Understanding the Doctrine of Election

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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from the Berean Standard Bible (BSB). 

 

Introduction

The doctrine of election is one of the most difficult doctrines in the Bible to understand. Having been both Calvinist and non-Calvinist, and having taught both sides of the debate for many years, I can tell you—it’s complicated. There’s an overwhelming amount of biblical information to consider. There’s a strong case to be made by both sides of the two primary views on this subject, which are:

 

God’s choosing of specific individuals (limited atonement)

God’s choosing of a corporate people* (unlimited atonement)

 

Both positions understand election as occurring  “in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). While certainly complicated, I believe there’s a way to pull it all together in a manner that makes sense and answers most of the questions. Nevertheless, no position on this doctrine is going to appear flawless. Such is the nature of this doctrine. Considering the difficulty of this doctrine, believers in Christ should be gracious, kind and patient toward one another as we all do our best to work our way through it. Humility is required of all of us.

 

There’s an overall picture we must recognize when it comes to the doctrines of the Bible. As with any doctrine, there’s the big picture, and then there are the particulars within that picture. This applies perhaps more to election (in association with the atonement) than any other teaching in the Bible—with the possible exception of eschatology. It’s all-important to find the starting point (big picture), and then look to see how Scripture breaks it down into the associated individual parts. This is what we’ll do in this study. I’ll try to be as systematic and organized as I can. This will aid in our understanding.

 

*Note: In the context of unlimited atonement, there’s a third way of understanding election: Before the foundation of the world, God looked into the future of all humanity – from beginning to end – to see who responds to the truth in faith, and those are the ones He chose (foreknowledge, 1 Pe 1:2). However, I don’t believe this position has as much merit as corporate election—which is the focus of this study.

 

This is a long read, but it’s necessary in order to provide a solid basis for the position presented here.

 

The Big Picture

What is the big picture? What is the starting point for understanding election? I believe the big picture is the corporate people of God. When we read Scripture, it’s easy to see that there’s the people of God and there’s the people who are not of God. In the Old Testament, we see God’s choosing of an ethnic people unto Himself, which was the nation of Israel. God chose them to represent Him in the world, and to work His will through them. God raised them up as a means of revealing Himself, as well as using them as the vehicle for bringing the Messiah and Savior into the world. It was by way of the people of Israel that God would carry out His plan of redemption. As Jesus Himself said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22). The teachings that were given to the Jews all pointed to Christ. Within the Jewish belief system were also all kinds of types and shadows that pointed to Him. The Old Covenant always pointed to the New Covenant. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The covenant promises made to Israel ultimately had Jesus in view (Gal 3:16,19). Accordingly, when we read the OT, we have to consider what it’s pointing to and how we’re to understand it doctrinally.

 

Therefore, it’s within this overall context that we must understand the doctrine of election, because the choosing of the nation of Israel gives us insight into what the doctrine of election is all about. It begins with God choosing a people for Himself. It has nothing to do with salvation at this point. It was strictly a matter of God’s will to raise up a people to continue His purposes. The source is God Himself. However, He chose a human source to carry it out, and that source was Abraham. Bringing people into this chosen nation had nothing to do with one’s salvation. It was strictly by birth that people became a part of Israel. We’ll talk more about that later.

 

God chose Abraham to be the source from whom He would raise up the people of Israel. Embedded within Abraham was God’s chosen people, even before anyone else in his line was born. At that point, he was a nation of one, as the corporate head of Israel. God promised Abraham that He would “make him into a great nation” (Ge 12:2-2), and that promise would surely come to pass. God saw His chosen people in Abraham. When God chose him, it was with every person in view who would be born into his line. This lineage of God’s chosen people would continue through Isaac and Jacob—and more directly through Jacob, from whom would be born the twelve sons/tribes who would make up Israel.

 

Everyone born into the line of Abraham automatically became a member or a citizen of God’s chosen people. Each person was elect by virtue of their birth, which brought them into union with Abraham and this chosen nation in him. They were elect Jews by birth. Even though not all of them believed in the God of Israel, God still referred to them collectively as His people. Those who did believe, were among the “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).

 

God’s choosing of Abraham and the ethnic people of Israel serve as the pattern or the manner in which He chose the redemptive people of Christ. It reveals that it’s the corporate people of Christ that He chose (the Church), not individuals. First, God chose His Son (Lu 9:35). God chose Him to be the source from whom He would raise up His redeemed. Embedded within His Son were God’s chosen people, even before He created us. Jesus became the Corporate Head of His redemptive people. From Christ would emerge a spiritual people, a “holy nation” (1 Pe 2:9), mirroring and directly related to the promise made to Abraham (Ge 12:2-2; Gal 3:7-9,26-29). God saw His chosen people in His Son. When God chose Him, it was with every person in view who would be born spiritually into His line, which includes all believers from Adam to the very last person saved (up to the return of Christ).

 

What we learn from God’s choosing of Israel is that people become a member of Christ’s corporate people via birth—that is, by new birth—just like those who were born physically into ethnic Israel. Those who believe in Christ are born spiritually into the corporate body of Christ, which is the Church (spiritual Kingdom of Christ – Col 1:13). Those under the Old Covenant became a member of God’s chosen redeemed the same way, and that was via faith. Faith is the means God uses to bring us into union with Christ and His corporate people. Faith results in our regeneration (new birth), which places us into the corporate body of Christ. Thus, each believer is elect by virtue of this union—not before.

 

So to be clear, Abraham was a type of Christ. Just as God chose Abraham to be the corporate head of physical ethnic Israel, and the vehicle for raising up this people, so did God choose His Son to be the Corporate Head of his spiritual people (1 Pe 4-10), and the vehicle for raising up this people. Just as the seed of ethnic Israel existed within Abraham, so did the seed of His spiritual people exist within Christ—“chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).

 

Just as Abraham was a type of Christ, so was ethnic Israel a type of the spiritual people we would become in Him, as Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:4-10:

 

“a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, the people of God.”

 

In this passage, Peter uses Jewish terms and applies them to the Church, which consists of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. What Peter describes is a spiritual people, a “holy nation.” Jesus, having fulfilled the will of His Father perfectly, providing for our righteousness, we are, in Him, a perfect, sinless people. Individually, we are in a spiritual relationship with Him (Jn 3:3-8; Eph 1:3; Col 3:1-3). Corporately, we are one spiritual people in Him (Gal 3:7,29; Ro 2:28-29; Ro 9:6-8). As one corporate people – consisting of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles – we are a “holy nation” (1 Pe 2:9). The physical people of Israel under the Old Covenant, always pointed to the spiritual people of Christ under the New Covenant. Thus, we see how Abraham and Israel served as types of Christ and His Church.

