Craig L. Adam’s on Calvinism’s Use of John 6:44

Calvinism and John 6:44

Related posts and articles:

Various Thoughts on the Use of John 6 and Related Passages From John’s Gospel to Support Calvinism

Daniel Whedon on John 6

The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

John 6:37 (Richard Coords)

Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace?

Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?

 

Various Thoughts on The Use of John 6 And Related Passages From John’s Gospel to Support Calvinism

I have been meaning to do an extensive post on John 6 and related passages for some time, but have not gotten around to it yet.  In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to post various comments I have made about John 6 and related passages in John’s Gospel.  These comments mostly come from previous posts and comment threads, so it can feel like coming into the middle of a conversation at times.  Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to decipher what is being discussed.  At the end are some links to other posts and articles on John 6 that take similar approaches (though not necessarily drawing all of the same conclusions).

************************************************

“However, I do think the issue of why the Jews specifically rejected Jesus is a main concern for John. John’s gospel was written very late at a time when the church was shifting heavily to being primarily a Gentile church. I think John is addressing a major concern taking place at the time of his writing. The concern for the Jews would be to help them see why the Jews who knew Jesus rejected Him, which also explains why many Jews at the time of John’s writing were still rejecting Christ as their Messiah. No doubt many Jews were wondering why, if Jesus was the Messiah, did the Jewish leaders largely reject Him? Likewise, Gentiles would also be wondering why, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, did the Jewish leaders reject Him, and why are so many Jews still rejecting Him? Is their rejection an indictment on Christ’s claims?

If that is the case, then John is very focused on showing that the Jewish leaders and many of the Jews who encountered Christ rejected Him, not because He wasn’t from God, but because they (the Jews) were not “of God.” They pointed the finger at Christ saying that He was not of God, but the reality was that Christ was of God (one with Him, in fact), and the reason they didn’t recognize it was because they didn’t know God (were not in right covenant relationship with God). I believe that is the primary issue being addressed in Jesus’ confrontations with the Jews in John (chapters 5, 6, 8, and 10 especially). Look at this verse,

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20, 21, NASB)

If we interpret this as Calvinists (and some Arminians) do as a simple passage on depravity, we run into a serious problem. The text says that “whoever does what is true comes to the light”.

Coming to the light, in this context, is coming to Christ, i.e., putting faith in Christ. So this text is saying that those who “practice truth” come to Christ. That doesn’t sound like a biblical description of someone who is depraved. Someone who is totally depraved in the Calvinist sense is not someone who can be characterized as “practicing truth.” But if John’s point is the same as being described in John 10 (as well as in John 5, 6, and 8) that those who know the Father come to Christ, and those who do not know the Father reject Christ, then this passage makes perfect sense.

But if we universalize this passage to all people we run into the same difficulty. How is it that Gentiles who know nothing of God can be characterized as “practicing truth” prior to coming to Christ? It doesn’t really fit with that paradigm. But it does fit with the idea of faithful Jews submitting to the claims of Christ because they already know God (have a relationship with Him). It could, however, extend to Gentiles like Cornelius who knew God as well, prior to hearing the message preached by Peter. But his faith was based on his knowledge of God from the Jews. He was one of those “other sheep” who already knew God and would automatically recognize the Shepherd and His voice (which is the voice of the Father as well).

Another good one is John 7:17,

“If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.”

Here we see this principle being plainly described by Christ. The one who truly wishes to do the will of the Father (i.e. truly knows the Father and thereby “practices truth”) will immediately recognize that Jesus is speaking the words of the Father. Such people will be given, by the Father, to the Shepherd as His sheep. They recognize His voice, listen to Him and follow Him, just as they followed the Father.

The secondary application is simply that those who are willing to hear from the Father (however He may teach them) will be drawn by the Father to Christ. In our situation, this happens by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The principle is similar, but it is a different time and a different situation. We come to the Father through the Son, while in a very real sense the Jews of Jesus’ time came to the Son through the Father and were then able to take part in the new dispensation when only those joined to the Son can remain in right relationship with the Father. Here are a few things I wrote on drawing that might help shed light on what I am saying (how there is both a primary and secondary application),

“Not of God” [in John 8] simply means that these Jews were not in right covenant relationship with the Father when they encountered Christ and His claims. Since they didn’t know the Father they naturally would not recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son, nor would they recognize the Father’s teaching in the Son’s words (John 8:19, 20, 42, 54, 55, cf. John 5:37-40; 7:16, 17 12:44, 45). As long as they reject the Father and refuse His teaching, they will reject the Son and His teaching (which is also the Father’s teaching, John 12:49, 50) and will not be given to the Son (John 6:37, 44, 45).

