Study Notes 9-15-13: You Will Deny Me

This post covers the final few verses of John 13. In this section we’ll look at the denial of Peter, and the effectual prayer of our Lord, among other things.

13:36-38 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” [37] Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” [38] Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Unperceived Promises

Jesus promises Peter that he will follow him where He is going “afterward.”  This promise is tantamount to Christ saying, “you will be with me in heaven”, and yet the promise of heaven is not yet able to be perceived by the disciple. So dull is his mind to the great heights of the promises of Christ even after three years of walking with Him. This ought to accentuate in our minds the great privilege of having God’s own Spirit dwell within us that we may be able to perceive the great mysteries and promises that He has given unto us.

Though Peter does not yet realize these great promises here, later he will:

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3b-5)

True Courage is Revealed and Refined by Testing

And so it follows that his complaint is that he ought to be able to go with Jesus wherever it is that He is going. Peter’s remark is sealed by his (supposedly) courageous statement, “I will lay down my life for you.” But as D.A. Carson points out, he is “less interested in the new commandment (in 34-35) than in the departure of their Master.”

Let us learn this, dear friends, from the statement of Peter: untested boldness manifests itself in words, but those who love Christ suffer much and endure much for His cause (Luke 6:46-49, 11:28). As Carson articulates in stingingly honest words, “Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.”

Listen again to what Peter says later in his first epistle:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

And so it is that through “various trials” your faith will be tested, and that as a result your faith will end in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” These trials Peter did not realize at the time, but later came to understand the fullest sense of the meaning (both spiritually and physically) of Christ’s command to “take up your cross.”

But let us also learn by Peter’s example not to be arrogant about the trials we face in the future. Who are you boasting in, truly?  Is it Christ, or is it your own experience when you say “I’ve been there and done that; I can handle it!”  It is a great truth that through trials we can have confidence that Christ will never leave us or forsake us.  Indeed, no power or tragedy can come between us and our Lord Jesus (Romans 8:31-39), and yet let us not spit into the wind and foolishly and arrogantly face the unknown in the power of our flesh.

As J.C. Ryle says, “Like Peter, we may think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we may learn by bitter experience that we have no power at all.”

It is instructive at this point for us to listen to Luke’s account of what Peter said:

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” (Luke 22:31-35 ESV)

If you feel as though you can carry the cross of the Lord on your own, and do not stop to pray or saturate yourself in the word for the renewal of your mind and heart, you will indeed have no armor of God to protect you from the Evil One and He will “sift you like wheat”!

And so it is that through trials we are tested, and proven true. Thanks be to God for the testing of our faith, that we might know He is truly with us and watching over us.

Why Peter Could Stand, and Why We Can Stand

As we turn to examine Peter’s denial some more, we have to ask the question: what is the difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal?  And what kept Peter from being caught up in utter shame and despondency after it was over? Well there are significant differences between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal.  First, Peter didn’t intentionally and methodically betray Jesus.  He fell into sin, but didn’t hatch a plot.  Peter was a true believer, Judas was not. These are the foundational differences I believe.

But there is still another, that is significant and one I want to draw some attention to now. Namely, once the deed was done, why is it that Peter was not completely ruined and anathematized, as it were, from Christ?  Simply this: Christ prayed for him.  It is the sovereign intercessory work of Christ that keeps the feet of Peter from being forever caught in the net of Satan.

The next thing we ought to notice is that in Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Later in John we read Christ say this as He’s praying to the Father, “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 keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  (John 17:14-17 ESV)

And so it is both the intercession of Christ’s spoken Word on high on our behalf, and the written word of His Scripture that safeguard His pilgrims!

Look how plainly we are also told by Paul that it is the Word that protects us as a sword to fight the battles that rage around us:

…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:17-18)

And so we stand by power of Christ’s intercession, and have His Word to help fight off the flaming arrows of the Evil One.  We stand in the “evil day” because He is standing next to us and has given us armor and sword.

