A common objection to the doctrine of God’s sovereign, free, eternal decree of predestination in the salvation of sinners comes along the lines of this:
“If that’s true, then why evangelize? What good would it do?”
Such an objection seems at first to be not only natural, but definitively logical. If God has eternally decreed who would be saved, then indeed, why evangelize? God will save them anyway.
The problem with the objection is that it is decidedly unbiblical. The doctrine of predestination does not stand alone apart from other teachings in the Scriptures concerning salvation. As clearly as the Scriptures state that there is a group of people known as”the elect” whom God chose in eternity, those same Scriptures also state that God has decreed the means by which the elect are brought to Himself. What means? The primary mean in evangelization. The proclamation of the gospel. Commanding sinners to repent – to “change their mind” – and believe the gospel, that gospel being the Person and work of Christ. Christ is the “good news.”
Where does the Scripture state that? Romans 10 states it very clearly. Romans 10, interestingly enough, occurs right after a chapter which gives one of the most clear descriptions of the doctrine of predestination (and reprobation, for that matter) in the Scriptures. What does Paul, writing not only his personal thoughts, but also the breathed-out words of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) state concerning evangelization? Keep in mind Paul writes this hot on the heels of just having written what he wrote in Romans 9 – that salvation is absolutely, totally, up to the free, sovereign will of God and God alone, and that God also goes so far as to harden the hearts of men so they cannot believe – still holding them accountable for their unbelief, by the way, to which Paul states his classic, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” in response to the one who dares accuse God of being unjust in doing said hardening.
In chapter 10, Paul states this – that ones confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, he will be saved. He says whoever does this will be saved – Jew and Greek, because the Lord bestows riches on all who call on Him, and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But Paul had begun chapter ten by stating this his desire was “that they (his fellow ethnic Jews) be saved.” He says this right after he explained in chapter nine why all his fellow Jews would not be saved (9:6b-33) – and having done so to prove that the word of God has not failed (9:6a). Paul says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, whether Jew or Greek (10:12-13).
Paul then gets to the heart of the matter: how are these people (Jews and Greeks) saved? Paul calls upon a technique he uses extensively in Romans: the rhetorical question. Read the earlier chapters of Romans. He uses the rhetorical question as a teaching tool many, many times and he does so here again. How then will “they” (Jew or Greek) call on him (Jesus) whom they have not believed? That begins a chain of questions and let’s look at the chain as a series of bullet points because the visual will help us see the building of Paul’s argument – and argument he builds from the end to the beginning:
- How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
- And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
- And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
- And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
He then cites Scripture from Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Then he says that yes, not all believe – but those who do? By what means? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
That is how people are saved. That is the means by which the elect are drawn to God – through the preaching of the good news.
That was all just introduction to the point of our post, referring back to the title. Here’s the question: does evangelization accomplish a purpose? If so, what purpose? If so, to what degree does it accomplish the will of God?
Yes, evangelization accomplishes a purpose – as our example from Romans shows, it is the means by which the elect are drawn to God. Then…what is the will of God in evangelization? Is God’s will that every single person be saved? If so, is his will “successful?’ Or better, is his will “effectual?” Does his will for evangelization accomplish his own will for the salvation of sinners – without fail?
If it is God’s will that his purpose for evangelization is that doing so will bring every single person without exception to Himself, then his will has failed miserably and will continue to fail. As Matthew wrote the words of Jesus, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:14) If this is his will – then his will only effects salvation for some and if so, then his will and evangelization fail most of the time.
However…however…if we affirm the doctrine of predestination, stating that God has an elect people chosen in eternity to whom the word of Christ comes as Paul wrote in Romans 10, and that every single one of these people whom God has chosen will indeed hear the word of Christ and will thus believe, then evangelization accomplishes the will of God perfectly. The will of God, for the believer in predestination, actually does effect – or cause, or result in – the salvation of those whom God has chosen to give ears to hear at some point in time and space.