None of these passages say anything about an unconditional eternal election being behind the description of these Jews as “not of God.” Such an idea is only read into these passages by Calvinists…. Second, as mentioned above, their inability to hear was not because God wasn’t working, but because they were resisting that working. Clearly, Jesus is still trying to reach them (8:27-31, 36, cf. John 5:44; 10:37, 38), which would be senseless if He viewed them as hopeless reprobates. This is especially evident in Christ’s statement to the same sort of resistant Jews in John 5 where Christ both declares their inability and yet tells them, “…not that I accept human testimony, but I mention it that you may be saved”, vs. 34. This is especially relevant to my point since the “testimony” Christ refers to is the prior testimony of John the Baptist. Christ then points them to other “testimonies” like His miracles, the Scriptures in general, and Moses, obviously implying that through the acceptance of these testimonies they may yet be enabled to “come to” Him and be “saved”, cf. vss. 39, 40; Luke 16:27-31).

Jesus’ method of discourse is actually a rather common teaching technique used for the purpose of admonishment in order for the “students” to fully realize their situation with the hope that in realizing it (coming to grips with this important revelation) they will be spurred on to change (i.e. repentance). I work in schools daily and see this type of teaching technique used all the time. It is similar to a Math teacher saying, “how can you expect to do division when you haven’t even learned your times tables? You can’t do division while you remain ignorant of multiplication.” Such instruction is not meant to highlight a hopeless state. It is not meant to express that the student can never do division. Rather, it is intended to get the student to re-examine the reality of their current state and how it makes further progress impossible, with the hope that they will learn what is required in order to move forward (e.g. John 5:41-45).

Likewise, Jesus is actually using much of what He says for the purpose of getting those who are listening to re-examine their present relationship to the Father and thereby realize that they are not in a proper position to be making such judgments about Christ and His claims, with the hope that they will yet “learn” from the Father so that they can come to a place where acceptance of Christ and His words is possible (e.g. John 5:33-47; 10:34-39, cf. John 6:45, etc). Had they already learned from the Father (been receptive to God’s grace and leading through the Scriptures, the prophets, the ministry of John the Baptist, the miracles of Christ, etc.), they would have immediately recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, Shepherd and King of God’s people, and been given to Him. Yet, not all hope is gone, for they may yet learn if they stop resisting the Father’s leading.

Christ’s teaching on drawing in John 6:44, 45, therefore, is not just descriptive, but for the purpose of admonishment, that they might be careful not to spurn and resist this drawing and miss eternal life and the promise of resurrection. God’s working in prevenient grace and drawing can be complex and operate in different ways depending on the person and the situation. God approaches us from a variety of angles. These passages illustrate that. Yet, we dare not assume that because the operation of prevenient grace on the human heart and mind doesn’t necessarily reduce to a simple equation or formula, God is not still working. Indeed, God is always working (John 5:17).”

************************************************

“The Calvinist might object that verse 25 [of John 10] is not in harmony with the above interpretation due to the fact that Jesus tells the Jews that they do not believe because they are not His sheep. It could be argued that verse 25 refers to a predetermined and unconditional election: The sheep are those who were elected by God prior to creation and then given faith to believe in Christ. The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus is describing a pre-temporal election of certain individuals for salvation. Such an eternal decree must be first assumed and then read into the text.

A more plausible interpretation is to understand Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29 in the context of the unique historical situation taking place at the time of His ministry with regards to the transition from the old dispensation to the new. The passage has a secondary application to believers of all ages (as described above) but the primary application concerned only the Jews who were alive during Christ’s ministry and were specifically being addressed in this and other similar chapters in John (John 5:24-27; 6:37, 40-44, 65; 8:12-59). The “sheep” in this context are the Jews who are currently living in right covenant relationship with the Father during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Jews that Jesus is addressing in this discourse and others like it throughout John’s gospel are not in right relationship with the Father during the time of Christ’s ministry. Since they do not know the Father (are not “of God”) they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in the Son (Jn. 7:16, 17; 8:19, 42-47). They reject the Son and refuse to trust in Him because they have rejected the Father. Therefore, they are not Christ’s sheep and cannot be given to the Son (John 6:37). If they had known the Father they would have recognized the Son as their Messiah and would have been given to Him.

So the primary application still addresses the issue of faith but not in the same way as we would tend to apply it today since our situation is different from that of the Jews and we are not living at a critical time in history where the faithful Jews were being given, by the Father, to their Shepherd and Messiah. For them it primarily involved the transition from one sphere of believing (in the Father) to another (in the Son). Those faithful Jews recognized the Father in the Son and as a result listened to Him and followed Him as their long awaited Messiah. In either case the “sheep” are those who are “listening” and “following” and the passage gives no indication that one cannot cease to be one of Christ’s sheep by later refusing to listen and follow.”

*************************************************

Other helpful posts and articles:

The Oder of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

Daniel Whedon on John 6

Benson on John 6

John 6:37 (Richard Coords)

Calvinism: John 6

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 1

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 2

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 3

 

Does Jesus Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in John 6:37-65?

John 6:37, 44, 65

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted by My Father.

