Christ’s Intercession for His Bride

Below are my notes from Sunday School almost two weeks ago.  I list several reasons why I believe that the doctrine of Definite Atonement is the best way for us to understand Christ’s mighty work upon the cross.  I left off a reason that has since been brought to my attention by Dr. Stephen Wellum, namely that in His role as our High Priest Christ is interceding for the church alone, not for any outside the church.  One might think of how the priests of the Old Covenant never made sacrifices for sin for gentiles outside their nation – they were making atonement for a specific group of people, or individuals. It would have been preposterous for them to make sacrifices “for the whole world” when the point of such sacrifices was to point forward to an Ultimate Sacrifice for the elect, namely the blood shed by Christ at Calvary.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

17:9-10 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Jesus says three really profound things here – some of which we’ve already talked about, but because they are being repeated by Jesus I think we can assume that means they’re important, so, we’ll discuss them again.

Jesus is praying for an exclusive group of people and not praying for another group. He’s also saying in His prayer that that ownership over these people is shared between Himself and the Father, and lastly, that He’s “glorified” in these people.

First, I think that verse nine is probably one of the best proof texts for the doctrine known as “limited” or “definite” atonement. The doctrine is a divisive one for us Baptists – so much so that its very difficult to hold the view that the doctrine is indeed reality without getting at least some grief from church and lay leadership.

The doctrine of Definite Atonement, simply stated, espouses that while the atonement Jesus offered on the cross is so valuable that its meritorious for the whole world, yet, that atonement has not been done for the whole world, but only for those whom God has chosen out of the world.

J.C. Ryle puts it this way, “It is true that Christ loves all sinners, and invites all to be saved; but it is also true that He specially loves the ‘blessed company of all faithful people’, whom He sanctifies and glorifies. It is true that He has wrought out a redemption sufficient for all mankind, and offers it freely to all; but it is also true that His redemption is effectual only to them that believe.”

This doctrine is rooted in love.  It is for love that we are called, and for the glory of God that He chooses to intercede for some and not others.  Paul says, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:4b-5).

D.A. Carson notices that though God loves the world in the broader sense of His creation, yet there is a specific sense in which He loves His elect unto salvation, “However wide is the love of God (3:16), however salvific the stance of Jesus toward the world (12:47), there is a peculiar relationship of love, intimacy, disclosure, obedience, faith, dependence, joy, peace, eschatological blessing and fruitfulness that binds the disciples together with the Godhead. These themes have dominated the farewell discourse.”

Although this is a tricky doctrine to get our minds around, I believe it is easiest to understand to doctrine in terms of God’s intentions. Did He send Jesus to die for every single person in the whole world, or did you send Jesus to die for only certain chosen people that were predestined to salvation?

It seems to me that verses like 17:9, and others, when combined with shear logic and an understanding of God’s character and plan of redemption lead us unquestionably to the latter choice – that Jesus died specifically for His sheep, the elect, the chosen ones.

There are many reasons Biblically for thinking this, In John 5:21 we learn that the Son grants life only “to whom he will.”  In John 6:37-44 we learn that both the Father and the Son are working together to select and draw a specific group of people to themselves – a thought which so confused and offended the Jews (along with Christ’s claim to be “bread from heaven”) that many abandoned Him soon thereafter (John 6:66).  In John 10 we learn that Jesus laid down His life for His “sheep” – a specific group of people that were “His”, as distinguished from all people everywhere.

But there are numerous instances in Scripture outside of John’s gospel where the doctrine is assumed as an underlying principle of truth. In Ephesians 5:25 we learn of how men ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her” – again, not for the whole world, but for “her”, for the church, the elect.

In Acts 20:28 Paul states the Jesus died for the church specifically, and that in His death He “obtained” her by His blood.  This is a theme throughout Paul’s writings.  In Ephesians chapter one Paul labors the point that a specific group of people were predestined to salvation from “before the foundation of the world.” This group was called according to a purpose and according to the power of God (which is what Ephesians 2:1-10 explains).

Paul appropriates this saving work to a specific group of people, and includes himself in that group when he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Christ became sin “for our sake.”

