Temple Blog Podcast: John 6:60-71

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This is the sermon from July 3, 2011 from John 6:60-71.

Here is a question that I received from a listener to this podcast:

Reverend, I listened to your sermon from July 3rd and I wonder what you would say to someone who has sincerely sought God and simply says that they do not believe?

Read my answer by selecting more…

My short answer is that they need to keep “sincerely” seeking and they will be rewarded (Hebrews 11:6).

My personal response would be to engage that person in a dialog where I asked a lot of questions about their “search”. I think a big mistake made often is that this search is something someone does for a time and then “decides” one way or another. If I have made my search in my teens, then decide I am leaving a large part of my life experience out of the equation. If I decide in rebellious years, doubting years, skeptical years and conclude that the search is over I shortchange the search. So I would never be satisfied with such a definitive conclusion. I would relate and engage with that person in an ongoing manner, all the while praying for them knowing that they are severely hampered in their search if they are not helped along by God himself. I don’t think that conversion is uniform or constricted by time per se (obviously we have a lifetime).

My analytical response: The category “someone who has sincerely sought God” does not happen without God’s initiation. Somehow the seeking, if sincere, was ignited by the activity of God. So in the Gospel of John 6 we have this progression:

  1. 37: “All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” There is a certainty in the Father’s “giving” and the “coming” to Jesus. And Jesus turns no one who believes away.
  2. 44:  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” There is an impossibility “no one can unless” and a certainty “the one that the Father draws Jesus promises to raise”. In verse 44 the two personal pronouns “him” refer to the same person, namely, the one drawn by the Father. There are no exceptions made, rather the statement is made in promise form. If God draws, the person comes, if the person comes he is received and raised up on the last day (salvation, resurrection)
  3. 65: “for this reason (some who do not believe, and more specifically Judas) I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” Apparently Judas’ destiny was sealed, and it seems it is extended at least to the unbelieving in this context of John 6.

So if our “someone” is seeking in a way that is initiated (drawn) by God, Jesus will raise that person up. If they are not, then their seeking has no Biblical category other than the category of seeking in the context of an unbelieving posture.

My theological response

Man’s default position is rebellion towards God. This is a definitional starting point for all of sinful creation. This is how it is stated in the Missionary Church Doctrinal Statement:

“…through the fall of Adam, man has become so completely ruined that he has neither the will nor power to turn to God and if left to himself would remain in his sin forever.”

Here is how the Scot’s Confession (1560) puts it:

 By which transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin. And thus everlasting death has had, and shall have, power and dominion over all who have not been, are not, or shall not be born from above. This rebirth is wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit creating in the hearts of God’s chosen ones an assured faith in the promise of God revealed to us in his word; by this faith we grasp Christ Jesus with the graces and blessings promised in him.

I cite these two statements because they come from two separate streams. The Missionary Church reflects a Wesleyan Holiness (Arminian) statement of faith and the Scot’s Confession reflects a Reformed (Calvinist) statement of faith. Both sides agree that sin has brought some form of “ruin” to man and has affected both his will and capacity to turn to God. This is an accurate description of the Bible’s testimony to the nature of unbelieving mankind.

Where the divergence in the stream comes is in how unbelieving man becomes a believing man. There are three options:

  1. Man does everything in coming to faith, God waits until he expresses faith and rewards him with eternal life.
  2. Man does nothing in coming to faith, even the faith is a gift of God, and eternal life is the result of God’s work in man.
  3. Man cooperates with God in coming to faith – God gives a little and man gives a little. Even in this system God initiates the process.

Position #1 has universally been considered heresy in the church since the days of its earliest proponent: Pelagius. Hence it is known as Pelagianism. FYI, Charles Finney, the forerunner to our modern “altar call” methodology and whom Billy Graham cites as an influence in his ministry was Pelagian in his view of the nature (ability) of man.

So we are left with two options: Position #2 is the position commonly called Calvinism, but also known as Reformed theology as most of the reformers held to this position or “monergism” signifying the sole credit for salvation going to one party, that is, God. Position #3 is the position commonly called Arminianism (after Jacob Arminius) who challenged the reformed notion and submitted his objections and perspective to the Council of Dort in the early 1600’s, and after the death of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. A paper, called the Remonstrance of 1610 was the topic at the Synod of Dort, essentially it was a document that raised 5 objections to the Reformed Theological position of the day. It is in response to this that the 5 points of Calvinism came into being – they are responses to the corresponding 5 points of the Remonstrance.

I raise this to point out that it is not the initiation of God in dispute here. In both positions (#2 & #3), God starts the ball rolling, because man is lost and dead in his sinfulness. The argument does not center on who starts it, rather at what point and how does man’s part kick in, and then whether or not or how God initiates with every man.