 

In Christ we are, corporately – as the Church – one spiritual people of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, believing Jews were also brought into this spiritual union with Christ (via faith). They were not only citizens of ethnic Israel, but also citizens of the spiritual people of Christ. Since Abraham (via Isaac and Jacob) was the corporate head of ethnic Israel, and since ethnic Israel proceeded from Abraham, it’s accurate to understand Abraham to be Israel himself (imperfect). Before anyone was even born into his line, he was a nation of one. Abraham (as an imperfect version) was a type of Christ (the perfect), and ethnic Israel (an imperfect version) was a type of the spiritual people (perfect version) we are in Christ (the perfect). Therefore, just as Abraham was himself (as a nation of one) the imperfect version of both Christ and the spiritual people of Christ in Him, so Jesus Himself (as a nation of one) is the true and perfect version of ethnic Israel. Therefore, in Christ, we are, corporately, the perfect version of Israel, which is spiritual.

 

In summary, Abraham is a type of Christ, and ethnic Israel is a type of the spiritual people of Christ in Him. These types are important to see, because they allow us to see the pattern of election that it provides. What we see in Abraham and ethnic Israel, reveals the true nature of election—what the doctrine of election is really all about.

 

What does it all reveal? It reveals that redemptive election is about choosing a corporate people. It reveals that we become a part of this corporate people via faith in Christ, which results in regeneration (new birth, spiritual birth), which places us into union with Christ, and in membership with this spiritual people in Him. It also reveals what election is not. It’s not about the choosing of certain individuals, who were marked for salvation “before the foundation of the world”—while also choosing to leave the rest of humanity without any possibility of obtaining salvation. It’s not that we are elect as individuals before we come into the world. Rather, we become elect. We become elect the same way that ethnic Jews became elect, and that is via birthspiritual birth. The Jews were born physically into elect ethnic Israel. Likewise, sinners become the redemptive elect via new birth, being born spiritually into the spiritual people of Christ—which is His Church.

 

So we see that the doctrine of election has absolutely nothing to do with how or why one sinner gets saved and why another sinner doesn’t. In other words, it has nothing to do with the means of salvation. It’s not about who is “elected to believe and who is not elected to believe.” Rather, election is about the fact of and identification of God’s chosen people. It’s about the fact that God chose a people for Himself, whom He raised up to be His representatives in the world. Election identifies who God’s chosen people are. It identifies both the physical Israel in Abraham, and the spiritual people in Christ. It also reveals how one becomes a part of these elect people-groups. For both groups, it’s the same way, and that is by birth—physical birth into physical Israel, and spiritual birth into the spiritual people of Christ (His Church). How one becomes born again has to do with soteriology (doctrine of  salvation), not about election.

 

I believe we have greatly erred in understanding election to be about God’s choice of who gets saved and who is left out of God’s plan of redemption (with no possibility of coming to faith in Christ). We have greatly erred in turning election into something that it’s not. To see God’s elective purpose to be about God’s sovereign choice of who will believe and who won’t, completely misses the big picture, this pattern of election we see in the “choosing of ethnic Israel under the Old Covenant.

 

A person coming to faith in Christ is not about God’s unconditional election of specific individuals. Salvation is conditional. God has placed one condition on who gets saved. That condition is faith. It’s in that sense that God does choose people for salvation in real time. God has chosen to save any sinner who responds to the gospel of Christ in faith. He chooses not to save anyone who refuses to believe, who refuses to accept His Son as Savior. But again, this condition of faith that God has placed on salvation, has nothing to do with the doctrine of election. They are separate doctrines. Related, yes, but separate. In God’s sovereignty, He makes many decisions, many choices. To choose to save someone who responds to the gospel message in faith is one of those decisions. To choose to reject someone who rejects His Son is another one of those decisions. But this choice to save or not save in real time — based on the condition of faith — is not about election. The doctrine of election and the doctrine of salvation relate to each other, but they’re separate teachings of the Bible. We badly err in combining the two into the same doctrine, and calling it the doctrine of election.

 

Therefore, whenever we see references to “the elect” or “elect,” or “chosen” or “chosen for salvation” in the NT, it’s to be understood in one of two ways: either as referring to God’s corporate people, or to those individuals whom God chose to save in real time because they responded in faith—who then became a part of “God’s elect” people. Accordingly, we also know that these terms don’t refer to some privileged class of people who were each chosen unconditionally for salvation (before the foundation of the world), while leaving the rest of humanity without hope—but are nonetheless held accountable for something that’s not possible for them to comply with.

 

What does such an idea say about God’s character? Or about God’s justice? I don’t believe it’s an accurate reflection of either. And no, it’s not some great “mystery” that we can’t understand—as many believe. God’s character and His attributes are plain to see. Obviously, we can’t possibly understand how they all work together, or how He carries out His plan in the world, but a basic understanding of God’s love, mercy, grace and justice is something that has been granted to us. All these attributes are demonstrated for all to see.

 

The Parts of the Big Picture

We now want to talk about the individual parts that make up the whole. Here we’ll see how the Big Picture interprets all the verses and passages that relate to the doctrines of election and soteriology. Here’s where we see that many of the scriptures that are commonly used to support election, actually relate to salvation. The two get intertwined, which results in a wrong interpretation of election. This intertwining of doctrines is what has caused so much division in the Church. In order to interpret those passages correctly, we must keep the big picture in mind. Otherwise, we’re kinda flying by the seat of our pants—or at least coming to conclusions based on a positional bias. That is, a position on election that is already set in stone, and everything is interpreted according to that set belief system. That’s not the way to interpret God’s Word.

 

The Atonement of Christ

Based on our understanding of the doctrine of election, it puts the teaching of limited atonement in retreat. Since we can be confident that election is not about unconditional Sovereign choice of specific individuals, we’re compelled to conclude that the atonement of Christ is meant for all sinners. In other words, Christ died for all and salvation is available to all. Thus, everyone who hears the gospel of Christ has the opportunity to respond in faith.

 

Key Passages

1. (John 3:14-16) – 14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET)

 

When trying to make a case for unlimited atonement, most people only quote John 3:16 in this passage. But context is everything. It’s highly important that we include verse 14, because it’s in that context that Jesus proclaims the words of verse 16. I believe this is one of the most important passages in the Bible for the extent of the atonement.

 

The incident Jesus was referring to in verse 14 is found in the book of Numbers (Nu 21:4-9). Obviously, Jesus wants us to go back and consider the account of what happened on that day. There’s a message there that we are to bring forward and apply to Christ. Once we do that we’ll be able to understand how it relates to His work on the cross. It will give us a picture of the gospel message, and it will also reveal the extent of its outreach (please read Numbers 21:4-9).

