Most Influential Books Part 1

Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

Of course the one constant book in my life has been The Book – the “Good Book.”  The scripture certainly has no rival in any library. There are no other pieces of literature that even play on the same field. It’s advantage, of course, is that it is alive. Not metaphorically, not allegorically, not even in the way that it makes us feel alive as if it were the sum of its’ effects or stimulations on the reader. Rather, its’ words are used by the Spirit of God to wake us up to unrealized truths as He begins to work in our minds and in our hearts. Christianity is not a “blind faith”, it is an informed faith which conquers both the mind and the heart.

Therefore, the Bible is unique and simply without rival.

Nevertheless, Providence has seen fit to use other literature in my life to bless me, entertain and brighten my day, and deepen my relationship with Him and others, all the while growing in my appreciation for life and creation and many other undeserved blessings.

Here are the books that have impacted me the most at the ripe old age of 31 – note that these aren’t all necessarily “favorites” per se, there are some I have no desire to read again, but all that will be made plain as you scroll through the selections.  There are so many of these that I think I’ll roll them out in a series.  There are far too many to write (or read) about before you fall asleep of boredom.  So here (in no particular order) goes the first five in the series…

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin’s masterpiece saw me through one of the worst illnesses I’ve had (which is saying something) – 10 days in bed with pneumonia.  I own several copies of this one, and will probably keep collecting nice editions. I love to open its pages and just get lost for a few minutes in laughter and pros. The writing is superb and brings me back to my childhood where we would watch the six-hour movie edition over and over again. We’d poke fun at the characters and put ourselves in their shoes as we watched the social instability and family upheaval course through the plot. It never gets old, and will always be one of my favorite books/stories of all time.
  2. Leadership as an Identity – I got this book for free at my church and it transformed the way I thought about pride and leadership – especially as a dad. It spoke very powerfully to me and brought my heart to a place where I was more open to leading my home as I ought to. I really appreciate Crawford Loritts’ writing and think he brings a unique perspective to the leadership book collection.
  3. Defending Your Faith – This was my one of my first encounters with Theologian R.C. Sproul and it whetted my appetite for more.  His intellectual approach drove me to understand that all truth is God’s truth. This is a book on apologetics and it is framed in a classical style, which means that he isn’t going to spend as much time on proofs for the resurrection or other modern arguments, but will address much of the philosophical and even scientific ground that Anselm, Aquinas, Newton and other master theologians and thinkers have laid down in bygone eras. As I read this I began to see that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my intellect. Read this book cautiously, it may open the door to deeper waters….
  4. The Religious Affections – This is a more recent one for me, though it is largely considered to be Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, I had not cracked it open until just last week.  It took me a week or so to traverse its 400 pages, but it was well worth the journey.  This is not a book for a young Christian, this is a book for someone who has read pretty widely and is now ready for the deeper things of God. However, if you have not at least sampled Jonathan Edwards’ work, this would be a great one to pickup and scroll through. The book seeks to explain the essence of what the true Christian life consists of, looks like, and how we can know we are truly Christians at all. Through many rigorous examinations I found again and again both challenges and assurances that woke me up to some things, and also secured my mind and soul in many ways. The influence this book has had has been significant even this week in shaping my thought and confirming many of my beliefs. I can tell this is going to be one I go back to time and time again, year after year. This is one for your book bucket list!
  5. Chosen by God – There may not be another book in recent memory that has so greatly altered and impacted my life as this classic by R.C. Sproul. I had read a few of his other books in recent months and wanted to keep going. This one seemed like another popular work from him, so I picked up a used copy and started pouring over the pages.  What ensued was nothing short of life changing. The book details how God’s election of sinners to salvation works. It confronts Calvinism (so-called) head on, and shows how men interact with these ideas, which as it turns out are rock solid Biblical teachings. There were several moments where I felt that the book had a great impact on me and others around me.  During an airplane trip for business with my business partner Matt, we got into a quite a severe argument based on the book’s propositions.  I was just starting to put the pieces together from all that I had studied growing up, and Matt was deeply offended at the idea that God chose people and not the other way around (at least that He is the antecedent Chooser). His temper flared, and the argument spilled out into the Nashville Airport (BNA) where we were awaiting a connecting flight. I was not an expert on theology at the time, but I knew Romans like the back of my hand, so everything Dr. Sproul said was clicking with me…but not with Matt.  I challenged Matt to read the book and sort it out for himself. A few days later, I returned home from the trip and had kept up my reading when around 2am one evening as I was sitting in the living room of my house I realized all at once that I had been a fool.  I had such a pride about my learning and my salvation and what hit me was that I was a moron…literally.  I knew nothing and was responsible for nothing good ultimately in my life. I got down on my knees and with tear-filled eyes prayed for forgiveness for my pride and ignorance about spiritual things.  Not long after that Matt read the book as well and his eyes were opened.  It was a transforming experience.  Soon he went to seminary and began pastoring a small church, I followed suit and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville a few years later after much more learning, reading, and praying. I still have that copy of ‘Chosen by God’ and now its signed on the inside cover by its author, and is more marked and highlighted than those several years ago when I first turned its pages.

Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘most influential books’…

Study Notes for 10-27-13, John 14:15-24

Below are study notes for John 14:15-24

14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If” You Love Me

Here we see that the prerequisite for obedience to Christ’s commands is a love for Him.  That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we are in love with the Lord Jesus, then of course we will want to obey Him!

But the next thing that should come to mind is that we can’t obey the law even if we do love Jesus.  The disciples don’t even get a chance to ask the question, which should be: How are we supposed to follow all of your commands, or even want to do that all of the time? Instead, Jesus anticipates the problem and promises the Holy Spirit to them.  Until now they have had Him as their helper – that is why Jesus says “another” helper.  The first “helper” was Jesus, and the second is the Spirit (later I will explain the term “paraklētos” which is the Greek term translated “helper” here).

If we examine the passage closely, we’ll notice that all the way from verse 15 or so through about verse 26 there is a theme that Jesus develops for the disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit will come to represent Himself.  Jesus is going away, and He wants to comfort the disciples and prepare them for that absence by explaining not only what they will need to do, but how they are going to do it.

Now the Holy Spirit’s role is obvious from the verses we read here, and what we’ll read below. Here the Spirit is said to help us by causing us to love Christ. You might not see that immediately, but that is the clear implication.  For those who love Christ obey His commands, and because its clear that Jesus knows we need help to obey commands, we must also need help to love Him.  John would write about this in his epistles:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:11-13)
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
 

And so it is that the Spirit is the one who creates in us a love for God. He softens our hearts, and speaks softly to us, explaining the great truths of God’s gospel.  Without His initiative, we would still be dead in our trespasses.