You Will Deny Me

Now as we consider more specifically this final verse, I want us to think for a moment what Peter must have been thinking. I imagine a million thoughts must have rushed through his impetuous mind, and he must have felt Jesus’ statement drop like a bombshell in his heart. So quickly and so fervently had Peter just pledged his every loyalty to Christ, only to be put down in such an odious and embarrassing manner, surely it must have cut him to the quick.

There is a great deal to learn from this, but I want to focus on two things:

  1. We do for Christ what He has called us to do, not what we want to do
  2. God who is sovereign over all matters, is sovereign over those which hurt us as well

First, we notice that Peter is overanxious to do what he feels is necessary.  He is ready to die, or to go to prison (as some other gospels record).  And there is at least some truth to this, for as Morris points out, “His use of the sword in the garden shows that he was ready in certain circumstances to face death boldly. There was truth as well as error in his words. But he was not ready to stand for Jesus when all seemed lost. That demanded a different brand of courage and devotion.” But the lesson here is plain: we must not be so impetuous to die for Christ if that is not what He has called us to do. He wants obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22; PS/ 40:6-8; Prov. 21:3). We must be obedient to His calling, and bear the cross He has given to us not to someone else. And you can only know what that calling is through diligent time spent in His word, because it is there that the Spirit speaks to you and you become convicted of what you must obey. This is about obedience, I’m afraid. But the beauty of obedience is that when we love Christ, and are walking in the Spirit, obedience is a lot easier.  In fact, God’s will seems a lot more clear when we’re in step with the Spirit.

We must not seek to gratify the flesh and take on the calling of someone else simply because it seems to be the grand and noble thing to do. For Christ only minutes later would tell the group the following:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It may be that you’re not called to preach but to clean. It may be that you’re not called to clean but to evangelize. It may be that you are called to lead a small group or a Bible study, but not yet. Too often we mistake our own passions for the will of God. We frequently want something so badly that we project those feelings onto what we read in Scripture. We must be careful not to rush headlong into something unless we have tested it, prayed about it, sought counsel from godly people about it, and truly have a peace about the way forward.

In Conclusion

Peter was a sort of traitor here, not to the level of Judas, for he didn’t mean to betray Jesus, but he did deny Him in utter cowardice nonetheless. But if you think about it, we are all traitors against God’s law, are we not?  This is what R.C. Sproul called “Cosmic Treason” because we have all sinned against the God of the universe. For instance, consider these passages:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22)

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Yet He has chosen some of us traitors to be His children. Though we still continue to fall – if Peter call fall, certainly we can also – He still welcomes us to His cross and His throne. He reminds us that there is no righteousness we have to earn in order to be welcomed into His family – He has already done that for us. That’s the measure of His love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

And so I want to conclude by listening to Christ’s own words, which drip with such mercy and love that their beauty cannot be denied. Because He has interceded for us, like Peter, we can rest in His work and His love:

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-21, 24-26)

Study Notes 7-21-13: The Mysteries of God

Notes for John 12:34-40 on the mysteries of God and His hardening of some and quickening of others unto His own glory and for His own pleasure

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a good idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

12:37-40 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] 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?” [39] Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, [40] “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.”

The Total Depravity of Man

Let’s just take verse 37 first, for it’s the foundational verse in this series of verses. It states that Christ had done “so many signs” in front of these people, and what was the results? “They still did not believe in him.”  What is John trying to say here? He’s undoubtedly saying that no one in their right mind could see the outrageously wonderful things Jesus was doing and not believe in Him.  Yet, somehow these people “still” couldn’t find it within themselves to believe in him…and that’s exactly how I think its best expressed, they couldn’t “find it within themselves.”

A.W. Pink says:

“Fearful proof was this of the depravity of the human heart. The miracles of Christ were neither few in number nor unimpressive in nature. The Lord Jesus performed prodigies of power of almost every conceivable kind. He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds, walked on the sea, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead. His miracles were wrought openly, in the light of day, before numerous witnesses. Nevertheless “they”—the nation at large—”believed not on him.” Altogether inexcusable was their hardness of heart. All who heard His teaching and witnessed His works, ought, without doubt, to have received Him as their Divinely-accredited Messiah and Savior. But the great majority of His countrymen refused to acknowledge His claims.”