Not only is this the clear teaching of Scripture, but there are also logical reasons for thinking this.  Let me offer a few of them that have helped me sort this out in the years I’ve studied the topic:

First, Ephesians 1:4 tells us that believers were predestined “before the foundation of the world.” If God knew whom He would save, why would Jesus not know those for whom He was dying? It doesn’t seem probable that in His incarnation He would suddenly forget His own plan and scope of redemption.

Perhaps you could posit that Jesus, in His humanity, didn’t know all of that information – as we see with His second coming in (Mark 13:32). However, Jesus doesn’t show any specific ignorance or underlying ignorance in this are in the gospels. Furthermore, we must remember that He never stopped being God. Infinite knowledge was at His disposal, and regardless of whether He tapped into that (so to speak), or had it conveyed to His humanity by the Spirit (as we see in other places like Luke 2:52), the preponderance of Biblical evidence seems to favor His knowing at a minimum that He was dying for a specific group of people, and probably exactly who those people were.

Secondly, even if you manage to believe that Jesus didn’t know everyone who He was dying for during His ministry on earth, you would still have to explain what the other Members of the Trinity were thinking. In other words, God the Father and God the Spirit still knew (and never stopped knowing) who would be saved by Jesus’ work of atonement. They never stopped being omniscient, did they? They didn’t suddenly get amnesia!  It wasn’t as if they looked down on humanity after the cross and said, “Now, who were we going to apply this to again?”

Third, Definite Atonement is called “definite” because it means that if Jesus died to save you, you will definitely be saved. This doctrine complies with God’s character and power and the spirit of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Romans 8:31-19.  There is a plan that’s been in place from eternity past and it involves you – a plan that cannot be thwarted! Similarly, God’s character is such that He desires all the praise and glory, and this is exactly what He gets when His precise plan of redemption is applied by the work of the Spirit in the lives of lost sinners. No credit goes to us, and there is no sense of uncertainty in this doctrine because God is faithful to His plan and is powerful enough to carry it out.

Lastly, if God didn’t know for whom Jesus was dying, then how would God the Spirit know who to regenerate to life? I believe that God is the one who sovereignly awakens Christians to spiritual life from spiritual death.  And because of this, I believe that God is the one who takes the initiative to regenerate us, which means that He must know who His “targets” are (so to speak)!  It’s not as if the spirit simply goes around “accidentally” regenerating people! No does He wait for some inkling of faith to appear in the heart of an unbeliever – for we know that faith is not something that is created apart from the work of God – it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9)!

There are immense implications – especially for our comfort as Christians.  The first comfort is that the necessary result of believing that God is sovereign over salvation is believing that He will definitely finish the work He set out to do (Phil. 1:6), and that He actually knows who He’s saving – and has always known!

The second comfort is knowing that if Christ loves us enough to intercede on our behalf for salvation, certainly He continues to intercede for us as our Great High Priest every day and every moment.  He is seated at God’s right hand and is praying on our behalf – He is speaking to the Father for us. What an Advocate!  Not simply for salvation, but for our every need. I remember that fellow deacon Jim Dobbs devoted an entire year to praying for me as a new deacon – he told me this upon my ordination, and it blew me away.  I would get check ups from him every now and again, and he would remind me of his prayer for me.  This holiness, this love will always remain in my mind. How much more impressed ought we to be when the Son of God promises and does the same thing for us – not for the past year alone, but from before the foundation of the world!

Therefore, for all our difficulties with this doctrine Jesus doesn’t seem to share in our mental hardship. Jesus does it for us when He says, “I am not praying for the world.” He states that He has a certain group of people for whom He is interceding (John 17:9), for whom He is calling (John 6:44) and therefore for whom He is (be extension) living and dying for.

It’s as if He wanted to stop and say “by the way, not that you don’t already know this, but I’m not interceding on behalf of the whole world here, just the specific people I’ve mentioned above.”

Carson goes a step farther, “To pray for the world, the created moral order in active rebellion against God, would be blasphemous; there is no hope for the world. There is hope only for some who now constitute the world but who will cease to be the world and will join those of whom Jesus says for they are yours.”

Well the consequences of all of this ought to be joy for us.  We ought to really enjoy the fact that Jesus had a plan, stuck to the plan, succeeded in the plan, and is powerful enough to bring that plan to fruition and consummation when He returns.

