Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).

Study Notes 11-18-12

We continue our study of John’s Gospel and will be looking at some of our Lord’s greatest words (if one can possibly peal off greatness from greatness) as it pertains to freedom, and our natural state of slavery to sin and darkness.

The Lord has freed us from the galleys of slavery and to sin and self-centeredness and brought us into the glorious light of the knowledge of His gospel.  God be praised!  Let’s start into the lesson…

John 8:31-36 – Freedom from Sin

8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

First I want to go back and examine how verse 30 and verse 31 interact with each other, because many good commentators have pointed out that both verses in many of our English versions use the word “believe” to describe the people’s reaction here.

Some say there is some difference between the meanings used, Boice, for instance says that the first is meant to be saving faith and the latter to mean intellectual ascent.  But they both utilize the same Greek word “pisteuō”, so I’m not entirely convinced of that.  What I am convinced of is that those who were listening to Jesus may have believed what He was saying mentally, but obviously they didn’t stand the discipleship test, which we’ll see later on.

Abiding in the Word

The second thing we note here is the nature of a true Christian.  The true Christian “abides” in the word of Christ.

In our study of John 6:55-56 we talked about the nature of abiding.  Those verses say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Here is what I noted about what it meant to “abide”:

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

What Christ is saying, in affect, is that a true Christian will have the desire to spend time listening, reading, and meditating on His word.  A true Christian will be obeying His word as well.  These are fruits of a true Christ-follower.  Truly it is a privilege to know something of the eternal God, and that we should know this truth in even a small way is in itself part of our reward as well as our fruit of the relationship we gain by acquaintance with Jesus.  Calvin enumerates upon this privilege as only Calvin can:

Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that he admits them to greater familiarity with him; though in this way he does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is he who impresses his word on our hearts by his Spirit, and it is he who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches his followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by him, as it were with small sparks, he at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.

Freedom from Sin

The third thing we take from the passage is the result of abiding is learning the truth, and by learning that truth we will experience a great reality: freedom.  What kind of freedom could He mean?  I believe that Christ is talking about freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from the slavery to the prince of this world – what Calvin calls “an invaluable blessing.”  It is these points Jesus goes on to labor in his debate with the Pharisees.

What does true freedom looks like? Freedom looks like someone who has the fruit of the Spirit.  And, not coincidently, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are also abiding in the Word of God – written by that same Spirit.

Perhaps there is no better expositing of this truth than Paul’s writing in Romans 6.  The entire chapter is about being free from sin, and being a slave to righteousness.  The dichotomy between the two is labored by Paul because so many people think that they are basically good people who happen to sin a little here and there.

Amazing to think that what was so important for Paul to intensively labor in Romans 6, is actually more pertinent today than ever before.

Perhaps the most pertinent part of Romans 6 as it applies to this particular verse, is the section between verses 6 and 11:

[6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The main thrust of this part of the passage is that we were formally slaves to sin, but because of Christ’s work we have been set free from sin.  It is the gospel that has delivered us from our sin. That is the freedom Christ is talking about here in verse 32.  He’s saying that because He was going to conquer death, death would no longer have dominion over us. Sin’s end is death, and so sin and its result (death) would no longer have power over anyone who believes upon Christ. Calvin agrees, saying that the kind of liberty that’s being described here is “that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.”

Barnes says, “The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.”

When we think about the practical way this has revolutionized our lives, its unthinkable to go back to living any other way. Calvin says, “All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the gospel the treasure of a blessed life.”  To this comment I can only add “amen!”

Born Free?

I’m always amazed at how many Christians insist on stating that they “freely” chose Christ because they were born with “free will.”  But as R.C. Sproul reminds us, we need to be cautious when we talk about free will so that we know exactly what it is we’re saying.

Certainly God gives us the freedom of choice to make decisions.  We aren’t robots, and we aren’t puppets.  But there are some things that even in our natural freedom we are not free to do.  One of those things is not sinning.  When we are born into this world, we are not free not to sin.  In other words, we are going to sin because it is who we are, and we are enslaved to it.  We will continue in this sin until Christ sets us free from it.

Calvin comments, “It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.”

This is what irked the Pharisees.  They were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’re not slaves to anyone!  We make our own decisions.  We live our own lives.  No one rules over us, or our families!” But they were wrong in saying this, and people today are wrong in thinking that mankind is free to do whatever they’d like – we aren’t free to be holy and perfect because we’re incapable of it in our natural state.