We dealt briefly with the context of this passage above when discussing John 10:27-29.  Jesus is speaking to Jews whose hearts are not right with God.  They are not faithful Jews and do not know the Father.  Because they are not in right covenant relationship with the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son.  Since they are not willing to do the Father’s will they cannot properly discern the truth of Christ’s words (John 7:17).  Those who know the Father will recognize the truth of Christ’s words and be “drawn” to Him (6:44, 45, cf. John 3:21).   They will be given to the Son and come to faith in Him as a result (6:37).  To them alone has the Father granted access to the Son (6:65).

The passage has to do with the Father giving the faithful Jews to their long awaited Messiah.  It has nothing to do with a pre-temporal unconditional election of certain sinners to come to faith in Christ.  This is a conclusion that many have read into this passage according to a prior commitment to a theological system without any contextual warrant.

Jesus assures anyone who would come to Christ in faith that they will not be rejected.  They will be accepted in the Beloved One of God (6:37).  The Father will not fail to give all the faithful Jews to Christ and Christ will not fail to receive them to Himself.  Christ will “raise them up at the last day.”  These Jews can be sure that their destiny is secure in Christ.  However, the promise is only for those who are presently and continually “eating”, “drinking”, “believing”, “coming”, “listening”, “following”, and “beholding.”   Only those who persevere in saving faith will be raised up at the last day (6:40).  There is no promise here for those who stop believing and no guarantee that those who begin to believe will inevitably endure in that faith.  The “all that” in verse 39 is the sum total of believers.  It is the corporate body of Christ and that body will certainly be “raised up at the last day” because that body is comprised of those who are presently and continually “believing” in the Son (vs. 40).

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

Daniel Whedon on John 6

37. All—It is remarkable that this word is in the Greek neuter. It expresses not so much a person as a nature, a thing, a character: The whole sort that the Father giveth me. These gross men did not belong to those given, because, entertaining nothing but hopes of mercenary gain from Christ and his miracles, they truly believed not, as in the last verse is said. See note on verse 26. So in verse 45 it is more fully explained; it is only every one that hath learned of the Father that cometh unto me. The Father, finding the willing soul, teaches by his law; attracts, convinces, and convicts by his Spirit; but when the soul has perfectly obeyed all their influences with a living faith, the Father does not himself save, but He draws and hands him over to Christ. Thither coming, and embracing Christ with a full faith, the man is not cast out but accepted and redeemed. But the Father giveth none to Christ who reject his teachings and drawings; none who do not freely consent to be given and go to his Son. Such is the great scheme of salvation.

Shall come unto me—Will come unto me. It is the simple future; the shall expresses no authority or securement of the coming. Every one who freely yields to the teachings and drawings of the Father, is, by the Father, given, and comes to Christ. Such a person coming to Christ will be accepted. For the Father gives none but such as will freely come. The giving by the Father is consequent upon the obedient learning; not the learning upon the giving. See notes on verses 44, 45, and 65.

38. Not to do mine own will—Not to separate myself by personal self-will from the Father, but perfectly to cooperate and carry out his scheme of redeeming mercy.

39. Of all which he hath given me—Namely, all who fully obey the Father’s drawings and come to Christ. I should lose nothing—There will be no erratic self-will in Christ, darting off from the divine plan; no remissness, no oversight, no failure. All who perseveringly believe in him, he will as faithfully and powerfully save as the will of the Father can require. Raise it up—From the dead. At the last day—The day that closes the series of human history and inaugurates the final judgment.

40. Believeth on him—So long as he performs the condition, so long is he heir of the salvation. When he ceases to be a believer he loses all claim to the divine promise, and all interest in eternal life. That he has once believed no longer secures him heaven, any more than the fact that he has once disbelieved secures eternal death.

41. The Jews—Used in an adverse sense, as opposers of Christ. Murmured—The character and destiny he has assigned them (36-40) now elicit their hostility. Down from heaven—The popular view of the coming of the Son of man from heaven, was doubtless modeled on the scene described in Daniel 7.

42. Whose father and mother we know—These Jews therefore were familiar with Nazareth. Their terms are not now, as before, Rabbi and Lord. They have discarded from their memory the miraculous feeding, and so, doubtless, they carefully forget the Davidic descent of his parents, and all reference to his miraculous birth. They scout the idea of his having come down from heaven.

43. Murmur not—There is the stern authority of a future judge in this supreme silencing of the mutter of these unhappy men. He hushes them as reprobates condemned already.

44. No man can come to me—Men are by nature so depraved and lost that they have no power to attain salvation, but for a gracious ability bestowed. (John 1:4, 5.) That ability consists in a great degree of those special drawings purchased for them by the atonement. Except the Father… draw him—That is, attract him; shed drawing influences upon him, and inwardly empower him to a full obedience; but not obliging or securing that obedience. Nor will that drawing avail unless the man freely use his natural and grace-given power to obey.

45. The prophets—That section of the Old Testament popularly styled the prophets. The quotation is probably from Isaiah 54:13: All thy children shall be taught of Jehovah. This teaching is part of the great system of the Father’s drawing to Christ. Hath heard Hath willingly listened. Hath learned—Hath applied his powers to know. Such a man has complied with the Father’s drawings. Cometh unto me—He is assigned by the Father to the Son for salvation. He exercises repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To this class belonged not these Jews.