The second thing we read in these verses (9-10) concerns ownership and this idea that within the Trinity we are cherished and “shared”, if you will, by the Father and Son.  A few examples:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:21)

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

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11)

In Luke’s Gospel we read a series of verses that really sum up this passage in John – which simply shows the consistency of Christ’s teaching on this point:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

The upshot of this is that for many of us who long to belong to someone or something greater than ourselves, Christ is that someone. I wonder how many Christians miss out on the sweetness of these verses and the beautiful soul comforting truth that you belong to someone, not just anyone, not just the run of the mill guy or gal, or the Kiwanis or the Rotary, but to the most powerful, most loving Person in the world (and outside of it) and the most meaningful, most important cause in world history – the church of Christ.

If you are lonely, if you are unattached, if you are a lone wolf, then you now must realize the truth that Christ has not left you alone.  He has not left you unattached. You are His sheep, the “human sheep” of His pastor, and He cares deeply for you.  As we read in John 16:27, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

Again, don’t miss this: God’s saving purposes may be mysterious to us, but one part of the mystery is not veiled, and that is the unmistakable mark of love that these doctrines are rooted in.  It is love for us, and most of all a love for His glory that underlies and drives this narrative.

The third thing Jesus says is that He is “glorified” in us.  This is very important because of what verse 11 says about Him leaving the world. He has left the world and has manifested His Father’s name to us, and now it is our mission, our life’s goal to manifest His name (His gospel) to the world.

We know as Christians that our end is often said to “glorify God”, and we also know from many church services and Sunday school lessons that we do this by obeying Him, and in so doing we’re bringing Him glory. But the fact that He is gone and we are here got me thinking about how much He has included us in His work.  It’s not that He’s left us alone – we know that much from this context especially – and we know He is the One working in and through us, yet He gets glory from our obedience.  He changes our hearts and we in turn obey. He is irresistibly good to us, is He not?

Perhaps I am not adding anything valuable that anyone else wouldn’t have thought of, but when I think that we are His instruments down here on earth to carry out His plan and that He is actually here using us, working through us, helping us to be like Him, remaking us in His image – that really puts the whole passage in an amazing light. He chooses us, He cares for us, He intercedes for us, He owns us as His own, and He finds glory in us. I love the fact that He is working in my life and the lives of those around me!  That gives me great purpose as I type out my notes, as I study the Bible, as I minister to others.  I know that all I do He is doing with and through me, and that He’s right here.  I cannot help but point to Him in all I do.  We Christians out to read verses like this, and reason through them with the truth that Paul came to when extolling the Corinthian church with what is our mission and our message as well:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:22-31).

A Gift to the Son: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

Jesus has manifested the name of the Father to the Disciples and to us – His love-gift from the Father of a people called out of the world, a people who are called according to purpose and a plan

17:6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

Verse six is a transition verse. Jesus has been talking about His own glory and his petition has been focused on Himself and His work – which is about to be consummated, and yet in His mind the work was all but certainly fulfilled (vs.4).

Now He turns His attention to those that God has given Him, His disciples. And there are several points worth stopping and meditating upon before we go any further. The key points are these:

  • Jesus Manifested the Father’s Name
  • The Elect are a Gift to Christ from the Father
  • The Elect are ‘Out of the World’ and therefore no better off than any other intrinsically
  • The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation/Given to Christ
  • The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

Manifesting the Father’s Name

The word “manifest” is phaneroō in the Greek, which means “to reveal” or “to make known” (MacArthur). What does it mean to “reveal” or “make known” the name of the Lord? Certainly it’s more than just shouting “Yahweh! Yahweh! Yahweh!” on every street corner in Galilee and Jerusalem!

The idea here is that the sum total of God’s character and attributes are bound up in His name. So that when Jesus is declaring “the name” of the Father, He is declaring who the Father is in His essential being, and what He is all about – MacArthur says, “God’s name encompasses all that He is: His character, nature, and attributes.”

Hendricksen says something profound here: “The Son is the Father’s Exegete. Apart from him no one ever gets to know spiritual matters in their real, inner essence and value. The Father’s name – that is, the Father himself, as he displays his glorious attributes in the realm of redemption – is not apart from the words and words of the Son. This knowledge concerning the Father means everlasting life (vs. 3).”

When Hendriksen says that Jesus is the Father’s “Exegete”, what he’s saying is the Jesus, as the Son of God, is best qualified to explain to us who the Father is – what He’s like and so forth.

