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Saturday, May 10, 2008

St. John the Calvinist

Hat tip to my college-graduate son who sent me a preliminary paper for his class on the Gospel of John. He had this idea, and I thought it was worth pursuing. If I include anything that was on the paper, son, it is either because the point is so pertinent that it was unavoidable or I simply forgot it came from there.

You've all heard of John the Baptist. I'm quite sure you've never heard of Saint John the Reformed. Truly, it would be nonsensical. The object of the Reformation was not to make the Church better, but to return it to a biblical condition, and since John was writing the Bible, he, by definition, couldn't be Reformed. And, of course, since Calvin didn't come along for another 1500 years or so and Calvinism itself didn't really come about for another hundred years or so, it wouldn't quite be right to refer to him as "John the Calvinist." That being said, I'd still like to introduce you to Saint John the Reformed by demonstrating how John in his Gospel concurs with Calvinism in its "TULIP" basics.

Total Depravity holds that humans beings are sinful at their core. They are incapable by nature of coming to God. While most people today believe in the intrinsic goodness of the human being, Total Depravity holds to the intrinsic evil of the human nature. In the Gospel of John we read this: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him" (John 1:10). This speaks of a core problem. If it was so that a few didn't know Him, you could chalk it up to a problem of the few. John says it was a world-wide problem. Worse, John goes on to say, "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him" (John 1:11). You may wish to excuse the world; they didn't know, right? However, His own people had been given centuries of notification that He was coming ... and they missed it. This is a problem of humans being sinful at the core. In Matthew Jesus said, "I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Of these scribes and Pharisees, the minimum standard of righteousness that Jesus held for all people, Jesus said in John's Gospel:
If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God" (John 8:42-47).
What, then, is John saying about the nature of the most righteous people in the nation? They are liars and not of God. And John 6:65 may not sound like an argument for Total Depravity, but look at it anyway. Jesus was explaining why it was that some of His disciples didn't believe in Him. He said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." What does this have to do with Man's core problem of sin? It's in the basic phrase, "No one can." Jesus makes the same claim in verse 44 of the same chapter. No one can. Human beings, on their own, lack the ability to either believe or to come to Him. That, dear reader, is Total Depravity.

Unconditional Election is the premise that God chooses whom He will save without that choice being conditioned on something of merit in the one being chosen. It is an echo of Paul's "lest any man should boast." It says that I have nothing to offer God to incline Him to choose me ... and neither does anyone else. He chooses without condition of the Elect. What does John say? First, John has one of the clearest statements on Election that you'll find anywhere in Scripture. Jesus told His disciples, "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" (John 15:16). Who chooses whom? Jesus is not unclear. "Oh," the other side objects, "but God chooses whom He chooses based on the fact that He knows in advance they will choose Him." It sounds nice, I'm sure, but John, again, objects. "To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, 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). Our birth into the family of God is not a product of our blood line ("not of blood"), our godly living ("not of the will of the flesh"), and not our right choices ("not of will of man"). (See also where Paul emphasizes the same fact in Rom. 9:16.) We become one of the Chosen Ones, the Elect, on the basis of God's choice alone. We don't choose Him; He chooses us. That, dear reader, is Unconditional Election.

Limited Atonement is one of the most disliked, most misunderstood concepts in the list of five. Most people think it refers to shortcomings in Christ's sacrifice. They think it is saying that Christ's atonement was only sufficient for the Elect. That is not the point, unfortunate name aside. Instead, the question that is being asked and answered in this doctrine is this: When Christ chose to die on the cross, what was His intent? Was it His intent to save everyone, or was it His intent to save the Elect? Was it His aim to provide forgiveness for all and He failed, or was it His aim to provide atonement for the Elect and He succeeded? John's Gospel, in fact, is one of the most common places to find the claim that Christ died with the Elect in mind. You'll find it in two specific places. In John 10:14-15 we read, "I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for My sheep." Notice that He doesn't say He lays down His life for everyone. He reiterates this concept in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. Here He prays for His disciples:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours (John 17:9).
Jesus doesn't pull any punches here. He excludes the world explicitly from His prayer. He prays only for His disciples and "for those who will believe in Me through their word" (John 17:20). All believers, then, are in mind and those who will not believe are not. This is the intention of Limited Atonement.

