“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus 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. Continue reading

The Future Orientation of Salvation in the New Testament

samuel-zeller-358865When you think of “salvation” is it a past, present, or future reality?

If we let Scripture shape our thinking and the answer we give, it is surely all three. The elect of God have been saved (past tense) when they received and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). At the same time, those who have been saved are also being saved (see 2 Corinthians 2:15) and one day will be saved (Romans 13:11).

This way of thinking is not uncommon in biblical Christianity. As it is often framed, Christians are saved from the penalty of sin (past), the power of sin (presence), and will be saved from presence of sin (future). Each temporal aspect is true and cannot be divided from the other, but are they of equal stress in the Bible? Does Scripture place greater prominence on one aspect of salvation above the others? I believe so.

In seminary I read the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. In their book, they show how the New Testament emphasizes a future orientation for salvation. That is to say, while salvation is a past, present, and future reality, it is the future aspect that is most often described and discussed.

This revelation surprised me, and I bet I’m not alone. Protestants are people who like to hear testimonies of someone “got saved.” We say things like: “At youth camp, 15 teens were saved.” And we like to ask questions like: “When you were saved?” All in all, while we may know that salvation has a future orientation, that is not the emphasis most evangelistic Christians seem to put on it. And that, I believe, is a problem. Continue reading

Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: Psalm 106:6–12

red seaThen they believed his words; they sang his praise.
— Psalm 106:12 —

Speaking of the law (Hebrews 10:1), the festivals and the Sabbath (Col 2:19), the New Testament regularly understands God’s redemption in Israel as a “shadow” or “type” of the redemption procured by Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:31, for instance, Jesus discusses his “departure” (read: “exodus,” exodon) with Moses and Elijah. Truly all the saving events of the Old Testament prefigure the saving events of the New.

Psalm 106 is no different. In that glorious Psalm, the author remembers the work of God to save Israel from Egypt. Running like a thread through the Psalm is the sin of Israel (e.g., vv. 6, 13, 21, 24-25, 28, 39, etc.), followed by the grace of God to save (vv. 10, 23, 30, 44-46).

More particularly, when the people sinned God sent a mediator. In Egypt, it was Moses; at Baal-Peor, it was Phineas. Even in Psalm 105, we discover God saved his people through the previous “sending” of Joseph to Egypt. In truth, God demonstrates his love for Israel, in that while they were still sinning God sent Joseph, Moses, and Phineas to “save” his people from destruction. In this way, Psalm 105 and 106 foreshadow the kind of salvation God would ultimately give in Jesus Christ.

In fact, situated as the final Psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, Psalm 106 perfectly sets up the culminating redemption anticipated in Book V of the Psalter. The God who reigns (see Pss 90–99), will accomplish salvation once and for all, by sending his final mediator, his own son, to bring salvation to his people.

Psalm 106: A Pattern of Regeneration 

Narrowing our focus, Psalm 106 foreshadows Christ’s work of redemption and specifically the doctrine of effectual calling, with regeneration preceding faith. While not speaking of “regeneration”, the movement from depravity, to redemption, to faith in Psalm 106 is instructive.  Continue reading

Preaching a Definite Atonement

Sometimes people ask “Why did you write your dissertation on limited atonement?” To which I have two answers.

The academic answer is “because I wanted to apply a biblical theological approach to a contentious doctrine.” I believe that only by approaching the extent of the atonement with the whole canon of Scripture in view is it possible to rightly hold its absolute efficacy for the elect with its cosmic scope for all creation. That’s the academic answer.

The other answer is evangelistic: “I wrote my dissertation on the extent of the atonement to stress the fact that what God designed, he accomplished.” What Jesus did on the cross was not to pay for some of it. Jesus paid it all, by divine design and sovereign grace. For me this has tremendous practical, missional, and homiletical effect. Every sermon I (have) ever preach(ed), stands on the glorious reality of Christ’s definite atonement and calls sinners to believe in him.

This week while at Together for the Gospel (more on that soon), we saw the above video, which perfectly expresses this same conviction. The preacher is E.J. Ward, a powerful herald of God’s gospel whose Lexington Pastor’s Conference encouraged primarily African-American brothers and sisters the doctrines of grace. His short message takes its language from the old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” and shows why definite atonement is necessary for preaching the gospel as good news. (For more on this point, see my chapter in Whomever He Wills).

Listen to Elder Ward’s message and marvel at this fact: Jesus death did not pay some of it. Jesus paid it all. Then, ponder this question: How can we proclaim the power of the cross if we must call our hearers to add faith? Far better, Christ’s death pays the penalty for sin and establishes a new covenant which gives to the elect all that God requires—chiefly saving faith.

Brothers, preach the definite atonement of Jesus Christ. Universally call men and women to repent and believe. And trust that all God designed in eternity and accomplished in time, he will bring to effect by means of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

The Trinity and Salvation: The Spirit as the Source for and Reward of Faith (Galatians 3:1–7)

angelic architecture art baptism

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:1–7)

In keeping with his whole letter, Paul boldly rebukes the churches of Galatia for their turn from the true gospel (see 1:6–9). In this section, he recalls their reception of the Holy Spirit and how God’s Spirit came to them—by works of the flesh or by hearing with faith? The answer is plain in the text: the Galatians received the word with faith.

Theologically, this passage has much to say about the order and operations of the Holy Spirit, and I’d like to make a couple observations that will help us to see how the Spirit’s indwelling is different from his work of regeneration. Continue reading