Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —
If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.
In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them.
And thus, as we share the gospel freely to all, we should remember that in the most evangelistic Gospel, we also have the most sovereign Gospel. We could say the most Calvinistic Gospel, but predestination is more biblical (see Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:3–6). Consider five verses that show man’s need for divine grace and God’s goodness that bestows salvation without man meeting any condition.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 6:44, 63
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. . . . It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [Notice: It’s not the reverse, “You are not my sheep because you do not believe”]
In each of these contexts, salvation comes to those who believe, receive, come, and obey (i.e., do God’s will) the word of God. However, the ability to believe, receive, come, and obey is not something man can naturally conjure up. It is the divine gift of God, and one that is given to those whom the Father gave the Son before time began. Indeed, in John’s Gospel we not only find repeated testimonies of men and women who have come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. We also find repeated attention on the way the Father has sent his Son into the world to redeem the people he gave him before its beginning.
Sometimes this eternal gift is called the pactum salutis or the covenant of redemption. It is the eternal promise of the triune God to redeem a particular people. It is evidenced in the verses cited above, but it is also manifest in Jesus prayer to the Father in John 17.
Notice the way Jesus speaks of a particular people set apart for him in verses 6–9:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
In these four verses, we see that Jesus has a particular covenant relationship and divine commission to reach these ones whom the father has given to him. In fact, this theme continues through the rest of his prayer (see vv. 11, 12, 22, 24). Likewise, John 6:37 and 10:29 speaks of Jesus’ special relationship and mission to save the ones given to him by the Father.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (6:37)
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. (10:29)
Significantly, Jesus states in John 10:29, as Paul will echo later (Romans 8:31–39), eternal security is established by the predestination of God’s beloved people. Thus, the New Testament teaches that God’s work of salvation unites eternity past and eternity future, and in between, in the age where the gospel is proclaimed, it is the sovereignty of God that secures the efficacy of the gospel. In other words, predestination does not rule out saving faith, or the need to preach the gospel, it brings faith to life .
Hence, in John 6:35 we find the universal invitation for all to come and believe in Christ followed two verses later by the revelation of God’s sovereignty—all who believe in the gospel are the ones whom the Father gave to the Son before the foundation of the world. In this way, John shows us how evangelism and election, human responsibility and divine sovereignty work together. As John 20:31 reveals, John has written so that all who hear of Christ might believe. And proclaiming the gospel to all, John yet knows those who believe are the ones whom the Father gave to the Son.
Accordingly, we too should share the gospel freely, and we should have confidence it will be effective. Why? Because our evangelism, apologetics, and presentations are so good? No, because as Jesus says in John 10:16, there are other sheep, in other folds, who must come to their shepherd. And how will they come? Only by hearing his voice in the message of the gospel.
Therefore, we who call ourselves Calvinists should be the most earnest in our evangelism. We should see how the sovereignty of God propels us to share the gospel, and how that gospel which reveals the triune God is also undergirded by his eternal work of election, effectual calling, and eternal security. In all these ways, we should marvel what God has done in salvation and we should be moved to join him in the work.
With confidence in God’s sovereign grace, let us pray, preach, and share the good news.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
For more on this subject, see What Does the Bible Say about the Doctrine of Election?