J.C. Ryle says:

“The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation-doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? ‘The disciple is not greater than his Master.’ If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers? Let the truth be spoken and confessed: man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many of the indirect proofs that the Bible is true”

John is provoking us to ask the questions “why?”  “What is going on with these people that they can see all of these supernatural things and still not believe in Jesus?”  Well, as it turns out, it’s not what is going on with them, but rather, what is not going on within them.

John signals that he’s going to explain when, at the beginning of verse 38, he says “so.”  That word “so” in the ESV is iva in the Greek, which is best transliterated “that” or “in order that” or “so that”, and it signals that the reason for the aforementioned unbelief is about to be given, and it is namely that “the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  In other words, “their unbelief has occurred in order that Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass.”

Well, what is this prophecy exactly? “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” and 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.”

And the result? “Therefore they could not believe.”  God has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart in order that they not believe.  This is an incredible passage, the closest one I can find that’s comparable is found in Exodus where a series of passages explains that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

How Do We Understand This “Hardening”?

In order to understand this Biblically, we need to first understand what it means for God to harden a heart, only then will we be able to understand verse 44 when we look at that, and realize that God is hardening hearts, and at the same time calling on people to believe in Christ for salvation.  Our feeble minds want to ask, “How can these two things happen in fairness simultaneously?”

We believe that God is pure and holy and perfectly righteous, and there is no evil in Him whatsoever, so that we know that He does not harden a human heart by reaching in and infusing it with evil!  Rather, when scripture talks about God hardening a heart, it is God’s turning us over to our own desires. Without His arm of grace, without His showering us with protection from ourselves, we become completely given over to our own sinful desires. Paul explains in Romans:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28 ESV)

Three times Paul says that God “gave them up”, paradidōmi, to themselves. And what happens? They go from bad to worse. They continue in sin and their minds become more and more depraved. And so when God hardens a heart, all He is doing is allowing us to have what we naturally want, such is the ignominiously depraved condition of mankind’s heart.

God is Still Sovereign Over All…and That Means ALL

Lastly, while we understand that our own desires are naturally evil, and that God can give us up to these desires, we cannot run the fact that He is in complete control over all things. It is difficult for us to understand these truths in our finitude, and we usually like to find ways to vindicate God of some kind of self-perceived problem of God being involved in creating evil. These attempts at theodicy have resulted in the past in many errors, and its not surprising that many of these errors are rooted in an inappropriate view of God and a wildly distorted view of man. In his day John Calvin addressed many of these difficult questions and said (in chapter 18 of book one of Institutes) that we cannot excuse God from involvment in the hardening of men’s hearts simply because we do not understand His reasons. Those who suppose God is not sovereign over all details of our lives suppose incorrectly that he only “permits” things as though He had no control at all. Here is what Calvin says to sum up the matter:

The sum of the whole is this, – since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

And so it is that God works all things according to His will, even in the lives of those who are not Christians, for nothing is out of His control, nor does He simply take His hands off the situation as if to allow Satan to rule independently. As Calvin points out, “With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.”

Therefore, though this is complex, and difficult to understand, we can know in the final analysis that God does all things according to His pleasure for His glory, and allows justice to be done upon those whose hearts He has turned over to their own evil desires. God does not owe man anything; He certainly does not owe every man mercy for man, in his natural state is depraved and will always seek the darkness and not the light (John 3:19-21).

As Augustine summarizes so well:

Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! So that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil… (Augustine re: Ps. 111: 2).