 

Why did Jesus refer to this incident? Was it just because the serpent on the pole was lifted up, just like Jesus was to be lifted up on the cross? Or does it go deeper than that?

 

Let’s look at the details of what occurred on that day:

1. The people of Israel were not happy about the way things were going.

2. They sinned by complaining against Moses and the LORD.

3. God judged the people by sending deadly serpents among them.

4. Many of the people were bit and died.

5. The people confessed their sin.

6. Moses prayed for them, and God answered by instructing him to make a fiery serpent and to set it on a pole.

7. Those who got bit were told to look at the serpent, and if they did so, they would live.

 

Those who sinned were under God’s judgment. After they confessed their sin, God provided a way of grace and mercy that would allow them to live. Note that this provision was for everyone. This provision was not for a select few, but for everyone who got bit. Furthermore, they had the freedom to either look at the serpent and live, or not to look and die. God provided the way of life, but each of them had to make it personal.

 

While God made the provision for all, it was up to each individual to respond in faith by looking at the serpent. I say, in faith, because if they looked at the serpent, it would be a demonstration of their belief in the Word of God through Moses about the provision He made for them.

 

What we have in this account is a picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross, and to whom it applies. He wants us to look at what happened back then, and understand. Understand what? I believe He wants us to understand that provision for sin is offered to everyone, and that whoever looks upon Him in faith will live. It portrays the gospel message that we’re to proclaim. As with the people of Israel, people in the world today have the freedom of choice to look upon Him and live—or not look upon Him and die. Note the very next statement Jesus makes after referring to the serpent: “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” It’s reasonable to conclude that when Jesus made that statement, He was thinking of the people of Israel who looked upon the serpent and lived. Whoever looked in faith, lived. It’s the same today. Whoever looks upon the Son in faith, lives.

 

2. (1 John 2:2) – He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.


This should be understood in the most natural way. Jesus is not only the atoning sacrifice for the sins of us who are saved, but also for the sins of everyone else in the world. No one is excluded from the opportunity when they hear the good news about Christ. And by the way, how would it be good news for those who hear, but have no possibility of believing it?

 

3. (Romans 3:23-26) – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as the atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. 26 He did this to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and to justify the one who has faith in Jesus.

 

“All have sinned.”

 

Who’s the all? It’s obviously all who come into the world since Adam and Eve. When they sinned, they infected the whole human race from that point forward (Ro 5:12).

 

“and are justified freely by His grace”

 

Who are justified freely by God’s grace? It points back to “all who have sinned.”

 

“He had passed over the sins committed beforehand”

 

God passed over the sins of who? Again, this points back to the “all” in verse 23.

 

This passage reveals the availability of what’s provided through Christ’s “atoning sacrifice.” Again, it points back to “all who have sinned.” The forgiveness of sins is made available to “all who have sinned,” which is every person who comes into the world. How is this forgiveness obtained? It’s through “faith.” Among the “all who have sinned,” those who believe in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, receive forgiveness of their sins (Eph 1:7). 

 

This is the most natural way to understand this passage. To interpret it as only applying to “the elect,” chosen by God to believe and be saved, while excluding the rest of the “all who have sinned,” requires a forced meaning to fit it into that particular position on the atonement.

 

4. (John 1:29) – The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

 

Jesus, as the “Lamb of God,” refers back to the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, which always pointed to the blood that Jesus would shed on behalf of “the world.” That is, on behalf of the world of sinners, which refers to “all who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). Every sinner is in view. No one is left out of the atonement of “the Lamb of God.”

 

5. (Ezra 6:17) – For the dedication of the house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and a sin offering for all Israel of twelve male goats, one for each tribe of Israel.

 

As a cross reference to John 1:29, we see that the “sin offering” was for “all Israel.” All Israel consisted of both believers and unbelievers. However, the sin offering was for everyone (He 2:16-17). This offering for sin pointed to Christ and His offering for sin upon the cross, which was for the whole world, where many would believe and many would not believe.

 

Note: For a more extensive view of the atonement presented in the OT, read Leviticus 16:15-22, where again, we see that the atonement was for all the people of Israel (He 2:16-17), which consisted of those who believed and those who didn’t. Yet, the atonement was for all. Those who benefited in regard to salvation, were those who had faith in the God of Israel (He 4:2).

 

6. (John 12:31-33) – 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to Myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death He was going to die.

 

“Now judgment is upon this world”

 

Jesus, of course, was referring to all people of the world, not just some of them or many of them. All are sinners (Ro 3:23), and this results in judgment for every sinner.

 

“will draw everyone to Myself.”

 

Jesus also said that when He was “lifted up,” referring to His crucifixion, He would “draw everyone” to Himself. Who is the “everyone?” It’s everyone in the world. More specifically, it’s the “everyone who has sinned” in the world (Ro 3:23). Jesus excludes no one. If we are all sinners, and all are judged because of our sin, then it would be inconsistent for Jesus to refer to “everyone” to actually mean “the elect” among all judged sinners. We are all sinners, we all have been judged, we all need forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus “draws” all needy sinners to Himself.

 

7. (John 1:9) – The true light who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  (NET)

 

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). He is the “true light.” Everything else in the world – all the false religions, false prophets, false saviors, false teachings – it’s all darkness. It’s the light of Christ which exposes this darkness. Further, He “gives light to everyone.” In other words, He shines the light of His soul-saving gospel to everyone in the world. At the very least, based on what Jesus said in John 12:32, this has to mean that everyone will be drawn to Christ via the light of His gospel message. His light shines for everyone who hears His message of salvation. Everyone is able to see the light. Everyone is able to hear His voice, His call, His truth. Everyone is able to understand, and has the opportunity to respond in faith—via prevenient grace (we’ll discuss this later).

 

8. (Matthew 11:27-28) – 27 All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

Here we see that Jesus reveals the Father to whoever He “chooses.” Who are those individuals? He answers that in His next statement. It’s whoever “comes to Me” (in faith). He elaborates on that by saying, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Who is not weary and burdened by sin? Who does not need rest for their souls? We all do. Therefore, if limited atonement and unconditional Sovereign election of individuals is true, then this would make Jesus a liar. This invitation to “come to Me,” has to refer to every person who comes into the world.

 

Therefore, we see that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father (and Himself, for they are one) to whoever goes to Him in faith. If a person feels the weight of their sins and needs rest for their weary souls, then Jesus invites them to come—whoever they might be.

 

9. (John 20:30-31) – 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

 

Like Matthew 11:28, this statement has to refer to everyone who reads or hears the words of this book (book of John). If it’s intended only for certain elect individuals, then this statement would not be true. It would be a false statement.

