If there’s a doctrine that makes Christians uncomfortable and don’t like talking about, I think at the top of the list would have to be the doctrine of election. However, we can’t just ignore it, because to do so is to ignore the teachings of Christ. I believe the Bible teaches Sovereign Election. This is what Jesus Himself reveals in the two passages below (same occasion). It originates with Him. The writers of the New Testament who talk about this subject, got their understanding of it from Jesus Himself:
(Matthew 11:25-28) – 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ESV
(Luke 10:20-23) – 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. ”21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! ESV
Of everything that’s written in the Bible, nothing is more plainly stated regarding a particular doctrine, than what we have in these passages. What makes it even more significant is that these words come from Jesus Himself. These are two of the plainest statements and revelations in the whole Bible about the nature of election, how Jesus Himself defined it. Either Jesus actually meant what He said, or He meant the exact opposite. We can’t have it both ways.
I want you to imagine Jesus sitting in your living room and Him saying these exact words to you. What are you going to say to Him?
“Oh no Lord, you don’t really mean that. Surely each person gets to decide for God if He’s going to reveal the truth to us or not. Surely each person gets to decide for God if we obtain salvation or not.”
In other words, we all get to decide for ourselves if we’re going to see and understand the truth of Christ. But that notion is contradictory to what Jesus says. Furthermore, we can’t decide our own salvation anymore than we can decide if we’re going to see the truth of the salvation message. Neither is within our own power.
Either Jesus meant what He said, or He meant the very opposite. According to Jesus, it’s God who “hides” and “reveals.” It’s Jesus who “chooses” whom to “reveal” the Father (or Himself, truth) to. “It’s Jesus who “blesses the eyes so that they may see.” There are only two options. Either we get to choose for ourselves if we get to see the truth of Christ or not (which leads to our salvation), or it’s God alone who has that authority and power.
Actually, it’s not even possible that anyone can see or decide to see the truth of Christ, because we’re all born with the same sinful and spiritually dead heart/soul (Eph 2:1-6). No heart is more spiritually alive and open to the truth than anyone else’s. That’s because there’s no such thing as one heart being more spiritually alive than another. It’s either spiritually dead or spiritually alive. It’s like, you’re either pregnant or you’re not. In our spiritual deadness, none of us have the power within ourselves to decide our eternal outcome, which includes the ability to see the truth of the gospel message. We have neither the power to see nor the power to decide our eternal outcome. Salvation begins and ends with God alone.
Furthermore, everyone whose eyes are opened to the truth, receive Christ, and are thus saved. The notion that someone’s eyes are opened by God, but results in rejection of Christ, isn’t taught in the Bible. That idea must be assumed based on a biased position. No, everyone whom God reveals the truth to, receives Christ as Lord and Savior (Jn 6:44-45). No one whose eyes have been opened to the truth, ever rejects Christ.
By the way, in context, what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, describes the heart of one whom the Lord does His work of grace, that He alone chooses to do to whomever He chooses.
While these statements by Jesus are plain enough, this is not all that Jesus says about this subject. They’re confirmed by what He says in the following passages:
(John 6:37-39) – 37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. NET
(John 6:44-45) – 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. NET
(John 6:63-65) – 63 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. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you (6:44) that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” ESV
In verses 64 and 65, Jesus equates “believing” to “coming to Jesus,” or being “drawn” to Jesus in verse 44. Jesus makes Himself very clear, that the reason why people “do not believe,” is because it has not been “granted him by the Father.” In other words, faith is a gift that is given by God according to His own sovereign will, according to His own choosing. In our spiritual deadness, and in our own lack of power or authority, faith is not something we can produce within ourselves. It’s a work of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. And everyone who receives this grace of faith, receives Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Jesus makes two things really clear in this chapter (John 6)—that no one can come to Christ unless God “draws” him or her (vs. 44). And “everyone” (vs. 45) who is “drawn” (“hears and learns”) will “come” to Christ in faith (will be saved). The Arminian view is that anyone who is drawn to Christ, has the option to reject Him. But that is not what Jesus reveals here. The whole purpose of enabling us to “see” the truth is so that we can “receive” the truth/Jesus (Jn 1:12). The spiritual eyesight to see the truth is not given just so that it can be rejected. The Arminian view must do a lot of fancy theological footwork to make Jesus say something He didn’t actually say. Believe me, I used to be one those who went into great detail to try and explain away these plainly stated words spoken by Jesus.
(John 8:36-37, 43, 46-47) NASB
36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.
43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.
46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
In regard to this passage, one might argue that Jesus is referring to believers who already have the truth. However, that doesn’t fly, because we have to be able to “hear” the original message of salvation before we can become believers.