In Conclusion…

I think I have clearly stated the truth of God’s work here above, and so I cannot spend much more time addressing the question, but I recognize that this is a difficult concept to grasp.  Just how does God deal with man and why does He do it. But we can know that God is not the author of evil, while still maintaining that He is sovereign and involved in every detail of our lives. We also know that we all deserve Hell for our sins, and if God was not merciful to any of us it would be just for Him to send us to Hell. God is also completely sovereign over whom He quickens unto spiritual life. It is obvious that some go to Hell and some go to Heaven. But why He chooses some and not others is up to Him and not us, for who can question the Lord (Job 38)? It is also true that those evil people who are given over to their sinful desires cannot blame God for the justice they receive – for no one receives what is unjust. Some receive mercy, and others receive justice. Furthermore, we cannot know now why it is that God so chooses to use the evil deeds of men who are destined for Hell for His own glory – as He did when His Son was crucified in a monstrously evil act that has brought about more good than anything ever has in this world. I cannot understand why God chooses to act through these means, or why He allowed evil in the first place, or why He permits any of us to continue on in this life, as we must so often His holy nature by our dreadful sins. I simply know that it is His will and pleasure to do these things the way He does them, and I do not excuse Him from these acts as if He needed an excuse. He is both sovereign and hands-on, and completely just and loving. His ways are far above my ways and your way. His mind is so infinitely beyond our questioning that I dare not probe into His secret counsels. I simply stand in awe and fear of His might and magnificence, and wonder at the depth of His mercy to me, a sinner.

 

Reprobation and Predestination (Justice and Mercy)

Reprobation and Salvation

During last week’s class, near the end, I got a question as to why some people are saved and not others. The question was framed in the context of creation: “why would God create some people who He knew would never accept His gospel, and therefore go to Hell”?  The question is more bluntly put, “if God is the One sovereignly quickening us (bringing us alive from the dead), then why would He even create others who were not going to be saved?”

This question hits on a few important doctrines: predestination and reprobation.

Reprobation is defined in this way by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, “God’s action of leaving some persons in a state of their own sinfulness so that they do not receive salvation but eternal punishment.”

Predestination is defined in this way, “A term for the view that God predestines or elections some to salvation by means of a positive decree while those who are not saved condemn themselves because of their sin  (also: “God’s gracious initiation of salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ”).”

But before I go to scripture to explain these doctrines, particularly that of reprobation, let me first say that there are certain things that we can know, and other things that we cannot know, and will not be able to figure out.  This is not a cop-out, but rather an understanding of the fact that God is greater and His ways are deeper than our minds can fathom (Is. 55:6-11).

Do Not Pry into His Eternal Council

But not only are there things our minds were not made to comprehend, but there are things which we must not pry – the sovereign council of God. There is a limit not only to our understanding, but to what God will allow us to search out – most particularly in arrogance (which is the attitude we humans tend put on when exploring big questions of the unknowable). Job found this out first hand when he questioned God’s purpose in his life.  What was God’s reaction to Job?  This is what He said:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He challenges Job over and over “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this…Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

God concludes two lengthy chapters of rebuke with this “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Some are Predestined…Others Are Not

It is supposed by the question that this blog post is being addressed that we believe that indeed some are saved and others are not.  But I want to just reaffirm this great mysterious truth once again by citing some Scripture.  Ephesians 1 tells us this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, [12] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. [13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)

What this passage clearly teaches us is that before the world began, God predestined a chosen group of people for salvation, and that all of this was “according to the counsel of his will” for a purpose.  What was the purpose? “For the praise of His glory.”  I will come back to that in a minute.

In Romans 9, the seminal passage on predestination and reprobation, Paul says this:

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and not Esau, in other words, God chose Jacob for salvation and for His work of redemption and not Esau.  Why did He choose one and not the other? Paul answers: “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Therefore the choosing is all of God.  Can the passage be anymore plain? He alone is sovereign and soverignly chooses whom He wills.  This is why Christ can confidently say in John 10 that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  His sheep are discriminatory.  Why?  Because He has chosen them. His Spirit has quickened them. He has plucked them as brands from the burning to be the objects of His affection, and they have been given to Him as a gift from the Father to the glory and enjoyment of the Son.