 

John specifically mentions the signs (miracles) that were done by Jesus. But the signs had a purpose, and that was to validate His words, to show that He was who He said He was (“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”). Thus, the signs pointed to Him and to the words He spoke. Therefore, the words of this book are for the purpose of influencing a person to believe, and thus, receive “life in His name.” Again, this refers to anyone who reads or hears this book read to them. Anyone.

 

These key passages are sufficient to demonstrate the extent of the atonement of Christ. It extends to all people of the world—those who will believe and benefit from it, and those who will not believe and will not be benefited from it. I believe what we see in Ezra 6:17 and Leviticus 16:15-22 – where atonement was provided for all the people of Israel, where some would believe and many wouldn’t – pictures the whole world. What we see there falls under types and shadows of the OT, which point to the NT. It’s intended to aid in our understanding. There’s a pattern there that we’re to recognize and apply. While those OT sin offerings didn’t ultimately save anyone, they did point to the sin offering that does save—which is the sin offering of Christ—and that by faith (He 4:2; Ro 9:30-32; Ro 10:1-4).

 

There are other passages we could include, but these are more than enough to discredit limited atonement and unconditional Sovereign election of specific individuals. But taking all these Scriptures together, it convincingly dismantles those two positions. The remainder of this study will only strengthen the case we have made to this point.

 

This naturally leads right into the next section about the power of the gospel message. It’s this message to the world that Jesus uses to call us to Himself.

 

The Call

So far, we understand election to be God’s choosing of a corporate people to represent Him in the world, and through whom he would carry out His program for His people and for the world. We also understand that it has nothing to do with how one gets saved. That has to do with soteriology (doctrine of salvation), not election. We also understand the atonement of Christ to be for the benefit of all sinners.

 

This leads us to our calling. This is commonly associated with election by Calvinists, but it pertains strictly to soteriology. Our calling is about the call to faith in Christ. What it is not is a special, “effectual” call to the so-called unconditionally chosen elect. In that belief system, there is no actual call to faith in Christ to the “non-elect.” They believe there’s a general call via the gospel message, and a special call to “the elect,” whom God regenerates first in order for them to see, hear and understand the message. Only those individuals are drawn to Jesus. 

 

The Call is in the Words of the Gospel Itself

What I believe the Bible teaches is that the call to believe in Christ is a call to everyone who hears the words of the gospel message (Jn 17:20). The call to believe and receive is in the words of the message, in the words of Jesus (Jn 17:8), who says “come to Me” (Matt 11:28). What we’ve learned about election and the atonement of Christ, leads us to that conclusion. Anytime someone hears the gospel message, it’s a call to receive Christ as Savior. Everyone who hears God’s plan of salvation, has the same opportunity to learn, understand and respond in faith as anyone else. It may require more light and more Scripture for some than for others, but everyone stands on the same equal ground of opportunity. In other words, it’s not just for one special group of people whom God has chosen to reveal the truth to—while choosing not to reveal the truth to those outside of that group.

 

Key Passages 

1. (Hebrews 4:12) – For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 

“Living and active”

“active”  (powerful, effective)

 

God’s Word is not an ordinary book. It’s not a lifeless book of words like the works of mankind. The words of Scripture are alive and powerful, able to penetrate the heart and soul to the point of changing one’s life and relationship with God forever. It’s able to reveal the glory and holiness of God, as well as the smallness and deeply flawed condition of our own lives. It’s able to reveal and convict us of the sinfulness of our lives and of our need for forgiveness. It’s able to reveal the means of true peace and purpose in the midst of our empty and miserable lives. It’s a light that exposes the darkness of our souls and of our need to be in a right relationship with God. The words of God reveal the awfulness of an eternity without Christ, as well as the abundant joy of eternity with Him.

 

I encourage you to take time to read what Albert Barnes says about this passage of Scripture. Here’s the link:  Barnes Notes on Hebrews 4:12

 

2. (Isaiah 55:11) – So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  (NIV)

 

God Himself is the power of His Word. God’s Word accomplishes everything He intends for it to accomplish. It “will not return to Him empty,” but will achieve every “purpose for which He sends it.” This obviously includes the message about Christ. The “purpose” of the gospel message is to call people to faith in Jesus. The “purpose” is to reveal our sinfulness and need for forgiveness. The “purpose” is to reveal our total inability to save ourselves. The “purpose” is to reveal that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through Him” (Jn 14:6). The call to salvation in Christ is in the gospel message.

 

3. (Romans 10:16-17) – 16 But not all of them welcomed the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message? 17 Consequently, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

 

The “word of Christ” goes out to the world. This is the call to “come” to Jesus. The response to this call is via “faith.” We come to Jesus with faith in Him. We also see here that faith is produced via this message. It’s not possible to place faith in Christ without the life-changing message of Christ. This message is the vehicle God uses to produce the desired result, which is faith. However, we also see in this same passage that not everyone will respond in faith. The reason is because of the hardness of their own hearts (Eph 4:18), where salvation occurs. Paul reveals that in the preceding verses:

 

4. (Romans 10:8-10) – 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved.

 

Therefore, while “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” it must be received with humble and receptive hearts. Those who resist the truth with hardness of hearts, it will not result in faith. Sinners don’t believe because they don’t want to believe—just like the Jews that Jesus was talking to in John 5:37-40 and John 10:24-27. People who resist the truth with hardened hearts, will not believe. People resist because they love their sin. They love the things of this world. They don’t want to give up the freedom to live their own lives. They don’t want someone ruling their lives. They want only what they want. So they resist. They refuse to believe. Even though God’s Word is “alive and powerful,” these hard-hearted people will themselves to disbelieve. We see this in the OT, where God’s Word went out to His people over and over via His prophets, and over and over they resisted. They didn’t believe the word of the prophets, because they didn’t want to believe. The Word of God fell on hard ground then, and the gospel message falls on hard ground today (Matt 13:18-23).

 

5. (2 Timothy 3:16) – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

(2 Peter 1:20-21) – 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. 21 For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 

Those who spoke the Word of God (prophets), and those who were used by God to write His words down, were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This is important to see, because since the gospel of Christ is God’s message to the world (Jn 17:8), it’s accompanied by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is the power behind His Word. God Himself is the one who gives the gospel message its power to save—that is, power to draw people to faith in Jesus. Some will believe, while others will resist.