One of the major responses to a Monergistic/Reformed/Calvinist position is that it doesn’t seem fair. How can God hold man responsible if he can’t do anything else? Reformed theologians respond with an appeal to passages of Scripture like Romans 9 and explain that the two (sovereignty in election and grace & man’s culpability and responsibility) are not in conflict – known as compatibilism.

Without Christ man is lost in his sin and has no way out of it. I think that is a universally (within Christianity) agreed upon statement. God sends Christ as a result of his love. He is not obligated to send him out of justice; justice called for a just and righteous punishment for the sin of mankind. So instead of the solution in Genesis (flood to kill everyone) God sacrifices his only Son. But He would have been just in destroying all of humankind as we believe all of humankind is guilty of rebellion against God and hatred and enmity toward Him. God is not “unjust” in punishing sinners, and neither justice nor love requires that he save every sinner. He could save 1, 10, some, many, none, or all. It is His choice.  The extent of salvation is held in the very word “election.” Salvation, both its method and application, is solely based on the will of God (John 1:13).

I see the tensions. I just see that this is how the Bible answers the question and if I am not happy with it I have to go back to my statement in the sermon: Because God said so.

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  • Brad Schield

    Romans 5:18 is a must read before one goes on to doctrinal absolutes in Romans 8 and 9 and is by far the most significant Bible verse for me personally. I don’t think it is a valid theological question to ask whether or not salvation is initiated to every man?

    …a single act of righteousness resulted in the justification of life to ALL men.
    This to me is both retroactive for all men who have lived and those who are yet to be born is it not? God has in fact “initiated” salvation to every man whether they know it, don’t know it, believe in it or not. The first part of Romans 5:18 equally important.

    … a single transgression brought condemnation to ALL men.
    Man has already been condemned by God. There has been a prior divine judgment upon man.
    Fast forward to the end of the age where ‘EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW AND EVERY TOUNGE SHALL CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD (GOD). Our Bible translations have replaced the Hebrew name of God with the title ‘LORD’ in conforming to the Jewish tradition that believes the name of God is too holy to utter or write.

    I cite this because there is a difference between making Jesus LORD of our lives in the process of conforming to the image of Christ as born again Christians compared to the ultimate realization that ALL men will believe Jesus is Lord (God) and bow their knee at the end of the age before God.

    How do spiritually dead men bow a knee before God Almighty at the end of the age? That is the question that Calvinist should be asking before coming to such drastic conclusions on faith, salvation and the elect.

    When faced with questions by unbelievers, I think it’s important that we start with the truth that they will one day believe regardless of their disbelief now, but that belief is not what justifies a man back into eternal life since man stands previously condemned. Even Satan and the legion of demons believe that Jesus is God.

    I think the proper Biblical description of saving faith is to see it as an act of man’s RELIANCE upon on God while he physically lives which is a gift of God itself rather than getting trapped in the senseless debate of Reformed Theology and the total drapravity of man issue. We are “dead” in our trespasses in the sense that our sin justifies us to the condemnation that has been made upon us. We can’t justify ourselves back into life we need reliance upon something and that something is the blood of Christ.

    A “dead man” relies on nothing so the Calvinists have argued their apologetic into an intellectual dead end if you ask me. However when faith is seen as an act of reliance, it preserves the integrity of scripture to testify to God’s sovereignty so that man can rely on sovereign God to save Him. It also preserves the image of God that we were made in which has intrinsic value to Him as the Creator. He loves us because we have value to Him. Calvinist shouldn’t under estimate the love the Creator has for his Creation. You know the God so love the world thing….

    Abundant life in Christ is in fact a process of reliance upon the Holy Spirit post salvation anyway. This is the most consistent way to I’ve been able to reconcile the long- in- the- tooth debate between Calvinism and free-will. Both extremes miss the mark by making salvation something it is not. We simply accept the justification of life that resulted from a single act of God’s righteousness or we don’t.

    Thanks for letting us share Pastor Steve!

  • stevebag

    Hey Brad,

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    A few comments. You write:

    …a single act of righteousness resulted in the justification of life to ALL men.
    This to me is both retroactive for all men who have lived and those who are yet to be born is it not? God has in fact “initiated” salvation to every man whether they know it, don’t know it, believe in it or not. The first part of Romans 5:18 equally important.

    First, I think you need to make a distinction between the universal call of the gospel to all men to repent and the specific movement of the Spirit of God in bringing conviction and regeneration to individuals. The first places all men under judgment the second begins the redemptive process in the elect.

    Second, you make a fatal error in exegesis by equating the all in Adam with the all in Christ. They are different categories and have different objects. If you don’t make this distinction you are stuck reading the passage with universalist conclusion. It is obvious that Paul is not saying that everyone is made righteous, this is reserved for those in Christ.

    You fail to distinguish between the elect and future eye opening of the unregenerate. This is not a problem that Calvinists have.

    I have to be honest at this point, I am not following your arguments above. The apparent criticisms you have of Reformed Theology make me feel like I don’t think you properly understand Reformed theology.