these only, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word…Father, those whom you have given to me—I want that those also may be with me where I am, in order that they may see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world ” (John 17.11b-15; emphasis added)

Closing Remarks…

Though Clark’s desire to teach a truth from Scripture was probably well motivated. His antagonism to Reformed theology has caused him to blindly stumble over important parts of the biblical narrative. Being an expositor of God’s Word is not an easy task. Lord knows I need all the help I can get. And I thank Him for putting such people in my path.

The fact of the matter is that John 17 is speaking about a specific people given to the Son by the Father. They are identified as being separated from the world, in unity with Christ and the Father who sent Him. This is who the Lord is praying for “…not the world, but those whom the Father has given Him” (John 17.9; paraphrased).

This teaching falls in line with what came before in John 6. It is true that Jesus is the bread of life, but only those who are drawn by the Father will partake of His life-giving sustenance. This makes sense if the nature of man is truly as corrupted as Scripture claims.

The drawing of all people in John 12 is not limited by factors pertaining to mankind, but the elective love of God put on display by calling sinners from the pit of hell—“vessels of mercy…[made] for honorable use” (Rom 9.23, 21 respectively). In contrast with “vessels… [made] for dishonorable use…vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9.21-22). God’s reasons for saving those whom He saves are His alone. As He has declared,

  • “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9.15-16; ESV).

I am left in a position (as are you the reader) of deciding whether or not to submit myself to the mercies of God in repentance; beating on our chests like the publican (Luke 18.13).


ENDNOTES:

[i] As evidenced by his comments in a prior post: “While Jesus died for the whole world’s sins, individuals still have to place their faith in Him for salvation.” Haden Clark, If Jesus died for the world’s sins, why do people still go to hell?” Help Me Believe, accessed 10/21/19, https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/94395349/posts/2454365020.

[ii] All Scripture in this section shall be of the Lexham English Bible (LEB) unless otherwise noted in order to keep in line with Haden Clark’s usage.

[iii] The dative plural is used of the Greek word Anthropos here; anthropois. The translation committee (LEB) has decided on the term “men” since that is the plural of man (Anthropos), and they are no doubt assuming that Jesus is speaking primarily about the eleven disciples (not including Judas Iscariot). However, the translation “people” (ESV) would appear to be just as likely since grammatical gender is not a determining factor of whether the referent is male or female (men or women), and so translating it “people” or “persons” is I think a possibility. Since there were disciples of Jesus that the Father gave who were not men, but women.

Image by <a href=”http://Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay“>Holger Schue

Posted in John 6

The Meaning Christ gives John 6:37: Counterargument to Haden Clark, Part I

The most important part of biblical study is “observing the text.” Once that has been done you are able (capable) of rightly “interpreting the text.” Fail at the beginning and you will misstep throughout.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a public setting where an individual asked me the following question, “Isn’t reading the Bible just a matter of interpretation? Some people just interpret things, differently right?” In my response I explained to the individual and his wife who was sitting with him that you may draw several “applications from the text,” but there is really only one correct interpretation. I said,

“Suppose you wrote your wife a letter. When you wrote the letter, you had a specific point in mind (maybe several), but the point is that you are expecting your wife to understand your intent. She may take what you have written and be able to apply it to a variety of circumstances, but a correct interpretation is found in discerning what you had written to her. It wouldn’t be possible for others to read it and say “this is what it means to me” when you meant what you said to her.”

I’m sure that my response was not as polished as I just gave it to you now, but the intent was the same. Both husband and wife said that the explanation given made a lot of sense.

One of the amazing things about Scripture is that there is only one interpretation that can be correctly drawn from it. Sometimes the reasons we have varying interpretations is because people don’t do the necessary labor to draw from the text what is written. Our ignorance of language and events in time can also hinder us. However, there are other times when the correct interpretation will be rejected. The person’s biases prevent them from adopting the viewpoint that God is giving in His Word.

INTRODUCING THE SUBJECT MATTER

In what follows I shall provide a counterargument to an article written by Haden Clark at Help Me Believe, and his understanding of John 6:37. Clark believes that the ability to come to Christ is afforded to all people. Therefore, he sees the “drawing” of God discussed in John 6 as something God is already doing for the entire human race. What he tacitly denies is the concept in Reformed Theology (ironically drawn from passages like John 6) defined as Unconditional Election. Clark rejects the idea that the “drawing” of the Father to the Son is an act of divine election where the Father gives to the Son a particular people that He has chosen to put His love on (into) throughout human history; for all eternity.

In this post I will provide a point-by-point statement and response format for the reader.[i] It is recommended that you read Clark’s post (Read here) before you read my own in order to properly weigh between the two conclusions drawn. I would also recommend (obviously it is not mandatory) that you read through John 6 on your own. At the end of the main section, I will provide the reader with a quick review of the context of John 6 in order to see the flow-of-thought of the gospel writer, and to provide a basis for the conclusions I draw from the text.

“Everyone whom the Father gives” John 6:37

Clark writes,

“I love passages of Scriptures that interpret themselves. Sometimes we will read something ‘difficult,’ or hard to understand, but the Bible itself will provide us with the correct interpretation.” (line 1).

My Response:

It is true that there are some difficult passages in Scripture. They boggle the mind, so to speak, at first glance. But it is also true that if we do a little “leg work” the Bible itself helps us come to the correct interpretation. Often times this is accomplished by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Taking the clearer statements of God to give understanding to the more difficult ones.

However, it is erroneous to assume that the “Bible interprets itself.” The Scriptures are written revelation. They don’t do anything. They are words on a page. The interpretative process is done by people. We interpret. We draw conclusions. And so, while I appreciate the sentiment “Let the Bible speak,” it doesn’t actually speak. God expects His people to draw from the text His intended meaning as we move to correctly interpret it.

Clark writes,

“I cannot tell you how many times I have heard John 6:37 ripped out of context and given a Calvinistic interpretation, while completely ignoring the fact that Jesus himself interprets this verse just a few verses later” (line 3). He then quips, “I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus’ word for it” (line 4).

My Response:

I agree that we should not read our biases into the biblical text. Regardless how strongly one holds to Calvinism (i.e., Reformed Theology), Arminianism (i.e, Remonstrant Theology), or even the strains that bleed off from these two major theological branches. (Just as a side note, Evangelical Christians are either monergistic or synergistic in their theology. Either they believe that Salvation is a sole work of God, or a corporative effort by God and man). Based off of my observations I would say that Clark is a synergist, and in fact leans strongly beyond a semi-pelagian understanding.  That being said on his initial point, we agree, making the text say what your theology does is wrongheaded in the worst possible way. Why? Because it misrepresents God’s intention and maligns His Word.