I cannot tell you how many times I had colleagues in prison ministry ask me why I evangelized if I believed in predestination. My response? “I evangelize because I believe in predestination.” If the Lord wills, twice before month’s end a brother from Grace Community Church and I will enter a prison in South Texas and proclaim the gospel. Why do we go? We are commanded to go. Why go? Because how can anyone call on him in whom they have not believed? And, how can they believe in him of whom they have never heard? And, how can they hear without someone preaching? And how can we preach unless we are sent? The Lord says by doing so, our feet are acknowledged as being lovely. And, in doing so, we proclaim the word of Christ and those who hear will believe. Who will believe? Those predestined, those chosen before the foundation of the world. (Rom. 10, Eph. 1)
Do we know who the predestined are? No. We are to go and proclaim to every person – besides, perhaps every person we go to is one of the elect. Is that possible? Sure it is. We need not be frustrated or think we must do something more or make a “better argument” in order to convince our listener of the validity of our point. All we must do is proclaim, and pray. When we do so, God’s plan for evangelization will be accomplished and accomplished perfectly. Evangelization thus does “effect” salvation for those whom it is intended. We know not who the elect are as we proclaim – but we do know that they will hear and they will believe.
Therefore, that is why the title of this post is true: predestination is in no way a hindrance to evangelization, but it is the fuel for it. Such evangelization will accomplish salvation. It will “effect” the receipt of eternal life for whom it is intended in the divine, perfect will of God.
Written in 2002. The book he was writing is available here.
I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9.
But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected—at least by me. My aim was to analyze God’s words so closely and construe them so carefully that I could write a book that would be compelling and stand the test of time. What I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor.
In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor. The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years.
15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Charles Spurgeon had this to say about the writings of John Kitto:
Then, of course, gentlemen, you will economise rigidly until you have accumulated funds to purchase KITTO’S PICTORIAL BIBLE. You mean to take that goodly freight on board before you launch upon the sea of married life. As you cannot visit the Holy Land, it is well for you that there is a work like the Pictorial Bible, in which the notes of the most observant travellers are arranged under the texts which they illustrate. For the geography, zoology, botany, and manners and customs of Palestine, this will be your counsellor and guide. Add to this noble comment, which is sold at a surprisingly low price, the eight volumes of KITTO’S DAILY READINGS. They are not exactly a commentary, but what marvellous expositions you have there! You have reading more interesting than any novel that was ever written, and as instructive as the heaviest theology. The matter is quite attractive and fascinating, and yet so weighty, that the man who shall study those eight volumes thoroughly, will not fail to read his Bible intelligently and with growing interest.
This is from Kitto’s Evening Reading for today, June 4 – the accounts of the death of Ezekiel’s wife. It is an account with a challenging teaching: the Lord commands Ezekiel not the mourn the death of his wife – a death which the Lord told him would happen suddenly (see above).
A strange and deep interest belongs to one of the incidents in the personal history of Ezekiel which the course of this prophecy discloses. He was married. His wife was very dear to him; for she is called “the desire of his eyes.” He knew that they must one day be parted. He must die; she too must die—which first, was known to God only. But there was nothing in his age or state of health, nor anything in hers, to suggest that this hour of calamity was near; and probably Ezekiel, although a prophet, did as most men do in regard to this matter—refused to let his mind rest upon it, or to contemplate it with any steadiness. It may be said there are really very few who look death—their own death—steadily in the face; and there are certainly fewer still who look their wife’s death in the face. And the prophet was as other men in this respect. Differences of time, of manners, of woman’s social position, do not make much difference in such matters. The poor old heart is the same all through; and is everywhere, and in all time, smitten by the same barbs, and bleeds from the same wounds.
Doubt not, therefore, that Ezekiel felt as any one of us would feel on receiving the intimation: “Son of man, behold I take away the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.” Strange intimation! The very terms in which it is conveyed aggravates the agony it is suited to inflict, by reminding of the value of that which he was thus suddenly to lose. She was described to him as “the desire of his eyes;” and she is to be taken from him, —not through the painful but soothing warnings of the sick-bed, by which the mind is gradually prepared to meet the worst, but suddenly “by a stroke,” quick and sharp. Consider what that loss was to him. That she was a good and loving woman is implied throughout. Besides, he was now in captivity among the Babylonians; and his wife was no doubt a sweet companion and comfort to him in the midst of all the reproaches, troubles, and difficulties he met with. And she was to be taken by one of those strokes which wound the survivors so deeply, that but for the slight preparation this very intimation offered, it may well be thought that even Ezekiel, being, though a prophet, a man such is we are, might himself also have sunk, heart-smitten by the stroke. Hence there was graciousness to him in this intimation, hard though it were.