Now in verse 19 Paul anticipates the same objections I received in class.  He knows that some will object.  He knows some will say, “that’s not fair!”  But how does he answer them?  God says, speaking through Paul, something similar to what He said thousands of years prior to Job:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Wayne Grudem says this about the text, “…we must remember that it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone, just as He did with the angels: ‘God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). What would be perfectly fair for God would be to do with human beings as He did with angels, that is, to save none of those who sinned and rebelled against Him. But if He does save some at all, then this is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”

Then Grudem gets into the objection specifically raised in class:

But at a deeper level this objection would say that it is not fair for God to create some people who knew would sin and be eternally condemned, and whom He would not redeem. Paul raises this objection in Romans 9 (citation of the passage). Here is the heart of the “unfairness” objection against the doctrine of election. If each person’s ultimate destiny is determined by God, not by the person himself or herself (that is, even when people make willing choices that determine whether they will be saved or not, if God is actually behind those choices somehow causing them to occur), then how can this be fair?  Paul’s response is not one that appeals to our pride, nor does he attempt to give a philosophical explanation of why this is just. He simply calls on God’s rights as the omnipotent Creator (Romans 9:20-24)…there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question His justice. He has done what He has done according to His sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse Him of unfairness or injustice.

Furthermore, this troubles us greatly because not only does it say that we can’t always understand His purposes or question His great purposes, but it goes further…that God is actually glorified in all of this.  Certainly He does not desire anyone to go to Hell (1 Tim. 2:4) but He is glorified in His actions because they magnify His perfect holy character.  Reprobation magnifies His justice, and salvation magnifies His mercy.

Why?

There is a certain point beyond which we may not pry, as I mentioned above, and as Paul alludes to when he says, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”  But I want us to understand that while we may not understand the eternal counsel of His will, we can still understand the basic parameters of His will and His actions, and these parameters have to do with His pleasure, His honor, and His glory.

Look at what that Ephesians passage said about the reason for predestination.  Verses 6 and 12 both said this was for “the praise of His glory” or “His glorious grace.”

Then look at what Romans says about the reason for reprobation. Verse 23 says this was “in order to make known the riches of His glory.”

In other words, all things work together not only for our good (Romans 8:28), but they will all eventually work together for His glory.  Indeed all of human history will culminate in Christ’s receiving the glory that is due Him.  No matter what the issue, we can be certain that God does it because He finds pleasure in His plan, and wants to receive glory in and through that plan.

The Example of Christ and Our Response

Perhaps the most grueling and baffling example of predestination was the plan set forth from before creation for the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Jesus to die a horrific death on the cross. This plan was forged before He even made the world! He could have said, “No I am not going to do this act of creation because ultimately my Son will have to die.” But that is not what He did.  According to His own pleasure and plan to the glory of His son and the praise of His name, He created the world and all that is in it, and He did so with the full knowledge that one day He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world.

This is a great mystery. We ask, “Why would He create some whom He does not save?” When we ought to ask, “Why would God choose to send His Son to die for me even before He created a single solitary speck of earth?”  Asking the former appeals to our pride, asking the latter calls us to search out the depths of the love of God – love that is so unsearchable that we cannot understand or fathom it. We simply respond with Job:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)

Study Notes 9-2-12

This week we finished off the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and in two weeks we’ll begin the 7th chapter.  Below are my full notes on the section (about 7 pages worth I believe).  I included all of them instead of bullet pointing because I think there’s probably a lot more below than I covered in class + I didn’t get to record the audio (oops!!).  Hopefully this is sufficient.  Enjoy!

6:67-69 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” [68] Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Before we go into what it is that Peter says, I wanted to note something that Calvin says about this shift in dialogue. “As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others.”

This is one of the things I love about Calvin; he’s always putting himself in the situation so that he can explain the context to us more accurately than we might initially compose it in our minds. And what it is that he draws out here is the compassion of Christ.  He directs His attention to the disciples because He knows their hearts and thoughts and wants to be sure that they understand the truths He’s teaching.  He does the same with us, don’t you think?  So many times when I get shaken about something I’ve read or learned, I turn to Christ in prayer and He settles me down.  He speaks soothing words to my heart and helps me understand what it is that He’s made known in His word.

The Bible and specifically the words of Christ, aren’t always easy things to understand.  Carson points out that Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had been saying thus far might have been a bit “muddy.”  The same is often true of myself. That is why it is so comforting to see this example of the attention Christ is giving these men.  His desire is for us to learn more about Him.