Today we have the word of God in the Scripture – it is living and active (Hebrews 4) and it is “God’s own divine interpretation, through human authors, of his own redemptive acts (Steven Wellum).” Jesus is the Word of God incarnate and here has declared (in the aorist, and therefore finished sense) that He has completed His mission of telling the world – especially those whom God has given Him – about who God is.

Carson says it well, “That the revelation Jesus simultaneously is and delivers can be briefly summed up as your word is not surprising, for all of Jesus’ words are God’s words (5:19-30), and Jesus himself is God’s self-expression, God’s Word incarnate (1:1,14).”

The Elect are a Gift to Christ

Next we see that those whom He declared the name of God unto are none other than those whom God “gave” Christ. What this means is that God the Father has given His Son a gift for the work He completed, that gift is us, His church, His bride, the elect of God.

This week as Chloe and I were riding back home from Good Friday service we were talking about the plan of God in the macro sense of things – I didn’t use theological terms like “metanarrative” or “predestination” and I didn’t have to. After a few questions about giving God praise, and some clever deduction, Chloe figured it out on her own and finally answered (in the form of a question) the question every man and every woman eventually asks: why are we here on earth? She phrased it in stutters, and shifted the words about a few times, but she basically said, “so we are just made by God so that Jesus can have us and control us?” Her answer sounded like the Arminian caricature of a puppet master-God. Once I clarified with her what she was getting at she said again, “well, so, God made us so that He could love us and give us to Jesus so that we could make Him happy?” (I paraphrase) and I said, “yup, that’s exactly right!” Of course, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ came to mind, but I didn’t sport with her intellect on that score! It didn’t take much for her to figure out quickly what the “chief end of man” was, even though she’s only seven years old.

The reason I point this out though and bring it up today is because all people were made to praise God. Those who don’t are still in their fallen sinful darkened ways. Their minds are darkened to this purpose – to their purpose. Christians have a purpose – we exist for His glory. And here Christ expresses this truth in a unique way: we are a gift from the Father to the Son.

This isn’t a new idea though for us who’ve studied John together.

Earlier in John 6 we read this:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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. 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.” (John 6:37-40)

If you think of this in Easter terms, for it is Easter week as I write this, it is a remarkable thing that the ransom was us, and that He died for us, and that the rescue mission was to free us.

The bottom line is that He rose from the grave and brought us along with Him. United to Him (Rom. 6) we have assurance that we will live forever with him. There are many points of assurance to consider, but this particular verse reminds us of another one, namely that if the Father had in His heart the desire or plan to give His Son a gift of a certain group of people whom He died to save, do you think that there is anything in the world or universe that can thwart that objective (Romans 8:31-39)? To ask the question is to answer it. God always – always – get’s His way. And His way here is to give His Son a gift and that gift is us.

Not because of anything about or in us particularly, which leads to the next point…

The Elect are ‘Out of the World’

Jesus says that those whom the Father is giving Him are “out of the world” – that necessarily means that we were of the world before being rescued. And that means that we needed a Rescuer. Which, in turn, means that we were doomed to hell unless He intervened. There was nothing in us that made us more worthy or more desirable than other men. God simply loves to save, and He does so of His own prerogative and according to His own good pleasure.

In other words, you don’t get to choose ahead of time to be part of the gift from the Father to the Son. The Father doesn’t leave something that important in your hands – sorry. Why? Well, because He actually wants to give His Son a gift, and if it was up to you, He would have nothing to give His Son! Why?   Because if it was up to you, you would never choose to be Christ’s, you would never choose to surrender your life to God, you would never choose on your own to believe in the Son of God made flesh. The story of the resurrection would seem like foolishness to you, but guess what, if you’re a Christian today you are rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ because God has shined the light of knowledge into your darkened, depraved and broken soul and has done a work of resurrection in you! For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

The Canons of Dort express this well, “…chosen out of the whole human race, fallen by its own fault from its primeval integrity into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons, neither better nor more deserving than others but with them involved in a common misery, unto salvation in Christ; whom even from eternity he had appointed Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation. The elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God had decreed to give to Christ to be save by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification…”

And as Paul says:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Let us not leave this verse without realizing that He has called us “out of the world” and that had it not been for His mercy, His initiating grace, His prerogative, we would be bound for hell and eternal torment. Praise God for His mercy.