Do we not hear the exceeding sharp and bitter cry which this intimation drew from him? Do we not see the hot tears which it wrung from eyes unused to weep, Note: Ezekiel never describes himself as moved to weeping or tears; Isaiah does sometimes, and Jeremiah often. and for that reason more hot and bitter? We hear nothing of this: we see nothing. The desire of his eyes is not only to die, but must die unlamented, save in his heart. He must “make no mourning” for her; he must “bind the tire upon his head” as usual, and not suffer his locks to float wild for her; he must “put on his shoes upon his feet,” and not walk “softly and barefoot for her,”—nor for her “cover his lips,” nor “eat the bread of men.” These were acts of mourning from which he was interdicted; and it was hard to omit them. The world might look upon it as a heartless indifference to the memory of one so loved; and the neglect of customary observances of mourning on the part of the living, was deemed an insult to the dead. This was hard. But there was something harder yet. “Thou shalt not mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down.” The other inhibitions had been easy to this. Those touched but the outer mourning; these the inner—the mourning of the heart.
And what did the prophet say to all this?
He said nothing. It was of the Lord.
And what did he do?
He knew that this was for a sign; and with this doom over the wife of his youth, so soon to be accomplished, he girded up the loins of his mind to his public duty, and told the people of this strange and solemn matter, which it is needful they should understand.
And what then?
“In the evening my wife died.”
And what more?
“And I did in the morning as I was commanded.”
These simple intimations reach the utmost sublimity of moral grandeur—nay, more than that, of devout, and therefore absolute, submission to Him who doeth all things well. It was in this conviction, in the firm persuasion, that the Lord laid this burden upon him, not needlessly, but most wisely; not in anger, but with love and pity for the soul He wounded, that, like another of old, he could say, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth—because Thou didst it;” and followed the great example of him of whom it is said, “And Aaron held his peace,” when his sons died before his eyes.
Nay, more. It is not enough to say that he submitted to this dispensation. He acquiesced in it; because he knew that it was intended for the benefit of his people, as completing by the most signal and impressive of all, that series of literal and symbolical warnings, by which he had labored to gain the attention of his people, and to stay their downward course to ruin.
Observe well, that all commentators perceive an interval of time between this chapter and those that follow—this being the last of the prophecies delivered before the destruction of Jerusalem. He is allowed to rest awhile in his sorrows, public and private; and when he comes forth again, it is to speak; in an altered strain—denouncing the doom of the nations which had afflicted Israel, or had exulted in her fall; and to declare the glory and blessedness which the great future had in store.
Now he was to stand as “a sign to them” from the Lord: “According to all that he hath done, shall ye do; and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord.” They also should lose “the desire of their eyes,”—the city and temple of their fathers should be brought low unto the dust; and their beloved ones should perish by the sword. Yet they should not dare, nor find occasion to satisfy their griefs with customary mourning, though they “might mourn inwardly, and pine away for their iniquities.”
That this deep and sad lesson might be the more effectually taught, the devoted prophet was willing even to yield up “the desire of his eyes.” He knew it would not be lost or fail of its effect. For although it should avail not for anterior warning, it would for subsequent conviction. When these things had befallen them, they would remember these forewarnings, and be constrained to acknowledge that their doom had indeed come from God, and had been most righteously inflicted; and would be among the agencies tending to that reformation that actually took place, which the prophet himself lived to witness, and in which be found the rich reward of his labors and sufferings. For these results, which it is clear he was permitted to contemplate; this great prophet was willing to take up this cross—the heaviest, one may say, that man was ever called to bear.