Peter’s Confession

Peter makes a great confession here. He must have thought to himself, “what am I to do? What can I say to this”?  This is the same thing we might think from time to time.  We get frustrated with something we face in life and we blame God.  Or we can’t understand the difficult mysteries of Scripture so we get turned off by them and don’t read anymore, or we get rubbed wrong by a pastor or leader and stop coming to church etc.  But Peter, while acknowledging that Christ’s words are difficult – note that he doesn’t deny this – still admits that Christ is the only one with the words of life.  And so He is. We must therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, but with humility, knowing that these mysteries are difficult even for those who spent time in the very presence of God incarnate.

John Piper talks about the vast wisdom and knowledge of Christ in his book ‘Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ’ and says that the greatest knowledge Christ had was of who God was.  He had this knowledge because He was God Himself!  And this is what Christ is trying to get these people (and us) to understand: that He is God.  Here’s what Piper says:

Nothing greater can be said about the knowledge of Jesus than that he knows God perfectly. All reality outside God is parochial compared to the infinite reality that God is. What God has made is like a toy compared to the complexity and depth of who God is. All the sciences that scratch the surface of the created universe are mere ABCs compared to Christ’s exhaustive knowledge of the created universe. And even this knowledge of the created universe is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the ocean of knowledge that Jesus has of the being of God himself. While the universe is finite, God is infinite. Complete knowledge of the infinite is infinite. Therefore to know God as Jesus knows God is to have infinite knowledge.

And so this is the reality that Peter came to at the end of this discourse.  And this is why verse 64 is so significant, it all points to Christ’s knowledge.  He knows everything from before the foundation of the world.

There are other instances of this in Scripture.  For example, in John 18:4 it says “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” and earlier in John 2:24-25 it says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

I also love the example of a time when the Pharisees were trying to question Jesus to see how smart he really was, and He ended up asking them the questions instead.  The passage is Matthew 23:41-46:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

I just love that last verse – the reaction to His scriptural example is that “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions”!  What a great verse!

This is where Peter found himself, only his reaction was one of confessional worship, while the Pharisees were simply silenced in their embarrassment.

6:70-71 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” [71] He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

First we notice that Christ makes certain that His disciples understand that it is He that is doing the choosing and not themselves. This is perhaps a very clear example of election, though MacArthur says “He is not here referring to election to salvation, but rather selection to apostleship.” God knows who His chosen ones will be, as He also knew who Jesus’ disciples would be. Peter makes his declaration of faith, first and then Christ reminds him that it wasn’t Peter who chose Christ for His words, but rather Christ chose Peter that he might hear His words and choose to follow Him. So while we see that Christ might not specifically be talking about salvation, the principles of sovereignty are the same – in all things He is sovereign.  As D.A. Carson says, “Ultimately, the twelve did not choose Jesus; He chose them.”

Very interesting that Jesus would choose to react in verse 70 to Peter’s confession this way.  In another discourse Peter makes a more clear confession of faith and Christ responds slightly differently, but the point is really the same.  That confession is found in Matthew 16:16-17.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

There are some wonderful parallels between this passage and the one we’re looking at here in John.  As you recall, we said that being taught of God is the same as being drawn or chosen by God.  And these two verses demonstrate this all the more.  The Matthew passage shows us that what Peter understood about Christ did not emanate from within himself, but rather from God who revealed it to him.  We might call this being “taught” of God.

The passage we have in John shows us a similar confession by Peter, though slightly different in the phraseology.  He states that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” and Jesus doesn’t say specifically this time that God revealed this to him, but rather says that it wasn’t Peter that chose to have this knowledge, it wasn’t something within Peter that made him want to stay and be with Christ and follow Him, rather Jesus says that it was Christ who called him out of darkness.  Peter would later write this about what it means to be a Christian:

But 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. (1 Peter 2:9)

So we see here that Jesus isn’t going away from His main point of this passage, which is that in all things God is sovereign, and particularly in the matter of salvation.

Allowing Evil

The second thing we notice here is what Boice calls “a disturbing revelation.”  He points out is that one of the disciples is “a devil” and John adds a contextual note that Judas will betray Jesus.  Leon Morris says that all the gospel authors make this betrayal clear when they first introduce Judas in each of their accounts.