The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation

Now for the mystery: Jesus says that the elect were the Father’s even before being given to Christ – “yours they were.” Jesus is thinking most particularly about the disciples, but the truth extends to us as well.

Now, we know that everything belongs to God. As He says through the Psalmist, “…every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). But Jesus is speaking more specifically here. He is saying that in the eternal mind of God, we – specific people, not an amorphous unknown to be determined group – were His in a special way before being called to come to Christ.

As Hendriksen says that this happened, “in order that this eternal counsel might become effective in their lives, they had been given to Jesus so that he by means of his atoning sacrifice might save them.”

So it wasn’t just enough for God to “know” these people (you and me) he has taken the extra step in “giving” us to Christ. And Christ calls us to Himself through the drawing power of the Spirit. He calls us to the cross. He calls us to repentance and to eternal life – life only He can give through His mediatorial role.

That’s why D.A. Carson says, “The ones for whom Jesus prays, then, antecedently belonged to God, who took them out of the world and gave them to his Son, who manifested God’s name to them.”

From before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-14) God had us in His minds eye that He would save us and that Christ would atone for our sins. This is a great and mysterious truth, and today we stand back in awe of all He has done for us before we could do anything at all. Before we drew breath, before our parents drew breath, before our ancestors came to this nation, before Noah, before Adam, before time, He had a plan to save you and me and give us to His Son as a gift!

The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

The last thing we learn in this verse is that the Disciples “kept the word” of Jesus.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying we must first affirm what He is not saying.

Jesus is not saying that because they were good people who obeyed God they’re going to go to heaven. That is far from what Christ is saying. In fact, the antecedent declaration that the Father had given them to Christ serves us as a prerequisite for their belonging to Christ.

Furthermore, Jesus is not saying that they were born again by the Spirit and therefore were obedient to the commands of Christ in a new covenant sense. For this is pre-Pentecost and no one had yet been given the gift of the Divine Helper — as is evident from the previous four chapters where the Helper is promised to come later.

What Jesus is saying is that in the pre-resurrection, pre-Pentecost sense that when you look at all the people Jesus preached the gospel to, these disciples of his were the only ones who “kept” his word. In this case, “keeping the word” of Christ means believing that He is the Messiah.

D.A. Carson explains why:

…a good case can be made that when in the Fourth Gospel Jesus refers to his words (plural) he is talking about the precepts he lays down, almost equivalent to his ‘commands’ (entolai, as in 14:21; 15:10), but when he refers to his word (singular) he is talking about his message as a whole, almost equivalent to ‘gospel’. The disciples had not displayed mature conformity to the details of Jesus’ teaching, but they had committed themselves unreservedly to Jesus as the Messiah, the one who truly reveals the Father.

And so what this means is that “they have kept the revelatory ‘word’ that Jesus has mediated to them from the Father” but that doesn’t mean that they are “’Christians in the full post-Pentecostal, Antiochian sense (Acts 11:25). It simply means that, as compared with the world, they have been drawn out of it (vs. 6)…” (Carson).

All of this will come into focus in verse 7 and 8, but first…

…let us consider the crux of all of this…

The thrust of this verse is that God had a plan for a specific group of people from before time began, that these people would be given as a love-gift to the Son from the Father. Because the Father delights in giving the elect to the Son, and because the Son has sacrificed His own body on the cross for the sins of His elect, there is therefore no power in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the mission and love of God in Christ.

What God has joined together, no man may separate – and such is the case of the bride (the Church) and the bridegroom (Christ). For as Paul aptly and joyously states:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

     “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

17:7-8 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

In verse seven Jesus says that he has told the disciples “everything” that “you” meaning “the Father” had given him. This is tantamount to saying “I’ve fulfilled this part of my mission.”

Stop for a moment and consider the weightiness of the fact that the words that sprang forth from the lips of this man Jesus were words made known to Him before the dirt under your feet existed…it is an awesome thing to think that the words we read here in Scripture came from the mind of God Himself.