“Let the Lord’s servants in every age copy after this instructive example. Let them come here from time to time and contemplate one of Heaven’s noblest witnesses, struggling to the last, if haply he might do something to stem the swelling tide of evil; and even at the last, when all has proved ineffectual, still readily offering himself upon the sacrifice and service—not, indeed, of the people’s faith, but still of their highest well-being, which he sought with a fervor and devotion unknown to themselves. With such a lofty spirit of consecration to the work of God, what enterprises of philanthropy might not be undertaken, and what triumphs ultimately won!”1
1. Patrick Fairbairn, “Ezekiel and the Book of his Prophecy: An Exposition”
From The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Both in the Law and in the Prophets, God repeatedly calls upon us to turn to him. But, on the other hand, a prophet exclaims, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented.” He orders us to circumcise the foreskins of our hearts; but Moses declares, that that circumcision is made by his own hand. In many passages he demands a new heart, but in others he declares that he gives it. As Augustine says, “What God promises, we ourselves do not through choice or nature, but he himself does by grace.” The same observation is made, when, in enumerating the rules of Tichonius, he states the third in effect to be—that we distinguish carefully between the Law and the promises, or between the commands and grace (Augustin. de Doctrine Christiana, lib. 3). Let them now go and gather from precepts what man’s power of obedience is, when they would destroy the divine grace by which the precepts themselves are accomplished. The precepts of the second class are simply those which enjoin us to worship God, to obey and adhere to his will, to do his pleasure, and follow his teaching. But innumerable passages testify that every degree of purity, piety, holiness, and justices which we possess, is his gift. Of the third class of precepts is the exhortation of Paul and Barnabas to the proselytes, as recorded by Luke; they “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God,” (Acts 13:43). But the source from which this power of continuance must be sought is elsewhere explained by Paul, when he says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord,” (Eph. 6:10). In another passage he says, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption,” (Eph. 4:30). But as the thing here enjoined could not be performed by man, he prays in behalf of the Thessalonians, that God would count them “worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power,” (2 Thess. 1:11). In the same way, in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, when treating of alms, he repeatedly commends their good and pious inclination. A little farther on, however, he exclaims, “Thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation,” (2 Cor. 8:16, 17). If Titus could not even perform the office of being a mouth to exhort others, except in so far as God suggested, how could the others have been voluntary agents in acting, if the Lord Jesus had not directed their hearts?
From VincentCheung.com and the now out of print “Chosen In Christ.”
If God is sovereign, then man cannot be free – that is, not free from God, his power and his control. However, this does not contradict the biblical teaching that man is morally responsible for his thoughts and actions. The common confusion is that freedom and responsibility are either the same thing – so that they are sometimes even used interchangeably in theological and philosophical literature – or that one cannot be without the other.
The false assumption is that if man is not free, then he must not be responsible. In other words, the assumed premise, often unstated, is that “Responsibility presupposes freedom.” However, there is no reason to accept this premise, since by definition, responsibility has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom; rather, responsibility has to do with whether one will be held accountable. The first dictionary definition for “responsible” is “liable to be called on to answer.”13 Since God has given his moral laws to humanity, and since he has pronounced judgment upon those who would disobey, this means that man is responsible. The issue of freedom does not enter into the discussion.
Here I must reprimand many Calvinists and Reformed theologians for being unfaithful to both the Scripture and the theological tradition to which they claim allegiance, because some of them also affirm this unbiblical and irrational assumption that moral responsibility presupposes human freedom. They agree with the heretics that for God’s commands to be meaningful, man must be free to obey them.14 Thus they generate contradictions, antinomies, and paradoxes (or whatever else they may call them) in connection with the doctrine of predestination, and then present them as part of the biblical teaching, when the truth is that the Bible is contradicting them, and not itself.
13 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. See also Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition
14 “But the Diatribe is so ruinously sunk in, choked with, and stifled by, this notion of its own carnal fancy, that it is pointless to command impossibilities, that it cannot control itself; but whenever it hears an imperative or hypothetical statement it straightway tacks on its own indicative inferences: ‘something is commanded, therefore we can do it, else the command is stupid!'” (Luther, The Bondage of the Will,” p. 237).
10/10/13: Eternal Life Ministries is offering this series on DVD for free – no telling how long this offer will be available.