 

All this is important to realize, because in our spiritually dead and dark condition (Eph 2:1; 1 Cor 2:10-14), we could never find God and the way of life on our own. It requires God to take the initiative. It requires God to shine the light of His Word into the darkness of our souls:

 

6. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6) – 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

In our dark condition, God must shine His light into our hearts to reveal the truth about Christ and about ourselves. This is known as prevenient grace (enabling grace). He does this through the light of His Word, which is accompanied by the Spirit of God. Thus, whenever anyone hears the gospel message, the Holy Spirit shines His light, which enables us to see the truth. However, not everyone will be drawn to the light. Like cock roaches, there are many who are repelled by the light, and will scurry away from it. I saw this firsthand when I was stationed on Guam, where there’s a lot of roaches. I would turn the light on in the kitchen, and the roaches on the floor would scurry away into the darkness. They don’t like the light. They’re more comfortable in darkness. This describes those who resist the light of the gospel—like Jesus said in John 3:19-20:

 

7. (John 3:19-20) – 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (NIV)

 

Those who resist the gospel of Jesus Christ, do so because “they love darkness, instead of light.” Since they hate the light of Christ, which exposes their sin, they refuse to come to Him. This is a very revealing passage. It confirms that God does shine the light of truth to everyone who hears the gospel message (not just to the so-called elect)—because in order to hate the light, they must first be exposed to the light. Otherwise, how would they be able to hate it? Instead of allowing themselves to be drawn to the light, they withdraw from the light.

 

The light of Christ shines upon everyone who hears His message of life. Everyone who hears, has the opportunity to see and understand the light of truth. This light is not reserved just for “special elect individuals” whom God has chosen for it, while denying it from all others (the “non-elect”). Everyone who hears has the same opportunity to come to the Light for salvation.

 

Note:  While the calling of sinners to Christ is primarily in the words of the gospel message, the Holy Spirit also works in our lives in other ways to draw us to Christ. He does this through the witness of His followers, through creation (Ro 1:18-20), within our own conscience (Ro 2:14-16) and in the experiences of our lives. This is all the prevenient grace of God at work in our lives to draw us to Christ. As I look back on my own life, I can see the drawing work of Christ from my earliest years as a 3 or 4 year old, where I heard the song — “Jesus Loves The Little Children” in Sunday School. That may have been the initial seed that continued to grow within me till the day I received Jesus as my Savior at 16 years old.

 

Supportive Passages That Explain The Call

I believe we need to start with this one:

 

1. (Matthew 22:14) – For many are called, but few are chosen.

 

This statement by Jesus is in the context of a parable He gave (Matt 22:1-14). This parable is commonly understood as God’s servants being sent to Israel with the message about His Son (Messiah), who rejected Him as a people, as a nation and as a religion. They were not worthy. This led to God sending His servants to the Gentiles with the same message, which began at the cross—the beginning of the New Covenant. We are living in this same era, this gospel era of grace to all the world.

 

The point of this parable is that Israel was not worthy of God’s Son. They rejected Him as a whole. This then opened the message about Christ to all the world. At the end of this parable Jesus makes this statement: “many are called, but few are chosen.” The people of Israel were called to faith in God’s Son, but they refused. Among them were a “few” who did respond in faith, and they were thus “chosen” for salvation in real time. What’s true of the people of Israel is true of the rest of the world. The gospel message goes out to the whole world, calling people to Jesus, but few respond in faith, and thus those who don’t, are not “chosen” for salvation. Those who do respond to the call of the gospel in faith, are chosen. In other words, God chooses to save anyone who responds positively to the voice of Christ—who says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Those who go to Jesus in faith, God chooses to save them. Or put another way, God chooses them for salvation at the point of faith.

 

As an example of those Jews who would not respond to the truth that Jesus was proclaiming, were those in John 5, where Jesus makes this revealing statement about them:

 

2. (John 5:37-40) — 37 And the Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, 38 nor does His word abide in you, because you do not believe the One He sent. 39 You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, 40 yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.

 

I referred to this passage earlier. These Jews didn’t know the Father because they didn’t believe the OT Scriptures. They didn’t hear His voice because they were not willing to hear. They closed their ears. They hardened their hearts. Likewise, they also closed their ears to the words of Jesus. They didn’t believe because they were not willing to believe. Therefore, they were not willing to go to Jesus for eternal life when Jesus called. Accordingly, God was not willing to save them. This statement by Jesus implies that they could have come if they were willing. This is a matter of one’s own heart, where salvation takes place (Ro 10:8-10). If they did have a willingness of heart, they would have responded to the call in faith, and God would have saved them.

 

So we see here a perfect example of those Jews who were called, but weren’t chosen because of their unbelief and refusal to go to Jesus. A parallel passage to this one is in John 10:24-27:

 

3. (John 10:24-27) – 24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus replied, “I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me. 26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (NET)

 

As in the case of the Jews in John 5, we see here that these Jews did not believe because they refused to believe. They didn’t know the Father, because they didn’t believe His Word. Therefore, they didn’t believe the words of Jesus either. The “sheep” Jesus refers to here are probably those who already knew the Father. Those who had listened to the voice of the Father, would have listened to the voice of Jesus too, revealing themselves as His sheep. The voice of the Father and Son are one (Jn 3:34). However, they were not willing to come, because they refused to believe either the Father or the Son. They heard the words of truth that they spoke with hardened hearts and with ears that refused to listen. They heard the call to “come,” but refused. Again, it was a matter of their own rebellious hearts.

 

Note:  Considering their hardened hearts and unwilling response to Jesus’s call, “sheep” here may also refer to those who heard – or would hear – Jesus’s voice with humble and receptive hearts. When a shepherd calls, a sheep willingly follows. Therefore, I believe there may be a dual meaning here for “sheep.” 

 

The same is true in the gospel era, which is the age of grace we have lived in since the cross. Those who hear the call via the gospel message with willing hearts and open ears, will respond in faith. It’s at the point of faith that God chooses to save sinners in real time. Before the foundation of the world, it was God’s plan to choose anyone for salvation who would respond to the message of Christ in faith.  God sends out the message about His Son all over the world. Those who hear the words of Jesus in the gospel are the same words He spoke to the Jews in His day. It’s up to sinners to respond in faith to the voice and call of Christ within that message. Those who do, are chosen for salvation. Those who refuse, are not chosen.

 

4. (Revelation 17:14) – They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful. (NET)

 

This passage supports the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” While everyone who hears the gospel message is called, not everyone is chosen. Therefore, we must conclude that “the called” must refer to those who were not only called, but also “chosen.” It’s a title that belongs to believers only. There is a call to “come” to all who hear, but only those who come in faith are regarded as the called.

 

Matthew 22:14 and Revelation 17:14 help us interpret all the other passages in the NT that refer to the called, or to those who are called. One of those passages is Romans 8:28-30:

 

5. (Romans 8:28-30) – 28 And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.