***

65. No man can come… except—Men, apart from the guidance and aid of the Father, furnished by the Spirit and the various means of grace, are hemmed into sin. They can neither will nor do acceptably to God. The Father first enables, but not obliges. For grace used, he adds more grace. For drawings obeyed, he adds more drawings. And when they so obey his drawings as to be ready for Christ, he gives and they come. But unless they use his grace and obey his drawings both will be withdrawn. But none ever missed the drawing of God who has not misused it. Given… of my Father—And it was not given in consequence of their not having obediently learned and accepted previous grace, and having sunk themselves into gross hardness. So that because of their primary willfulness the drawing could not reach them, and for want of those drawings it was not given them to come. See notes on verses 26, 37, 38, 39, 44, and 45.

Whedon pp. 324-326, 330, 331, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD

Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

Having examined the primary passages that teach apostasy we now examine the passages that the advocates of unconditional eternal security believe clearly support their doctrine:

John 10:27-29

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that there is nothing in this passage to suggest that the security being described by Christ is unconditional.  This is one of the greatest weaknesses of the Calvinist position.  One will look in vain for a passage of Scripture that explicitly makes salvation security unconditional.  The best that can be produced are passages which do not explicitly state a condition, but the absence of a stated condition does not necessitate the absence of a condition (e.g. Hebrews 13:5, cf. Deut. 31:6, 8, 16-18; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Joshua 24:19, 20). This is especially true since there are numerous passages which do state conditions and warn of defection from saving faith (as we have seen in parts 2-11 of this series).

In the case of John 10:27 we can even argue that a condition is stated, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  The verbs “listen” and “follow” are present active indicative in the Greek describing continual action.  The “sheep” are characterized by their “listening” to and “following” of Christ.  They are the listening and following ones, and only those who are listening and following can rightly be called Christ’s “sheep” and lay claim to the promises stated in John 10:28 and 29.  In other words, the sheep are believers who are presently believing.  It is to these believers alone that the promises are made.  Surely, those who are listening to and following Christ are secure in His arms and cannot be snatched out.  They also possess the eternal life that resides in Christ since they are in union with Him by faith (vs. 28).  There is nothing in the passage, however, to suggest that the sheep can never stop “listening” or “following” and no promise given for those who might indeed cease to do so.  The passage is only speaking of those who are presently listening and following.  It is a powerful promise to believers that as long as they are believing they are secure in Christ.  F. Leroy Forlines comments on this security in The Quest For Truth:

The teaching is simply this:  The believer’s relationship with God is a personal one between him and God.  Though all the powers of the universe were to combine against the believer, they could not take the believer away from God.  Some would add, ‘Neither can the believer take himself out of the body of Christ.’  Yes, that is true.  But, it is also true that he could not place himself into the body of Christ.  However, upon his faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit placed the believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).  If the believer renounces his faith, God will take him out (Jn. 15:2, 6).  There is no contradiction between the statements ‘No man can take us out of Christ’ and the statement ‘God the Father takes those people out of Christ who turn from Christ in unbelief.’ (pg. 275)

The passage does not state that faith cannot be renounced nor does it state that any such promise of security is given to unbelievers.  The promise of security in Christ described in John 10:27-29 is for believers who continue to believe and for them only.  The question then becomes, “Can believers cease to believe?”  The answer to that question cannot be resolved in John 10:27-29 and for that reason it fails as a proof text for inevitable perseverance.

Special Contextual Considerations for John 10:27-29

The Calvinist might object that verse 25 is not in harmony with the above interpretation due to the fact that Jesus tells the Jews that they do not believe because they are not His sheep.  It could be argued that verse 25 refers to a predetermined and unconditional election:  The sheep are those who were elected by God prior to creation and then given faith to believe in Christ.  The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus is describing a pre-temporal election of certain individuals for salvation.  Such an eternal decree must be first assumed and then read into the text.

A more plausible interpretation is to understand Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29 in the context of the unique historical situation taking place at the time of His ministry with regards to the transition from the old dispensation to the new.  The passage has a secondary application to believers of all ages (as described above) but the primary application concerned only the Jews who were alive during Christ’s ministry and were specifically being addressed in this and other similar chapters in John (John 5:24-27; 6:37, 40-44, 65; 8:12-59).  The “sheep” in this context are the Jews who are currently living in right covenant relationship with the Father during the time of Jesus’ ministry.  The Jews that Jesus is addressing in this discourse and others like it throughout John’s gospel are not in right relationship with the Father during the time of Christ’s ministry.  Since they do not know the Father (are not “of God”) they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in the Son (Jn. 7:16, 17; 8:19, 42-47).  They reject the Son and refuse to trust in Him because they have rejected the Father.  Therefore, they are not Christ’s sheep and cannot be given to the Son (John 6:37).  If they had known the Father they would have recognized the Son as their Messiah and would have been given to Him.

