Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Sovereignty and Security of Our Salvation (John 6:37-47)

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? This is an old brain teaser that seeks to stump us with circular reasoning. You have to have an egg to have a chicken, but you have to have a chicken to have an egg. Of course, if we take the creation account in Scripture seriously, then we know the answer – the chicken came first, because, on the fifth day of creation, God created fish and birds, fully formed, and then gave them the ability to multiply, each “after its kind” (Gen 1:20-22). Had God not acted, then indeed, there would be an infinite loop of chickens coming from eggs and eggs coming from chickens. But the line stops with the sovereign act of God.

Now, there is a theological question that is somewhat akin to this one about the chicken and the egg: Which came first: Did you choose God or did He choose you? There are some who would say that He would have never chosen me unless I had chosen Him, or unless He knew that I would choose Him. Then others would say that we could have never chosen Him unless He had first chosen us. So, like the chicken and the egg, we can end up in a sort of infinite loop: I chose Him because He chose me, and He chose me because I chose (or He knew I would choose) Him. But at some point, this cycle has to come to come to an end. And like that of the chicken and the egg, it comes to an end with a sovereign act of God. The question of the chicken and the egg appears difficult at first, but the Bible actually reveals the answer to us: the chicken came first. The question of who chose whom first also appears difficult at first – it would be well nigh impossible to resolve – but alas, the Bible also reveals the answer to this question. It may not be the answer we expected, or even the answer we wanted to hear, but it is the answer revealed as God’s truth, and we must yield ourselves to it. We may not understand it, but we accept it because it is God’s revealed truth, and we lean into it in hopes of understanding it better as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The answer is: He chose us first. The Bible really won’t let us get around that. We might say, “Well that conflicts with my beliefs.” Well, when we discover something in the Bible that conflicts with our beliefs, we have an option to either adjust our beliefs or adjust our Bibles. Sadly, many opt for the latter and choose not to believe or accept portions of Scripture. This we must not do. Rather, we must allow our beliefs to be corrected and shaped by Scripture, and not the other way around.

In our text today, we find one of the clearest teachings on this subject in all of Scripture, spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. Call it what you will: the doctrine of election, predestination, Calvinism, whatever. The bottom line, whatever we call it, is this: Our salvation is founded on divine sovereignty, evidenced by personal responsibility, and maintained with eternal security. Those three truths shine through this text today as clear and important realities concerning the relationship that all who are in Christ have, by His grace, through faith in Him, and for His glory. So, let’s look into the text and unpack each of these points.

I. Our salvation is founded upon divine sovereignty.

When we speak of God’s sovereignty, we mean that attribute that He possesses by which He rules over His creation with absolute authority. He does not have to answer to anyone else. His will is not subject to the will of anyone else. He does whatsoever He chooses, and nothing compels Him to act otherwise. Our salvation rests on this. Let me ask a series of questions based on our reading of this passage: First, according to Jesus, who will come to Him? The answer to this question is found in verses 37 and 45. In verse 37, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” So, who comes to Jesus? Those whom the Father has given Him. Now, in verse 45, He says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” So, who comes to Jesus? Those who have heard and learned from the Father. Now, the second question is based on verse 44: According to Jesus, who will come to Him apart from the Father drawing him? He says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” So, who will come to Jesus in some other way besides this divine, sovereign, initiative? No one. It is not even possible.

So, from these verses we understand that our salvation is founded upon divine sovereignty. God takes the initiative in revealing truth to the individual (they hear and learn from Him); He gives that individual to Christ; and He draws them to Christ. So far, nothing has been said in these words to indicate that any of it rested upon any decision or action made by the human individual. It was all God’s doing. Now, immediately, this rubs us the wrong way in our human nature. Our instinct is to think that anyone who believes or teaches this must surely be twisting the words of Jesus, because Jesus surely would have never said anything so insensitive as this, and if He had, people would not have followed Him. Let me call your attention to verses 65 and 66. What was He saying? He was saying, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” And how did that message set with those who heard him? Verse 66 says, “as a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” Jesus did not let the potential offensiveness of this truth dissuade Him from proclaiming it anyway, even though some may be put off by it.

