In our continuation of this study of the doctrine of the divine election of men in respect to salvation, we want to understand the cruciality of the doctrine in relation to God's promise to men of life through Jesus Christ.
There are many places in the New Testament which tie man's experience of life in time and eternity directly to the Biblical concept of election. One of these texts will be the basis of our appeal in this part of our study for the purpose of bringing to light the fact that though the life which God promised through Jesus Christ can be experienced to some degree without a proper grasp of this tremendous doctrine, ultimately that life can only be richly experienced by those who know and accept what the Scriptures teach about the matter.
In order to know just how crucial it is for those who would be continuing and growing disciples of Jesus Christ, we must give serious and thoughtful consideration to John 6:66:
"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (KJV).
This text pointedly teaches that the issue of its context is critical to development in discipleship. We want to demonstrate that the context is Jesus' declaration of the truth about divine election in light of human depravity. Because what He taught was unwanted by many who were His disciples, His confrontation of them with this truth resulted in their discontinuation of their development as disciples. That decision became a dividing line between those who continued in discipleship and those who "walked no more with him".
But, is our contention, that the context of this verse is Jesus' declaration of the truth about divine election, correct? To answer that, we want to point out something that many who have looked into this matter have apparently overlooked. There are at least two major texts in the New Testament that deal with the question of WHY some men believe when most do not. One of those is Romans 8-11. The other is John 6.
The cruciality of the fact that John 6 is, in part, dealing with the issue of WHY some believe and some do not cannot be over stressed. One of the major reasons that there is so much debate concerning the doctrine of election today is that men have not been careful to see why a given author has said what he has said. Then, being ignorant of his purposes, they assume a meaning that he never intended and then quote him to support their theology.
Perhaps an illustration would shed some light on what our meaning is in the above paragraph. There are many passages in the New Testament which exist in order to emphasize that salvation is by faith and is freely given to all who believe (among which are some of the greatly quoted "whosoever will" passages). Often, the ones who see these verses as denying the doctrine of the individual election of certain men do so simply because they do not understand that the verses are in passages that are dealing with the methodology of salvation (by grace through faith) and not the issue of how faith becomes a reality in the heart and mind of a man. The statement, "whosoever will may come" is not denied by Biblical electionists simply because that offer only says that "whosoever will may come" -- it does not identify WHO will, or why THEY will when OTHERS "won't". It is the texts of Scripture that were intended by their authors to deal with the question of WHY some believe and others do not that will shed some light on the issue before us -- not those texts which have some other purpose in mind. It is these texts which must be carefully studied in order to settle the dispute -- because it was these texts which raised the dispute in the first place.
As we have already said, John 6 is one of those specific texts. It was intended by John to give reason for why some men DO turn in faith, since it is exceedingly plain from the context that men have the phenomenal ability to continue in their unbelief in spite of awesome contrary evidence.
That this is the issue is easily seen from a careful reading of Jesus' dissertation which begins in verse 26 and continues to verse 65. The opening issue of the dissertation is the faulty priorities of those who were seeking Him (6:26-27 ). This is exceedingly significant in that Jesus had already established that faulty priorities were an effective block to the ability to believe:
"HOW CAN YE BELIEVE, which receive honour one of another, and SEEK NOT the honour that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44; KJV).
Thus, the issue of inability because of false fundamental desires should be somewhere around the center of our thinking as we move into this text.
In response to Jesus' rebuke/exhortation, the question arises:
"What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" (John 6:28; KJV).
Jesus' response is:
"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (6:29; KJV).
With this statement, Jesus begins to deal with the fact that the believing of men is the work of God. To assume that Jesus' response is a valid reason to assume that He believes them to be capable of doing the "works of God" is to be guilty of eis-egesis (reading your assumptions into the text when there is no legitimate warrant for them). In Mark 10:17-22 a certain man asks Jesus what "good thing" he can do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus' response is that he can keep the law (which action Paul denies will justifiy anyone). When he claims to have done that, Jesus then requires him to sell all that he has -- to inherit eternal life! This is something that neither Jesus or Paul ever taught in any other place as the way to gain eternal life.