There is also agreement with his seemingly sarcastic quip, we should take Jesus at His Word. He is God, the Living Word made flesh (John 1.1-3, 14). Jesus is the correct interpreter of Scripture; we should listen to Him. Not just on those “red letter” portions of our Bible’s (if you have that sort of edition lying around), but all of it. This also means that if we are correctly understanding Jesus, we should never see Him teaching something that is contrary with the rest of Scripture. Any apparent contradictions are a product of our misunderstanding, not His.

Ironically, though Clark does not spend much time “drawing out” what John 6 actually says. He, like Leighton Flowers, leaps around from this passage to that. He points to John 12; 13; 17 before he returns to John 6. That is to say, he seeks to build his case outside of John 6 in order to tell us what John 6 says. Now, I don’t want to appear snarky but if you are going to claim that it is wrong to ignore the context, “to rip” a teaching from where it is given to mean something that aligns with your theology, then you might want to sit in the passage, work through the passage, before jumping to other passages in order to form John 6 after your own thinking.

Clark cites John 6:37-38, 44:

  • “Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me…No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (LEB).

Clark then writes,

“These verses are often interpreted to mean that God infallibly calls some people, as opposed to others, to come to Jesus, and they will be saved. In other words, it is impossible to come to Jesus, that is believe in Jesus (John 6:35), unless you are first infallibly called by God” (line 5).

My response:

I would think, using some basic grammar rules we should be able to see—even in English—the sense of Jesus’ statement here in vv. 37-38, 44? Let’s try it.

In verse 37 we find that Jesus puts emphasis on the Father’s action in history: “Everyone…the Father gives,” Jesus says, “…will come to me.” He does not say “everyone…will come to me;” rather, “everyone whom the Father gives will come to me….” The Father is the subject that is committing an action of giving to the Son. The Son is the direct object, for He receives the action of the Father. The stress of verse 37 is on the Father who gives and the Son who receives.

Then in the second half of verse 37 (i.e., 37b), we see the emphasis being placed on the person who is being given. Jesus says of those the Father gives, “…whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Obviously, if we are sticking with the context of v. 37, we see that only those that the Father gives come to Jesus, and when they come (whoever they might be) Jesus promises to never cast them out (i.e., to do away with them). Why? Because they have become the property of the Son.

“According to whose will?” you ask. Jesus answers that in verse 38. Let’s have a quick look.

Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” This is a purpose statement or a mission statement, if you will. What is it? To do the “will of him who sent me.” Well, what is the will of Him who sent the Son from heaven? The answer is actually in verses 39-40, but Clark leaves them out. (We will discuss them later).

Perhaps, he didn’t feel it was necessary? Or maybe he thought it would take too much time. I’m not sure what Clark’s reasoning is, but let’s move on to verse 44.

Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

First notice that this is a universal/categorical statement (meaning without exception): “No one…” speaks of all people. Second notice that this is telling you what they CANNOT do. “No one can come to me…”  it is impossible for a person (past, present or future) to come to Christ. Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it. Third notice that Jesus adds a condition, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….” The only way a person can come to Jesus is if the person in question is “drawn” by the Father. This is a necessary condition that has to be met prior to the person coming to Christ Jesus.

What is interesting is that Jesus ties this to the manner in which He came into the world. How did he get here? The Father sent Him; it was an act of God, a movement of His will (a phrase used about 15 times in John’s gospel).[ii]

Clark writes:

“Usually, there is a strong emphasis on the word “draws” which can be interpreted as ‘drags’. Nobody comes willingly, they must be dragged, effectually called; in other words, caused” (line 6).

My Response:

Why do we nasty Calvinists put emphasis on the word “draw?” Hmmm…probably because that is what is being emphasized in the text. This is an example of grammatical stress since the term helkuo (draw) is the action of the subject.

Clark argues against defining “draw” as “drag,” because of “the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology” (line 7a). Okay, but is it a theological construct to define a word according to its usage? He also says,

“The text is king. Whatever God’s word says, we shall stick with it, even if we don’t like it” (line 7b).

My Response:

I wonder if Clark feels that way about six-day creation, the Flood of Noah’s day, or any other “difficult” passage that we might entertain? I suppose that would have to be a subject for another day.

Brief Word Study…

How do we know what “draw” (helkuo) means? The way we define a word is based upon the words usage contextually speaking, and word studies are performed by looking at how the same word is used throughout the Bible. Any given word can have varying senses in which it might be used. Context helps in knowing the sense of the term. And the more a word is used in Scripture the better understanding lexicographers (those who write/compile Hebrew/Greek dictionaries) have defining it.

The reason “drag” is seen as the meaning of draw (helkuo) is because that is how the biblical writers (in particular John) use the term (cf. John 18.10; 21.6, 11; Acts 16.19; 21.30; Jam 2.6). Since we are in John’s gospel let’s look at how he uses this action verb, I will leave it to you to read the other ones mentioned above.

Here are the ways that the gospel of John uses the action verb:

  • “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew [helkuo] it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (John 18.10; ESV).
  • “He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul [helkuo] it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 20.6; ESV).
  • “So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled [helkuo] the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21.11; ESV).

By looking at these three instances of “draw” used in John’s gospel we find that the meaning is to “drag” or to “pull” or to “haul,” and so depending upon your English translation you will find various synonyms used to describe this act of force being put on an object whether it be a sword or a net or yes, even a person. Outside of John’s gospel the verb is used in a similar manner.

Two other occurrences occur in John’s gospel (6:44 and 12:32). Clark refers to the latter one a little later in his post. I will work through John 12:32 in a future post, but for now a few preliminary things need to be addressed. For Clark denies that the normative use of draw (helkuo) in Scripture is the meaning here in John 6.

Clark writes,

“There is one major problem with this interpretation: it completely ignores Jesus’ interpretation…Jesus himself explains what he meant by these words. We don’t need anyone to tell us, we can just read Jesus’ words” (line 8, 9).

My Response:

Two disagreements emerge here. First, the claim (implied) that Calvinists ignore Jesus interpretation is false. Reformed Christians are trying to understand Jesus’ point as much as the non-Reformed. Second, Clark obviously believes that someone needs to tell others what Jesus meant or why write the post? Singing to the choir? If we didn’t need teachers, then why does Christ appoint them? While I think I get the gist of Clark’s point (i.e., its obvious what Jesus is saying, “just look at his words”), the notion is misguided.

Studying Scripture is work, and as much as people might like the phrase “let the Bible speak,” part of the necessary labor in biblical study is finding out just what in the world Holy Writ is actually saying. Granted there are some things stated very clearly, but I’ve seen people screw them up as well.