When you think about how this plays out, it’s really worth contemplating and meditating on deeply because it shows the state of our old self and where we were headed apart from Christ.  For when we were slaves to sin, not only were we tethered to that form of life that is most odious to Christ, but we are tethered to the result of that life, namely death. When Christ unchains us from our slavery to sin, He also unchains us from the pangs of death – death could not rule over him (Acts 2), and we also have victory over death due to His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).

A.W. Pink laments at how fallen we are in our natural state, and yet how unwilling we are to realize this fact:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

When I first read Pink’s comments it struck me to the bone. His first sentence was aimed at me – the teacher. Am I really honest with how ugly I was before Christ? That is a question that not many men or women truly meditate on for much more than a passing thought – perhaps before taking the Lord’s Super. But what Pink is calling us to realize is our state of depravity and darkness without Jesus.

Calvin says this, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Barnes adds, “There is need of the gospel. That only can make men free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and as every man is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.”

In the midst of our celebration of this freedom, we pause and wonder, “now wait a minute, how is it that I still continue to sin?”  Well, as Paul works this matter of slavery out in Romans 6, we are glad he continued to write because when we get to Romans 7 we learn that he faced that same dilemma – namely that he still continued to battle sin.  Despite the freedom not to sin that Christ has given us, Paul says that we still sin due to the nature of the flesh. But I don’t want to get too deep into that here.  The main point we need to see is the dichotomy between one who is a slave to sin, and one who is not, and that we have been made free men and women by the power and work of Christ.

8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Ironically, the very shackles that bound these Pharisees in their sin were the same chains causing them to claim they weren’t enslaved to anyone.  In their blindness they claimed they weren’t blind.  In their darkness they claimed to be enlightened.  These were truly men who were missing the point.

Oddly enough (and Calvin picks up on this point as well) it isn’t as though these people have never been enslaved physically to anyway…in point of fact, they were currently under a type of mild slavery/tyranny by the Romans at this very time in history – something I will address shortly. Warren Wiersbe collects these thoughts together succinctly:

Their claim that Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. The ten northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

Pink cites all of the above that Wiersbe mentions, and then says, “It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hotly deny that his will is enslaved by sin.”

8:34-36 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus uses the emphatic phrase “truly, truly” to get our attention.  He is saying to us “pay attention to this.”

Bondage to our Self-Centeredness

D.A. Carson explores the intent of what Christ is saying, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who had made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

In other words, we are so self-centered and self-serving that our own sin and moral failures are the chief problems that need to be dealt with in life.

I think this is so important because the context in which Jesus is saying this is under the oppression of the Roman regime. The Jewish people had found their freedoms limited, and their liberties cut off. We also are going through a time in America where our own liberties are in question. We see the despotic nature of our government, which is becoming ever more tyrannical and hostile to Christian beliefs and values, and we wonder (rightly) if our freedoms will all be gone within a generation.

The generation of men and women Christ was addressing were far worse off than we are today, yet, like them, we often find ourselves distracted from solving life’s most important challenges, and that is what Christ came to solve.  The real problem is with ourselves, not our government. There’s only so much you can do about government – believe me, I’ve been fighting that battle for a while now.  Jesus isn’t saying that freedom from political tyranny isn’t important, what He is saying is that there’s something even more important.  When the Son of God came to the earth, He came to address life’s biggest problems, life’s biggest challenges. He came to free us from our bondage to sin.

That’s why we gather on Sunday mornings, that’s why we “abide” in the word of God, that’s why we pray and devote ourselves to growth in Christ. Because what we are doing today and on these other days, is addressing the real problems in life – life’s most consequential and difficult challenges.

The Power of the Son

The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is that as the Son of God He has unique privileges and power. He has the ability to set them free, because He has full reign over the house of God.  Calvin comments, “By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered by his grace.  For what he possesses as his own by nature he imparts to us by adoption, when we are engrafted by faith into his body, and become his members.”

“…the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom” – Calvin

One of the main reasons I like to bring up the issue of the way we view “free will” is because in our “freedom” we come to rely too heavily on our flesh for the support of our souls. Here is what I mean by that: when we are going through the turmoil that this life brings us, it is natural (because of the flesh) to wonder at the purpose of life, and even whether our souls are truly saved. We wonder at God and ask Him in our difficulties whether He’s really there or not.  We wonder at Him and ask if we are truly saved or not.