Greg Nichols is a pastor at Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and an instructor at Reformed Baptist Seminary. Audio and video from the series are available below. The videos are in WMV format and will need to be downloaded to your computer first before viewing. (From Sovereign Grace Audio Treasures)
12) God's Simplicity
14) God's Aseity
34) God's Justice
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Eisegesis: the practice of reading meaning into a text, rather than exegesis, which is ‘drawing out’ or ‘extracting the meaning’ from a text.
In a prior post we addressed a parallel passage to this – where Paul says nothing can separate he and his Roman brethren from the love of God. Here the Apostle that Jesus loved – John – nears the end of his account of the Good Shepherd discourse. The verses above are not an island unto themselves – the entire discourse leads up to this and affirms the point made here. To examine this passage we must first bring in the bigger context of chapter ten.
In John 10, Jesus continues his encounter with some Pharisees from chapter nine. In chapter nine, Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath (v. 14), incurring the wrath of the Pharisees once they found out the man had been healed on the Sabbath (v. 16). Not only did they get upset with Jesus, they also didn’t believe the man had been born blind, at least until they contacted the man’s parents and confirmed his prior blindness (v. 18). The man’s parents were afraid of these Jewish leaders – they feared being put out of the synagogue (v. 22).
The Pharisees then talked to the man again and the man says he has already told them what happened (v. 27). The Pharisees then revile the man (v. 28), calling upon their being disciples of Moses as opposed this man who is a disciple of Jesus. The man responds by telling them never has a man been born blind and subsequently had his eyes opened, and that if this man – Jesus – were not from God, he could do nothing (vv. 30-33). They respond by saying this man was born in utter sin and they cast him out (v. 34). In the midst of this is a hint of divine presence – the Old Testament says in Isaiah 35:5 and 42:7 that God will open the eyes that are blind, which is exactly what the Christ did with this man.
Jesus hears about this, encounters the man and while he is talking with the man some Pharisees get involved (v. 40), which leads us into chapter ten.
Chapter nine is setting up a contrast with chapter ten – a contrast of the bad shepherds (the Pharisees) vs. the Good Shepherd (Christ).
In chapter ten, verses 1-6, Jesus says concerning the Good Shepherd:
- He is the one who enters by the door
- The sheep hear his voice
- He calls the sheep by name
- He leads the sheep
- The sheep follow him
Then, in verse seven, he identifies himself as the door which he mentioned in verse two. He goes on to say that all who came before him were thieves and robbers and the sheep didn’t listen to these thieves and robbers (v. 8).
He repeats the statement that he himself is “the door” in verse nine. He then says if anyone enters by him, he will be saved. Not that he will be saved, then unsaved, then saved again depending upon his own “free will.” He will be saved. As a result of this having been saved, the one saved will have pasture, a clear reference to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 23:1-6, Psalm 95:7, Psalm 100:3, Isaiah 40:11, Isaiah 49:9-10 and Ezekiel 34:12-16.
We have already commented on verse 10 and will not do so again here, but the comment is relevant and would be worthy of perusal. Suffice it to say here that verse 10 addresses the contrast between bad shepherds and the Good Shepherd rather starkly. The bad shepherds kill, steal and destroy – the Good Shepherd came to give abundant life.
In verse 11, Jesus identifies himself as this Good Shepherd, stating that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Not for the sheep and the goats, but for the sheep, which he repeats in verse fifteen. We see further contrasts in verses 12-14.
Jesus makes a startling comparison in verses fourteen and fifteen as he compares his knowledge of the sheep with the knowledge that he and the Father have for each other. The “knowledge” is not a mere cognitive awareness, but a special, intimate relationship. The relationship between the Father and the Good Shepherd is an eternal one and cannot be broken; this is why the comparison is so startling – the relationship between these sheep and the Shepherd is comparable in degree and in duration.
In verse sixteen, Jesus says he has other sheep not yet in the fold – but that he must bring them also. Not that he may bring them, but that he must. This is an absolute – something that necessarily happens. Not only will he bring them, the sheep will hear – they will listen to his voice. Again, this is an absolute. It is not that the sheep could possibly hear his voice, but that they will hear. Why? So there will be one flock. There will not be scattered flocks of sheep in varied locations, some under the oversight of other shepherds or even no shepherd at all. The sheep will hear, being brought into the one flock under the One Shepherd.