Momentary Pause for Explanation

At this point Clark moves to John 6:64-65. He has already shown distaste for the idea (even the possibility) that God would draw some, but not others. In order to eliminate this conclusion, he attempts to argue that Jesus’ words were really just about his disciples, not the crowd that day.

  • “But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘Because of this I said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by the Father’” (John 6.64-65; LEB).

Clark writes,

“The important thing to notice here is that when Jesus says he knows that some of ‘you’ do not believe, he is referring to his disciples. Jesus made the original statement in verse 37 in front of a larger crowd, however, he only gave the explanation to his disciples. This is something Jesus commonly does in John’s Gospel” (line 12).

My Response:

I agree that two different audiences are in mind in v.37-38, 44 and that of vv.64-65. How do we know this? By paying attention to the flow-of-thought in the narrative. The transition occurs in John 6:59-60, where it is written: “Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, ‘This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it? (LEB).

Notice that the crowds are not eliminated from the discussion in the sense that they have disappeared. Rather, the focus has now shifted on those who ought to know (and believe in) Jesus; his disciples. The point of John 6:64-65 is that they don’t, and the reason they don’t is because of what Jesus said earlier in his message in Capernaum, and then repeats to them: “No one can unless it has been granted to him by the Father” (emphasis added). To turn around and say that Jesus’ words in John 6:44 don’t really apply to the crowds in general, but the disciples in particular (i.e. “Judas is specifically in mind” line 29) is a peculiar leap in logic. How Clark seeks to justify it is even more bizarre.

Momentary Pause for Explanation

We are now about to leave John 6 in order to explain the meaning of John 6? If it sounds a bit confusing, I will admit that I was confused at first as well. Clark is trying to decipher why Jesus would tell the crowds what he did in John 6:44, and why he said what he did to his disciples in John 6:65. He thinks he has found his answer in the repeated statement “…[his] hour had not yet come” (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20)”  (line 15). Clark cites John 12:23, 13:31, and 17:1-5 as his grounds of justification.

Let it be sufficed to say that Jesus did come for a specific purpose into this world to tabernacle amongst us (John 1.14). He came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21), by laying “down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11). The question Clark is seeking to answer is “who?” I know he is looking for the “why?” by appealing to these other texts, but Jesus in John 6 is talking about the “who” and He says the “why?” is determined by His Father in heaven, not man on this earth.

If that is confusing, let me be a bit clearer. John 6 by itself is easily enough understood if you take the time observing the text. The difficulty comes to submitting to the conclusion it offers. Jesus is clear that it is impossible for anyone to come to Him unless the Father who gives, is drawing the one(s) given to the Son.

Clark assuming the opposite writes,

“For a temporary period of time, people were prevented from ‘coming to Jesus’ so as to fulfill the purpose of Jesus coming into the world: Jesus getting to the cross and dying for the world’s sins” (line 28; also see 34).

My response:

Where in the text of John 6, or the rest of John’s gospel, are we specifically told that this prevention of coming (being drawn) to Christ is “for a temporary period of time?” If the biblical text does not say it, then on what grounds can the claim be made? Wouldn’t this be an example of reading into the text what one desires it to say? Furthermore, how would people coming to Jesus in belief during his ministry hinder him from fulfilling his purpose upon the cross? Again, where in the Bible may we turn to find this teaching?

Clark’s conclusion:

“There is no indication from the text [John 6] that Jesus is teaching unconditional election, or effectual calling” (line 30). Claiming that “…there is a better option. One that is derived from the text itself and not a predetermined soteriological system…[Namely,] God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world. He is drawing the whole world. He desires all to be saved, and we can take the Gospel around the world, to every individual, knowing that every individual is being drawn to the Son…or granted permission, to come to Him” (lines 33, 35).

My Response:

I disagree. Jesus has said to the effect that it is impossible for a person to come to Him unless the Father draws them. This is evidence of them having been gifts from God the Father given to God the Son. In both John 6:44 and 6:65 we have clear statements of the reason why people are drawn to the Son, by the agency and power of the Father giving them to the Son. From a Trinitarian understanding we must not downplay the Holy Spirit’s role in this, but Jesus has already informed us in his teaching to Nicodemus. For every true believer is “born-from-above,” and this an act of the Spirit’s effectual power (cf. John 3.3-8; also 6.63).

Moreover, Jesus does not say that the Father “draws” the whole world to Him in John 6. Nor does it state His desire to save “all” people. Nor does the term “draw” ever mean “granted permission” as if mankind as a sinner wants to come to Christ, but can’t do so until God “lets them.” Which seems to be the way that Clark is implying. Again, the text does not say that.

Finally, I would add that Clark’s assumption that the Calvinist is alone in being driven by theological biases is not accurate. For so is Mr. Clark. And this is true of all who read Scripture. D. A. Carson offers some sound advice on this point that we would all do well in abiding by,

“But if we sometimes read our own theology into the text, the solution is not to retreat to an attempted neutrality, to try to make one’s mind a tabula rasa so we may listen to the text without bias. It cannot be done, and it is a fallacy to think it can be. We must rather discern what our prejudices are and make allowances for them….”[iii] (Italics added).

Closing Remarks:

The fact is that Clark’s governing assumptions regarding “freewill,” and the “good-naturedness” of mankind leads him to conclude that if God does not draw all equally, then He is somehow defunct in regards to love or kindness or goodness. And yes, I will grant that my overarching assumption is quite the opposite. I believe that man has a form of free-agency, but due to a corrupt nature pursues that which is not in accordance with God’s Holy standards. Therefore, it is necessary for God to “draw” a person, lest the person be left in his/her rebellion against their Maker. Refusing and not capable of doing the good that God requires; which includes trusting in the work of Christ while confessing one’s sinful, broken estate.

John 6, despite Clark’s claim, offers wonderful proof of the saving activity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father has chosen to call a certain people to be given to His beloved Son as an eternal possession (John 6.37-38). He effectually draws them to Christ (John 6.44), and by the power of the Spirit grants them life (John 6.63). They are those who hear the word of God and listen (obey) His voice, demonstrated in their undying faith in the Son. Salvation is about the Glory of God, and not the glory of man. We share in this glory through adoption, but it is not our right unless it has been granted from above.


Appendix

John 6 in Context[iv]

What we see in John 6 is two high points in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. The first high point is the extent of his popularity as exhibited in the beginning of the chapter. The second (you might prefer to call it a low point) is the great number of those who followed Christ ceasing from doing so.

John 6:1-15

This historical episode gives us the glimpse of the greatness of the Son of God. Multitudes were drawn to Him and pursued Him at great distance. Using the opportunity to point the people to the truth of who He is, Jesus took a small boys lunch made up of two barley loaves and three small fish and fed 5,000 men (possibly over 10,000 if we include women and children). Having blessed what God had provided, he broke it and fed all who were hungry. When the meal was finished, twelve large baskets were filled to the top. The people in their excitement sought to make Him king—if by force—but Jesus, knowing men’s hearts withdrew to pray.