Well, we have to ask ourselves, what is so off-putting about this notion that our salvation rests entirely upon God’s sovereignty? Why is the notion that we are saved because God has chosen us so abrasive to our human nature? I believe there are several reasons. First, and most obvious, is our inclination to object on the basis of fairness. One person is saved and another is not, and it is all because God chose one and did not choose the other. Can’t you hear it? “That’s not fair!” Now, if by “not fair” we mean “unjust,” “wrong,” or perhaps even “evil,” this objection is not even valid because God is completely holy, righteous, and just. He is infinite in all His glorious perfections. We, on the other hand, are sinners corrupted to the core of our being by the presence of sin in our lives. Our feelings, our attitudes, our thoughts, motives, judgments, and actions are all distorted because of sin’s effect on us. So, the idea of us calling God unfair would be like a drunk person complaining that he cannot pass a roadside sobriety test because someone keeps moving the yellow line on him. No, the line is straight, but the person is unable to perceive that because their senses have been distorted. In the same way, we really have no grounds to declare anything that God does to be unfair. If it appears that God is wrong, evil or unjust, it is because our perceptions are so distorted by the impact of sin upon us. 

But perhaps we don’t mean “unjust,” “wrong,” or “evil” when we say “unfair.” Maybe we just mean something like, “It’s not fair because God chose one and not the other, therefore one person did not get what he or she deserved.” And you know what? You are correct. It is not fair in that sense. One of these individuals did not get what he or she deserved. But, we are prone to think that the person who was not chosen is the one who didn’t get what they deserve. In fact, it is the person who is chosen who does not get what they deserve. What do I mean? Well, because we are all sinners, we are all spiritually dead and separated from God by birth. And if we die in that state, then we will be separated from God for eternity in hell. And because we are all sinners, that is what we all deserve. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Key word: ALL! We all deserve hell. So, if a person ends up in hell, is God unfair? No. That person received what they deserved under the just judgment of God. But, if God should so choose to show mercy on one and not the other, to rescue that person from sin and hell, is it unfair? Well, in the sense that the person did not get what they deserved, yes it is unfair. But is it unjust or wrong of God to show mercy on whosoever He chooses? No. It is part of His divine prerogative in the exercise of His sovereignty. Neither the one who is chosen nor the one not chosen should complain that God is not fair. The one who is not chosen recognizes that hell is what a life of sin deserved. The one who is chosen, rather than complaining about fairness, should be lavishing affection and magnifying the glorious grace of the sovereign God who mercifully rescued him or her when he or she had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it.

Now this brings us to another reason why this is so off-putting to us. It is unsettling to us because of our pride. Our pride enters into this in two ways. First, none of us is naturally willing to admit that we are that bad – bad enough to deserve hell. Most of us want to measure ourselves against the mass of humanity and say, “Well, I’m not perfect, maybe not as good as this lady over here, but I’m nowhere near as bad as that guy over there.” When we compare our sinful selves with other sinners, we may see great degrees of difference between us. But when we compare the mass of humanity with Jesus Christ, who is the complete representation of the righteous nature of God, all of those degrees of difference between us are minimized as we realize how utterly short we all fall in comparison to Him. It’s like if we have a jumping contest. There are probably some of you who can jump a lot higher than me. And some maybe cannot jump as high as me. But, if the goal is to jump to the top of the Mount Everest, then it doesn’t really matter that we can outjump each other by one or two feet. No one will even come close. And when it comes to our righteousness, God is not measuring us in comparison to one another. He is measuring us against His perfect standard of holiness, manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. None of us come close. That smacks at our pride, doesn’t it? It reminds us that though we may think, “I’m not really that bad,” the fact is that we really are that bad, both by nature and by choice.