So the primary application still addresses the issue of faith but not in the same way as we would tend to apply it today since our situation is different from that of the Jews and we are not living at a critical time in history where the faithful Jews were being given, by the Father, to their Shepherd and Messiah.  For them it primarily involved the transition from one sphere of believing (in the Father) to another (in the Son).  Those faithful Jews recognized the Father in the Son and as a result listened to Him and followed Him as their long awaited Messiah.  In either case the “sheep” are those who are “listening” and “following” and the passage gives no indication that one cannot cease to be one of Christ’s sheep by later refusing to listen and follow.

Romans 8:35-39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: ‘For you sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again, the promise and security presented in this passage of Scripture is only for believers (“us” in verse 35).  None of these things are true of unbelievers and nothing in the passage suggests that faith cannot be abandoned or that love for God cannot grow cold (Matt. 24:12).  This passage gives assurance to believers who are suffering persecution that such sufferings should not be interpreted as indicating that God no longer favors them or loves them.  No amount of persecution or opposition can overwhelm the believer since the believer always has the victory in Christ.  Neither the turmoil of this life nor death itself can separate the believer from Christ’s love.  Through Him and because of Him we are more than conquerors despite any obstacle or battle that we may encounter.  However, just as in John 10:27-29 there is nothing in the passage to suggest that God’s saving love is unconditional or that believers cannot separate themselves from the love of Christ by abandoning Him during trials and persecutions.  The one who remains will certainly triumph but there is no such promise of victory for the one who shrinks back in unbelief (Hebrews 10:38; Matt 10:22, 28, 32, 33).  Indeed, the Scriptures admonish believers to remain in God’s love (Jude 21) and Christ’s love (Jn. 15:9).  If the promise of Romans 8:35 was unconditional then such passages as Jude 21 and John 15:9 would be rendered nonsensical. Forlines observes:

It is my opinion that this passage does not deal with the question of whether a saved person can ever be lost again.  Rather, it teaches that a person who is a child of God can never, at the same time, be separated from God’s love.  In other words, the believer is never to interpret hardships as meaning that God does not love him.  Instead, he should recognize that God’s love is still with him and should say with Paul, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Rom. 8:37)…Suppose the passage does deal with the matter of security.  It would be explained the same way as the statement of Jesus when He said, ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).  Paul would be saying as emphatically as human language can make it that our personal salvation is a matter between the individual and God.  He would be saying that neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, sword (verse 35), death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come (verse 38), height, depth, nor any other creature viewed collectively or singularly can take a believer away from Christ.  I believe that. What Paul says in these verses in no way contradicts the viewpoint that if a believer turns away from God in defiant, arrogant, unbelief that God will take him out of Christ (Jn. 15:2, 6). (ibid.)

Some believe that verse 39 gives just such an unconditional promise, “…nor anything else in all creation [or “any other created thing”], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  They reason that since the believer is a “created thing” then it follows that even the believer cannot remove himself from God’s love.  This appeal is problematic on many fronts.

First, it ignores the context of the passage which is dealing with persecutions and tribulations that are brought to bear on the believer (forces, circumstances, and influences outside of the believer).  Verse 39 is still speaking about these things and therefore cannot have reference to the believer himself.  Indeed, this seems like a very awkward and unnatural reading of the text and I am fairly confident that one would never think to read it that way if they weren’t driven by a prior commitment to unconditional security, and trying to find support for the doctrine in this passage.  Grant Osborne captures this truth well when he writes, “Outside pressures can’t separate us from Christ’s love, but inward apostasy can (Grace Unlimited, pg. 179).

Second, the suggestion that the believer cannot separate himself from the love of God stands in contradiction to passages like Jude 21 and John 15:9 as noted above. Third, while there is a sense in which the believer can separate himself from the love of God in Christ by abandoning the faith, it needs to be remembered that according to Scripture the believer does not ultimately separate Himself from Christ (the sphere of God’s special and saving love) as Forlines pointed out above.  When a believer abandons the faith and becomes an unbeliever God Himself separates that person (now an unbeliever) from His Son (Jn. 15:2, 6), and God is not a “created thing.”

1 John 2:18-19

Little children, it is the last hour and as you have heard that the Anti-Christ is coming, even now many anti-christs have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were of us.

This passage has been held up by Calvinists as teaching a universal principal of what “apostasy” constitutes.  Remember, apostasy in Calvinism means only that one rejects the gospel.  It is not a falling away from true faith.  True faith endures since God infallibly preserves it and if one should seem to fall away it only proves that the person never possessed genuine faith and had never been regenerated.  It is impossible, according to Calvinism, to fall away from true faith.  One can only fall away from a false profession of true faith and prove that one was always just a hypocrite.  Calvinists believe that this single passage of Scripture proves their strange definition of apostasy to be the Biblical definition.

John speaks of false teachers (anti-christs) who went out “from us” (the true gospel teachers) and thus proved by their going that they were not “of us.”  Does John then teach the Calvinistic definition of apostasy?  Not at all.  The passage simply does not say what the Calvinist needs it to say for several reasons.