In verse seventeen we see the love of the Shepherd for the sheep once again expressed by the intent of his sacrificial death on behalf of the sheep and this is reflected by the Father’s love for the Shepherd, who says in verse eighteen that no one forces him to lay down his life, but he does it willingly. In John 6 we read of Jesus stating that he came to do the Father’s will – and that will was what? To lose none of those given to him by the Father. He said that he did not come to do his own will but the will of the father who sent him. He had given a precursor to this in John 4 where he said that his ‘food’ was to “do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (v. 34) John 6 gives us detail on what this will entailed and John 10 gives yet more. This was the charge received from the Shepherd from the father as verse eighteen closes the discourse.
That sets up the confrontation we see beginning in verse 21 and running through verse 39. Jesus’ opponents ask for an answer to the issue of whether or not he is the Messiah and Jesus responds by telling them they already have the answer (vv. 25-26). But why do they not believe? Why do they not understand? Verse 26 states that their unbelief is not because they don’t have enough information, but it is because they are not among his sheep. What difference does that make? Verse 27 gives us the answer: the sheep hear. Hear what? The voice of the Shepherd. Resulting in what action on the part of the sheep? They follow the Shepherd. It is not merely that the sheep can hear, it is that they will hear. Once hearing, they will follow.
Upon “hearing,” the Good Shepherd gives them eternal life. Jesus makes a threefold statement, using parallelism to say the same thing from three different perspectives: 1) the duration of the life, 2) the ability to lose the life, and 3) the means by which the life is assured. Repeatedly in John, John writes that eternal life is a gift (3:16; 3:36; 6:27; 6:40; 17:2) – a gift that cannot be revoked, if it is indeed eternal. Life which may cease is not eternal. Paul writes that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable in Romans 11:29. Paul had written in Romans 8:29 that those who are called according to his purpose have been foreknown, then predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. Then those who are predestined are called, then those who are called are justified, then those who are justified are glorified – all in an unbroken chain. The gift of eternal life – given to the sheep who hear – and all the sheep will hear, because the Shepherd will chase after the one from the hundred which is lost (Luke 15:4-6) is irrevocable and eternal indeed.
Verses 28 and 29 are nothing more than the summation of what has been presented in verses 1-27. The Shepherd gives the sheep eternal life, which by definition being eternal, cannot cease. It cannot cease because the Shepherd is the Good Shepherd and he will guard the sheep to the point of dying in their place to assure they will not perish. This Shepherd has all authority in his hands and it is into these hands that the sheep are placed. In these hands the sheep are secure. In these hands the sheep are safe. The oneness of the Father and the Shepherd is displayed in the statements of verses 29 and 30. The sheep are safe – eternally safe, in the hands of the Father and the hands of the Shepherd. In Isaiah 49, we see another statement concerning the people of God and their being in the hands of the Lord. Isaiah 49:16 says that the people of God are not just in his hands, but on his hands:
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
This statement concerning Israel relates to verses 28-29 – the people of God are not just written, but engraved on the hands of the Lord. Engravings last. So does the life given to the sheep as a gift – after all, it is eternal.
What makes this Shepherd so Good? None of his sheep will perish. They will follow him. They will hear his voice. They will have pasture. Once in the fold, they are kept there by the might of the Shepherd and the might of the Father (cf. 1 Peter 1:5).
The eisegesis of our title? The common objection to this passage’s statement concerning the security of the sheep is that, “Well, you can take yourself out of the hands.” To say that is the case is to do violence to the entirety of the passage and its point being made that this Shepherd is not like the shepherds of chapter nine. This Shepherd will not lose any of his sheep. The work done by the Shepherd will be completed (Phil. 1:6). The work done by the Spirit will enable, but even more so, cause the sheep to hear, follow and remain (John 3:8; Ezek. 36:26-27; Phil. 2:13).
