Archive for June, 2016

19
Jun
16

Unless the Father Who Has Sent Me Should Draw Him

In John 6: 36-45, there are many important lessons for us to learn about the saving work of the Father and the Son. Jesus has revealed these important truths against the backdrop of a quite telling statement in verse 36 of this chapter. Having revealed himself to his hearers as the bread of life, he has confronted them with their unbelief and that unbelief in the face of full revelation. He said to them, “. . .you have seen me, and have not believed.” They could not plead ignorance or lack of information. They had rejected him in the face of full knowledge. They had enjoyed the blessings but cared nothing for the one who had blessed them. The reality is that though they were quite willing for him to feed and bless them physically and materially, they had no appetite for him as the true bread that came down from God out of heaven. Jesus was not merely describing the condition of these sinners; he was describing the condition of every sinner in a state of sinful nature. Paul wrote, “. . .but the natural man does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, neither is he able to know them because they are discerned spiritually.”
The logical question that would occur to any thinking person, in the light of this revelation, concerns the success or failure of Jesus’ earthly mission. It would seem that his best efforts would be destined to fail given the obdurate condition of men’s sinful hearts. Jesus later made it clear that everyone who commits sin is a bond-slave of sin and that such a condition could only be remedied by the Son himself. Only he can make sinners truly free.
It was to answer such a question that Jesus spoke the words we find recorded in verses 37-40; 44-45, of this chapter. He wanted his hearers to understand that his is work would certainly succeed because it did not depend on the fallen will of sinful people but on the sovereign will of an omnipotent God. Paul wrote, “Therefore, it [the bestowal of mercy] is not of him who wills [It is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [It is not based on human exertion], but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16). In John 6:37-45, Jesus made the following lessons so clear that only a person with an extreme philosophical bias against the truth of God’s sovereign grace would miss them. Please consider the following lessons that are on the face of this passage:
1. The success of Jesus’ redemptive activity has never been in doubt. It was a matter of absolute certainty that he would save and keep for eternity all those the Father had given him in his decreed will and was giving him according to that will. “All that the Father is giving me shall come to me, and he who comes to me, I will never by any means cast out” (John 6:44). It should be clear to anyone who understands the function of verb tenses in any language that the “giving” precedes the “coming.” Though the primary force of the Greek verb concerns the kind of action in view, the time of the action is not unimportant. The simple question one must ask is whether a verb in the present tense [time] precedes or follows the future tense. “Is giving” clearly precedes “shall come.” It is impossible to reason from this syntax that Jesus was saying his Father would give to him [future] those who were coming to him [present]. He was saying precisely the opposite.
2. It is clear that the accomplishment and application of redemption was to be carried out according to the will of God the Father. Jesus not only linked those the Father was giving him (v. 37) with those he had given him (v. 39), but he has also linked both these divine acts with the purpose of God the Father in sending him (v. 39). Additionally, he states this fact as the foundation that undergirded and established the absolutely certainty of the success of his redemptive work. “. . .I will never by any means cast him out, Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. . .” It is not surprising, then, that Paul wrote concerning God’s people that we are “the called ones according to his purpose.” Jesus was talking about those who are the “given ones,” and the “drawn ones” according to the Father’s purpose.
3. These verses help us to understand that Jesus’ work was not intended to turn the Father’s wrathful heart toward sinners by his work of propitiation. Instead, it was the Father who loved a people that he had chosen for himself, given as a love gift to his Son, and sent his Son to be the satisfaction for their sins. John wrote in his first epistle, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10). Jesus came precisely to execute the Father’s desires for his chosen people.