First, John is not laying down a universal principle concerning what it means to be an apostate.  John is specifically speaking of false teachers leaving the company of the true gospel teachers and proving by their leaving that they are not in harmony with the true gospel.  Had they continued in the truth they would have no reason to leave but since they had abandoned the truth they could no longer keep company with the true gospel teachers and went out from them to spread their heresies.  By doing so they proved that their authority is not from God, and their teachings should not be trusted. This is John’s primary point in this passage.

Second, the passage says nothing of the false teachers’ prior spiritual condition.  It only tells us that at the time of their going they were not “of” the true gospel teachers.  They were committed to false doctrine when they left and left for that reason, but we have no way of knowing whether or not they had at one time genuinely embraced the truth.  The passage does not address their spiritual condition prior to their leaving, and this is exactly what the Calvinist needs the passage to do in order to support their doctrine.  The Calvinist needs the passage to say, “They went out from us, but they were not [ever] of us; for if they had [ever] been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were [ever at any time] of us.”  The “ever” must be read into the text.  It is simply not there and the Calvinist must beg the question to assume that this is what John meant to imply.  For this reason alone, this passage fails as a proof text for Calvinistic apostasy.

Third, the context of the epistle argues for the view that these false teachers were indeed saved prior to their defection and left only after embracing false teaching and thereby apostatizing from the truth they once embraced.  One of the main issues being addressed throughout 1 John is how one can determine whether or not one is truly saved (“born of God”). The Gnostics (i.e. anti-christs) were teaching that there was no connection between behavior and salvation. They believed that the human spirit was incorruptible and could in no way be affected by the sins of the flesh. John directly opposes such teaching numerous times in his epistle (1:5-10; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 15; 3:4-11, 15, 17, 18, 24; 4:7, 16, 20, 21; 5:1, 2).  John is primarily encouraging his readers to reject the false teachings of the “anti-christs” who are teaching that one can sin with spiritual immunity, and helping them to understand the true characteristics of God’s children.

Now for us to believe that the anti-christs who left the company of the true gospel teachers were never true believers would suggest that John and the true gospel teachers were not able to detect their hypocrisy while they kept their company.  This runs contrary to one of John’s main concerns in the epistle, that one can discern the difference between true followers of Christ and unbelievers by character and behavior.  To believe that John was incapable of detecting their hypocrisy prior to their actual defection is out of harmony with one of the most prominent themes of the entire letter.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Some emphasize the fact that eternal life is eternal.  It is claimed that if we could forfeit salvation, eternal life would then cease to be eternal.  This fails to recognize the important truth that there is no eternal life outside of Christ (John 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John 1:2; 5:11; Col. 3:3, 4; 2 Pet, 1:4), and we share in his life only as we remain in Him through saving faith (those “believing” in this passage).  Eternal life does not cease to be eternal if we fail to continue in saving faith, we will simply cease to participate in the eternal life which resides only in the Son of God.  Eternal life will continue on just fine without us, if we fail to meet the condition of faith.

Robert Picirilli comments:

Those passages, especially in the Gospel of John, which contain strong promises of (final) salvation to believers and are therefore thought to imply necessary perseverance can not be used for that purpose lest they ‘prove too much.’  In other words, to say that those promises require the impossibility of a changed situation places too great a burden on the syntax of the statements.  And this can quickly be seen by comparing similar promises, using the very same syntax, to unbelievers.  For example:

John 5:24

He that believes shall not come into condemnation.

[and]

John 3:36

He that believes not shall not see life.

Grammatically, if the first means the condition of the believer can not be changed, then the second means the condition of the unbeliever likewise can not be changed.  In fact, neither passage is even speaking to that issue.  The unbeliever can leave his unbelief, become a believer, and see life- thus escaping from the promise made to the unbeliever who continues in his unbelief.  Likewise, the believer can leave his belief, become an unbeliever, and come into condemnation- thus escaping from the promise made to believers who continue in faith.  Each promise applies with equal force to those who continue in the respective state described.  (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pp. 200-201)

Romans 6:23; 11:29

For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord….For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Many see here a strong assertion of unconditional eternal security based on the fact that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (NAS), and that eternal life is a gift (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8, 9), therefore, they reason, eternal life must be irrevocable.  God is always faithful to his promises (both pleasant and terrible, e.g. Joshua 23:15, 16), but his promises are not without conditions.  God’s gift of salvation is irrevocable so long as the condition is met.  Paul was speaking of Israel’s final restoration in Rom.11:29, but he was giving no assurance to those branches that had been broken off in unbelief (verse 20), and sternly warned that those who were now standing by faith, could yet be broken off through unbelief (verses 20, and 21).  God’s divine gift (of life) is always and only for believers!  God does not revoke his gift, for it cannot exist outside of Christ.  Only believers are “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).  If we fail to meet the condition for union with Christ, we can have no claim on the gift (see Jn. 3:16 and 10:27-29 discussed above).