Jesus explains here also that “the world cannot receive Him”, that is to say that on our own we cannot receive the Spirit of God. It isn’t up to us who receives the gift of the Spirit. God is the one who sovereignly chooses who He will to abide with. We’ll address this in more depth in just a moment…

You know Him Already

The last thing Jesus says in these three verses is that the disciples already know the Spirit. This is a mysterious thing.  Pastor Scotty Smith writes:

As Jesus continues instructing his disciples in advance of his ascension we enter the most profound teaching about the Trinity to be found anywhere in the Bible. There is much mystery here, but let us affirm what is clearly in the text. The better we know Jesus, the more Trinitarian we will become. The gospel is the means by which we enter the fellowship, love, and joy shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout eternity – a staggering thought indeed.
 

Therefore, we should look closely here at what Jesus is saying and marvel a bit…Jesus can say, “You know him” Because, “he dwells with you and will be in you.” Let’s not miss this, because I think it’s a really important statement. What Jesus is saying is that even though they don’t yet have the Spirit living inside of them, they have been with Jesus, and that is tantamount to knowing the Spirit already. For not only is Jesus filled with the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes it will be as if they have Jesus right there with them – only now instead of having Jesus walking the hills of Judea with them, they will have Him in their hearts.

Why is this important?  Because you have that same Spirit, Christian! You have the Lord Jesus’ Spirit living within you, you are the temple of the living God. His mind, His will, His love for you is embodied in the fact that He sent His Spirit to you.  What I mean by this is that He has a plan and a love for you, and He is working that out through the power and person of the Holy Spirit.

To have the Spirit is to have Jesus, and to have Jesus is to have the Father, as we shall soon see…

This is why it is vital to understand that our God is a triune God, and that He is three persons, each with different roles.

14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

First, I want to note that at the end of verse 18 we see here that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” This just further shows what I mention above about how Jesus Himself is coming to us in the form of His Spirit.  They are not one in the same person, rather, they are so alike in their mind and purpose that we cannot tell them apart.  They are on the same mission, and they are both part of the One Godhead. Having the Spirit is tantamount to having Jesus live within us – that is what Jesus is saying here.

The entire idea is tied up together in verse 20, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is the whole idea!  This is DEEP water we’ve just wandered into.  But what an amazing thing.  Jesus is teaching us something about the Trinity here, and about how role in the Kingdom. He is saying that His bride, that’s us, will be “in Him” and He will be “in us” just as He is “in” the Father. Don’t miss this. Cherish this. This is such profound, such wonderful truth that you can’t forget it.

What are the consequences?  Well I can think of several, but especially one: if we are that close to Christ and that “in” the Trinity, then surely there is nothing (as Paul writes in Romans 8) that can separate us from His love!  In other words, to separate us from the love of Christ would be like separating Jesus from the Father, or the Spirit from Jesus.  It is unthinkable, in fact, it is impossible.

Adoption and Love

Now, secondly, since we have seen and laid the foundation for understanding how Jesus will be with us, and how it is that we will do those greater works (in and because of the Spirit), we see that there is a side-benefit to having Christ go away…we are adopted into His family!

I think that verses 18 and 20 are closely tied to 21 and 15.  What I mean by that is that Jesus is saying that by loving Him, it shows that you are part of His family. Love is a by-product of family membership. Love happens for two reasons: First, because the Spirit has adopted us into the family by regenerating us to everlasting life and enabled us to love as Christ loves, and secondly, because of His work we have a desire to love. So there is His initiating action here, and our obedient response.  Jerry Bridges calls this “dependent responsibility” because not only to re require Him to start us off on the path, but we rely on His help to stay on the path.

So we see here that love is a mark of family membership.  We love because we are adopted!

Lastly, and more particularly to this passage, I want to note how Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.”  What He means here is to signify the importance of the resurrection. Because we are “in” Him, that means that when He conquered death, when He arose from the grace, when He ascended into heaven, that we, too, arose and are guaranteed heaven.  Why? Because, again, we are “in” Him.  To be “in” the Lord is to be guaranteed all of the promises that He has earned for us.

Listen to how Paul describes the Spirit’s interaction with our spirit in reminding us of this great promised adoption:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17, ESV)
 

Therefore, because He earned life, we get life. Because He was perfectly righteous, we are made perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. Because He broke the bonds of sin and death, we too have been loosed from sin, and will never taste spiritual death.

Think about the significance that the resurrection now has in your mind and your life. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then all of this is moot (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). We’d still be dead in our sins. But Jesus is here saying (ahead of all of this even occurring, mind you) that when He rises from the dead, we too will walk in “newness of life.”  This is what Paul was saying in Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
 

Later Paul adds:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)
 

14:21-24 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Here we have once again the reiteration of what Jesus said earlier.  Verse 21 and verse 15 are almost identical. If we love Him we keep His commands.  It harkens us back to the sermon on the mount where Jesus said that those who bare fruit are those who are His.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
 

The second thing that Jesus says here is that, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is very much like verse 20 when He said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  The idea here is that not only is Jesus in us, but that the Father is also in us.  This would have been enough to blow the minds of the disciples.

NOTE: this passage, along with others, has been historically used to support to filioque insertion in the Nicene Creed which states that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It is this addition that eventually helped create a schism between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin/Catholic) church (the major historically recognized year of this is 1054, even though the problems and disagreements started well prior to this). 
 

We read earlier how Philip said ‘just show us the Father and that is enough for us Jesus!’  And I explained how the Jews thought of seeking the face of the Lord, and the face of God, and how Aaron’s benediction embodied this idea of being blessed by the revealing of God’s face to us one day. The idea derives from the time when Moses learned that no man can see God and live, but was allowed to view God’s “hindquarters” (in anthropomorphic language).  The idea being that God’s face is so glorious and so bright and resplendent that to view it would be too much for a finite creature to handle – we would die instantly.

Now here we begin to see the sweetness of the revelation we have in NT times. Not only has God sent His Son to us in the incarnation, not only did He die for our sins and impute to us His own righteousness, but He has gone a step further still.  He is going to live within us – His Spirit abiding in us! Meaning, as Jesus says here, that the Father and the Son will essentially be using us as their temple on earth.  They will be manifesting their presence on earth through us!