Well one of the great things we hear Jesus saying in this passage is that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In other words, He is the one with the power over sin and death, and not your “free will” or your “fleshly power.”  To steal a recent campaign theme, “you didn’t build this” – no indeed: Christ built this!

Carson says this, “Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (3:35), to liberate slaves. Those who Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontos) free.”

Those who build their house upon this Rock will be able to stand firm in the storm because they know they weren’t the craftsmen, they weren’t the guarantee of the foundation’s sturdiness.  Christ Himself is the cornerstone and the Master Builder, and when life’s trials come, you can say with confidence “I will survive this, and either by life or death I will be with Christ, for He is my firm foundation, and in His work I can trust.”

Carson makes the great point that once free, we have been set free for a purpose:

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.

What an amazing truth he’s hit on here. Christ knows that those who are set free are going to want to please Christ – before we simply wanted to please ourselves, now we have a desire and are at liberty to please the Lover of our Souls.

Dear friends: step away from the reliance on your own work, and rest upon the great and mighty work of Jesus Christ – the Son who has set you free!

 

Study Notes 7-22-12

6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

  • I think that what we have here is a perfect example of people seeing, hearing, and yet not believing the very words of Christ (the outward presentation of the Gospel message from the Monogenes Himself).  How can this be?  We often ask ourselves the same thing.  How can I present the gospel in any clearer terms?  Why won’t these people respond to this?  The reason is because they are still spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and that your talk is complete foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14).
  • Why could they not believe?  Jesus is about to explain that they don’t believe because they haven’t been called – “draw” is the word He uses here.  They can’t come to Him because “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  So this verse is a setup for what Jesus is about to tell them.
  • The lesson is this: God is completely sovereign over salvation.  When He calls someone with the inward call of the Holy Spirit that is when a man begins to see the light.  Until then, we are preaching foolishness, but it’s a foolishness we will continue to preach because it has the power of life, and God is pleased to use this foolish preaching of ours as the outward call that informs the inward call.

6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

  • What a magnificent statement by our Lord.  He says that even though these people won’t come to him (vs. 36), those who do come He will accept with open arms – “I will never cast out.”  The Savior is saying that for those who believe in Him, He will embrace them as His own.
  • For those who might have grown up in a culture or a church that taught that eternal security is not possible, this verse stands diametrically opposed to that kind of false teaching.  The Roman Catholic Church not only says that (due to mortal sins) salvation can be lost, but that to think of our eternal state as secure is puffed up and arrogant.  However, according to Christ, nothing could be further from the truth.  He will never cast out any who come to Him.
  • John Calvin puts it this way, “In the first place, he says, that all whom the Father giveth him come to him; by which words he means, that faith is not a thing which depends on the will of men, so that this man and that man indiscriminately and at random believe, but that God elects those whom he hands over, as it were, to his Son; for when he says, that whatever is given cometh, we infer from it, that all do not come. Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, ‘Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel.’”
  • Also, the word here “come”, as I detail elsewhere, is equivalent with “believe.”  John MacArthur puts it this way, “To come to Christ is to forsake the old life of sin and rebellion and submit to Him as Lord. Though John does not use the term ‘repentance’ in his gospel, the concept is clearly implied in the idea of coming to Christ.”
  • MacArthur cites a great Spurgeon quote to back up his statement, “You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together.”

6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

  • Christ is one with the Father.  His will is one with the Father – we have talked about this before.  And looking ahead to chapter 10, and Christ’s discourse on His role as the Good Shepherd, we see Him saying something similar, but even more explicit:

10:26-30 “…but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.”

  • It’s important to remember that at this saying, the Jews began to pick up stones to kill Jesus.  This was a highly offensive statement.  Now, Christ didn’t get stoned here, for as radical as this statement it, He’s about to rock the minds of these men and women all the more…