 

This is a favorite passage of those who teach unconditional Sovereign election of individuals. They believe that it helps confirm their position on the doctrine of election. However, passages like this are not always as they appear. We need a proper overall context to guide us in our interpretation. I believe we’ve provided that context in this study. Based on everything that Scripture has revealed to us up to this point, I believe we can be confident about our interpretation:

 

First, those whom “God foreknew,” refers to the people-group (His Church) He chose to raise up for Himself out of the world, a people who would represent Him in the world. This is the corporate people of God who were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). We were “chosen” corporately. However, we are “called” individually as we’re added to the corporate body of Christ via faith in Him. Those whom God “foreknew” corporately, in Christ, He “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Thus, there’s certainly a sense in which the whole, corporate people of Christ are called and predestined—because God has chosen us as one people. However, I believe our calling is to be primarily understood as an individual calling in real time, which refers to those who are not only called (general call to everyone who hears the gospel), but who also respond in faith to the call, who at that point, are chosen to be saved, chosen for salvation. In other words, we Christians who were called, assumes faith in response to the call.

 

Being “conformed to the image of His Son” is what God predestined us for, which refers to our position in Christ as individual members of the corporate body of Christ (the Church), which is a sinless, new creation in Him. Thus, as individuals, we are “called” to faith in Jesus in real time.

 

“Those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.

 

Those He “called” infers the response of faith to the call. Therefore, they are also “justified.” Those He justified, He also “glorified. Upon faith in Christ, we are not only justified, but also glorified. This is our position in Christ, as we see in Ephesians 1:3. In Christ, “we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” 

 

So to be clear, both the corporate people of Christ (chosen in Him before the foundation of the world), and the individuals who would be added to this people (His Church) upon faith in Him, are in view in this passage. It’s not one or the other. God “foreknew” and chose a people unto Himself, whom He has “called” out of this world. He predestined His people to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” both corporately and individually. We are all one people in Him. Thus, both together and individually, we are a sinless, perfect people in Christ—created in His likeness. Just as God has called out one people for Himself, so does He call us to Christ as individuals in real time. Corporately and individually we are a “justified” and “glorified” people in Christ.

 

Conclusion Regarding the Choosing and Calling of God’s People

I’ve looked at every reference in the NT for the election of, the choosing of, and the calling of God’s people. There are far too many, to deal with each one of them. So the best thing to do when we come to any of these references is to keep in mind that it may be the corporate people of Christ that may be in view, or it may be the individual choosing and calling of individuals to Christ (in real time) that may be in view. Or it may be a combination. Context will allow us to see which the writer had in mind.

 

What I don’t believe the writers of the NT had in mind is the unconditional Sovereign election of individuals—where only specific individuals were chosen (before He created us), at the eternal expense of all others, where all other sinners are left without any possibility of benefiting from what Jesus accomplished upon the cross—yet, making these same lost people responsible to respond to the gospel message in faith. In effect, it’s God saying, “I know I’ve made it impossible, but I still require you to believe in My Son.” I ask again, is this really the actual character and justice of God? Who among us would see this as true justice? Do we have a higher view of justice than God does? And how do we understand justice, except what God Himself has made known to us? Why should we make this harder than we need to? I believe God Himself has given us the insight to have a sensible and consistent view of His character.

 

Understanding the Drawing of Sinners to Christ

In the drawing of sinners to Christ, there are two primary passages that must be dealt with:  John 6:37,44-45 and John 12:32. There’s a certain context we must be aware of if we’re going to interpret these passages correctly.

 

(John 6:37) – 37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never drive away.

(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 has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me

(John 12:32) – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to Myself.

 

There are three groups of people we need to recognize when considering these passages. I think most Christians only see this through our modern-day eyes, with only one group of people in view—which would be the people in today’s world. However, there are two other groups during the time of Christ that we have to factor into our interpretation of this passage.

 

The Three Groups:

1. Jews (and Gentiles who lived among them) who already believed in the God of Israel before Jesus came along (still under the Old Covenant).

 

2. Jews (and Gentiles who lived among them) who became believers upon hearing the teaching of Jesus (still under the Old Covenant).

 

3. All the people of the world since the cross.

 

In the days of Christ there was a transition taking place that we can’t miss. It was a time of transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant. From Old Testament to New Testament. From the age of law to the age of grace. From the nation of Israel to the whole world. The dividing line was the cross. Up to that time, Jesus’ ministry was focused primarily on Israel—as Jesus Himself said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24; Matt 10:5-6). It was important for Jesus to focus His attention on Israel because, as He said in Luke 24:44, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to reveal Himself to Israel first (Ro 1:16) to let them know that He was the fulfillment of all that the OT Scriptures talked about. It was necessary that He revealed Himself as their Messiah, which they were all looking for (Jn 1:44: Jn 4:25-26).

 

To better understand this transition, under the Old Covenant, God revealed Himself to Israel as YHWH (“Yahweh”). That’s the name God chose to be known by. It’s according to this name that God chose to reveal Himself to His people. While this name certainly refers to the Triune God, I believe it refers more prominently to the Father, which is based on the fact that Jesus Himself placed an emphasis on the Father during His ministry. Also in John 6:45, Jesus equates “God” to the “Father.” Plus, the people of Israel themselves had no problem with that association (Jn 8:41-42). It was the common understanding of their day. Under the New Covenant we see something else. In the NT Scriptures, while all three Persons of the Trinity are prominent, the Person and name of Jesus are the most prominent. This reveals the sovereignty and providence of God in making Jesus the most prominent in the NC era. Because without Jesus, there is no Christianity. Jesus is central. The OT Scriptures always had Jesus in view. Thus, when we get to the NT, it’s the Person of Jesus that is the most prominent of the three Persons of the Trinity.

 

That’s the context of the four Gospels and why the ministry of Jesus to the Jews was so important. At the time He began His ministry, when He began to reveal Himself, there were many believing Jews. These were Jews who believed the Scriptures, who believed in the God of Israel. These were Jews who already belonged to the Father. Therefore, when Jesus began His teaching ministry, those who belonged to the Father already, would recognize His voice in the words of Jesus, for they are one. Therefore, this time of transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant was also a transition from the Father to the Son.

 

Therefore, the emphasis of the activity of the Father under the Old Covenant, and the emphasis of the activity of Jesus under the New Covenant, is theological—which has in view this transition that took place during the days of Christ’s ministry. Each of the three Persons of the Triune God are always at work. However, the emphasis placed on the Father under the OC, and the emphasis on Jesus under the NC, is theologically significant. In other words, there was something highly significant taking place in the days of Christ that we’re to be aware of when we interpret these passages  of Scripture (and many others)—as identified for you here.

 

But first, to understand this passage (Jn 6:37,44-45), we must first understand the connection between this passage and John 12:32:

 

(John 12:32) – 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to Myself.