Our pride enters in again when we see the reality of how far short we fall below God’s standard, and we begin to theorize about what we might be able to do make the matters right. That works around the house; we break something, and we think, “I can fix it.” And when we fix it, we are so proud of ourselves, we forget about our shame of breaking it in the first place. We start boasting: “Hey check me out! I fixed that!” If someone asks, “What was wrong with it?” we don’t say, “Well, I broke it because I’m a dufus.” We’re too busy patting ourselves on the back for fixing it! So, if our relationship with God is broken because of our sin, we think, “I must be able to do something to fix it.” Well, what does the Bible say about that? It tells us that we are saved by grace alone, and not by works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9). We are spiritually dead by nature, and cannot do anything in our own power to improve our lot. We are dependent on God acting with grace and favor toward us. Unless He reveals Himself to us, unless He draws us, unless He chooses us and gives us to Christ, we will not come – indeed we cannot come – to faith in Jesus. God loves us, so He has made salvation available to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the Father also loves the Son, so He has decreed that the life, death, and resurrection of the Son will not be in vain. He has not accomplished atonement in the cross of Christ, only to step back, cross His fingers, and hope that some will decide to come to Him and believe. No, by His sovereign grace, He has chosen some to give as a love gift to the Son, and to them He reveals Himself through the Gospel message, and those He draws to the Son. He moves first. He chooses those whom He will save, and His choice does not rest on anything within us. We have no grounds for boasting. For reasons all His own, and supremely for the glory of His grace, He has chosen those who will believe and given them to Christ. Thus our salvation rests entirely upon His divine sovereignty.

II. Our salvation is evidenced by personal responsibility.

From a human perspective, every true Christian can look back on the moment in which he or she first believed and remember making a personal decision to follow Jesus. We can think about a day in which we perhaps awoke not believing in Christ, and went to bed that night believing in Him and trusting Him as our Lord and Savior. Therefore, we are inclined to think that the entire thing rests upon our so-called “free will” to choose. But as Jesus has said repeatedly here in this text, and as the Bible says so often in so many ways, God’s sovereign election of His own is the foundation. But, now here is where you might say, “Pastor, I know you don’t believe that! I’ve heard you share the gospel and ask people to believe in Christ many times. You are getting ready to travel overseas to share the Gospel with people, and you are going to ask them to believe in Christ. If you really believed that it all depends on God’s choosing, you wouldn’t do those things.” No, in fact, it is because I believe that it all depends on God’s choosing that I do those things. You see, I firmly believe that the Bible teaches, here and in many other places, that only the elect – those whom God has chosen – will be saved. But, I do not know who they are. In fact, they do not even know who they are. But God has established that He will call out His elect through the preaching and proclaiming of the Good News of Jesus Christ. When the Gospel goes forth, the Holy Spirit works through that message in the hearts of His elect to call them home to Jesus. I can share the good news of Jesus in the confidence that their decision to follow Christ does not depend on my ability to convince them, but on God’s perfect power to save those whom He has chosen to save. And I have the assurance that some who hear this message will certainly believe because has declared it to be.

Notice here how Jesus says that those who are the chosen of God are made known. How do we know whom God has given to the Son? He says in v37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” We know who they are because they come to Jesus when they hear the Gospel call. Notice again in verse 40 that these who are the chosen of God will behold Jesus and they will believe in Him. In verse 45, He says that those to whom the Father reveals Himself through His Word – those who hear Him and learn from Him – come to Jesus. So, there is a personal responsibility involved – a choice, a decision, must be made to believe that which God has revealed about Himself and His salvation; to behold the Son and believe in Him; and to come to Him exercising that faith. This is our response to His choosing, not the other way around. He doesn’t choose us because we have believed. We believe in response to His choosing. Had He not chosen us, revealed Himself to us, and drawn us to Jesus, we never would have come. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (v44). Thus, our coming, our believing upon Jesus, is the evidence of our salvation. Verse 47 says that he who believes has eternal life. The believing is the proof, the evidence, that God has acted toward us in His saving grace.