Another objection heard recently was voiced by a pastor in an online conversation I witnessed. His statement? Verses 28-29 only concern “those sheep in the fold who could be stolen by the thief. It has nothing to do with sheep who decide to not hear.” He also said that Satan is the thief of 10:10, which was addressed in our prior essay referenced above. Again, this does violence to the fullness of the passage. It is not as if there are sheep who decide to not hear – all the sheep will hear. They will follow. They will find pasture. These sheep are the ones given by the father to the Shepherd in John 6. In John 6, the Shepherd says he will lose nothing of that which was given to him – but why? It was the will of the Father for him to save them and if we wish to say in any way that the Shepherd did not fulfill the will of the Father – in whole or in part – we have a huge biblical problem.
John 10:28-29 gives great, great comfort to those who have bowed the knee to the Good Shepherd. If this passage does not do so, one will have to look long and hard to find passages that will give such comfort. Let us rejoice that the hands of the father and the hands of the Shepherd are mighty to save!
Just Asking, November 8, 2012 Edition: Situational Sovereignty? God’s Sovereignty In Presidential Elections vs. God’s Sovereignty In Salvation
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9; Rev. 7:10)
Reading what many people are writing – Christian people, to be specific – concerning yesterday’s Presidential election is quite interesting. Many, many Christians, especially those who did not vote for President Obama, have been declaring the sovereignty of God in this election. We read much about how this is part of God’s eternal plan and about how God sovereignly orchestrated the events of yesterday in order to fulfill that plan. Let’s examine the statements a little closer.
How could God sovereignly orchestrate the electoral results? Didn’t people walk into polling places, complete their ballots, choosing based upon their own preferences and desires – and didn’t they do so willingly, volitionally – “freely?” If their decisions were willing, volitional ones based on their own conscience – how could God sovereignly orchestrate the events of yesterday? As of this moment, the results show 59,631,249 people voted for President Obama. That means that many people made decisions of their own will do vote for him. Now, is this the way God sovereignly oversees His Creation – where He allows events to happen and then “responds” and makes it part of His eternal plan? (which is what many people really mean by stating God’s sovereignty concerning the election) No, the Bible says God has determined the end from the beginning and no one can frustrate His plan (e.g. Isaiah 46:9-10, Daniel 4:34-35). Therefore, if the election yesterday was God’s plan – how did it happen? Over 59 million people made decisions – choices – yesterday. How does that fit into this plan? If this were God’s eternal plan, how did over 59 million people become participants?
Because God is sovereign.
That may seem basic, but one must think about the implications – how and why did 59 million people choose President Obama instead of one of the other candidates? Was God just gnashing his proverbial teeth, hoping that 59,00,000 people would do what he desired them to do? No. One must think carefully – and biblically – about this issue? How did all those people – 59 million of them – make willing, volitional, “free” decisions that would fulfill God’s eternal plan? The biblical answer is because God decreed those decisions in eternity and caused them to occur in time and space. This is how God providentially governs His Creation – the God of the Bible is not the God of the Deists (think Thomas Jefferson), a God who created all things, set Creation in motion and has stepped back and just watches.
We must go back further. Why was President Obama up for re-election in the first place? Over 69 million people voted for Mr. Obama. If they had not done that, he would not have been on the ballot yesterday and his re-election would not have been part of God’s eternal, sovereign plan.
We must go back even further. How did he get on the ballot in 2008? Through the means of the willing choices made by voters in the primary process.
We must go back further. How did he get involved in the primary process? Because he was a Senator from Illinois, voted into office by the people of Illinois through all their willing choices.
We must go back further. How did Mr. Obama become known on a national level? Through his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Why was he chosen to give that speech? Why not someone else? That speech catapulted Mr. Obama to national visibility. Willing, volitional choices had to be made by certain powers-that-be in order for Mr. Obama to have given that speech.
We could engage in nearly infinite regress here but hopefully the point has been made. An untold number of “free” choices had to be made for the events of yesterday to come to pass. They could only have come to pass – a number of decisions which we cannot imagine – in order for the voters of the United States to have re-elected Mr. Obama yesterday. Those decisions, however, were not outside the will of God – and God did not merely “permit” or “allow” these decisions. All the decisions through history that people have made were pointing to the events of yesterday. God is not just a deity who throws all the events and choices of history into a cosmic vat, stirring them with the ultimate spoon, hoping they mix together to accomplish His will. God actually decrees and controls man’s decisions. Yes, He does.