There is no question that Jesus is stating that He is sovereign over who will be His disciples, just as He is sovereign over salvation and is sovereign over all living things.  He’s already stated this numerous times throughout the passage, and once more again just now.  But why would He allow Judas to be numbered among them?

The answer lies in the fact that, while God hates evil, He allows evil, and even chooses to work through evil situations and people, to bring good to His people.  This is the whole meaning of Romans 8:28.  It isn’t that God simply is sovereign over the good times, and it isn’t as though these evil people are somehow out from under His thumb.  No indeed.  God in His mysterious sovereignty allows evil people to do what they do in order that He might bring about redemption.

This is the kind of thing that baffles us.  Christ ends the passage that is so rich with predestinarian language and teaching that one can’t help but realize that from the beginning of time God had a plan for us and for His Son’s incarnation, death, and glorious resurrection.  Yet we struggle with the purpose of evil.  And we must be careful, because this is where errors can filter into our thinking.

We must guide our thoughts of Jesus’ allowing of Judas, and other evil men, into His plans by what we know is true about God’s character.  God is not the author of evil Himself, nor does He like, or condone it.  Evil is contrary to God’s holy character, it is so fully opposite of who He is that He will not evil look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).

And yet His Spirit strives with us while we continue to sin, and He also uses evil to accomplish His will on earth.  This is close to being a paradox – it is something that seems contradictory on the surface, but when we look at God’s character we find it is not so.  God can be both merciful, and holy.  He can be both loving of His sinful creatures, while displaying at least some measure of His wrath at our sin.

We would not call these attributes contradictory in a person, just as we won’t call them so in God.  But we do have a tendency as human beings to assume God’s mercy outweighs His justice and wrath.  We tend to think of God as sort of a one-sided all loving God, or perhaps as a lopsided all-judging and wrathful God.  But the truth is that God’s characteristics are balanced as He sees fit.  We can’t know the “why” of His choosing to be merciful to some and deliver justice to others.  He chose to be merciful to the disciples and deliver justice to Judas.  He had a plan that involved Judas betraying Him.  If He hadn’t have chosen Judas to be one of the 12, there would be no betrayal, no cross, and no redemption for sins.

The Mind of God and Vessels of Wrath

It is impossible to understand fully the mind of God.  For the past several weeks we have been struggling with the operation of God’s choosing some and not others.  We have mostly been focused on how God chose us, and how amazing it is that He would do so – and indeed it is amazing!  But here we’re confronted with the necessary opposite of that choice of His.  Here we see that Judas was not only not chosen for heaven, but was in fact chosen by God for a purpose – as a vessel of wrath to fulfill the scriptures.

This seems even more unacceptable and unpalatable to us that God discriminating who will be chosen to go to heaven!  But the Bible isn’t silent on this either.  In Romans 9 Paul explains the mysterious dilemma we’re facing right now:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

This is an astounding passage of scripture and it would be easy to fall into error if we don’t properly understand what God is saying here.

In one sense, God is both active and in another He is passive.  This is a paradox – not a contradiction (hence why I’ve taken the time in the past to explain this important principle).  God is actively not choosing some men – like Judas, and in the passage above Esau, while He is also not actively putting any kind of evil into their hearts.

This doctrine is called by some “Double-Predestination”, and the idea is that God elects some to life and others to destruction, while not retracting any responsibility from mankind whatsoever. Judas was still responsible for his actions. So then, God knows both who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.  He elects believers to life – we know that because we’ve spent the last few weeks reading all about Christ’s teaching on the matter.  But now we read that He also has plans for Judas – plans that end in his destruction. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen, and not only knew, but also chose to have Judas as part of the 12.

But none of this makes God the author of evil, nor does it take away Judas’ responsibility for his own sin. This is why it is so very important that we have a clear understanding that mankind is fallen, sinful, and without God. We are strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19) to God until He brings us into His kingdom.  Once we understand our radical depravity, we’ll understand how God can not be the author of evil, and yet allow some men (like Judas) to be vessels of wrath.