Sometimes, people become perplexed about the doctrine of election, and they wonder if they are among the elect, or if they can even know. My grandfather was this way. He had grown up under a system of staunch Scotch-Presbyterian Calvinism, and all he knew was that God had predestined him, he would be saved; and if not, there was no need to wonder or worry about it. Over the course of ten years or so, I tried to help him understand that God had made a way for us to know if we were elect or not. That way of knowing is by believing in Christ. No one who is among the elect will die not believing in Christ; and no one will believe in Christ who is not among the elect. So, if you want to know if you are among those whom God has chosen, simply ask yourself this: “Have I come to Jesus believing upon Him to save me through His life, death, and resurrection?” Do you believe that He died for your sins, and have you committed yourself to Him by faith, trusting Him as your Lord and Savior? If so, then you do not need to wonder. You would not have come to Him or believed in Him unless the Father had chosen and drawn you. Your faith in Him is the evidence of your election.

But some of you may wonder about this even more, because in your heart of hearts you know that you do not presently have that kind of faith-relationship with Jesus. You may know that you do not truly believe in Him or trust Him to save you. Or perhaps you are concerned, not for yourself, but for a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, or someone else. Well, you can relieve the fear and anxiety by knowing that you have this moment of this day. You may not have another moment or another day, but you have this one. Why would you put off coming to Him by faith another moment? And if you are concerned for your loved one, why would you hesitate another moment to share the good news of Jesus with him or with her? You know that Christ is the only way of salvation. You know that God works through His Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit to call out His elect. So, share that good news with them. If they don’t believe right away, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t elect. While they still have life, keep presenting Christ to them so that up until their dying breath they have every opportunity to cast themselves on His mercy. And if they do, it will be evidence that they have been chosen of God, drawn to Christ by Him, and they will be saved, even if it is happens at the final hour. You have a choice in the matter – you must choose to follow Jesus. But your choice of Him is the evidence that He has chosen you.

So, our salvation is founded on divine sovereignty. It is evidenced by human responsibility. Finally …

III. Our salvation is sustained with eternal security.

Have you ever wondered if you, or someone else, could ever become “unsaved” after having been saved? Can a Christian become a non-Christian? Can a believer decide to stop believing? Can a Christian sin-away the grace of God? Well, friends, the bad news is that if it all depended on our ability to keep ourselves saved, we would be utterly hopeless. The good news is that it does not depend on our ability to keep ourselves saved. We are not secured by our ability to hold on to Jesus, but by His ability to hold on to us. If your security depended upon your faith remaining strong, you would be sunk, because all of us falter in our faith. If it depended on you keeping yourself from sin, you would have no hope, because our fight with sin never ends in this life. But your salvation is guaranteed for eternity by the strong hands of Jesus, and He has promised to never let you go.

Notice how Jesus says in v37 that all that the Father has given Him will come to Him, and He says “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” He will not refuse anyone who comes to Him, and once a person comes to Him, He will never reject them or toss them aside. This is a promise and a commitment that He has made to us. But more than that, it is a promise and a commitment that He has made to His Father. He says in v38, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” And then He tells us what that will of His Father is. In v39, He says, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” Again in v44, He promises, “I will raise Him up on the last day.” So we have the assurance of the word of Jesus, who does not lie because He cannot sin, as He promises to hold on to us throughout the days of our lives – He will never cast us out or lose us; and that promise endures beyond this life for all eternity – He will raise us up on the last day in glorious resurrection, in like manner as He Himself was raised from death. And then we will be with Him, inseparably forever. We have, He says, “eternal life” (v47) – a life that never ends. The only way a person who has ever truly come to Jesus by faith and trusted in Him to save them could ever become unsaved would be for the Lord Jesus to break the promise He has made to us and to His Father, and for Him to lose His grip on us. And this He will never do. Indeed, this, He cannot do!