Jesus asks the question, “If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” This takes us back to the original message of truth that we hear, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is in that message. Therefore, Jesus makes it clear that the people whom He was addressing did not believe His words because they did not believe the original message of truth of the OT Scriptures. Likewise, people today don’t believe the truth of the Christian faith because they do not believe the original message of salvation. We have to have an understanding of the original message before we can understand the teachings of the Christian faith beyond that. Likewise, as Christians, we’re able to believe the truth because we believed the original message of truth, which is in the gospel message.
Note: In regard to people of Jesus’ day who did not already believe and apply the OT Scriptures, many of them would still believe the words of Christ—which strengthens the view that these people – or anyone today – do not believe because they “are not of God.” That is, they do not belong to God. Meaning, they’re not among the elect, sovereignly chosen by God. None of us come into the world saved, but God has always known His own, those who are “of God.”
Therefore, if Jesus is speaking to a group of people (either then or now) and some of them believe the truth, what would Jesus say to them? I believe He would say, “the reason you believe the truth is because you are of God” referring to the elect, whom God chooses to reveal the truth to.
We only hear because God enables us to hear. We are not able to make the decision to hear for ourselves. Both the ability to hear and the ability to respond in faith to what we hear, is completely in God’s hands.
Therefore, whether we’re talking about the truth of the original gospel message, or the teachings of the Christian faith, it all begins and ends with God. He reveals the truth to those whom He has chosen for it. Which explains why that, in a large group of people – where there are both very evil people and very kind and sincere people of faith (in other religions) – so many in both groups receive Christ, while so many others reject Him. We all have the same sinful and spiritually dead heart/soul. Accordingly, the only way to explain why one believes and one doesn’t, is because God chooses whom to reveal the truth to.
(John 10:14-16) – 14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. NET
(John 10:25-30) – 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 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. 30 I and the Father are one.” ESV
Rather than discussing these passages here, I encourage you to read my commentary on this here.
(John 17:1-2) – 1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you— 2 just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. NET
The Father gives to His Son those whom He has chosen to give, according to His own sovereign will. Those whom God has not given to His Son, are those whom He has not chosen to give to His Son.
(John 17:6) – 6 “I have revealed 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. ESV
Jesus “reveals” His Father’s name (which represents the true God and the truth of the true God), to those whom He has given to His Son. He informs us that they belonged to His Father before He revealed the truth about Him to them.
(John 17:9-10) – 9 I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. NET
Those who are “of the “world,” are those whom God has not chosen to give to His Son. Therefore, Jesus does not pray for them. He knows His own.
Note: Unlike Jesus, we don’t know who they are. Therefore we should pray for the salvation of the people God brings into our lives. We should never assume. God knows who they are, and that’s all that matters. Our job is to be faithful in sharing the good news of Christ, and leave the results to God.
(John 17:20) – 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, ESV
Those who will believe “through their word,” refers to everyone who believes until Jesus returns, when His Church is complete. The gospel of Jesus Christ that was given to His Apostles, was passed on us in the New Testament Scriptures.
When Jesus prayed for everyone who will believe after them, He was not praying for people He didn’t know. He knows His own and has always known His own. When He prayed, He prayed specifically for them. That means Jesus had me and you in mind when He prayed those words.
It’s inconsistent to who God is (sovereign, omniscient), to think that when Jesus prayed those words, He had this in mind: “I don’t know who they are who will turn out to be believers, but I pray for them.” It’s inconsistent to suggest that Jesus would pray for some arbitrary group of people. No, when He prayed, He prayed specifically for those whom He already knew, and who were already “given to Him” by His Father.
(John 17:26) – 26 I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.” NET
(verses 2,6,9,24) – “whom you have given me”
Jesus uses this phrase over and over. This takes us back to John 6:37,44; 10:29. This points to the sovereignty of God in the matter of salvation. God gives to His Son those whom He chooses to give. We don’t give ourselves to the Father, and we don’t give ourselves to His Son. Sovereign election is easy to see, but not so easily explained away—as Arminian theology attempts to do. The sovereignty of God in regard to election and salvation are intertwined—they cannot be separated.
As I go through the gospels, I see Sovereign election in many places. I could go on and on with the plain statements of the NT that describe election as being by Sovereign choice. But these words of Jesus are sufficient. They provide the foundation for the doctrine of election in general, but also the basis for Sovereign election.
We may not be able to comprehend all this, or how it all works. But what’s important is that we believe and accept the plain statements of Scripture. The reason I’m a Calvinist is because the Calvinist position is plain to see. It doesn’t require a lot of theological footwork to explain it in ways that make the statements of Christ mean something other than what He actually says.
So, with Jesus sitting in your living room saying these things to you, are you going to take Him at His word? Or just assume He means something different than what He’s actually saying?