Have you stopped to consider the ramifications of this? We have become to used to the idea of the immanence of God, that we forget who it is we’re talking about here. We forget so easily in our day that this Being who inhabits the believer is the same one who spoke the universe into existence!

If that doesn’t lend some sobriety to your walk with Christ I don’t know what will.  Because Jesus is reminding us here that if we really love Him, you will pursue Him, you will obey Him, you will understand the reality that the God of heaven and earth has deigned to come down and live – in you!

D.A. Carson is right to mention that, in a very strong way, this passage builds on antecedent passages about the Spirit, the one that I want to mention most particularly is in 4:23-24 where Jesus (speaking to the Samaritan woman) says:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV)
 

Oh the sweetness, oh the condescension, oh the love of God in this! Can you not see how crucial this is to understand?  God has sought out those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth” – He is doing this by putting His Spirit within us. He wants us to know Him properly, and for our minds to do this He must be the first to act.  He must take the initiative, and He must powerfully work within us. As we read earlier:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63, ESV)
 

Jesus is urging us on here to think DEEPLY about the reality of what is going on here. You must take this seriously and understand the privileges and responsibilities associated with being a Christian. This is a call to loving, awe-filled obedience to your Lord.

Not to the World

Lastly, I didn’t want to skip over what Judas says here because he has a good question. He has heard Jesus say already, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  So if God loved the “world”, why is it that He won’t manifest Himself to the world?

The answer is that while God loves His creation, He has a special and specific plan of redemption for His chosen sheep. We start with the prerequisite understanding that the world cannot receive Him because the world does not want Him.

And contrary to the rejection of Christ, the world will not have a “choice” to accept the Spirit in the same way they saw the incarnate Christ and rejected Him. For the Spirit’s mission, though a continuation of Christ’s, has different objectives, that is to say that Christ is working to accomplish something new through the Spirit (the next phrase of His redemptive plan), namely the quickening of all those whom the Father has predestined to life and the reside within them, fashioning them after His image, and keeping them (preserving them) until the day Jesus Christ returns or we die and join Him in Heaven.

Be sure of one thing: Jesus knows who will believe and who won’t (see John 6:64), and He will not cast pearls before swine. He will not reveal His glory to all. Those who receive the Lord Jesus and the joy of eternal life are those whom He has chosen, those whom His Spirit has softened and called to Himself.  This is, of course, the work of the Spirit. He is the one doing the softening and calling and regenerating.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, not because the Spirit isn’t the one doing the work, not because the Spirit can’t soften the hearts of men. But simply because the Spirit isn’t going to soften the hearts of all men. He isn’t going to be sent to the whole “world”, but rather to those for whom Christ died.

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)

1-6-13 Study Notes

10:14-15 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Mission of Christ

By saying that “I know my own and my own know me” Christ is saying that He is on a specific mission to rescue specific sheep.  This is what He’s been expounding upon and now by repeating it He gives even further emphasis to this.

Furthermore, Christ has more to say about the scope of His work.  For in verse 16 He says that He has “other sheep” to rescue as well – “not of this fold.”  And the end goal is “there will be one flock” – and this is certainly referring to the church of Christ.

So who are those who are “not of this fold”? These are the gentiles who are not part of the nation of ethnic Israel. He has specific sheep that He is rescuing from among all people’s on the earth. This speaks to what we call “particular redemption” or “limited atonement.”  The doctrine is described by Paul this way:

…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, (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV)

So the mission of Christ has been founded from before time began, and scope of this mission is worldwide (1 John 2:2). Paul is saying is that from the beginning God had a rescue plan for specific people – not all people, but specific sheep. These sheep (the “elect”) respond to their Shepherd because they have been united with Him through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who exercises the will of the Father and of Christ; they are all of one mind (vs. 30).

Carson comments on the call of Christ the Shepherd, “Jesus comes to the sheep pen of Judaism, and calls his own sheep out individually to constitutes his own messianic ‘flock.’ The assumption is that they are in some way ‘his’ before he calls them.”

That’s a HUGE insight by Carson.  There is ownership here.  Christ has purchased you by His blood, when He calls you by the efficacious power of the Holy Spirit, He will make sure that His love overpowers your enmity toward Him. Carson later says, “Christ’s elect sheep inevitably follow him.” He will not allow the sheep He has purchased to go astray into the hands of robbers and thieves.  He will certainly complete the work; He will come and claim those for whom He died!

The Trinity as an Example

Lastly, although I just mentioned this, I love the appeal Christ makes to the Trinity here and it’s worth just looking over closely again because it permeates the teaching of Christ. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He will even go on to say in verse 30 that, “I and the Father are one.”  The word “just” in verse 15 signals to us here that Christ is making a comparison between His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us, His sheep.

MacArthur comments, “In these verses, “know” has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus is love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in loves knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father.  Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That we can be united with Christ in this way is an amazing truth. He is talking about bringing us into a relationship with God, and there are a few things that ought to run through our minds when we think about what that mean – things we ought to be meditating on. For instance, this entire picture of the relationship between us and God, and between God and Christ is one that exudes love. The care and compassion of the shepherd for the sheep signals the sort of care and compassion that we will receive from our Shepherd. There are so many other things to consider here, but I think the love relationship between the trinity and its implications for our relationship with God are numerous and profound and worthy of our consideration and meditation.

10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The Reason…

This theme of love again permeates these verses, and Christ here expounds on what true love looks like in action. True love lays down one’s life for another man/woman. John wrote of this in his epistles, and Christ tells us that it is love – love for the Father, and love of the Father – that is the driving force behind His atoning death on the cross.

This ought to cause us to take a step back and ask if our actions are loving on a daily basis, and even ask if the larger plan and vision we have for our lives is being motivated out of love for God, and love for others. Can I say that what I plan on doing today, as well as my long-term vision for 5 and 10 and 25 years from now is being driven by love for God and others? I think we probably don’t plan that way normally.  Do we ask, “How do my plans show love for Christ? How can I adapt my plans or words to better glorify God and love others?”

These are difficult questions.  I don’t know exactly how to answer them, I’m sure that there are mixed answers – perhaps in some ways my life’s goals are motivated out of love, but perhaps they are mostly motivated out of greed, or self-seeking desires as well. These are questions that Christians alone must face. No unbeliever has to worry about these kinds of examinations. But if we are walking in the light, these kinds of questions ought to both encourage our hearts, and cause us to repent.