Eph.1:13, 14; 4:30

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory….Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Much has been made of the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit by defenders of unconditional eternal security.  The “sealing” of the Holy Spirit is clearly conditional since we can “grieve”, and eventually “insult” the Sprit of Grace, which constitutes total apostasy without remedy (Eph. 4:30, and Heb. 10:29). The Holy Spirit is received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 14) and can only seal us as we remain in Christ through faith. We are, in fact, sealed in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, as a direct result of faith (Eph. 1:13). The sealing of the Holy Spirit presupposes the possession of the Holy Spirit, and only believers can possess the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).  He is therefore the guarantee of an inheritance for believers and not unbelievers.

There may be a parallel with circumcision which was also a “seal” for those under the old covenant (Rom. 4:11). We know that that seal was broken and guaranteed nothing when those who were circumcised broke the covenant and were cut off from the people of God (Rom. 2:25). The seal was conditioned on continued faith and obedience (2:26-29). The Holy Spirit marks us as children of the new covenant through faith in Christ, but if we abandon the faith then the Spirit of God no longer remains in us and we are no longer sealed in Christ (partakers of the covenant blessings that are found in Him alone- Eph. 1:3, 7, 10,11).  Only those that continue in obedient faith remain sealed (Acts 5:32, Jn. 14:15-17; Rom. 8:5, 6, 9).

Notice that the sealing of the Holy Spirit is coupled with a warning not to “grieve” Him in Ephesians 4:30.  This would seem to indicate that there is danger in grieving the Spirit who seals us and the reference to sealing may be for the primary purpose of reminding the Ephesians that to grieve the Spirit is to grieve the one who unites us to Christ.  This makes the warning far more emphatic and cautions the believer to watch how he lives lest the sins which grieve Him lead to unbelief through which the seal is broken and the Spirit is finally “insulted.” The sealing of the Holy Spirit, therefore, applies only as long as we do not “grieve” (Eph. 4:30), and finally “insult” (Heb. 10:29) the “Spirit of Grace” through continued disobedience, culminating in outright apostasy.

There is no Biblical reason to see the sealing of the Holy Spirit as unconditional or irrevocable, while there are plenty of reasons to see it as conditioned on continued faith. Indeed, warnings against apostasy alone imply the conditionality of the seal.

Romans 8:28, 29

And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the first born among many brethren; and these whom He predestined He also called; and these whom He called He also justified, and these whom He justified He also glorified.

The claim is that this passage presents an unbreakable chain from predestination to glorification.  The problem is that the passage nowhere claims that such a journey is a guarantee from start to finish.  The passage is speaking of those who have already been glorified and describes the process by which they reached that goal.  Who are these whom God has glorified?  Verse 28 tells us that it is those who love God and have been called according to His purpose.  Those who love God (believers) are called and predestinated to become conformed to the image of Christ (the ultimate “purpose” of God for the believer).  The passage is not addressing unbelievers but believers.  It is not telling us that God has predestined certain unbelievers to become believers.  Rather, it is describing the final destiny of those who love God.

The Calvinist interpretation errs in two important areas.  First the Calvinist assumes that the “calling” of verse 29 is a “calling” unto salvation.  The way that “called” is used in verse 28 would suggest otherwise.  In verse 28 Paul seems to be using the word with regard to the purpose of God to be accomplished in believers (those who love Him).  Part of that calling is to endure hardships and persecution for the sake of the gospel.  Peter uses this same language, “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Pet. 2:20-21)  This is exactly Paul’s point.  Believers are called to follow in Christ’s steps (which includes suffering) whereby they will be conformed to His image.  The calling is of believers to endure suffering for the sake of Christ and be conformed to His image.  To this they were predestined, for God had determined from eternity that believers would fulfill this calling in Christ (Rom. 8:17-18).  This interpretation harmonizes perfectly with the contextual emphasis of verses 28-39 (see treatment of verses 38-39 above).

Second, the Calvinist interpretation assumes that predestination is the first step in this process but Paul makes sure to emphasize that those whom God predestined are those He “foreknew.”  Again, this supports the idea that believers alone are in view throughout this passage, for God can ‘previously and affectionately regard as His own’ no sinner unless He has foreknown him in Christ, and looked upon him as a believer in Christ” (James Arminius quoted by Robert Picirilli in Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 78).  Election and predestination are in Christ and only believers come to be in Christ (Eph. 1:4, 5, 11, 13).  Even if the calling of verse 29 was a calling to salvation it would not indicate that all who are called are also justified and glorified for Paul has only in mind believers who persevere (enduring hardships and persecution) to glorification (Rom. 8:17-18, cf. Philippians 1:29).  Nowhere does the passage suggest that all who believe will inevitably persevere to final salvation (glorification).  Just like so many Calvinist proof-texts for inevitable perseverance the absence of a stated condition does not necessitate the conclusion that the process being described here is unconditional.

John 6:37, 44, 65

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted by My Father.