 

The cross was the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the era of grace (the gospel era, Church age). Therefore, when Jesus completed the work the Father had sent Him to do (Jn 17:4), it was time to focus His attention on the entire world. Thus, from that point on, it would be Jesus Himself who would be drawing the world to Himself. During His ministry, it was the Father drawing His believers (and new believers) to His Son. Now it’s Jesus Himself drawing “everyone” to Himself, not just the Jews (Jn 17:20-21). This is the other side of the transition that was taking place in Jesus’ day.

 

Interpreting John 6:37 and John 6:44-45

In regard to the three groups of people that were identified in the beginning of this section, each of these verses will be interpreted in the context of those groups. For your convenience, here they are again (with added info):

 

1. Jews (and Gentiles who lived among them) who already believed in the God of Israel before Jesus came along (still under the OC). This is the group of believers who were in transition from the Father to the Son.

 

2. Jews (and Gentiles who lived among them) who became believers upon hearing the teaching of Jesus (still under the OC. Still during the time of transition).

 

3. All the people of the world since the cross—This is everyone worldwide who become believers under the New Covenant of Christ.

 

When interpreting these verses, instead of repeating each group in full, I’ll just give the number of the group (1, 2, 3).

 

***(John 6:37) – 37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never drive away.

 

1 – This refers to the believing Jews who already belonged to the Father, and were, therefore, given to the Son (via faith in Him). They were the ones who would go to Jesus (“will come to Me”). Since they already had faith in God, since they already knew the voice of the Father, they would all recognize His voice in the voice of His Son—for they are one.

 

2  – Those who didn’t already have a true faith in God, became believers through the words of Christ. As we see in John 6:64-65, Jesus makes it clear that everyone who “believes” will be “granted” a pathway to Jesus (“will come to Me,” will be “given” to the Son):

 

(John 6:64-65) – 64 However, there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him.) 65 Then Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has granted it to him.”

 

Faith is the pathway to Christ. When the Father saw faith, He gave them to His Son. They went to Jesus in faith (“will come to Me”).

 

3 – As with 2 (those who didn’t already have a faith in God), everyone since the cross is “granted” a pathway to Jesus via faith in Him. When the Father sees the faith of a sinner, He gives them to His Son. Those who have faith will go to Jesus (“will come to Me”).

 

***(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 has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me

 

1 – Everyone who already belonged to the Father, were “drawn” to Jesus. The Father drew to His Son all those who already had faith in the God of Israel. The same faith they had in the Father, they would naturally place in His Son. The two are one. Based on their faith, they will be “raised up at the last day.”

 

Likewise, all those same believers were the ones who “heard the Father and learned from Him.” The word “learned” here implies faith. We’ll talk more about that next.

 

2 – Those who didn’t already believe in the God of Israel, were still being “drawn” by the Father. Those who were drawn and “believed” the words of Jesus, were given to the Son (“will come to Me”), and will “be raised up at the last day.” Not everyone who was drawn, believed the message (Jn 5:39-40). Only those who believed will be “raised up at the last day.” We can be sure of this interpretation based on what Jesus said in verse 40 leading up to these verses (44-45):

 

(John 6:40) – 40 For it is My Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

 

This verse is key to interpreting verse 44. Those who were “drawn” and “raised up at the last day,” are those who “believe.” Everyone is drawn who hears the gospel message, but not everyone believes. Faith is the pathway to Jesus and to our resurrection.

 

Likewise, those who “heard the Father and learned from Him,” are those who “believed” what they “heard.” The word “learned” here implies faith. Again, we  know this is true, because of what Jesus says in John 6:40 (also Jn 6:64-65). One can “hear” and still not believe (“learn”), as Jesus confirms in John 5:24. Only those who “believed” what they “heard” and “learned” will be “raised up the last day.”

 

We see in verse 45, the Father and the Son speaking in unity. The words of the Father in the OT Scriptures, which spoke about Christ, are heard in the words of Jesus.

 

 3 – As with 1 & 2, everyone since the cross, who hears the gospel message, are “drawn” to Jesus. However, based on Jesus’ own statement in John 12:32, since the cross (the New Covenant era), we are not drawn by the Father, but by Jesus Himself. I believe He does this through His own words, the words of the NT Scriptures overall, and via the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-18; Jn 16:7-11; 1 Cor 2:14)—for He is the author of the Scriptures (2 Ti 3:16; 2 Pe 1:20-21), and always accompanies His own Word.

 

However, not everyone who is drawn, will believe the message. But when the Father does see the response of faith in sinners, He gives them to His Son. These are the ones who “come to Me.” These same believers, will be “raised up at the last day.” Again (as with 2), we can be sure of this interpretation because of what Jesus said in John 6:40, where He makes it clear that belief is the condition for being “raised up at the last day.” In other words, being “drawn” and being “raised up at the last day,” implies faith. What it does not imply is that everyone who is “drawn” will necessarily believe. Many hear and still don’t believe (Jn 5:39-40).

 

Likewise (as with 2), those today who have “heard the Father and learned from Him,” are those who believe what they “heard.” The word “learned” here implies faith. Again, we  know this is true, because of what Jesus says in John 6:40. One can “hear” and still not believe (“learn”), as Jesus confirms in John 5:24. Only those who “believe” what they “hear” and “learn,” will be “raised up the last day.

 

As with 2, we see in verse 45, the Father and the Son speaking in unity. The words of the Father in the OT Scriptures, which spoke about Christ, are heard in the words of Jesus. 

 

In conclusion, there’s a consistency between our understanding of corporate election and the transition we see in the gospels. How so? It was during that time that God’s program for His people was in transition—from Old Covenant to New Covenant, from physical/ethnic Israel to Christ and His Church (spiritual people in Him), from law to grace, from Father to Son. All of this was going on at that time. All connected. Physical Israel gave way to the spiritual people of Christ, which is His Church (1 Pe 2:4-10; Ro 2:28-29; Ro 9:6-8; Gal 3:16,19,28-29). The physical always pointed to the spiritual. The pattern of election of the people of God in the OT, cast its shadow on the people of God in the NT. The Father was over His people in the Old Covenant. His Son is over His people in the New Covenant—as Head of the Church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). With the awareness of all this, the interpretation of John 6:37,44-44 as presented here, makes perfect sense.

 

God deals with every individual sinner according to the condition of their hearts.

(Rev 2:23; 1 Sa 16:7; Lu 8:15; 1 Ki 8:39; Jer 17:10; Pr 17:3; Prov 4:23; Matt 12:35; Acts 1:24; 2 Th 2:10).

 

God looks upon each person’s heart (in real time) to see if it’s a heart that is humble and receptive to the truth and responsive to the conviction of sins (Ja 4:6; 1 Pe 5:5; 2 Th 2:10; Lu 8:15; Prov 16:5; Jn 16:8). In other words, God doesn’t look to see if a person is “one of His elect or not,” but rather, He looks at each person’s heart to see if it’s a heart that is open and receptive to the truth, receptive to the voice of Christ. God does not deal with people as “elect or non-elect,” but as sinners whom God seeks to save (Lu 19:10).