Irresistible Grace argues that when that moment comes, the Holy Spirit is able to save a person despite their own possible resistance. It does not hold that the Spirit cannot be resisted. It is the claim that God is capable of saving anyone He chooses despite their objections. Does John comment on this? I think so. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). Note that there is no question. There is no suspense. Will the Chosen come to Christ? There is no doubt. They will come. Jesus says, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice" (John 10:16). John 6:44 says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." Again, there is no question. Those who are drawn by the Father will be raised up on the last day. Of course, "come to Me" is certain as implied in the middle. Clearly, then, those who are His sheep will be drawn to Him regardless of the objections or resistance they might have. That goes to irresistibility. Just like Lazarus, the physically dead man, all of the Elect, though spiritually dead, when called by God, will come forth (John 11:43).

The Perseverance of the Saints is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned by both those who disagree and those who think they are agreeing. The doctrine is sometimes called "Eternal Security". Sometimes it is incorrectly connected with "Once Saved, Always Saved" (OSAS), which isn't exactly the same thing. The two share the position that a spiritually dead person ("T") who has been chosen by God according to God's purposes ("U"), paid for by Christ's death and resurrection ("L"), and certainly called from death to life ("I") will absolutely remain one of the Elect and end up in heaven. The difference between OSAS and the Perseverance doctrine is that the latter includes the certainty that God's work of bringing a person to life will result in a fruitful Christian. John agrees. One of the most quoted proofs for Eternal Security is John 10:28-29.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 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.
John, quoting Jesus, gives very little wiggle room. Those who belong to Him are given eternal life. If that life is eternal, in what sense can it stop? You have to ask the same thing with John 3:36 and 5:24. But that's the easiest question. He defines "eternal life" as "never perish" and says, not once but twice, "No one will snatch them out." Now, you can squirm all you want, but unless you are willing to qualify yourself as "no one", you have to admit that not even you can snatch you out of His hand. Jesus makes the same point earlier in one of the passages we've already peeked at.
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 (John 6:37-39).
We saw this for Irresistible Grace, but Jesus also claims "I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me." Either He was mistaken and He would lose some of those whom the Father has given Him, or the outcome is certain and not one will be lost.

Now, the fundamental difference between OSAS and Perseverance of the Saints is the question of fruit. John addresses this in a couple of places. In John 14:15 Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." In John 15 there is the famous "Vine and the branches" metaphor. Those changed by God cannot help but produce fruit. (The entire epistle of 1 John is about that topic.) We already saw in John 15:16, "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." The Elect are chosen for fruit, and that fruit abides. Thus, Perseverance of the Saints, the idea that those whom God has saved will certainly be enabled by God to remain in Christ until the end, is an idea you'll find throughout the Gospel of John.

It's questionable to pull an idea out of a single passage. I've pulled several ideas out of a single book. It doesn't take much effort, in fact, to find these concepts all over Scripture. I am convinced that John the Beloved, had he been around during the Reformation, would have concurred with these points that today form what is referred to as "Calvinism." You may not be convinced, but I would hope that you can surely see that the accusation that "Calvinism is not found in the Bible" is not an accurate objection. At least, it appears that John didn't think so.


Svoblogger said...

Stan -

similar to the "Romans Road" to salvation, this could be the "John Avenue" to Calvinism....

Stan said...


But I gotta know ... what is a "professional talker"?

Svoblogger said...

i get paid to talk...
on the radio.

i really enjoy your blog, and drop by often

Stan said...

Thanks. Nice to you have you visit. Come by a lot. :)