The Authority of Christ

The next thing we see in this passage is that Christ reiterates what He already told us in chapter five:

[19] So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [22] The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

[25] “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:19-29 ESV)

In chapter five as I note above, we see that Christ has been given all authority by the Father. In fact, in 5:26 we see that Jesus Himself has “life in himself.”  That means that in His very being He has life – the power of being is a very profound thing that we don’t have space here to cover, needless to say that the authority to create life from nothing at all has been given to Christ, and He has been executing that authority for a long time.

Now, if Christ has the authority and power to create life ex nilhilo, then certainly He has authority and power of when and where He lays down His own life.

This ought to give us great confidence in the power and plan of Christ. No one did a single thing to Him that He did not allow to happen.  Such was the magnificent meekness of Christ, that He possessed complete power and ultimate authority, yet He yielded all of His rights to exercise the privileges of His deity during His first advent in order that He might in humiliation die a bloody death as a disgraced and rejected Jewish man.

Yet because He has this power of being (of life) within Himself, we are told that the grave could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). You see it is impossible for darkness to swallow up the light of life.  And Christ, who embodied life in His very being, would inevitably triumph over the grave.

This is why it should not surprise us that when He calls us, when He powerfully transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, His voice alone is powerful enough not simply for us to recognize Him, but for Him to create new life within us. His sheep hear the voice of the one who has created within them a new life, who has made us a new creation!

10:19-21 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Just as in chapters 7 and 9, we see a division among the hearers of Christ. There are some who can’t stand what Jesus is saying, but others who are thinking logically and “swim upstream” as Henry puts it, and posit a more thoughtful/logical response (even if they aren’t believers yet).

I think there is also something interesting here about where life and the power of life comes from.  I just finished talking about how Christ had the power of life within Himself, and here we see that even the common folks of earth recognize that the Devil and his agents do not have this same power.  They state “can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” because demons don’t have that power – darkness doesn’t have the power of light. It is a logical impossibility.

Not only is it a logical impossibility, but it goes against all practical knowledge as well. What I mean by that is this: when was the last time you read of a demon doing something positive for mankind? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And yet that was the argument that the Pharisees used against Jesus, that He was of the Devil and used the Devil’s power to cast out demons (Luke 11:15).  Christ explained how this was a logical impossibility, and also just didn’t mesh with real life. Demons don’t help people, they don’t cast each other out, they don’t heal people – even if they could they wouldn’t!

10:22-23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, [23] and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

The Feast of the Dedication was a relatively new feast, it was not an old testament feast but rather a feast that celebrated the Jewish freedom from the oppressive persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent outline of the background that largely agrees with what D.A. Carson has to say as well:

The Feast of Dedication, today Hannukah, once also called “Feast of the Maccabees” was a Jewish festival observed for eight days from the 25th of Kislev (usually in December, but occasionally late November, due to the lunisolar calendar). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, his brothers, and the elders of the congregation of Israel, in the year 165 B.C. in commemoration of the re-consecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and especially of the altar of burnt offering, after they had been desecrated in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC). The significant happenings of the festival were the illumination of houses and synagogues, a custom probably taken over from the Feast of Tabernacles, and the recitation of Psalm 30:1-12.  J. Wellhausen suggests that the feast was originally connected with the winter solstice, and only afterwards with the events narrated in Maccabees.

10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [25] Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] 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.

The Method of Christ

It seems to me that though Christ had been teaching these people, they did not like His methodology. Here they complain about His lack of clarity on the matter of His messianic role.

The Implication

When Christ says here that they don’t believe Him, He is saying that they don’t believe Him “because” of something.  There’s a reason attached, and that reason is because they are not His sheep.

The implication of this is that God must take the initiative to call them and create the belief within them before they will respond.  The ESV Study Notes put it well:

Those who belong to Jesus’ flock (i.e., those who are chosen by him) are those who believe. The reason people do not believe is because they are not among Jesus’ sheep, implying that God must first give them the ability to believe and make them part of his people with a new heart (see 1:13; 6:44). Eternal life (10:28) by definition can never be taken away (see note on 6:40), especially when Jesus’ sheep belong to him and to his Father.

Therefore, the fact that these people were still not able to understand what Christ was telling them signaled that they were not His sheep.  He even makes a distinction to serve as a sort of bookend the point, as if to say, “I’ve already told you who I am, and if you were one of my sheep you would already have picked up on this and be following me. Evidently you are not one of my sheep because you don’t follow me – and you aren’t my sheep because I have not enabled you to be my sheep.”

The idea that belief is a gift from God is not foreign to us, for we read of it in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)

10:28-29 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.

In this simple analogy of the shepherd and his sheep, there are many theological implications. We don’t have to read into the analogy too far to find them because Christ Himself brings to our attention exactly what He wants us to learn from the analogy.  He is quite explicit in this section of His teaching (contrary to what some in His presence felt), and in verses 28 and 29 He continues to explore some of the radical implications of our relationship with Him as our shepherd.

The Perseverance of the Saints

Perhaps no doctrine is more beloved among conservative Christians (I speak as a Baptist) than that of The Perseverance of the Saints.  The doctrine simply states that once one is born again, that person can never lose their salvation.

This belief is based on passages like the one we’re looking at now – as well as many others. For example, Paul says in Philippians that, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Here the picture is that no one will lose eternal life because of the power of Jesus to keep that life intact. “No one will snatch them out of my hand” indicates that Christ is powerful enough to keep us from death and hell (which are the same thing at the end of the day). What a beautiful truth to cling to!

A Love Gift from the Father

But in case His hearers were to be concerned about the power of Christ to live up to His word (I speak tongue-in-cheek), He takes this teaching a step further.  He claims that God the Father has given us who believe into His hands.  Who is going to believe that the Father would be thwarted?  No one – as Christ says for emphasis that “He is greater than all” to make this very point.

Therefore, we are a give of love from the Father to the Son. Think about that for a minute – that means that there is real value in each one of us.  We are valued because we are created by Him to bear the divine image. We are not valuable because of what we do, but simply because He made us and loves us. We bear His image and He is renewing us day by day so that we will be more and more like the Adam…the second Adam!

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about how the Father knows how to give good gifts – this passage is referring to the blessings of God in common grace, and how He will take care of us. But it also reminds me of His character. He not only acts in love toward us, but also toward His son as well.  That is why it is so important to understand the nature and relationship of the trinity.  It helps us understand how God will relate to us if we understand His character and How the Father relates to the Son and the Son to the Father and so on. This has enormous implications for our hope for tomorrow, and our help for today. How we understand the trinity/the Godhead helps us understand the character of God in His dealings with us and consequently how we ought to deal with and behave (lovingly) toward others).