6:39-40 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

  • Why is it that you will never lose your salvation?  Because Christ will lose nothing! Why is it that Christ will lose nothing?  Because that is the will of the Father.
  • Whether or not you commit a so-called “mortal” sin or not, the Lord Jesus Christ will not allow one person to slip from His hands.  What has been alive by the Holy Spirit cannot be made dead by a human being.  By the power of God the Almighty Creator of the Universe, you will be Christ’s adopted brethren for eternity, not by your will or effort, by the power of God.
  • You see, when God wills something it happens.  All forces of creation, both spiritual and physical, bow to his wishes.  He opens His mouth and the nations tremble.  By His words Satan is thrown down and bound.  By His will you are kept safe.  No one can cross His sovereign will.  What an amazing and comforting thought.
  • This verse also gives us a preview of the resurrection.  Jesus says that not only will He keep you safely in His hands, but that He will raise you up “on the last day.”  On the last day, we will see the final consummation of His power over the grave and of death and will realize the power of the resurrection – this time in our own bodies.  On that day, God will complete the work He has begun, and the saying that what is perishable will be raised imperishable will realize its completion. He will be redeeming more than your souls, friends.  He will be redeeming your bodies.  Paul talks about this at length in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians:

15:20-23 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  

  • Commenting upon Jesus’ power and plan from election to glorification Calvin says this:

Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Romans 8:15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony.

  • Therefore, when Christ says in verse 40 that, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” He is saying that from beginning to end, from predestination, to calling and justification to adoption and resurrection to glorification, He will loose nothing, nor will the “will” of the Father be interrupted by the schemes of the Devil, the world – and/or even our own flesh!

6:41-43 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” [42] They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” [43] Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.

  • These Jews did not like Christ equating Himself with bread from heaven.  Christ was to them a stumbling block.  For they seemed to know from where Jesus came, and who His earthly parents were.  This made it all the more difficult to believe Him when He said that He had “come down from heaven.”
  • The word “grumble” here has definite parallels with the grumbling of the people of Israel in the Old Testament.  They were provided great manna from heaven, yet they still complained.  Here Christ has just explained that He is the bread from heaven that will forever satisfy them.  Like their ancient forefathers, they grumble. The reason was the same: unbelief.  When we don’t believe the words of God we grumble.  Grumbling is the outward fruit of unbelief.
  • That is why we must never grumble, but always set our hope firmly on the work and purposes of God.  This whole passage is about deeper things.  Deep things that we can’t fully understand, and such is our life, we run up against many things we can’t understand.  But let us not grumble in unbelief.  Let us let go of our unbelief and place our full trust upon Him who is able to sustain us until the last day.

6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

  • In verse 37 He had just said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me”, and in verse 36 He had said that, “you have seen me and yet do not believe.” But now He’s saying WHY they won’t believe, and why they won’t come to Him.  They won’t believe because “no one can come to (Him) unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
  • The Father had not drawn these people to Christ, and therefore they were unable to come to Him.  Christ is enumerating an important spiritual principle, not just for these Jews, but for us as well.  For what He is saying here is in the general sense.  His words are “no one” and “all” and so on.  So He’s not limiting His discussion to simply Jews, but is giving a discourse about a universal spiritual principle.
  • To further affirm this, John Piper reminds us that we need to realize the full implications of what Christ is saying here.  He’s about to talk about how – in particular – God draws people to Himself.  But in doing so, Christ it known that He will not be limiting His kingdom to the Jews, or any one group of people.  He is not a “tribal deity” as Piper says.  And to emphasize the point, Piper reminds us that John stresses the wide call of Christ in this Gospel (of John) to all men (John 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 6:37, 6:47, 6:58, 7:38, 12:46, etc.).
  • Here are all the reference and what they look like to show what I mean, and what Piper was getting at:
    • “Whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:15).
    • “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
    • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18).
    • “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
    • “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).
    • “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
    • “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
    • “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
    • “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).
    • “Whoever believes in me, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
    • “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
    • It is obvious that this verse is talking about God’s methodology in calling and saving us for all eternity.  But while we talk about God’s work in the lives of particular men and women – in you and men – we need to remember the role we play in spreading that gospel to all men – not ones we choose, but ones HE chooses. John Piper reminds us of this when he says the following:

It is an awesome thing that we are sent to the whole world with the greatest news in the world—with a free offer for all who believe. And it is an awesome thing that as many as are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48).  It is an awesome thing that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). And it is an awesome thing that God grants repentance to whom he will (2 Timothy 2:25).  It is an awesome thing that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is an awesome thing he acts decisively to draw particular people to the truth (John 6:44).

  • When John says the Father “draws” men, the Greek word he’s using is helkō, which literally means to “drag off.”  This is important because when we hear the word “draw” I think that our minds tend to think of the word differently than that.  We think the natural synonym might be “ compel” or something like that, when the sense of the word is nothing of the sort.  Here John is talking about a powerful “dragging” force.  The Father isn’t just wooing people to come to Christ, He is making sure they come by grabbing a hold of them, and bringing them all the way home.