It is apparent from the fact that Jesus knew that the young man was extremely naive about "goodness" that Jesus' answer was designed to get him to understand that one cannot be good enough to go to heaven. When the young man says that he is, Jesus gently proves that he is not -- for he loves his wealth more than God. As in Mark, so here in John, Jesus' response cannot automatically be taken to mean that He considers them capable of doing "the works of God". His answer may well have been an attempt to get them to see the impossibility of the things of which they think themselves capable. Some, reacting against Jesus' implication that if they were really interested in God they would not be seeking Him because their bellies were filled the day before, do not want to hear this. Therefore they raise an obstacle to justify their unbelief -- they want a sign like the fathers had in the wilderness. Jesus responds to this by refuting their manna-concept. And, in the midst of his response, he points up the problem:
"But I said unto you that ye also have seen me, and believe not" (6:36; KJV).
This incredible reality -- that men could be confronted by their Creator and not believe in Him -- automatically raises the question of HOW men come to faith since powerful evidence is so easily set aside by them. Then, he answers that question by showing why some believe and some do not in verses 37-40 by attributing the fact that some believe to the "work of God" by saying:
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me...and this is the Father's will...that of all that he hath given me I should lose nothing..." (John 6:37 & 39; KJV).
Then we have more murmuring of unbelief in verses 41-42, to which Jesus responds in verse 44 by saying:
"No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (KJV).
He then, in verse 45, more strongly asserts that those who believe do so because of God's working:
"Every man, therefore, that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (KJV).
Those who do not believe, have not "learned of the Father". Some were there that day, and their response was, predictably, a rejection of His words. At the climax of their striving, some disciples claim that His words are "an hard saying" which none can easily "hear". At this point Jesus again confronts their unbelief by saying:
"But there are some of you that believe not...Therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (6:64-65; KJV).
IT IS AT THIS POINT THAT WE COME TO THE VERSE UNDER OUR CONSIDERATION:
"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (6:66; KJV).
It is clear, from this consideration of the flow of thought in Jesus' interaction with these people, that it was his doctrine that "no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" that caused many of those who had been following his teaching up to that point to turn back and "walk no more with him".
Therefore, we believe that what a man does with what Jesus taught in John 6:26-65 is critical to the question of whether he becomes a full-fledged disciple, or goes back into non-discipleship.
It is our contention that a part of John's purpose in recording Jesus' teaching on the Bread of Life was to deal with the issue of why some believe when most do not. It is true that men do not believe because of their mixed up priorities (John 5:44); because of their hardness of heart (Romans 2:5); because of their pride (Romans 9:32); and because of their natural antagonism to the Truth (Romans 1:18 and I Corinthians 1:23); but, in the final analysis all men are guilty of all of these things at some point in their lives, yet some believe.
Jesus said that their believing was something that God wrought. Because men have overlooked the fact that John was directly dealing with this question of "why?" in John 6, much confusion yet remains.
Therefore, it remains that whether a man accepts what Jesus taught about his inability to come to the Truth apart from a sovereign drawing, teaching, and imparting of ability, or rejects these teachings of Jesus, has a direct bearing upon whether he becomes a continuing disciple or "goes back to walk no more with Him".
Now, with that point established, we must also make another point as plainly as we can. There is some nonsense afloat these days about how "good and honest men", who are men of integrity in their approach to the Scriptures, can take opposing views in this matter. That assumption, that any man is "good" when Jesus says there is only One who is good, and that any man is honest when Paul says all men are liars, is fundamentally flawed. Also, that men who reject what Jesus taught in John 6 can be men of integrity is beyond belief. That is like saying that someone who rejects Jesus Christ can have good moral character. Those who do understand what Jesus said, and believe it, are NOT NECESSARILY more "good and honest" than those who do not; but it is a fact, borne out of the narrowness of the truth, that those who reject Jesus' doctrine are not good and honest men who are simply misled. They are those who will walk no more with Him.
Coming to grips with Jesus' teaching, and submitting to it, is absolutely critical to the issue of becoming a disciple who will continue in the Truth. Those who do not do so CANNOT be "good and honest men of a different persuasion".