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.

Study Notes 8-26-12: John 6:55-66

Here are the study notes for John 6:55-66

6:55-56 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. [56] Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

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

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

I think that in relation to verse 55 (and all the other surrounding verses), verse 56 is saying that abiding in Christ is continually eating of the “true” food and drink that He has to offer.  This means that He wants us to not simply seek His face on Sunday mornings, but rather reflects His desire to have our hearts continually seeking after Him as we would for food.  We look for food at least three times a day (plus tea time if you’re English!) because we’re driven to it by hunger.  The same ought to be true in our spiritual lives. “Don’t starve yourself!” Jesus is saying.

This notion of “abiding” is familiar to those of us who have closely studied the Bible for a number of years now and have heard Jesus say in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches.  In that passage – the last of His “I Am” sayings – He says that it is our abiding in Him that gives us life as well.  Here’s what John 15:1-11 says:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] 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. [6] If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. [9] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. [10] If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [11] These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

I think it’s worth noting that there are 120 different times that this word is used throughout scripture.  It’s an important concept, one that we will keep coming back to.  There are two sort of nuances to abiding, I think.

The first is that abiding is a synergistic work.  That is to say, it is something we work with God in accomplishing.  Abiding requires us reading the Word of God, and daily submitting our lives to His authority.  It requires us being in prayer, and asking for God to work through our lives, and work on us.  It’s a constant seeking of God’s face (1 Chron. 16:11).  This idea is articulated in the latin phrase “Coram Deo” which means to live in the face of God – to live with the mindset that we are continually dwelling in His presence.   Which leads to the second part of this…

The second part of abiding, is the part that is monergistic, that is to say that it is God’s work and not ours.  This kind of abiding is the kind that the Holy Spirit does in our lives once we are born again.  Our abiding is done out of a motivation and love for Christ’s abiding in us and saving us.  His abiding in us causes us to want to abide in Him – to spend time in His word, to spend time in prayer.  So in a sense we are always abiding in Him because He is in us.  But in another sort of lower sense, there is a call here for us to “abide” in Christ – and that means to seeking Him and resting in Him.

This is what we call a “paradox” because we are both seeking and resting at the same time.  These things seem to be naturally opposed to each other on the surface, but only through a closer look do we find that they are not opposed to each other, but are simply different ways of expressing our relationship with Christ, and His work of sanctification within us.  We rest in Him because we are secure in the promises He offers and we are secure in our salvation, but we seek Him and seek to abide in Him because we love Him and want to know Him more.

6:57-59 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [58] This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” [59] Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

I agree with Sproul who says that this is a lot like His saying to the Samaritan Woman at the well that He is the “living water” and that all who thirst should come to Him and receive water so that they may never thirst again.

The thing I think we need to particularly note is the life-giving power of Jesus.  It is almost too easy to simply call it “life giving power” because there is a whole other sort of power there.  And what I mean by that is that it is one thing to bring people to life who have died, and to breathe life into them, and to heal them as Christ had done – these are amazing, breathtaking things to be sure – but it is a whole separate thing to say that Christ has the power of life within Him.

So what I am getting at here, perhaps clumsily, is that Christ also has the power to bring life out of nothing.  Where there was nothing before, He speaks and BOOM there’s life.  He thinks and it is so.  He has the power of being in Himself.  In order to understand this we almost need to reach a whole other level of thinking on the person of Christ.  He’s so powerful, so glorious and has such authority that His words command the planets and their orbits.  The sea bows to His wishes, science works at His pleasure, and microbiology orders itself according to His good pleasure!

So again, He chooses these statements of power to punctuate His teaching on the nature of salvation.  The person who holds worlds in His hands and knows the every need of BILLIONS of people, is also the God who is sovereign over salvation.

He has now claimed to have come down from heaven, to be the I AM – the very Deity Himself – and He has offered up eternal life to whomever will come to Him.  In all of this He has preached His sovereignty (vs. 37 and 44 in particular), and His compassion.

Now, it is time for the disciples to digest the food Christ has given them, and at first they find it hard food to swallow…

6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Now there are two (and perhaps three) kinds of hard sayings, as R.C. Sproul likes to remind us.  The first is the kind of hard saying that is difficult to understand.  It is hard because it is truly a complex matter, which is prone to giving us a 3 aspirin headache!  The second kind of “hard saying” is the kind that we hear and don’t like to accept.  It is hard because we don’t care for it and would rather not believe in its truthfulness.

Steve Lawson says that this series of sayings are “not hard to understand, but hard to swallow.”

But I think that these sayings are a combination of both types of “hard” sayings.  It is both unacceptable to these men because of their pride, and it is difficult to understand for even the apostles because, though they perhaps want to understand it and believe it, they cannot without the aid of Christ (or the Holy Spirit).

We have to take note of the same thing and not to approach the Bible with arrogance or presuppositions.  The Bible is definitely definitive; it’s definitely clear; it’s definitely perspicuitous. But at the same time we have to be conscious not to jump to conclusions that aren’t there.  We shouldn’t read something into the text that isn’t there – or try to avoid the text simply because its saying something we find offensive.

In one way this text is very comforting because we see that the disciples of Jesus early on had difficulty with some of the things he was saying. On the other hand it’s challenging to us because we know that having the Holy Spirit we ought to be able to understand these texts – at least that’s what we tell ourselves. But this is why the Bible is an inexhaustible resource that we will never fully penetrate no matter how many years we live and how long we spend in its’ pages.

Just yesterday I was talking with a pastor who said he’s been reading the Bible every day for over 40 years and was still finding things in it that he had never seen before.  He told me that he says to himself “was that there the whole time?!”

But I do want to use this as an opportunity to talk about the perspicuity of scripture, and the private interpretation of scripture.  Perspicuity, in a nutshell, means that something is clear and able to be understood by someone who doesn’t have a doctorate degree in theology.  It means that you and me can read Scripture and understand clearly what it says without someone (i.e. a priest) from the church explaining the plain meaning of the text.  This isn’t saying that we don’t all benefit from the wisdom of the church and her teachers, but is simply to say that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the sentences, paragraphs, and general meaning of words in this book.

Private interpretation is similar to perspicuity and basically means that an individual can read the Bible and understand it clearly enough (because it is perspicuitous) to be responsible for that understanding before God.