Irresistible Grace

  • We call this the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.  The idea behind the doctrine is not to teach us that God “drags us” kicking and screaming into heaven, but rather that in His sovereign will, He creates within us a desire that we never had before.  That desire is for Himself.  Once our desires have changed, we begin to see the irresistible nature of His love for us.  Our eyes are opened to the magnificence of His love and plan for us – the fact that He is working on our hearts ought to be enough proof that He loves us, but then He reveals the mysteries of His will in Christ Jesus, and the truth of what Christ has done is so amazing, so profound, so audacious, and so ludicrous, that we can’t help but want to run to the cross and embrace Christ as Lord.  That is what God does by drawing us.
  • The point is that this “drawing” is active and not passive.  John Piper says it’s “decisive” and says, “When you chose Christ—when you awakened spiritually to the compelling truth and worth of Christ—it was because God gave you eyes to see. God awakened you. God gave you eyes to see the irresistible greatness of Jesus.”
  • Calvin puts it magnificently:

Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

  • The first part of the verse says, “can come”, and by this we know that the Apostle is referring to “believing” in Christ.  When we “come” to Christ, we believe in Christ, we are placing our faith and truth in Him for salvation.
  • Calvin explains:

The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.

Sovereign Election

  • The verse also teaches us that God had a sovereign plan – that is the overarching theme, isn’t it?  This is what is known as the doctrine of Election.  That from eternity past, God chose to create a particular people for himself.  I’m not just talking about Israel, but of the true Israel, which is the church, and indeed is Christ Himself.  This verse teaches us is that God’s work of salvation is particular.  That is to say, it is discriminating.
  • To discriminate means to choose some, but not others based on a desire.
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us:

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Radical Corruption

  • By necessity, Jesus is also teaching us the state of mankind.  Specifically, as the ESV Study notes, “No one can come to me means “no one is able to come to me” (Gk. dynamai means “to be able”). This implies that no human being in the world, on his own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws him, that is, gives him the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ.”
  • Sproul puts it this way, “Jesus said that we are so corrupt, that our hearts have been so hardened toward the things of God, that we cannot respond to God and come to Him on our own…If the Father wants us to come to Christ, He must effectually draw us to His beloved Son.”
  • We are so morally and spiritually bankrupt that we can’t come to Christ on our own.  We are dead in our sins.  This is the doctrine known as Total Depravity.  This saying of Jesus is one that men hate to accept, and you might not like hearing it either.
  • You might think that I’m wrong and the Bible is wrong to tear down “human character”, but as C.H. Spurgeon once said, “You cannot slander human nature, it is worse than words can paint it.”
  • John MacArthur points out “the Bible indicates that fallen man is unable, of his own volition, to come to Jesus Christ.”  MacArthur goes on to give a lengthy list of Biblical reasons why this is the case:

Unregenerate people are dead in sin (Eph.2:1; Col. 2:13), slaves to unrighteousness (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 17, 20, John 8:34), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10; 8:7). They are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4), captives (2 Tim 2:26), trapped in Satan’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), powerless to change their sinful natures (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 5:6), unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), incapable of understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14; John 14:17).

Preserving Grace and Assurance of Salvation

  • The beauty of this passage does not lie alone in the call of the Spirit, however, but also in the preserving nature of the work of the Spirit and in the power of Jesus Christ.  Sproul says, “Those who are truly saved will continue in that condition, for Jesus will not let them fall away.”
  • As we get deeper into the book of John, we’ll see other passages that detail the magnificent power of God’s preserving grace.  In John 10:26-30 Jesus is giving a very similar discourse and says that the power He has to keep His children in grace is the same power that God the Father has (because they are “one”) – which His listeners at the time would have understood to be omnipotent.  He says this:

10:26-30 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.

  • Christ mentions this in order to give us assurance. In His compassion He came to give us peace.  He came to give us a peace that the world couldn’t give (John 14:27).
  • If salvation is a monergistic work, and if He is truly sovereign over salvation, then surely there is nothing we can do to lose what we have not earned or worked for.  It is all by His preserving grace that we are kept until the day of Christ’s return!