John 6:16-21

Having sent the disciples away earlier in the day, after finishing His prayer the Lord made His way to His disciples. They had got in a boat heading towards Capernaum. Jesus walks across the water, tells his disciples “It is I. Do not be afraid” (John 6.20; NET). And “immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading” (John 6.21). This particular evidence was given to His disciples.

John 6:22-52

The next day the people they had left behind realized that the Lord was gone (John 6.22). “And seeing boats from Tiberias…they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus” (John 6.22b-23). One might say that they were being “drawn” to the Lord. They desired to see Him, and did not hesitate to make the journey to Him. However, when they find Jesus, he says to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted” (John 6.26). In other words, their reason for following Him was not in faith but looking for earthly blessing. Thus, Jesus’ response: “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him” (John 6.27).

(Side Note: The similarities between this episode and the one in John 4 with Jesus and the Samaritan woman are very interesting. There he offered her water to drink. Here, Jesus offers the crowds food from heaven. Both were promises of eternal life to the believer.)

The crowd asked how they might receive this blessing (John 6.28), but when Jesus told them “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6.29), they balked. They demanded a sign to prove that Jesus was who He said He was (John 6.30). They offered a justification from their history—Moses and the manna (John 6.31). Which is interesting because familiarity with that period shows that many of those people were stiff-necked and did not believe (have faith in) the Lord God.

Not much has changed, since when Jesus tells them “the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.33, 35). But these people who had followed after Him did not believe as proved by these damning words, “But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe” (John 6.36).

That is to say, they saw the signs that Jesus had done in their presence, they heard the gospel come from His lips, but seeing the truth with their eyes, and hearing the truth with their ears, they still failed to believe. And this is where Jesus says the very things that explain that reality of unbelief amongst the people that Mr. Clark has spent his time trying to deny and to get others to do the same thing.

“…you have seen me and still do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of everyone he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day” (John 6.37-39; italics added).

**To the Observant Reader, please note the following.  

Earlier I mentioned that Clark left off verse 39 from his explanation, but adding it along with what follows helps the reader better understand the intent of the gospel.

Jesus not only says that whoever the Father gives will come to me, but that such a person He will never send away, because He was sent to do the Father’s will. Which is what exactly? First to never send away the one the Father gives to the Son (v. 37). Second, to not lose one single person the Father has given him, but to raise each and every one up on the last day (v.39). Third, it “is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.40; italics added). Meaning every single person that the Father draws to the Son will be granted eternal life, for they will believe in Him.

**Not only are those whom the Father given sent to the Son, but they are kept by the Son and raised up on the last day; everyone receiving eternal life with Him.

But…

Many of these people did not believe in Jesus before He said this (John 6.36), and they most certainly did not believe in Him afterwards. Even though they followed him across the Sea of Galilee. For when they heard Jesus’ truthful testimony, they “…began complaining about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they reasoned amongst themselves, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, who father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” (John 6.41-42).

Jesus tells them to stop complaining about him (John 6.43), and then He tells them the reason they do not believe: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.44: NET). He then adds that “Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me” (John 6.45). But who hears and learns from God? Again, looking back to what has come before we are able to discern that it is limited to the ones that the Father draws, giving to the Son. Only that type of individual “believes [having] eternal life” (John 6.47).

But the Jews to whom Jesus spoke did not hear or listen to God, they did not believe in the one sent from the Father, and this is proved by their failure to comprehend His message as they argued amongst themselves against Him (John 6.52).

John 6:53-71

After his lengthy teaching on His flesh being bread and His blood being wine, which is just a metaphoric way of saying that in Him is that which is necessary to receive and sustain life eternally, we find that it was not just the crowds that complained against Him, refusing to believe, but many of His own disciples.

Those who had followed Christ for some time joined in with the other grumblers and complainers. Saying, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” (John 6.60). Some assume that the difficulty lies in the metaphor, and this is certainly part of it. But the heart of the matter is much deeper. I would imagine it is more akin to John the Baptist’s warning during his ministry: “…Don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!’” (Luke 3.8). In other words, what saved them was nothing but God alone, “…not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man…” (John 1.13).

Jesus says to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6.61b-64a; italics added).

Notice that Jesus is not merely speaking about Judas Iscariot here, although in just a few verses He does call him a devil (John 6.70). Interestingly enough what caused the disciples unbelief is the same thing that caused many in the crowd at Capernaum not to believe: “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come” (John 6.65). The phrase “Because of this…” can also be translated as “This is why…” (ESV; HCSB); or, “Therefore said I unto you…” (KJV); or, “For this reason…” (NASB). Therefore, according to Jesus the reason they do not believe—either the crowd or his disciples—is because the Father had not drawn them, and this was evidenced by their inability to accept the Lord’s teaching. And this further proof that they were not included in the number that “heard” or “learned” from the Father (John 6.45). For if they were, they of the Father, then they would believe in the Son (cf. John 6.57).

But when “…[Jesus’ disciples] quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6.66), they proved the point He had been making all along. Which started at the beginning of his teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6.25-52).

Again, if we take John 6:37-38, 44 in context we find that Jesus does in fact teach an effectual calling by God the Father in giving to the Son those Christ is intended to raise up on the last day. To get the correct interpretation outside of John 6 like Clark attempts is unnecessary. Moreover, when we look at the John 12:32-33 and 17:1-5 in their context there is nothing in them that subverts this meaning. Instead the opposite happens. These passages in fact complement the understanding given above.

In future posts, I will take the time to work through them. Until then may the peace of Christ be upon you, and if you do not know it…may you come to know it.


ENDNOTES:

[i] I have chosen to indicate where in Clark’s writing I am citing with the phrase “line ‘x’” throughout this post. Since, English grammar normally requires a paragraph to be 3-4 sentences and Clark often finishes a thought in only two, I thought it more appropriate to label each segmented thought this way. Hopefully this aids the reader in identifying where Mr. Clark is being quoted from. I have kept the Scripture texts he cited with the “line” mentioned. So, for example “line 4” would include his citations of John 6:37-38, 44.

[ii] See: John 5.23, 36; 6.44, 57; 8.16, 18, 26, 42; 10.36, 12.49; 14.24; 17.21; 17.25; 20.21. The Father sending the Son is an act of giving on the Father’s behalf (cf. John 3.16).