4. Jesus made it clear in the words of verse thirty-seven that it was he who was to secure the eternal redemption of those the Father had given him. Though those given him could not come to him and would not come to him apart from the Father’s drawing (v. 44), it was not the Father who, in drawing them, would secure their eternal redemption. Instead, it was the Son whose work it was and is to secure the salvation of those the Father has given him. His negative phrase “I will never by any means cast out” is intended to strongly emphasize a positive truth. That point is that he, himself, will certainly save and keep all those the Father has give him to redeem. He has emphasized the certainty of the success of his ministry by stating three times in this passage, “And I will raise him up again at the last day.” That is simply another way of saying that his is a “love that will not let me go.” If the Father has loved us and given us to the Son, it is an absolute certainty that he will save completely those who draw near to God by him. If they are his now, they have always been his and will forever be his.
5. Jesus repeated the words “. . .and I will raise him up again at the last day” three times in this passage (vv. 39,40, 44) and in doing so he has identified those mentioned in each of those verses with those mentioned in the other two verses. These groups are co-extensive. Everyone in each of these groups is also in the other two. Those whom the Father has given to Jesus are the same as those who see the Son and believe on him, and those who see the Son and believe on him are the same as those whom the Father has drawn. This being true, the drawing about which Jesus spoke in verse forty-four does not extend beyond those the Father has given to Jesus and who have seen the Son and believed on him. It makes no sense to suppose that those who see the Son and believe on him are somehow different from those the Father has drawn to Jesus. When Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me should draw him, the clear implication that this drawing is always effectual is confirmed by the phrase “and I will raise him [the one drawn] up at the last day, i.e., every person who has been drawn will fully and finally be saved.
Some have attempted to blunt the force of this verse by citing John 12:32 in which Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to me.” In this effort to show that everyone is drawn, there are several factors they have overlooked. In John 6 it is the Father who draws; here it is the Son who draws. The context of this verse is one in which certain Greeks were seeking an audience with Jesus. When Jesus learned of their request, he seemed to ignore it. Instead, he began to speak about the necessity of his death if ever there was to be harvest of souls. These Greeks would never be able to approach him on an equal basis with God’s covenant people unless Jesus was lifted up to glory by means of being lifted up on the cross, but if Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all peoples, both Hebrews and Gentiles to himself. If we should insist that the drawings in both these passages have the same referent and that “all” in 12:32 must refer to every individual on the planet, then we are shut up to the conclusion that Jesus will fully and finally save every person without exception, i.e., “raise him [the one drawn] up again at the last day.”
6. The word translated “draw” (ἐλκύω) was not used of gentle persuasion but of such actions as drawing water from a well, dragging a net full of fish to shore, and drawing a sword from its scabbard. That is not to say that the Father’s act of bringing sinners to Jesus involves force. No sinner is forced to bow to Jesus against his will. Instead, Jesus used the word to emphasize the effectual nature of the Father’s drawing.
7. In verse 45, Jesus continued to speak about the Father’s drawing and explains its nature in terms of prophetic revelation. D.A. Carson has written, “When he compels belief, it is not the savage constraint of a rapist, but by the wonderful wooing of a lover. Otherwise put, it is by an insight, a teaching, an illumination implanted within the individual in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, ‘they will all be taught by God.’” These words are a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:13. Isaiah’s prophesy was about more than occasional and casual instruction; it referred to a person becoming a disciple. The pr.evalent teaching of the prophetic Scriptures was that in the Messianic age, every member of the true Israel of God would become a learner through the internal illumination of the Spirit. This understanding corresponds to the teaching of passages such as Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-26 where God promises to write his law on his people’s hearts, and give them a new heart and spirit. Everyone who becomes God’s disciple, in this sense, comes to Jesus. William Hendricksen has reminded us that in showing how sinners come to Jesus, the Scriptures never merely set predestination and human responsibility side by side without showing a causal relationship between them. On the contrary, it is always shown that it is God who takes the initiative and who is in control from start to finish. I would add that not only does God take the initiative but he does so effectually. Everyone who listens to and is taught by God in this way will come to Jesus