Just as with Pharaoh, Judas was a sinner who loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). We are all the same way. Why did Judas sell Christ out to the Pharisees?  For money!  He was a lover of money and not a lover of God.  It wasn’t as though Christ did something within the heart of Judas to make him do what he did.  No indeed.  We all are bound for Hell regardless of how sinful we are because we’re all sinful at some level – we were born that way.  So all men, in a manner of speaking, are destined for Hell until God intervenes and saves us from that terrible destruction!

But we know that here there’s another more terrible reality.  God actively allowed this man to do what he did.  Judas was a vessel of wrath.  The same was true for Pharaoh.  But in “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart, God was not placing some new evil there, but rather turning Pharaoh over to him own desires.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:24 and 1:26 that God “gave them up” to their sins.

God does actively make His children alive from the dead through the power of His spirit, and God does actively pass over those who are not His children.  But God does not actively implant evil in men – He doesn’t need to!  For we are already evil, and when He lifts His restraining arm of common grace from our lives and turns us over to ourselves, we quickly destroy ourselves.

In all of this, He has a purpose and a plan.

The Answer is Hidden in His Purposes

The “answer” or the “reason” in all of this is that God chooses some for heaven and not others – in fact He hardens some and not others.  And this seems difficult, but we don’t know all of His reasoning, we just know that He does it because for His own pleasure and for His own glory.

You see, as Paul pointed out, God is the creator, and as part of the Trinity, Christ was a part of that creation process.  So Christ saying that He chose these 12 men – including one as a vessel of destruction – is the same as God saying He chose these 12.  Jesus is God, and that is what He’s trying to get across.  He can do whatever He wants with His creation for His own glory and pleasure.  We’re the creatures.  He made us and can really do whatever He wants.

When I was younger I played with Lego men, army men, and GI Joe figurines.  I would make Lego fortresses and ships and zoom them around my bedroom.  Some I kept in pristine condition because I wanted to make certain I could continue to use them the next day, but others I crashed into the floor.  I did so because it was my pleasure to do so, because it brought my joy.  Now God is not an 8-year-old boy.  God’s heart is much more complex and more sincere and loving.  And we are not merely Lego men, but we are creatures and He is the creator and He is absolutely sovereign over our lives and over who will join Him in heaven, and who He will use as vessels of wrath.

Judas was placed where he was because God allowed it.  Boice talks about how this was an ongoing trial for Jesus – even when He was alone with the 12, He had an enemy in His presence.

A.W. Pink says that God chose Judas for several reasons:

  1. Because it furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections
  2. It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ
  3. It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin.
  4. The choice of Judas supplies the sinner with a solemn warning – Boice says, “A person may experience the closest possible contact with Jesus and still not come to Him for salvation.”
  5. The presence of Judas shows us that we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.
  6. It affords us one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

This is a mystery that will not be solved in one day or in one reading.  We have to have faith that God, who created us and has saved us, also has a plan that is bigger than our finite minds can comprehend.

What Should our Reaction be?

I think the only proper reaction to this is to fear the Lord.  We too easily forget that His ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So often we use that as a cop-out for learning more about God, but this is one instance where His mind and His plans are simply out of bounds.  And I do not mean simply beyond out understanding, but also beyond our questioning.  What He has purposed from eternity past we must not question.  Instead we must bow before Him in admiration for His power, His sovereignty, and His love for us.  For indeed we see evil all around us.  We ourselves were once enemies of God.  And yet, not because of anything in us – “not because of man who wills or who runs” but for His own purposes and His own glory (Eph. 2:8-9) He has chosen to redeem us from our fallen state (Rom. 5:8).  He does this because He wants your worship.  God has saved you for a point.  He has not only saved you from something but also for something (Eph. 2:10).  He wants you to know about these great truths because He wants your to be broken.  He wants you to be humbly relying completely on Him – for surely if He has planned all things from eternity, He can guide you through the rocky shoals of life.

This should cause us to love God. We see what He’s done in us, and though we can’t know His secret purposes, we do know the why of His purposes in our lives and what we ought to do with this new life we’ve been given.  Boice says, “let us learn to trust God in matters for which we can see no reason. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Moreover, since we can se that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, let us learn that our thoughts must change.”

I pray we learn to use this small understanding of His ways to foster a new love for Him in our hearts.  For we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

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.