[iii] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 129. It should be noted that Carson does warn the biblical student from “…reading one’s personal theology into the text” (128). His point is being aware of them so that we can step back from the text during our learning process and ask key question of our view: Is my teaching on this area wrong, do I then need to be corrected? Am I being hindered from accepting what the text says because of personal bias, refusing to submit to what is written, and therefore need to be rebuked on this or that point? Ignoring our presuppositions is not fruitful, but being aware of them and then weighing them in the light of Scripture is necessary and good.

[iv] All Scripture in this section is of the New English Translation (NET), unless otherwise noted.

Image by <a href=”http://Image by Josep Monter Martinez from Pixabay“>Josep Monter Martinez

Posted in Grace

Why Effectual Grace is often Mislabeled Forceful Coercion Rather than Deliverance

In my last post we began looking at a common rebuttal (knee-jerk reaction) to the concept of God giving grace (a gift) in the sense of regeneration. When it comes to the subject of regeneration—to which saving grace specifically speaks—there are two schools of thought within Christian circles. The first states that regeneration must come after faith. The second argues that faith is a byproduct of regeneration (i. e. Logical order; blinded eyes need healed before they can see). In other words, the debate is centered on whose activity—God or man—is primary (takes precedent) and whose is secondary?

To be fair, those who hold to a position different than Reformed theology (my own) would more than likely identify God as the primary mover when it comes to salvation. They would point to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit after the Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand as the grounds on which an individual’s salvation stands or falls. Without this act of “grace” on God’s part, no one would be saved.

So far, so good. At a glance, it appears there is not much of difference between the two camps (i.e. Reformed and non). However, this is not the case.

The Point of Contention

The Non-Reformer (a.k.a. non-Calvinist) argues that if grace is truly grace (a gift), then God must offer it and we must actively reach for it. Salvation comes down to a matter of choice for the fallen creature. God did the groundwork, but the person must put the finishing touches on it. In other words, man has the final say in choosing or rejecting the grace of God found in Christ. As noted in the following statement by Norman Geisler:

  • “In short, it is God’s ultimate and sovereign will that we have free will to resist His will that all be saved.”[i]

This is called synergism, where salvation is seen as a cooperative effort of God and the creature. God does the majority of the work (the heavy lifting), but the finale is decided by the person who wills.

Herein lies the point of contention. They reject the concept of grace being a gift, if God does not consider the choice of the individual in question. If God changes a person’s heart without asking whether or not they want it, then that action of God (regardless of what adjectives we place before it—i.e. good, loving, etc.) is seen as nothing more than forceful coercion. This makes it a violation of the sanctity of the person in question, from their point of view.[ii] If you are not Reformed, you believe this from some degree to another.

An Argument over the Condition of Mankind Post-Fall

The reason for this accusation of force or coercion is tied to how one views the state of mankind. Depending on how serious the consequences of Adam’s rebellion is viewed, determines where one sets his flag.  While the synergistic camp agrees that salvation necessarily needs to be based on the person’s decision, they differ on how this is actually accomplished.

Classical Arminianism holds to the doctrine of prevenient grace[iii]—a preventive measure that heals the will of fallen man. Not entirely, but the grip of sin’s dread curse is loosened just enough that the person is free to respond positively to the gospel call. Well, that is, if they will it.

Another position (the traditionalist? What I’d call the naturalist)[iv], which is gaining ground in some circles, is the idea that man’s will is not affected by sin to the point that he/she cannot choose between the good or the bad. Man is not so sinful that he/she is not able. If he/she desires it, whatever that desire might be, then that is what they do.

Synergistic thought dabbles along this broad spectrum. Prevenient grace acts like a dam that holds back the river of sin, allowing us to see the gospel of Jesus as a precious gift. Or, you’ve been created with a capacity that is impossible to have been tarnished, harmed or maimed by the fall in the garden. The first attempts to deal with sin, biblically defined, seriously. The other leans on her daddy Pelagius for comfort.

Helping Identify the Reason for Disagreement over the term Gift

While I strongly disagree with these positions I can at least understand where in the world the charge of “force or coercion” comes from; when, it is stated that regeneration must come first, before faith, as a logical step in the gracious activity of God. The Synergist believes, they have the ability to choose. If God does not ask them—when they can make the decision on their own—then this amounts to an instance brute force.

So when it is said with a bit of sarcasm that this form of grace (i.e. the Reformed understanding) is comparable to, “…patients [being] dragged kicking and screaming into the operating room, but once they are given a head transplant, they (not surprisingly) feel like an entirely different person!”[v] I am able to see what drives this conclusion.

Geisler charges, that irresistible grace “force[s]…a person from not loving Christ to loving Christ. Hence, irresistible love is forced love. And forced ‘love’ is not love at all.”[vi]  Why, because it removes the choice of the fallen man.

From the Reformed position this is why God’s grace (irresistible/effectual grace) is necessary. Apart from saving grace the individual is left in sin. The natural human condition leaves him in a position of hopelessness.

However, the synergist views such activity by God on an individual as not loving, but the work of a power-hungry monster that makes the poor little fella do what he doesn’t want to do. Comparable to a man on his porch enjoying the view, but then being attacked by an angry nest of hornets. In case you don’t see the connection, God is viewed as the angry nest of hornets forcing the man to do what he doesn’t want. Even though the man chooses to go inside, Geisler thinks “…this…was not a truly free choice. He was coerced into doing it.”[vii]

Not Liking the Options Makes it a Fake Choice?

I’ve already revealed my disagreement with Geisler’s conclusion. He says it wasn’t really a free choice, but why? Because there were other mitigating factors that motivated the man on the porch to make his decision. Geisler writes, “…Free will demands that the act is not coerced, whether externally or internally.”[viii] Says who? Geisler or God? He concludes, “This is in accord with what both good reason and a proper understanding of Scripture teach.”[ix]

Umm…that’s just blatantly false. Reason, which I’m guessing he’s speaking to some extent in light of human experience, and the Scriptures teach very clearly that there are always mitigating factors (both internally and externally) that determine human choices. Do those factors remove the reality of free choices? Did they do so for the man on the porch in Dr. Geisler’s analogy? No, on both counts.

The man freely chose to do as he desired. Originally, that desire was to enjoy the view from his porch, but factors changed that and he preferred in the end to preserve his life. Though, I’m pretty sure Geisler didn’t intend the analogy to be used in this way, he unwittingly provided the grounds for proving what he denies.

**Pause for just a moment please…

  • Before I move on, I want to debunk a myth that is deeply entrenched in Christian-American thought. Man is not born in a morally neutral position towards his/her Creator. Neutrality is false in apologetic reasoning, and it is false in theological reasoning. There is no neutral ground between God and man. The Bible does not teach that anywhere. This is why analogies like the drowning man or the sick woman fail. Our disposition towards God (Father/Christ/Holy Spirit) is tyrannical rebellion, not objective reasoning. Please, if you are convinced otherwise, show me the text (contextually) that states it!