This is extremely important because with the proliferation of Bibles there is also the proliferation of wrong opinions about what those Bibles say.  This was the very thing that Martin Luther and the church was concerned about before his translation project began.  If the Bible were to get into the hands of the masses, how would they be able to understand it, and then have a great enough grasp of it to correctly conform their lives to its instructions?  Well Luther knew the danger in this, but said that it was worth the danger because of the number of souls that would be won with the opening up of Scripture.  The church as guardian of Scripture had failed miserably.  The situation really couldn’t get any worse!  But Luther also knew and understood that this scripture was perspicuitous and therefore, with the help of the Spirit and of wise church leaders, believers could read scripture and understand correctly what it said – even if there were mysteries within its pages that they found “hard”, as these disciples found in the verse we’ve just examined.

6:61-62 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

Of course the disciples wouldn’t have taken offense to Him ascending into heaven – they would have rejoiced at that.  So Christ is offering them a comparison to give them perspective.  He’s saying that “both A and B doctrines are true, and everything I say is true, therefore why are you offended at one versus the other?”

We need to realize that all of scripture is God’s truth.  It is all relevant, it is all true.  Just because one thing appears more difficult of offensive than another doesn’t mean its any less God’s word.

I can’t think of a better verse (except maybe 1 Tim. 3:16) to show us that all doctrine in scripture is God’s doctrine.  All truth is God’s truth!

Christ wants to elevate our perspective.  When He speaks, the matter is done.  There is no appealing for an easier doctrine or an easier truth.  We can’t go to God and say “please give me something easier to understand or believe in, because this really isn’t very comfortable.”  We need to see Jesus’ words through the lens of His authority, and bow before them in unquestioned allegiance to His truth.

So while we talk about perspicuity, we also need to understand that just because scripture is clear and readable doesn’t mean its not mysterious/difficult.  And that is what Christ addresses next…

6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

The “flesh” He’s referring to here is not His flesh that has been the topic of the last several verses, but rather the flesh of humanity.  As Sproul points out, this is a theme that runs through most of Scripture, and one that Paul especially expounds upon (Romans 7 comes to mind).  The Bible sees our “flesh” as our mind, will and emotions prior to the Holy Spirit’s breathing new life into us, which Jesus calls being “born again.”

What He is essentially saying here is that in the flesh they will not be able to understand what He is saying because He is saying something spiritually related.  Paul explains:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:12-14)

6:64-65 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

As Sproul says, “there’s that doctrine of predestination again.”  I laughed when I read that because it is this doctrine that offends so many immature Christians, and yet I was once one of them.  Scripture exhorts us to strive toward greater understanding of even the most difficult doctrines.  In Hebrews we read:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. [6:1] Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 5:11-6:3)

There’s also a direct tie-in between verses 63-65 – they build on each other.  Jesus is saying that you can’t come to me (65) because you do not believe (64) and in order to believe you need the help of the Spirit (63), because in your own flesh you can’t understand these mysteries – this bread of life isn’t palatable to you (66).

This is why we say that regeneration precedes faith.  Before we can see the kingdom of God we must be born again (chapter 3).  Before we can believe on Christ (faith – 64), we must first be born again, otherwise we’ll simply walk away from Him and find something else that is more palatable to our sin natures (66).

The Case for ‘Limited Atonement’

It wasn’t until some time after I had first taught through this passage that I realized the significance of John’s editorial comment in verse 64. John says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe.” It stands to reason that if Jesus knew from the beginning who would not believe, then He certainly knew from the beginning who would believe.

We have already seen that, as Morris says, “The truths of which Jesus has been speaking are accessible only to faith…only for those in whom God works come to Christ.” But interestingly enough John says that Jesus knew from the beginning about who would come to him and who would not. Carson points out that this could be either from the beginning of His ministry, or from the beginning of all time (i.e. John 1:1). Regardless, the fact remains that John’s assertion has natural consequences, namely that Jesus knew for whom He was dying, and those who would not come to Him. He could know this because He was divine, and therefore omniscient. It is a mysterious thing that He would not know certain things (like the time of his return), and yet appear to know something eternally set in stone (Eph. 1:4-5) – like who would come to faith in Him and who would not.

Nevertheless, it is not for us to pry into the reasons as to why Christ knew some things and not others, but one thing He certainly did seem to know is exactly who would not believe in Him, and therefore who would come to believe in Him. This reality is usually known as the doctrine of Limited Atonement, or ‘Definite Atonement’.  It has long been a stumbling block to those of a more Arminian persuasion, and even some in my own Baptist tradition have called themselves “4-point Calvinists” on the basis of eschewing this doctrine.

Yet here is the truth of God’s Word before us, in the context of highly predestinarian language, which has been set in the midst of a discussion on the sovereignty of God and His Christ in the Salvation of mankind. I don’t, therefore, think it’s a stretch to see this verse as affirming the doctrine that Christ came into the world with specific people in mind – His elect.

6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

What was the result of Christ’s preaching the doctrine of the atonement, and salvation, and predestination?  The result was that people couldn’t take it anymore.  They didn’t like what this Jesus was saying, and they didn’t want to submit their lives to someone who wouldn’t simply focus on their physical needs.  These people were sinners who sought after their own desire and needs, and didn’t realize their greatest need wasn’t physical but spiritual.

The same thing will happen to us when we teach and preach hard truths.  It’s easy to be turned off by someone who teaches the doctrine of predestination, isn’t it?  We have to confront ourselves with the question: Am I following Christ for all the physical blessings He brings me in this life, or am I following Him because I love Him for what He’s done for me here and for eternity to come?  Am I following a Jesus that doesn’t exist?  Am I following someone who says, “come to me all who are weary”, but never says, “you can’t come to me unless you are drawn”? OR, am I following a Jesus who is so radical, so offensive, and so odious to my sinful self that if I had been there I would likely have “turned back” as well?

I think that this verse tells us a great deal about the nature of the entire discourse.  We may be troubled when we read verse 44 or 37 telling us that no one can come to the Father unless He draws them.  We may not fully understand what Christ means by eating of His flesh.  We might not exactly know what He means by calling Himself the “bread of life” and so on.  But we must not be like these men who gave up and walked away.  If we are true Disciples of Christ we will stand by Him and work to learn more from Him.  We must sit at His knees and be taught of God.