We dealt briefly with the context of this passage above when discussing John 10:27-29.  Jesus is speaking to Jews whose hearts are not right with God.  They are not faithful Jews and do not know the Father.  Because they are not in right covenant relationship with the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son.  Since they are not willing to do the Father’s will they cannot properly discern the truth of Christ’s words (John 7:17).  Those who know the Father will recognize the truth of Christ’s words and be “drawn” to Him (6:44, 45).   They will be given to the Son and come to faith in Him as a result (6:37).  To them alone has the Father granted access to the Son (6:65).

The passage has to do with the Father giving the faithful Jews to their long awaited Messiah.  It has nothing to do with a pre-temporal unconditional election of certain sinners to come to faith in Christ.  This is a conclusion that many have read into this passage according to a prior commitment to a theological system without any contextual warrant.

Jesus assures anyone who would come to Christ in faith that they will not be rejected.  They will be accepted in the Beloved One of God (6:37).  The Father will not fail to give all the faithful Jews to Christ and Christ will not fail to receive them to Himself.  Christ will “raise them up at the last day.”  These Jews can be sure that their destiny is secure in Christ.  However, the promise is only for those who are presently and continually “eating”, “drinking”, “believing”, “coming”, “listening”, “following”, and “beholding.”   Only those who persevere in saving faith will be raised up at the last day (6:40).  There is no promise here for those who stop believing and no guarantee that those who begin to believe will inevitably endure in that faith.  The “all that” in verse 39 is the sum total of believers.  It is the corporate body of Christ and that body will certainly be “raised up at the last day” because that body is comprised of those who are presently and continually “believing” in the Son (vs. 40).

Romans 8:1

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This promise applies only to those that are presently “in Christ Jesus”, and are no longer “controlled…by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” Rom. 8:9.  As long as we remain “in Christ” we cannot be condemned, but if we fail to remain “in Christ”, by giving the sinful nature control (Rom. 8:12-14), we will certainly perish (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:7, 8; Jn 15:5, 6; James 4:4).

Philippians 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.

Does this verse then teach that one who begins in saving faith will inevitably continue in that faith until the “day of Christ Jesus?”  The advocates of unconditional security are trying to squeeze far more from this verse than was intended by Paul.  Paul was confident in the work of God being completed in the Philippians to whom he writes because he had every reason to believe that they would endure in the faith.  Paul explains why he has such confidence in them:  They have participated in the ministry of the gospel from the “first day until now.” (1:5) They have shared in grace with Paul in supporting his ministry and supporting him while in prison (1:7; 4:18, 19).  Paul is also confident that God will complete his work in them because he is praying for them and trusting God on their behalf (1:3, 9-11).

Since Paul has every reason to believe that they will continue in the faith based on their track record he can express his confidence that God will continue to work in them since God cannot fail to work in believers.  All believers who continue in the faith will see God’s work completed in them on the “day of Christ Jesus.”  Paul is not guaranteeing that they will make it to glory but only expressing his personal confidence in them based on his own experience of their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Paul’s confidence is seen to be a cautious confidence in that he warns them to continue following his example of single minded commitment to the gospel of Christ lest they begin to focus instead on the things of this world and become enemies of the cross (3:17-19).  Paul still expresses concern that he may yet return to them and not find them standing firm in Christ, and for that reason encourages them to continually conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27).  In verses 12-13 we see that Paul has grounds for confidence in them since they have “always” obeyed, and yet he admonishes them to continue to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (2:12) If their destination was guaranteed there should be nothing for them to fear (cf. Rom. 11:19-22).  Yet they must continue to “work out” their salvation by yielding to the working of God within them (2:13).

Philippians 2:12-13 gets to the heart of the matter and provides the primary context by which we should understand Paul’s comments in 1:6.  God will complete His work in them but only as they continue to yield to that “working” within them.  If they continue to yield to the work of God within them God will certainly bring that work to completion (perfect it) on “the day of Christ Jesus.”  We cannot do this work in ourselves, God must do it.  We cannot even yield to the work of God in us on our own, but we can do “all things through Him” who strengthens us.  We are still called on to fearfully submit to God’s work and there is nothing in Paul’s words that would suggest that we cannot resist that work and fail to see it brought to perfection in us.  In fact, Philippians 2:13 suggests just the opposite.

Conclusion

In this series we have examined the primary passages that teach the possibility of apostasy and found that the Arminian understanding of perseverance best harmonizes with the teachings of those passages.  There are many other passages which could be called into service in support of the Arminian position but we have limited this study to those passages which speak most clearly on the subject.  We have also examined the primary passages that are commonly appealed to in support of unconditional security and found that they do not contradict the Arminian view of conditional perseverance.  It seems safe (and necessary) then to conclude  that the Arminian view of perseverance is the view that best harmonizes with the Biblical data and is therefore the Biblical view.

In our next and final post in this series we will argue that the Arminian view gives the strongest grounds for Biblical assurance as well despite contrary claims by those who hold to inevitable perseverance.

Go to Part 13

Go to Part 1

John 6 and Related Passages

Just wanted to take a minute to recommend this excellent treatment of John 6 by Richard Coords at Examining Calvinism.