One need not object, saying that man is thus not held responsible as a moral agent (a “robot,” or a “puppet,” to use common objections) if God decrees his choices. One need only read one Old Testament passage (Isaiah 10:5-19) and one New Testament passage (Romans 9:6-24) as a primer, because there are many more concerning the issue of God’s control of man’s decisions and man’s moral responsibility for those decisions.
To sum up our first point- yes, God was sovereign yesterday and His sovereignty could only have been manifest because He had ordained not only the outcome of the election, but the means to that outcome – a nearly infinite number of choices made by people over many years and many different circumstances.
It is not uncommon to see such statements made by Christians, especially in light of events that occur which are what people consider less than favorable. Events such as Presidential elections (whether or not one objects to or affirms yesterday’s results), natural disasters, illness, unexpected death and so on are taken under the heading of the sovereignty of God in order for those affected to receive some degree of comfort – and biblically, they should.
It is quite interesting to see Christians proclaiming God’s sovereign authority and His ordination of events occurring in history – events that include “free” choices made by men – with regard to all arenas of life and society except one, which is the most important one of all: the salvation of sinners.
What is the most important “choice’ a person will make in his or her life? The decision as to trust or not trust Christ. To follow or not follow Christ. To believe or not believe. To come to Christ or leave one’s back turned to Him. Those are all entailed in the same choice, by the way. Many, many who are now affirming God’s exhaustive sovereignty over history – said history necessarily including man’s willing, volitional choices – will affirm it in all areas of history except (except!) the salvation of sinners.
We are told by these people that God has opened the door to salvation for all but that whether or not a man walks through that door is completely up to him – up to his own “free will.” We are told God woos, entices, beckons but does not – indeed cannot, because man’s “free will” has to be preserved at all costs – do anything to actually effect or ensure anyone – no one, not even one person – comes to Christ. We are told that God cannot intervene in a person’s life and change their nature so that instead of hating God, they would love Him. We are told that God cannot intervene and give a person sufficient faith in order that they not only believe, they willingly believe. We are told that God cannot intervene in a person’s life and create sufficient faith and repentance such that a person cannot do anything other than come to Christ. We are told that no matter how much God may desire to save a person, He will not, cannot, indeed must not intervene in the life of an unwilling person to save him from the horrors of Hell. We are told that God has sovereignly decided to not be absolutely sovereign in the saving of sinners. Why? Because that would interfere with man’s “free will.” “Free will” must be preserved at all costs – even at the cost of “God’s unconditional love” for every single human being such that He expresses that love by not intervening to prevent a person’s condemnation -is that the biblical teaching?
Is the inconsistency clear here? If one is willing to ascribe God’s superintending of “free” human choices and actions, such as those of the men who wrote down revelation from God that we know as “the Bible,” if one is willing to affirm God’s exhaustive sovereignty over yesterday’s Presidential election and all the events and decisions in human history that brought us to this point, why are people not willing to say the same about God’s exhaustive sovereignty in the salvation of sinners? If every other decision or choice a person makes in his life falls under the sovereign decree of God – where is the biblical exemption with regard to a person’s choice to follow Christ?
The Bible states that every person is conceived in sin and is a rebel against God. The Bible states that every person by nature is a child of wrath, is a hater of God, has a heart that is wicked beyond comprehension and does not obey God because he cannot obey God. The Bible says that faith that saves is a gift from God. The Bible says repentance is granted by God. The Bible says God brings people from death to life as an act of His sovereign grace. The Bible says these people who are brought from death to life truly, truly believe because that belief is their own belief, given to them as a gift and they believe because they want to believe and are not compelled against their will to believe. The Bible says that this saving work begin in a sinner’s life as a gift from God will be carried through to completion.
It is wonderful, to be sure, seeing all the proclamations of the absolute sovereignty of God popping up all over cyberspace last night and today. In the big picture, though, the Presidential Election and God’s sovereignty over it are not the most important issues we must address. The most important issue is a man’s salvation or damnation. God is absolutely sovereign over that area, as well. Let us all be consistent in applying the clear biblical teaching with regard to salvation belonging to our Lord. Praise God He is sovereign in the salvation of sinners.