 

God deals with everyone on the same equal terms. He does this by examining each sinner’s heart to see if it’s a humble and willing receiver of the truth and to the call of Christ. If it is, all such will respond in faith. Those are the ones whom God chooses to save in real time. Those are the ones whom God chooses for salvation.

 

Before God created the world, before He created the human race, He chose to save anyone who would place their faith in Christ. We’re chosen by grace as we respond in faith. Likewise, He does not choose a sinner who rejects Christ from a heart of unbelief. It’s not that God looks upon humanity and sees only “His elect,” and focuses all His attention on them, seeking to save only them (as Calvinism teaches). No, He sees a world of sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation. He deals with us as sinners in need of a Savior. Salvation is genuinely possible for all who hear, because God deals with us in real time, according to where we are in this life, as each person is faced with the truth in real time. Sinners either receive the truth or reject it—according to the inclination and receptivity of their own hearts (2 Th 2:10). He holds out His hands of grace to everyone who hears the gospel message.

 

The offer is genuine to every sinner. The opportunity and the freedom to respond to the gospel in faith is the same for everyone. How they respond determines whether God chooses to save them or not. It’s one’s own heart that determines the outcome of their eternity. I realize Calvinists can’t accept that idea. But the reality is, this is the only way for a sinner to be truly responsible for how they respond to the gospel of Christ. One cannot be responsible for what’s not even possible for them. This way, no one who dies in their sins in unbelief will be able to offer an excuse when they stand before Christ at The Judgement. It will be revealed to them that it was their own heart of unbelief that condemned them.

 

As we already discussed, it’s the gospel message that produces faith, because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” The Holy Spirit always accompanies His own Word. It involves God opening one’s spiritual faculties/senses (spiritual eyes, spiritual ears) to the truth (Acts 26:18; Eph 1:18), which enables faith in a humble and ready heart as they hear the message of Christ (Ro 10:17). It’s at this point of faith that they’re regenerated (Jn 1:12-13; Jn 3:7; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pe 1:3; 1 Jn 5:1)—not before faith. While the “word of Christ” is required to have the necessary faith to be saved, it does not produce that outcome to everyone who hears. We covered that already too. It’s the condition of one’s own heart that will either lead them to Jesus, or lead them away from Jesus. They will either be willing to be drawn to Christ, or they will resist His drawing. A person must be a willing receiver of the truth.

 

Can the Spiritually Dead Really Hear the Call?

According to Jesus Himself, yes they can:

 

(John 5:24-25) – 24 Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life. 25 Truly, truly, I tell you, the hour is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

 

Jesus Himself reveals that the “dead” will “hear” the voice of the Son of God. This is important to see, because Calvinism teaches that sinners must be made alive (regeneration) first before they’re able to hear. But that notion is plainly contrary to what Jesus reveals here.

 

Jesus also says that those who hear, will “live.” Hearing implies faith. Jesus makes that clear in verse 24 where He says, “whoever hears and “believes.” Those are the ones who “live,” who and receive “eternal life.” All who hear the gospel message have an opportunity to respond in faith, but not everyone does.

 

Calvinism teaches that since we are spiritually dead, we’re not able to hear or understand the truth (Eph 2;1-9). As we already discovered, Jesus Himself reveals otherwise. However, it does require the Holy Spirit to enlighten us—for “the natural man,” those without the Spirit, “does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14). Left to ourselves, apart from God, we cannot understand spiritual truth. However, that does not mean that God must regenerate us first. That does not mean that God cannot open our spiritual eyes and ears apart from regeneration. God is obviously able to break through our spiritual blindness and darkness as we are, by illuminating the truth to our hearts. Based on what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, I believe that’s exactly what He does. If God is able to give us a whole new nature, then He is certainly able to break through the darkness of our old nature to reveal the truth to us. Consider carefully:

 

(2 Corinthians 4:6) – 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

This is an obvious reference to creation, when God commanded light to shine in the darkness via the sun and moon and stars (Ge 1:3-4,14-19). Note that it was in the darkness that God commanded the lights to shine. If God regenerates us first in order to shine the light of truth upon us, then God is actually shining light within light, because in a regenerate condition, we’re no longer in darkness. If God is truly shining His light in the darkness of our “hearts,” then that has to come before regeneration. It’s not until we’re regenerated that our hearts become light, where we receive a new nature. We go “from darkness to light” upon “faith in Me,” as Jesus said (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13).

 

We must conclude that the Calvinist view does not make sense in the context and discussion of 2 Cor 4:6 and Gen 1:3-4. However, I think we still need to talk about a couple verses in the Ephesians 2 passage that I referenced above:

 

(Ephesians 2:8-9) – 8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

 

Calvinism understands God’s “grace” here in two ways. First, that God grants salvation to whoever He wants—namely, to “the elect.” Second, that “faith” for salvation is given or enabled via regeneration to His elect as a “gift.” However, based on what Paul says in verse 9, that is not the most sensible way to interpret these two verses. I believe it should be understood to mean that “grace,” first of all, refers to the opportunity to hear the gospel message—but also that salvation is “not by works,” but rather, is given to those who place their “faith” in Christ, knowing there is nothing we can do of ourselves that can merit favor with God. In other words, there are no “works” we can perform that would get us to Heaven. Salvation is a “gift,” granted to those who simply believe. We’re all sinners. Therefore, in our sinfulness, no one is good enough (Ro 3:10-12), and no amount of effort can ever save us.

 

Based on everything we’ve learned in this study, this is the most reasonable way to understand Paul in this Ephesians passage.

 

Conclusion

There’s so much more that can be added to this study, but this is already a very long read, so I’ll have to save that for future posts. However, what has been presented here is more than enough to make a case for corporate election and atonement for all sinners. God’s election of the people of Israel is key to understanding the doctrine of election. It provides a pattern that we’re to recognize and apply to the election of God’s redemptive people in Christ. Not only does it reveal the true nature of election, but it also reveals the extent of the atonement. I believe that ignoring this pattern will only lead to an inaccurate understanding of these two doctrines.

 

In our understanding of the doctrines of election and of the atonement of Christ, I believe the position we hold must give priority to the character and justice of God. I believe that lands on the side of unlimited atonement. The idea that God has chosen specific individuals for salvation, while leaving the rest of humanity without any possibility of believing the gospel message—yet still holding them accountable for not believing what’s impossible for them to believe, is not a true reflection of the character or justice of God. If I’m going to be wrong about the doctrines of election and the atonement of Christ, I would rather be wrong on this side of the debate.

 

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