**Back to the Analogy…

Now Geisler’s analogy shows us one person who is confronted with two options. The first is geared towards pleasure seeking (enjoying the view from the porch). The second is geared towards self-preservation (fleeing from the angry hornets). This is a wonderful picture of fallen mankind.

Fallen People Love? This Causes Them to What?

What do sinners love above all else? Their sin (e.g. Jer 14.10; Prov 8.36; Matt 6.24). This is demonstrated in what they pursue daily throughout their lives. As sinners, we constantly seek gratification for the flesh. How that gratification is sated depends upon the person’s idol of choice. For some this is false religion, others it is power, wealth and social status, and yet still others turn to family (spouses or children) to worship, or drugs, alcohol, sex, food, animals, nature, etc. Many are the ways that sinful man gratifies his pleasure seeking self.

But above all else, fallen mankind seeks to preserve his/her own life. Self-preservation is the chief way in which sinners attempt to be like God. They want to know good and evil, and God is evil! We see many expressions of this in our society today.

My only point is that when the man was confronted with a danger to himself, his primary desire at that point shifted from pleasure seeking to live preserving. His choice was real, it was freely made, even though it was beset by mitigating factors in the decision-making process.

What is ironic, I think, is that Geisler (and those like him) fail to see that the gospel is not a sweet-smelling savor to all people (cf. 2 Cor 2.16). To fallen mankind the gospel is very much like the hornets in the story.

“Kris, why would you say that?” My answer to you is this,

  • “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3.19-20; HCSB).

People love darkness, people love their sin and the light is offensive to them. They prefer to preserve their lives rather than be brought into the light. The gospel is beautiful to those who are not perishing, not to those who are.

Who are the perishing ones? Anyone who has not been born-again.

Not and Invitation, but a Command

It is the natural state of mankind to flee from the gospel, because the gospel is a violation of what they hold dear—both their sin and existence. The gospel is not a flowery invitation, but a command of repentance:

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17.30).

To the unbeliever the gospel of God, of Jesus Christ, is comparable to a nasty hornet’s nest (e.g. Exod 23.28). God does not plead with us by wringing His hands like a wishful mother. The command to repent means to throw down your arms! To stop your rebellion! To bow the knee and submit to Christ’s/God’s will! Acknowledge that He is King or face the dire consequences of your betrayal!

The self-preserving nature of fallen man immediately recognizes his/her enemy. They refuse to change their mind and instead flee to the darkness from which they came. This individual willfully chooses this option over bending the knee and acknowledging the authority of another over them.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…[which] is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.5a, 6a, 7-8).

Thus, the need for God’s effective grace. Doing for the sinner what he can’t, what he won’t do for himself/herself. Delivering us from…well…ourselves.

ENDNOTES:

[i] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1999], 2001), 98.

[ii] Ibid, 96-101.

[iii] Roger E. Olson identifies prevenient grace as the source of human libertarian free will. Saying prevenient “…grace…precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will toward God.” Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 20.

John Wesley stated that “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.” John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” in The Works of John Wesley: Sermons 1 &2, Vol 5-6, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6.509.

Nazarene theologian W.T. Purkiser explains prevenient grace in this way: “Salvation is by the grace of God, but it is not restricted to a group arbitrarily limited by an unconditional election. It is for all men. Through the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ all men, not merely the elect are given a gracious (as opposed to natural) ability to hear and heed the gospel…Prevenient grace, then, enables the sinner, otherwise dead in trespasses and sins, to hear the gospel call, repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.” W. T. Purkiser, Exploring Christian Faith (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1960), 272.

[iv] I realize that the term “naturalist” may have a different connotation than I am assigning it. To be clear, I am not talking about a person who thinks that nature is all there is or a person who steers clear of processed foods. In using this term, I am merely tying it to the belief that Adam’s original created condition is still the natural condition. The fall, while changing some things (what exactly, I’m not sure?) did not affect the internal nature of mankind when it came to be capable of choosing good or evil. From the little that I have read on the “traditionalist” this seems to be the natural state that they believe mankind is in. Therefore, the label naturalist.

[v] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 99, 100.

[vi] Ibid, 100.

[vii] Ibid, 186.

[viii] Ibid, 187.

[ix] Ibid, 187.

Posted in John 3, Salvation

Receiving From Heaven: Continued…

When last we met, we were discussing John the Baptist’s statement in John 3. Where his disciples questioned him about his diminishing ministry and the subsequent rise of Jesus the Nazarene’s. Replying to his men, the Baptist explained in no uncertain terms the following truth:

  • “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3.27).[i]

This statement by the Baptist identifies what many do not believe, fail to accept, or choose to ignore—we are incapable of getting anything in this life apart from our Heavenly Father giving them to us. I don’t think many Christians will find that truth problematic. However, where things get a bit hairy is when I tie this truth to salvation.

Complexities in our Language…

All words have meaning, and depending upon your background you will perceive the meaning of certain words a bit differently than others. This does not mean that words are undefinable. Nor does this truth imply that getting at the truth is impossible, but it should highlight us to the need of being aware of our own biases.

In other words, what people say is not always what you hear. Salvation is a gift. To receive something is to become a partaker of the gift. How you hear the word “receive” (i.e. how you define the term) will determine how you understand it. John the Baptist says that people “cannot receive even one thing” …apart from God. (This, then, would naturally include salvation.)

He uses the word “cannot” to describe inability. It is something that we as people are incapable of doing.  Now suppose you don’t accept what I just said that “cannot describes inability.”  Why do I say that? When I was a child and I asked for permission to sharpen my pencil in class how my teacher responded to the request was determined by how I asked the question:

  • Q1: Mrs. So-n-So, “Can I sharpen my pencil?”
  • Q2: Mrs. So-n-So, “May I sharpen my pencil?”

Question 1 is a question of ability. Is sharpening my pencil something I am capable of (can) doing? That was the wrong question to pose to my teacher, as they often corrected this tendency. Question 2 is a question of permission. Is sharpening my pencil something I am allowed (permitted) to do? Looking back at John the Baptist statement to his disciples, we should be able to see he emphasizes the inability of mankind.

Pay attention to categories of thought as you reread it. Is it impossible for a person to receive some things, most things or all things apart from God giving it? The Baptist points to “all things”: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (emphasis added).

Our understanding depends on where we lay the emphasis…

I realize that what really catches our attention is the word “receive.” What does it mean to “receive” something? Well, as I said last time it really depends on the sense in which the word is being used. To receive can either be in the active sense or the passive sense. How are we to know what sense is being meant by the Baptist specifically or John 3 in particular?