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03
Jun
16

Identifying the Authentic Gospel

There is no more important issue than the precision of our gospel presentation. We may stumble in our understanding of secondary and tertiary issues without eternal consequences, but if we err in our gospel proclamation, we not only endanger the souls of those who hear us, but we will personally encounter God’s judgment. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8). Even a slight deviation from God’s message will be devastating. There is no margin for error.

 

Given this necessity for accuracy in gospel preaching, it is incumbent upon us that we be able to distinguish the authentic gospel from all its counterfeits. Though the modern religious world has been flooded with counterfeit messages, it is not difficult to distinguish the biblical message and the method of its propagation from the substitutes. I would like to suggest seven earmarks of the biblical gospel that will help us recognize any departure from it.

 

 

It is Built on the Foundation Laid by The Apostles

 

In his introduction to the Epistle to the Romans, Paul began with the words, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.” He mentions his apostleship to establish his authority, conferred on him by Christ himself, to speak with certitude about the content of God’s good news. He made it clear in the verse I quoted above that the standard against which all other “gospels” are to be measured is “the one [gospel] we preached to you.” Any departure from that message must be a counterfeit gospel. We have no right or reason to preach any message that alters their message either by addition or subtraction. He wrote to the Corinthians, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder [wise architect] and someone else is building on it. . .” (1 Cor. 3:10). That foundation is Jesus Christ, and he tells his readers there can be no other. We must be careful how we build on that foundation.  If we would know what the content of our message must be, we need only scrutinize the messages the apostles and early believers proclaimed. Their preaching must be our pattern.

 

It is God-Centered

 

The second characteristic of the biblical gospel is that it is a message about God. Paul wrote, “. . .separated to the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). This phrase “gospel of God” could be understood to mean the good news that has God as its author or the good news that has God as its subject. The difficulty is that both these meanings are true.  If we understand the phrase in the first sense, the meaning is that there would be no good news for sinners if it were not for his salvation plan and his revelation of that plan in the Scriptures. Such a plan would never have occurred to us apart from God’s revealed truth.

 

The second sense in which we could understand this phrase is that God is the one who is the focus of this good news. That is to say, it is a message that is God-centered and not man-centered. Leon Morris wrote concerning the Epistle to the Romans whose central message concerns God’s universal salvific purpose, “Romans is a ultimately a book about God: How He acted to bring salvation, how His justice is preserved, how His purposes are worked out in history, how He can be served by His people.” To say this in a different way, the gospel is not primarily about the problems that have been produced by the existence of sin. It is not primarily about making people happy or repairing their broken relationships with other people. It is not even primarily about sinners going to heaven when they die. It is about the manifestation of God’s glory in the contrivance and execution of the plan of redemption.

 

It is According to the Scriptures

 

Paul wrote concerning this gospel, “. . .which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). It is important for us to remember that although God’s good news as it is disclosed in the New Testament Scriptures is more fully revealed than during the Old Testament period, it is not a brand new message. It is in full accord with God’s Old Testament promises. Additionally, the gospel call in the New Testament is essentially the same as the in the Old Testament. The essential difference between them is that the New Testament Scriptures reveal the fulfillment that only existed in type and promise during the Old Testament period.  The New Testament gospel answers all the Old Testament questions regarding salvation.

 

It Concerns God’s Son

 

Paul’s continuing description of the gospel in Romans one defines the focal point of God’s good news. The gospel message concerns God’s Son in the two stages of his incarnate state. It is about his redemptive accomplishments during the period of his humiliation “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” and about his all-sufficient ability to save his people as the “Son of God with power” in his state of exaltation. It is as the enthroned conqueror that he now commands sinners to bow before his exalted throne and promises pardon based on the redemption accomplished during the period the writer to the Hebrews called “the days of his flesh.” First century preachers did not proclaim him as a Savior who would forgive our transgressions but who had no authority to rule our lives. God’s gospel does not invite sinners to kneel at the cross for forgiveness; It commands us to bow before the throne and promises that God will pardon our sins when we do.

 

It Excludes Boasting

 

God’s saving work and the gospel proclamation of that accomplishment will exclude all boasting in human ability or merit and will give all glory to God.  In 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, after having described the sort of people God has called into the fellowship of his Son, Paul assigned a reason for his method of operation. He wrote, “. . .that no flesh [human being] should boast in his presence, but it is of his [God’s] doing that you are in Christ Jesus who of God has been made unto you, wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption in order that just as it is written, ‘he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” Any message that leaves the sinner any reason to boast about his contribution to the work of salvation is not God’s gospel. This seems to be a theme throughout Paul’s Epistles. In Romans three, after having explained the good news that justification is through faith alone and apart from the works of the law, he asks, “Where is boasting then?” He answers, “It has been shut out once and for all.”

 

It Produces Obedience in Those Who Receive It

 

The authenticity of the message we preach can be determined by the fruit it produces. The authentic message, when rightly received, will always teach its recipients to live soberly, righteously and godly in Christ Jesus (see—Titus 2:11-14. If the message we preach does not produce the fruit of holy living we must assume it has either not been received rightly or that our message is not the authentic gospel. Paul wrote to Titus that the salvation bringing [note he does not say “the salvation offering”] grace of God, teaches us to say no to impiety, and worldly desires, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age (see Titus 2:11-12). God’s saving grace does not pardon sinners and then leave them in their sins.