Now verse eight says that the disciples “received” the words from Jesus. Earlier in verse six Jesus said the disciples “kept your word”, and I labored a little to show how this “keeping” was really having to do with accepting Jesus as the Messiah, and accepting the gospel message that He was proclaiming. It was believing that He was who He said He was. That is the same here I believe, because Jesus speaks in a sort of parallelism when He says:

They have received them
(They have) come to know in truth that I came from you
They have believed that you sent me
 

All three of these are basically saying the same thing – they believe that what I’m saying is true and that I am the Messiah sent directly from you.

This is remarkable, especially when you consider that others who have delivered messages from God were not always believed. One need only think of Luke 1 and Zachariah:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Zachariah was described as a righteous man not many verses earlier, and yet he did not have the faith to accept a message sent directly from God’s throne room. You can sort of hear the indignity in Gabriel’s voice! “Listen, I just came from the presence of the ALMIGHTY! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? I heard this with my own ears not a few minutes ago from God HIMSELF!”

So we must not sell the disciples short. They are not yet indwelt with the Spirit, but they believe the message from Jesus.

What we ought to really take away from this is that the heart of the message that Jesus had proclaimed had to do with the salvation of mankind from their bondage to sin. And the chief remedy to this is to “believe” that Jesus is who He says He is. To believe He came from heaven. That is what we must do. I’ll just end this thought by turning your attention back again to the sixth chapter of John’s gospel where another crowd wanted to know how to please God:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

John 15:16 Study Notes: Purpose in Life

Below are my notes from this past Sunday morning.  We examined John 15:16 and the purpose of a Christian life.  The very fact that we have a purpose is simply stunning – the fact that we know what that purpose is can be very comforting.

Enjoy!

PJW

15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The Mission and Purpose of Christian Disciples

Jesus is reiterating some things that he’s been telling the disciples over the course of his ministry and their discussion in the upper room, and here he says that they are appointed to bear fruit, and that their fruit will abide – that it will last – and “so” whatever the disciples of Jesus ask for in the name of Jesus the Father will surely give to them.

One of the great comforts of the Christian life is to have a mission – a reason to live, and a sense for the meaning of life. The mission of a Christian is to “bear fruit”, and that fruit is good works (as we have seen earlier).  These good works are not from our flesh – that is, they are not works that we do on our own or in our own power – but they are in the Spirit.  They are the “fruit of the Spirit” so to speak.

As a young man matriculating to a secular university I noticed at once the attitude and conclusions about life that my fellow students held was vastly different than my own.  This was primarily due to a lack of understanding as to the reason for their life in the first place. They didn’t know the answers to “why am I here?”, “what is my purpose?” “how did I get here?” and so forth.

As Christians we know the answers to life’s most pressing and perplexing questions, and that is an overwhelming source of comfort that we must draw from if we’re to live life productively.

Those who do not have the Christian worldview have often been influenced by modern evolutionary thought, which has had a profound psychological impact on our culture.  Wayne Grudem explains the effect of evolutionary thinking on the way human beings think about their purpose in life:

It is important to understand the incredibly destructive influences that evolutionary theory has had on modern thinking. If in fact life was not created by God, and if human beings in particular are not created by God or responsible to him, but are simply the result of random occurrences in the universe, then of what significance is human life? We are merely the product of matter plus time plus chance, and so to think that we have eternal importance, or really any importance at all in the face of an immense universe is simply to delude ourselves. Honest reflection on this notion should lead people to a profound sense of despair.

As Christians, we know differently, and Jesus is saying as much in this passage. But this passage alone is not the only one that tells of His eternal purpose for us.  The entirety of Ephesians 1 screams this, and I have mentioned in commenting on previous verses that a great cross reference here is Ephesians 2:10 where Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Therefore Christ is here saying that He chose us not only for salvation (and a salvation that lasts, by the way), but also for good works (cf. MacArthur and Morris), for “fruit” that abides. MacArthur makes the point that the “fruit” is the souls of those saved through the spread of the Gospel, “When believers proclaim the gospel, those who respond savingly to it become fruit that will remain forever (cf. 4:36; Luke 16:29).”

He made us for a purpose – a destiny – and not simply an end, but a body of work that comes between our creation and our glorification.

In fact, the statement, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” is qualified by the word “so”, which is very important. It is that word “so” that tells us that the reason we ask the Father for help (for anything) is for the purpose of the previously mentioned goal: to bear fruit.  That He would give us help and a way to ask for that help implies that there is something He will be helping with.