Context…context…context. If you want to find the answer to how John the Baptist is using the term pay attention to the flow of thought.  What is the underlying issue that the Baptist’s disciples are concerned about? Jesus’ ministry is growing: “Rabbi, the One you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizingand everyone is flocking to Him” (John 3.26; HCSB; italics added).

The point of contention is Jesus is baptizing Israelites in the Jordan. Technically, his disciples are the ones doing it (see John 4.2), but the practice is being performed in His Name.  This led to a debate between John’s disciples and a fellow Jew (or Jews) over purification.  Baptism is more than mere water dunking; it is a sign of new life, of one being purified from their sins. Jesus alluded to this truth earlier in John 3 in His conversation with Nicodemus when said one must “…be born of water and the Spirit” (John 3.5; italics added).

Both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were prophets of God. As prophets they understood the teachings of Scripture as they were sent as heralds of the truth to their generation. Jesus was greater than John since He came from above, but this does not diminish the importance of John the Baptist’s ministry[ii]. The reason we find both John and Jesus teaching baptism is because of what God promises to do for His people[iii]:

  • “Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and [I will] give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and [I will] cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleanness” (Ezek 36.22-29; emphasis added).

This is God’s Work…

One of the reasons that I kept the above quote so lengthy is because I wanted to highlight that the entire work of baptizing (cleansing the inner-man) is God’s action not persons. God does ALL the work the person being saved by this work merely receives it. Actively? Like Christmas or birthday presents or money being handed out…where I just grab ahold of them at take them? No, the Ezekiel text shows that man passively receives what God is giving.

This prophetic utterance of Ezekiel finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ. All this gifting of God that Ezekiel foretold is said to be received by the true children of God, but the reception of the gift is passive not active. God actively gives and people receive, but the reception of the gift is passively accomplished.

Baptism is a work of God—again not speaking of the mere sprinkling of water here, which serves as a sacramental sign. Baptism signifies new birth, a new creation. And according to Scripture all who are in Christ are newly created.

Jesus teaching Nicodemus…

If we look back at John 3 in its entirety, we find that this is what is being taught. In fact, the apostle John’s teaching (not the Baptizer) flows from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus to John the Baptists discussion with his disciples. The first speaking of being “born-again” or “born-from-above.” The second speaking of baptism which draws attention to the need of being purified (i.e. reborn) from sin; which, is the result of the new life gained by the life-giving Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said to the Lord, “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” (John 3.2). What did Nicodemus just say? That it is impossible for any man to do the sort of things that has been reported about Jesus unless it has been given from above—i.e. “unless God is with him.”

Is Nicodemus a believing man? At first blush it appears so, but not according to the Lord. Yes, it is true that Nicodemus professed that Jesus must be “from God,” but so do the demons in the first century: “And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ but he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (Luke 4.41; cf. James 2.19). But what was the Lord’s immediate response to Nicodemus?

  • “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [Grk. from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3.3)

Oh no, there’s that pesky man “can-not” do statement again. Jesus says it is not possible for man to “see the kingdom of God.” Without delving deeply into a debate about another subject, I will merely point out that “kingdom of God” speaks of the rule of the king and not a physical location (cf. Matt 6.9-13; see 12.28). This helps us understand that the word “see” does not refer to physical sight as much as it does comprehension and understanding. Not to be limited to a mental form of comprehension or understanding, because again demons can do that, but spiritual comprehension (cf. 1Cor 2.8-14).

While, Nicodemus chokes on that statement the Lord hits him with another one:

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5).

Once more we find man’s inability highlighted by Jesus. This time he refers to entering in.

No one can enter into the kingdom unless something else happens first. What is it? He must be “born of water and the Spirit.” Here Jesus draws from the prophet Ezekiel’s teaching (quoted above). A person must first be reborn through the waters of purification by the Spirit’s power before they can enter into the kingdom as a rightful citizen.[iv] Again, not location, but pertaining to “rule.” The rightful citizen desires to be obedient to the rule of the king.

Jesus offers a clear explanation of what he means when he speaks about being born-again,

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3.6-8; emphasis added).

In other words, you cannot receive something unless it has been granted to you. Using an illustration of the wind to drive His point home, Jesus says, “so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Just as the wind blows where it wishes coming from one direction to the next without our knowledge, so too it is with the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world. He does as He sees fit, and the only way we know He has been active is by paying attention to the results (i.e. hear [His] sound).

A Necessary Tie-In…

The use of “birth” language is especially important here. Our being born into this world is what we might consider a predominately fleshly activity. From an earthly standpoint we are the byproduct of parental coupling; the union of man and woman (cf. John 3.6a). From a heavenly standpoint we are brought into the world by our Creator’s sovereign decree (cf. John 3.6b). For God has “…determined [our] appointed times and the boundaries of where [we] live” (Acts 17.26b; cf. Deut 32.8). However, in both cases we receive life (passively) and all the bounty that pertains to it (time, wealth, and power) as a gift. Not because we asked for it, but because it was granted to us—an act of grace.

“You mean, God does not consult our wishes in the matter???” If he did, what would be the result?

ENDNOTES:

[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[ii] The difference between what John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were doing was in terms of ability. John could only baptize with water pointing to a supernatural work of God; whereas, Jesus the Christ would baptize with the Spirit. Why? Because they were gifted according to their calling as the Baptist explained to his disciples (cf. John 3.31-36). John could not do what Jesus did, for he did not receive this ability from God above.

[iii] Please note as a rule of thumb that any doctrine found being taught on in the New Testament had its foundation laid in the Old Testament. These are not new teachings in the sense of never having been taught before. They are new in the sense that they are updated and perfected (in meaning and application) in Christ Jesus. The book of Hebrews probably illustrates this truth in detailed and thought out format more exhaustively than any other New Testament document.

[iv] You should ask yourself the following question: Why is that necessary? Why does man need to be purified? What does he need a new spirit within him? Again, Jesus says this is true, not Kris; although, I do concur. Not that the Lord needs my concurrence, but He does require my humility (as well as yours) on this subject.

Posted in Salvation

Salvation Roughly Defined, Stated and Explained as a Work of God

Roughly Defined…

Salvation…what sort of mental images does that word bring to bear? We Christians pride ourselves on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of salvation, but what is meant by that one word? What are we being saved from? Why do we believe others need saving?

These questions and many more are vitally important to the Christian faith and message. The term salvation is theologically rich in biblically defined categories. It speaks of atonement, deliverance, redemption, being ransomed, being redeemed, being adopted, etc.

Why do I need atoned for—i.e. what needs covering? What am I being delivered from—i.e. what am I being set free from? From who or what am I being ransomed—i.e. what price needed paid for my life? What am I being redeemed from—i.e. where am I taken from and given to? Why do I need to be adopted—i.e. why was I fatherless/who has become my father? Etc., etc. etc.