Let us humbly commit to following Christ no matter how difficult these saying may be, and no matter how our minds and hearts may not want to accept them.  Let us wrestle with God as Jacob did, and let us claim the promise of God that He will help us if we would only ask.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Scriptural Foundation for Election and the “Doctrines of Grace”

Because we’ve been closely studying the 6th chapter of John on Sunday mornings, the doctrine of election has come up frequently – mostly because Jesus brings it up frequently.  In an effort to give our class a deeper understanding of God’s foreordination in salvation, and his sovereign power over all things, I wanted to provide you with some scripture to look at in connection with the Doctrines of Grace.

Firstly, you may be saying “what are the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ anyway?”  They are the core doctrines of God’s grace toward sinners in salvation (at least that’s how I would describe them).  They comprise what is normally known as Calvin’s “Tulip” and involve 5 points of distinction: Man’s depravity, God’s unconditional election, God’s effectual drawing of sinners to Himself, God’s plan of atonement for His children, God’s ensuring that we are preserved until His second coming (we can’t lose our salvation etc).

Thanks to Parris for sending along this link (here) that summarizes pretty well the scriptural basis for these doctrines.  Though even after extensive study you may still not be able to put all the pieces together in your mind, I think that studying the word of God  is the first thing that needs to be done if we’re to understand God’s plan and purpose in the salvation of sinners.  Because these doctrines are so foundational we will continue to study them, and see how they help us understand God and His purposes and plan for mankind.

I think that before we start to look at man’s role in things (the free will question) its good to first have a right understanding of God’s role in things (i.e. salvation and sanctification), and that is what I’m going to try and lay out here with the help of Mongergism’s great research team.

 

Now here is the bulk of the scriptural foundation for the Doctrines of Grace:

Unconditional Election

God is Sovereign Exo 15:18; 1Chr 29:11-12; 2Chr 20:6; Psa 22:28

  1. He exercises that sovereignty in actively ordaining everything

Deu 32:39; 1Sam 2:6-8; Job 9:12; Job 12:6-10; Psa 33:11; Psa 115:3; Psa 135:6; Isa 14:24; Isa 45:7; Act 15:18; Eph 1:11

    • Including matters of “chance”

Proverbs 16:33; 1Kings 22:20,34,37

    • The wicked actions of men

Gen 45:5; Gen 50:20; Exo 4:21; Jdg 14:1-4; Psa 76:10; Pro 16:4; Isa 44:28; Amos 3:6; Act 2:22-23; Act 4:27-28

    • The actions of evil spirits

1Sam. 16:14-16; 1Kings 22:19-23; 1Chr 21:1/2Sam 24:1

    • The good actions of men

John 15:16; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12-13

    • The actions of good angels

Psa 103:20; Psa 104:4

    • The actions of animals

Num 22:28; 1Ki 17:4; Psa 29:9; Jer 8:7; Eze 32:4; Dan 6:22

    • The operations of all creation

Gen 8:22; Psa 104:5-10; Psa 104:13-14; Psa 104:19-20; Mark 4:39

  1. Man is not permitted to question his sovereign acts

Job 33:12-13; Isa 29:16; Isa 45:9-10; Mat 20:1-16; Rom 9:19-24

God elects [i.e. chooses, predestines, foreordains]

  1. His angels

1Tim 5:21

  1. His peculiar people, Israel

Exodus 6:7; Deu 7:6-8; Deut. 10:14-15; Psa 33:12; Isa 43:20-21

  1. Individuals to salvation

Psa 65:4; Mat 24:24; John 6:37; John 15:16; Act 13:48; Rom 8:28-30; Rom 9:10-24; Rom 11:5-7; Eph 1:3-6; Eph 1:11-12; 1The 1:4; 1The 5:9; 2The 2:13-14

  1. Individuals to condemnation

Exo 4:21; Rom 9:13; Rom 9:17-18; Rom 9:21-22; 1Pet 2:8

His motivation in election

  1. His own good pleasure

Eph 1:5; 2Tim 1:9

  1. The display of his glory

Isa 43:6-7; Rom 9:22-24; 1Cor 1:27-31; Eph 2:4-7; Pro 16:4

  1. His special love

Deu 7:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:13

  1. His foreknowledge

Rom 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2

    • Which means his special love

Jer 1:5; Amos 3:2; Mat 7:22-23; 1Cor 8:3; 2Tim 2:19; 1Pet 1:20

    • But not:
    • Any good [nobility, wisdom, power, choice, seeking] he foresees in anyone Deu 7:7; Rom 9:11-13; Rom 9:16; Rom 10:20; 1Cor 1:27-29; 1Cor 4:7; 2Tim 1:9

Total Depravity

Man is constituted a sinner by his relationship with Adam Psa 51:5; Psa 58:3; Rom 5:18-19 He is therefore unable…

  1. To do anything good

Gen 6:5; Job 15:14-16; Psa 130:3; Psa 143:2; Pro 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 64:6; Jer 13:23; John 3:19; Rom 3:9-12; Jam 3:8; 1John 1:8

  1. To believe in God (or come to him)

John 6:44; John 6:65; John 8:43-45; John 10:26; John 12:37-41

  1. To understand the truth

John 14:17; 1Cor 2:14

  1. To seek God

Rom 3:10-11

He is dead in sins Gen 2:16-17; John 3:5-7; Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13 He is blinded and corrupt in his heart Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Ecc 9:3; Jer 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 3:19-21; Rom 8:7-8; Eph 4:17-19; Eph 5:8 He is captive to sin and Satan John 8:34; John 8:44; Rom 6:20; 2Tim 2:25-26; Tit 3:3; 1John 5:19 He performs actions freely according to his nature, but his nature is wholly evil Job 14:4; Mat 7:16-18; Mat 12:33; Mark 7:21-23; Jam 1:13-14

 

Limited Atonement 

God purposed to redeem a certain people and not others 1Chr 17:20-21; Mat 22:14; 1Pet 2:8-9 [see “God elects individuals to salvation”/God elects individuals to condemnation”]

  1. It is for these in particular that Christ gave his life

Isa 53:10-11; Mat 1:21; John 6:35-40; John 10:3-4, 11, 14-15; Act 20:28; Eph 5:25 [we are commanded to love our wives in the same way that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; therefore, if Christ loved and gave himself for all people in the same way, we are commanded to love all women in the same way that we love our wives]; Heb 2:17; Heb 9:15

  1. It is for these in particular that Christ intercedes

John 17:1-2; John 17:6-12; John 17:20-21, 24-26; Rom 8:34

  1. The people for whom Christ intercedes are the same as the people for whom he offered himself up as a sacrifice

Heb 7:24-27; Heb 9:12 [note context, in which entering into the holy place is explicitly for the purpose of intercession], 24-28 [For a fuller understanding of the indissoluble connection between sacrifice and intercession, read Hebrews chapters 7-10]