Why Me?  The Pleasures of God

  • Perhaps the most difficult and unknowable question we come to about the nature of God’s sovereign work in salvation – at least from this particular text – is the why. Specifically, you might be asking “why does He discriminate?” or “why does He choose to ‘draw’ some and not others?”
  • R.C. Sproul even admits that this is the deepest theological question that I can think of, the one for which I have no adequate answer.”  Specifically, Sproul was referring to the question of “why me?”
  • Sproul offers the best explanation I’ve heard for a question that really can’t be answered in specifics (anyone who says they know the answer is lying):

I can’t give a single reason under heaven why God would save me other than, as the prophet Isaiah said, that the Suffering Servant of Israel should see the travail of His soul and be satisfied – that God has determined to honor His Son by giving Him adopted brothers and sisters (Is. 53:11).  In the final analysis, the only reason I am a Christian is that the Father wants to honor the Son.   From all eternity, He determined that the Son’s work would not be in vain and that He would be the firstborn of many brethren.  Therefore, He determined not just to make salvation possible and then step back and cross His fingers, hoping that somebody would take advantage of the ministry of Jesus. No, God the Father, from all eternity, determined to make salvation certain for those whom He had determined to give to His Son.

  • My own explanation would simply lie in the hidden counsel of God, and the manifestation of His discriminating love for us.  Ephesians 2:4-5 says that God loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses.  It says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” 

  • Note the “rich” mercy and the “great” love of God toward us.  These are the things that compelled Him to do what He did from all eternity past.  And because of this love, the Father knew from eternity past that He would have to send His only Son to be a sacrifice for us.  He knew that we would fall – otherwise there would be no reason to elect anyone, for everyone would always have been in perfect harmony with God – and yet He determined by the counsel of His own will to create us in His image, and plan before hand whom to save – a particular people for Himself, as a love gift for His glorious Son, Jesus Christ.

Conflicts and Objections

  • Despite the heavy predestinarian overtones, some would like to strip the verse of its potency, and by doing so, find a way to enter into the salvation process some way in which man’s free will can be justified.  For men, left to their own devices, will always want to preserve the notion of their freedom from God – as some have stated in this Sunday School class before, men (like you and me) like to “maintain the illusion of control” as much as possible.  But they do this because they misunderstand the nature and way in which God works in the hearts of men.
  • The chief verse that men of this stripe use to discredit God’s sovereignty is John 12:32, where the same word for “draw” is used in the Greek, and Jesus says that when He is lifted up (on the cross) that He will “draw all people” to Himself.
  • Carson explains, “The context shows rather clearly, however, that 12:32 refers to ‘all men without distinction’ (i.e. not just Jews) rather than to ‘all men without exception’ (ever single human being on earth).”
  • Looking at this verse in context we see that it is clearly the negative expression of verse 37, which we just read.  Carson explains that “the combination of vs. 37a and vs. 44 prove that this ‘drawing’ activity of the Father cannot be reduced to what theologians sometimes call ‘prevenient grace’ dispensed to ever individual, for this ‘drawing’ is selective, or else the negative note in vs. 44 is meaningless.”

NOTE: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Prevenient Grace as follows, “The grace that ‘comes before’ any human response to God in justification or conversion. In Reformed theology, this grace is seen as irresistible. In Arminianism and Wesleyanism the view is that God’s grace is extended and persons may choose whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ. The human decisions of the faithful are responsive and enabled by God’s grace.”

  • John Piper seems to think that the “all” in John 12:32 is referring to “all the sheep” of Christ – all the elect.  For, as Piper points out, in the Greek, there is actually no word “people” in that verse.  It’s simply “all”, with no reference to “people” whatsoever.  So what he argues we must do is derive the correct meaning of the word “all” from the context of the verse, and he does this by looking at several other similar passages in John’s gospel (namely John 11:50-52 and John 10:15 and 10:27).  He explains:

In other words, running straight through the Gospel of John is the truth that God the Father and God the Son decisively draw people out of darkness into light. And Christ died for this. He was lifted up for this. What John 12:32 adds is that this happens today in history by pointing the whole world to the crucified Christ and preaching the good news that whoever believes on him will be saved. In that preaching of the lifted up Christ, God opens the ears of the deaf. The sheep hear his voice and follow Jesus (John 10:16, 27).

  • Personally I am satisfied with either of these options – both are plausible, both could be correct.  But I think that to say that 12:32 somehow implies that “all” means every single human being would be to affirm universalism which runs counter the teaching we find throughout Scripture that some people die and go to Hell and others die and go to Heaven.