So the thrust of this passage is that Jesus is going away, but He wants His disciples to know that He is still sovereign. He wants them to know that He has a mission for them once He is gone.  He is sovereign over their mission and He is sovereign over He chooses to send on it – “I chose you” and “you did not choose me.”

God’s Sovereign Choice

We have discussed the overall “thrust” of the passage, and I don’t want to miss the importance of the emphasis on mission here because I think that is the central message of the passage. But it may also be valuable to examine the foundation of the message.  Jesus’ command to bear fruit is built upon the rock solid sovereignty of God in all things – including, as we see here, in the choice of his disciples.

Jesus explicitly states that they didn’t choose him – nor would they have chosen Him if they had the chance. These are men who saw the Lord Christ Incarnate – the Word made flesh!  Yet they didn’t choose Him, He chose them.

In fact, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that no one chooses to follow Jesus of their own unaided volition.  Paul makes that clear in Romans:

as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

This is because in our unregenerated state even if we saw the scars of Jesus, heard the words of Jesus in person, or saw Him resurrected, we would still find a reason to disbelieve. We would create lies to explain away what our eyes saw and ears heard.

Before He breathes new life into us we are radically depraved, totally faithless, spiritually dead, and totally unable to believe and be saved apart from His sovereign unconditional electing salvation.

The doctrine of God’s sovereign election and our radical depravity is seen clearly throughout the book of John.  This passage simply reiterates what John and Jesus have been saying for 14 previous chapters, namely that it is His choice, His plan, His initiative that rules the destinies of men. This is not only the case for the 12 disciples, but for us today as well. He sovereignly chooses those whom He will and appoints those chosen to a life that will abide forever in the bosom of the Father.

Those who have studied John with me to date know well the myriad times that the apostle has labored to show God’s sovereignty in electing those whom He has chosen to life. The evidence has been so overwhelming that I’ve come to believe that those who harbor belief of their will or “choice” preceding the internal work of the Spirit have serious Scriptural obstacles to overcome.

Consider just a few (for the sake of time and space) of the following passages we’ve looked at in our study:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (Ephesians 1:4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)

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

Commenting on John 6:37 Steve Lawson has this to say:

That word “all” is a collective word for all the elect. What this is saying is that before any sinner ever came to Christ, before any sinner is drawn by the Father to Christ, God had already given those to the Son. And the reason God had given them to the Son is because God had already chosen them by Himself and for Himself. That choice was made before the foundation of the world. And when God chose us God the Father gave us to God the Son to become His bride and to become His chosen flock….the giving of all of these to the Son precedes their ever coming to the Son, and we can trace this all the way back to eternity past.

John 6:39 and 40 show us once again that this is all done by the will of God:

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 (John 6:39-40).

The Upshot of This Truth

When we weigh what we know about these disciples and what we know about ourselves against the sovereign choice of Christ, it ought to cause us to bow before Him in worship. It ought to cause us to acknowledge His lordship over all creation and give us great comfort.

This sovereignty extends from the choosing, to the keeping (the abiding) to the carrying out of the mission: He is in control!  Complete and utter control!

The implications of this are nothing short of astounding. He is not simply the deistic god who winds up the clock of the universe only to sit back and watch it flutter along until judgment day.  He is not the pantheistic god of the eastern religions who is so mixed “in” with creation that his transcendence is obliterated.

He is both transcendent and immanent: He is God. He rules over all and IN all as well.  Paul describes this in one amazing sentence:

“…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

All of this has led me to think that rebellion against the doctrine of election is just that: rebellion. It is not intellectually or Scripturally supportable to think that man in his fallen state would ever choose Christ over his sin, not have the inclination or desire to follow Christ on his own. Frankly, it is not the Spirit that motivates that kind of thinking. Most people who object to the doctrine of election object to it either because they either misunderstand the way in which God works, or they simply don’t understand the sovereign character and right of God to do whatever He pleases with His creation (you and me).

I will close this short thought by asking you to consider what the Psalmist says:
Our God is in the heavens
He does all that He pleases (Ps. 115:3)

“All” literally means “all.” There is nothing that falls outside His jurisdiction in the created order – how much more so the destinies of the pinnacles of His creation (mankind).