Now I do not have a long time to help you become acquainted with seeing the importance of these subjects, nor the implications that are specifically tied to them, but when Christians speak of salvation through/in Jesus Christ these categories (and more) are all simultaneously being assumed/conveyed.

Roughly Stated…

Ultimately, salvation speaks of deliverance. When a person is saved, they are delivered from slavery to sin, having had their sins covered, for the ransom price has been paid (life-for-life) in order to redeem them from their dead status as orphans alienated from the Life of God. Salvation is not a singular work of Jesus, but the triune effort of the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is how that predetermined plan was carried out in history (it was predetermined, because it was something God decided before the beginning of creation; cf. Eph 1.4):

  1. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for those whom He was giving to the Son…He continually draws those individuals in history to Jesus.
  2. The Son, in perfect obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit—willingly laid down His life for the people He came to save by becoming a substitute for them, paying the just punishment for their sin on the cross. His resurrection being a sign/a promise that He would do for His own what He did for himself—life after physical death; eternally.
  3. The Spirit is sent by Father and Son to glorify the Son by regenerating those for whom the Son died. Whoever the Father draws to the Son, whoever the Father and Son reveal the truth to—this work is done by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives life, where life did not formerly exist. He grants to those chosen by God an inheritance as children of the Most High through the new-birth.[i]

Roughly Explained…

For the most part, Christians will find agreement with these biblical truths.   The gospel of God is that He provided life everlasting for those who were counted as His enemies. Unless one believes with their heart, and confesses with the mouth they will not be saved (Rom 10.10). Believe what? That Jesus is the Christ whom God raised from the grave. Confess what? That Jesus is Lord over all (cf. Rom 10.9; for both q/a).

  • “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Rom 10.11; cf. Jer 17.7; Isa 28.16).[ii]

Jesus as the Christ has been identified as Lord and Savior, there is salvation in no other name (cf. Acts 4.12; Psa 79.9).  He is not a new god, nor the god of the New Testament alone, but he is Yahweh in the flesh (cf. Heb 1.3). There are several indicators of this reality given in the New Covenant which necessarily find their root in the Old Covenant. To some this is a confusing reality, but the confusion is not because the Scriptures are unclear. The confusion stems from either accidental or willful ignorance of what all the Bible teaches. Jesus is Lord and Savior, He is God in the flesh, and salvation is found in no one else:

  • “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa 43.11).

And yet we read,

  • “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12.37-38).

The apostle John explains to his reader that though Jesus had performed many signs (gave much evidence) that He was in fact Lord and Savior, the people who witnessed such things “still did not believe” (v. 37).  John says that this was to fulfill what was written by the prophet Isaiah. The reference to “arm of the Lord” ought to catch our attention, for that is an expression of speech that speaks of the “power of God” (cf. Rom 1.16; 1Cor 1.18; 1Thess 1.5).

The Lord’s apostle continues explaining to his readers an important point that is often overlooked by many well-intentioned Christians:

  • “Therefore, they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12.39-41).

First, notice that in applying Isaiah’s prophecy John gives the reason for the unbelief. Since the arm of the Lord had evidently not been revealed to those whom Jesus performed the signs to—i.e. God’s power had not been granted to them who witnessed such things—belief was impossible.

I will say that again just in case you have something blocking your field of vision. Maybe you glazed over the text too quickly, or the phone rang, or you started dozing because I’m a bit boring.  The apostle John says the people who were witnesses of Jesus ministry failed to believe, because “they could not.” In other words, they did not have the ability. Not my words, but the beloved disciple’s.

Second, he emphasizes what he said in verse 38. Evidently, “the arm of the Lord [had not] been revealed” since the people failed to believe in Jesus. John reiterates this point in verse 40 by stating that this was a fulfillment of what God had spoken through Isaiah formerly: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart…” (John 12.40a).

Where have we seen such language before? I mean besides Isaiah? Did we not see this during Moses ministry as well? How many times are we told that Pharaoh could not believe because the Lord had hardened his heart?  Some squirm at such statements, but if we read through Exodus, we see that at the beginning of Moses ministry in Egypt God promised that Pharaoh would not listen (despite all of the evidences), because the Lord hardened his heart (cf. Exod 4.21; Rom 9.17).

The “he” that John refers to is God. He is the one that refused to allow those people to believe. Their eyes remain blind and their hearts hard, lest they “understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” (John 12.40b). Oh, but Jesus would never do such a thing. He’s too loving, too kind. He most certainly is, but He does make distinctions between those who are His and those who are not.

“Where does He do this?” you ask. He does this several times throughout His earthly ministry, but I will give you one example to prove my point:

  • “All things have been given to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him” (Luke 10.22; NET).

Back to John 12:41 for just a moment.

Jesus reserves the right to show mercy on whom He will show mercy. He does not owe “mercy” to anyone, nor is He required to pour out on everyone the grace to believe. John explains to his readers that when Isaiah spoke the things that he did (cf. Isa 6 for context), it was Jesus and His glory that he saw seated on the throne in heaven. Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, and Jesus is responsible for the giving or not giving of the ability to believe. He reserves the right to grant salvation to whomever He pleases.

Closing Remarks…

You may wonder, “Why are you discussing such things now? Are you one of those ‘cage-staged Calvinists?’”  Uhm…no, I’m not.

What I find is that non-Calvinists are often highly offended of what Reformed theology holds to be true, as a result from studying/exegeting Scripture. In fact, if you were to look in to the history of the T.U.L.I.P. for which Calvinism is most popularly identified with, you will find that we did not pick the fight; rather, the Remonstrant’s did. The followers of Jacob Arminius picked the fight and lost at the Synod of Dort. The fight continues to this day because Arminian’s of all stripes (including Traditionalists, though they deny that affiliation) are so irritated by Reformed soteriology.

While, I believe my Arminian brothers are in fact brothers in the Lord[iii], I also have no problem answering their criticisms. One day those intermural debates will be unnecessary, but while we remain in the flesh wrestling with the biblical text and its meaning is of utmost importance to those in the faith. So, I think in the posts to come I will deal with some of the major points of contention as I understand them. Leaving open an opportunity for dialogue.

Next up: A Brief Discussion on what it means to “receive” something…?

ENDNOTES:

[i] These three points are not meant to be exhaustive in describing the work of the Trinity on the subject of salvation. This is a rough overview, as was the brief definition of salvation. More could be added and has been added by those much wiser than myself.

[ii] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[iii] Unfortunately, while I have maintained this position since moving into Reformed theology, there have been many that have ostracized me for my convictions. Rather than hearing an explanation, they prefer to accept various false characterizations and epithets that have been popularly proposed against Reformed thought.