The atonement of Christ is effective

  1. To justify

Isa 53:11 [the single effective cause of justification in view here is the bearing of iniquities; all whose iniquities Christ bore must be justified]; Rom 8:34[the argument here is that the fact of Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession is in itself an incontrovertibly effective reason for non-condemnation; if this verse is true, then no one for whom Christ died and was raised to intercede may be condemned]

  1. To redeem and cleanse from sins

Eph 5:25-27; Tit 2:14

  1. To propitiate the Father

1John 2:2 [“propitiation” means “the turning away or appeasement of wrath”; therefore, by definition, the Father has no more wrath against those whose sins have been propitiated]; 1John 4:10

  1. To raise to new life

2Cor 5:14-15 [the argument is a simple “if/then” proposition: “if” Christ died for someone, “then,” with no other conditions, that person died with him and was raised again]; 1Pet 3:18

[See also, “Jesus’ death purchased for his people a new heart; – faith; – repentance”. Jesus died in order to establish the New Covenant (Mat. 26:26-29, etc.); the New Covenant promised faith, repentance and knowledge of God (Jer. 31:33-34, Ez. 36:26-27, etc.); therefore, Jesus died in order to provide faith, repentance, and knowledge of God, as the fulfillment of a unilateral promise. This means that his death had a definite purpose which was intended for some and not others. His death effectively purchased faith; not all have faith; and so his death had an effective intent that was limited to certain persons.] Those whom God purposed to redeem include all who believe John 3:16

  1. From every nation

Rev 5:9

  1. From every class

Gal 3:28; 1Tim 2:1-6 [the first “all men” is explicitly tied to all classes of men, which gives warrant for understanding the second “all men” in the same way]

  1. Therefore, Christ’s saving work is commonly spoken of in terms of “all,” “world,” etc.

John 1:29; Tit 2:11-14 [in the context of “all men” is the delimiting concept of a peculiar people, zealous of good works]; Heb 2:9-10 [notice that the many sons whom Christ brings to glory gives a contextual delimiter to the term “every”]; 2Pet 3:9 [note that this desire is explicitly limited to “us” (Peter was writing to fellow-believers) in the context]; 1John 2:2 [propitiation means “appeasement of wrath”; either Jesus appeases God’s wrath against all, and therefore hell (which is the place where God’s wrath resides) is non-existent; or the “whole world” means something different than “every individual who ever lived”. See John 11:51-52, and “The word ‘world’ is often used in the sense of ‘many,’ or ‘all of a set’”]

  1. The word “all” is often used to indicate all of a set, or even many representatives of a set

Mat 10:22; 1Cor 6:12; 1Cor 15:22; Mat 2:3; John 4:29; Act 10:39; Act 17:21; Act 21:28; Act 26:4

  1. Or, to indicate all “classes” or “nations,” not all individuals

Mat 5:11; Act 2:17; Act 10:12

  1. The word “world” is often used in the sense of “many,” or “all of a set”

Luk 2:1-2; John 6:33; John 12:19; Act 19:27; Rom 1:8

Additional reasons that the atonement of Christ is not for all the sins of all people

  1. God punishes people in hell, which would be unjust if their sins were atoned for

Mark 9:43-44

  1. If one were to say, “their sins are atoned for, but that atonement is not applied because of unbelief,” he fails to realize that unbelief is likewise a sin

Heb 3:12 [“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for either: 1) All the sins of all men; 2) All the sins of some men; or 3) Some of the sins of all men. In which case it may be said: 1) If the last be true all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved; 2) That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth; 3) But if the first is the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, Because of unbelief. I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!” – John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ]

  1. God bears eternal wrath against people, which by definition means that his wrath against them has not been propitiated [appeased]

1The 2:16; 2The 1:6-9

Intentions of Christ’s death other than atonement

  1. To make a public display of demons

Col 2:13-15

  1. To rule over everyone

Rom 14:9

  1. To redeem creation

Isa 35:1-4; Rom 8:20-23

  1. To lay the foundation for a genuine gospel call

John 6:39-40; John 7:37-38

  1. To provide temporal mercies for the non-elect

Mat 5:45; 1Tim 4:10

Irresistible Grace 

Faith and Repentance (as well as the new heart which is able to produce them) are themselves gifts of God

  1. A new heart

Deu 30:6; Eze 11:19; Eze 36:26-27

  1. Faith

John 3:27, 6:63-65; Phi 1:29; 2Pet 1:1; Act 16:14; Act 18:27; Eph 2:8-10

  1. Repentance

Act 5:3; Act 11:18; 2Tim 2:25-26; 1Cor 4:7

The Father writes his own word upon (places the fear of himself in, etc.) his people’s hearts Jer 31:33; Jer 32:40; Mat 16:15-17; Luk 10:21; John 6:45; 2Cor 4:6 The beginning of salvation is the sovereign impartation of spiritual life into a heart which had been dead, thereby causing it to exercise faith 1John 5:1; Eze 37:3-6, 11-14; John 1:11-13; John 3:3-8; John 5:21; Eph 2:1-5; Jam 1:18; 1Pet 1:3; 1John 2:29 True offers of grace in the outward gospel call may be resisted by men who do not have this new heart Act 17:32-33 In fact, true offers of grace will always be resisted by such men John 10:24-26; John 12:37-40 But there are some whom God causes to come to him Psa 65:4; Psa 110:3; John 6:37-40; Rom 9:15

 

Perseverance of the Saints 

What God begins, he finishes Psa 138:8; Ecc 3:14; Isa 46:4; Jer 32:40; Rom 11:29; Phi 1:6; 2Tim 4:18 Of all whom he has called and brought to Christ, none will be lost John 6:39-40; John 10:27-29; Rom 8:28-31; Rom 8:35-39; Heb 7:25; Heb 10:14 God’s preservation of the saints is not irrespective of their continuance in the faith 1Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Heb 3:14; Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10:26-27; Heb 12:14; Rev 21:7-8; Rev 22:14-15 However, it is God who sanctifies us and causes us to persevere John 15:16; 1Cor 1:30-31; 1Cor 6:11; 1Cor 12:3; 1Cor 15:10; Gal 3:1-6; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12-13; 1The 5:23-24; Heb 13:20-21; 1John 2:29; Jud 1:24-25.