 

The object of Paul’s apostleship was to bring about “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5). It is difficult to know whether he was, in speaking of “obedience to the faith” referring to the obedience which is faith or to the obedience that results from faith. In either case, his message called for submission to Jesus’ Lordship.  Douglas Moo has written,

 

Paul’s task was to call men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ (cf. 4.b and 7b), a submission that began with conversion. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, but which was to continue in a deepening, life-long commitment. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial, decisive step of faith and as a continuing “faith” relationship with Christ. . .obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience–for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord. . . (Moo, 1991, 44-45).

 

It Produces a Sense of Amazement and Admiration

 

If properly understood, the revelation of the biblical gospel will produce in us a sense of amazement and admiration as we contemplate God’s great salvation.  We must not miss the fact that the ultimate goal of Paul’s gospel proclamation is stated in three words in Romans chapter one verse five. Paul states that the purpose of all his evangelistic activity is “for [on behalf of] his name.” A purpose that is even higher than obedience to the faith is the glory of the Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal in all God’s salvific activity as well his purpose in creating the world is the manifestation of his own glory.

 

As he came to the close of the doctrinal section of his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul seemed to have been overwhelmed with a sense of wonder as he contemplated those great truths that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and have not entered into the heart of man. He wrote, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out” (Rom.11:33)? Having considered the depths of God’s riches in accomplishing the salvation of his people, he could only conclude that his judgments [most likely referring to his decrees] are unsearchable and his ways [most likely referring to this acts of providence in executing his predestined plan] are inscrutable. He stood amazed as he considered the profundity of the divine mind in contriving such a magnificent plan. There is no evidence of an arrogant self-sufficiency that presumes to fully comprehend God’s mind. Often those who have failed to grasp the depths of their own corruption are so bold as to question what God should have done and what he would have been unjust to have done. They feign the ability to understand his paths and even seek to impeach the unfathomable ways of Jehovah. They will gladly receive God’s revealed truth as long as they can reconcile his providential dealings with their standard of fairness. Robert Haldane wrote,

 

Multitudes receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, when measured according to the petty scale of their limited capacity. How unbecoming in such a creature as man! Shall he who is but ‘of yesterday,’ and ‘knows nothing,’ who is born ‘like a wild ass’s colt,’ pretend to penetrate the counsels of the Omniscient! (Haldane, 1966, 549).

 

By contrast, Paul asked, “For who has known the mind of the Lord or being his counselor has taught him?” In his decrees and providential ways, God is infinitely exalted above the oversight or management of his creatures.

 

A biblical understanding of God’s good news will invariably demolish any thought of bringing him under obligation. Paul asked, “Who has first given to him that it might be repaid him” (v. 35)?  If our concept of the gospel leaves us believing we have offered anything to God that would obligate him to smile with favor on us, we have clearly misunderstood his message. Charles Hodge wrote, “The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone” (Hodge, 1953).

 

The authentic gospel, when rightly understood, will inevitably and invariably lead us to ascribe all glory to God because it will lead us to understand that he is the source of all that is good “for of him are all things.” He is the means through whom all good occurs both in nature and in grace. His everlasting glory is the end to which all things are moving. Charles Hodge wrote,

 

When Paul asks, Who hath first given to God? the answer is, No one, for of him, through him, and to him, are all things. It is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects. Creatures are as nothing, less than vanity and nothing in comparison with God. Human knowledge, power, and virtue, are mere glimmering reflections from the brightness of the divine glory. That system of religion, therefore, is best in accordance with the character of God, the nature of man, and the end of the universe, in which all things are of, through, and to God; and which most effectually leads men to say, Not Unto Us, But Unto Thy Name Be All Glory (Hodge, 1953)!

 

If the message we proclaim does not lead us to a sense of awe and admiration as we contemplate the manifold wisdom of God in the plan, accomplishment and application of redemption, then that message is not the authentic gospel. A clear understanding of the biblical gospel will lead us to ascribe honor and glory to God as the beginning, middle and end of all things.

 

Haldane, Robert, The Epistle to the Romans, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966.)

Hodge, Charles, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,) 1953.

Morris, The Theme of Romans, 249-63