Baptists are fond of the phrase, “once saved always saved.” In a sense, this is what Jesus is saying. But I fear that our understanding of that phrase is not the same as what He means. Many of us understand this phrase to mean, “Once a person has prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, joined a church, been baptized,” or something like that, “he will always be saved.” That is most assuredly NOT what Jesus is saying here. Did you know that you can walk an aisle, pray a prayer, join a church, and be baptized without truly believing in Christ. That person cannot remain saved, because he or she has never been saved! What have they done? They’ve done works! The prayer, the aisle-walking, the church-joining, and the baptizing are all done in self-effort. Salvation comes by the act of God whereby He regenerates our dead spirits and makes us alive in Christ. On that basis we are supernaturally enabled to believe in Him – our belief is in response to His saving act – and He saves us. And if He saves us, He promises to hold on to us. So, it is not so much the idea of “once saved always saved” as we so often misunderstand it. Rather, it is a matter of the supernatural preservation of the saved: Christ holding with His strong and saving hands all those who come to Him in true faith on the basis of what He has accomplished for us through His sinless life, His sacrificial death for our sins, and His glorious resurrection from the dead. God has secured your faith in Christ because it rests on His sovereign choosing, His drawing of you, and His promise to hold you throughout this life, and carry you through to the next.

So what should you do when you have doubts about whether or not you are saved? First of all, you should not dismiss that too easily. There are some Christians who believe that the worst thing you can do is doubt your salvation. No, the worst thing you could do is to presume that you’ve been saved when you really haven’t. So, if doubts arise, we should turn to God’s word. In 1 John 5:13, we read that God desires that we know whether or not we have eternal life. His word has the ability to give us that assurance. Second Corinthians 13:5 says that we should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. How do we do that? We need to ask ourselves, “Why do I think I am saved?” If our answer depends upon things that we have done – prayed a prayer, joined a church, been baptized, walked an aisle, etc. – then we have good reason to doubt. Rather, in examining ourselves, we must come to see that our salvation depends not on what we have done but on what God has done for us. He has dealt with our sins fully and finally in the cross of Jesus Christ. He has overcome sin and death for us through the resurrection of Jesus. And He has covered us in the righteousness that Christ displayed through His sinless life. We can look back on our lives and see how God was working to draw us to Jesus, and we can look back and see how we placed our faith and trust in Him and how He has worked within us since that time. We should be able to see that we are not trusting in what we have done, but we are trusting presently in what Christ has done for us. And if we trust in Him, then we have the assurance that our salvation is genuine. In v47, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” It is all by His grace. It is all for His glory. And rather than boasting in what we have done, or thinking that God has chosen us because we were worthy, we are silenced, awe-stricken, and humbled in worship before Him because of His saving and sustaining grace.

I want to close by challenging you to examine yourselves in this way. If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and if He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into heaven?”, what would you say? If your response to that question involves your own efforts – the things that you have done – then you must realize that you are trusting in the wrong thing! It is Christ, and Christ alone who can save us! Our trust must be in Him and in Him alone. Our faith in Him is the evidence of His election of us. And as Paul says in Romans 8, “those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” We believe in Christ because God foreknew us and predestined us, He called us to Himself, and justified us (He made us righteous by removing our sins through Christ’s death on the cross and covered us in the righteousness of Jesus), and on the basis of our faith in His saving work, He has promised that He will glorify us as He raises us up from death to be with Him forever in eternal life.

Here’s what I hope this message will accomplish today for you. First, I pray that if you are trusting in anything other than Jesus to save you, that you will be done with that and turn to Him in complete faith and trust and surrender. Second, I pray that if you are trusting in Him, you will be drawn into a deeper sense of worship, devotion, and service to Him in light of the glory of His grace, by which He chose you, by which He saved you, and by which He holds on to you for all eternity. Third, I pray that your heart will rejoice in the assurance of knowing that you can never be severed from Him if you have come to Him. Fourth, I pray that you will be emboldened in your efforts to share the glorious message of Jesus Christ with a lost and dying world, knowing that salvation does not rest on your ability to persuade others or their ability to make a right decision, but on God’s sovereign work of calling out and saving those whom He chooses; and that as you share this message, you are assured that those whom He has chosen will come to Him as the Spirit works through the Gospel you share. Keep telling His story so that all those whom God has chosen will hear His voice through your witness, beckoning them to come to Jesus and be saved! If God would be pleased to accomplish any of that through this message today, I will praise Him and rejoice before Him with great gratitude.