Some, at this point, might object that Jesus did not really teach what we have claimed that He taught (concerning God's sovereign prerogative in men's salvation) -- that His words can be taken differently. Whether that be so or not, it is nonetheless true that whatever it was that Jesus did teach became a dividing line between genuine disciples and temporary disciples. And this is the point that we are trying to make: we MUST come to grips with what it was that Jesus taught and AGREE with it in order to be genuine, continuing, disciples. We do not have the luxury of setting the issue aside, because it is the kind of issue that is either believed or denied. There is no middle ground except for those who are in the process of determining just what it was that Jesus was teaching. They alone can leave the issue hanging in limbo -- but they can only do that for the purpose of finding out what Jesus said. Once they come to a conclusion, they are either believing or rejecting the Truth. That this is so is seen today in the division that the doctrine has caused among men. Those who believe it necessarily see those who do not as rejecters of Jesus, and those who do not believe it necessarily assign to those who do some kind of bigoted arrogance in their narrowness of perspective.
This raises the question of whether, in fact, Jesus actually taught what we claim that He did. In order to answer that question, we must consider which of the prevalent views of election best fits the words of Jesus.
First, there is the view that says that Jesus was simply wrong in what He said. This is the view of those who "went back". However, no one can come to this point of view until it is first established what Jesus said. One cannot be convinced Jesus was wrong unless he first understands what Jesus meant. But, this viewpoint is not held among those who, today, claim to be His disciples. Instead of honestly proclaiming their disagreement with what Jesus said, those today who want to be considered His disciples without agreeing with His doctrine simply assign a different meaning to His words. Then, having made His words agree with their theology, they claim that they are the true disciples of Jesus.
This brings us to the second view of election that is prevalent today -- that of collective election. This view claims that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is the only elect one of God in terms of individual election. All others become elect when they exercise their free wills in faith and partake of His election. Thus, say they, God has only chosen one individual, and all men may make themselves His elect by exercising their wills in choosing to believe. Interestingly, those who hold this view CANNOT exercise their wills to believe in individual election (claiming that they would not want to do so). This demonstrates their inability to believe a thing that is not believed -- simply by exercising the will. One such as this will always have a good reason for his mind to show why his will cannot make him believing ("who would want to will himself to believe what is not true?"), but, nonetheless, he cannot will faith that does not exist.
It is this second view of election that I would like to subject to the scrutiny of John 6. Many of the statements which Jesus made make no sense when understood against the backdrop of a "collective" election.
First, why would anyone get upset with Jesus so that they would cease to walk with Him if He taught the concept of man's responsibility to believe AND man's capacity to believe? The "disciples" who ceased to walk with Him -- did they get upset because He told them they could and should believe in the One whom the Father sent? Or, did they get upset because He told them that they should believe, but that they COULD NOT come to Him unless the Father gave them the ability by "drawing" and "teaching"? The doctrine of collective election cannot satisfy either the demands of Jesus' words, or the demands of the reaction of those who left, never to walk with Jesus again.
Second, Jesus' words, which assign responsibility to believe to men who have not the capacity to believe, would only be antagonistic to the person who sensed a responsibility toward God and who believed himself capable of being obedient to that responsibility. Those who sense a responsibility, but who have despaired of being able to fulfill it, would only find hope in Jesus' words. The concept of collective election declares that any man has the capacity to believe -- thus denying:
Third, we have specific statements that will not harmonize with this concept -- such as:
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37; KJV).
The fundamental assertion of "collective electionists" is that the Father has not given Jesus any particular individuals. Thus, since the Father has given the Son no one particularly, no one particularly will necessarily come to him. To attempt to say that the Father has guaranteed a group ("all") without guaranteeing the individual particulars ("him that cometh") is a contradiction of both reason (how can generalities be assured without the control of particulars?), and the details of the text (the word translated "all" is singular, followed by the definite article, and indicates the whole of the class mentioned -- "that the Father giveth") and the context.
Unless the Father has established the particulars, there can be no guarantee of the particulars. That Jesus understood the promise of the Father in terms of particulars is seen from two facts. First, He claims that "all that the Father giveth me SHALL COME" in the face of His recognition of the fact that many have seen Him and yet do not believe. It was abundantly clear that there was in man a capacity to stare the evidence in the face and still not believe . And second, He knew from the beginning "who they were that believed not" (6:64; KJV). These were particulars -- and Judas was no surprise to Jesus.
Another example is verse 39:
"And this is the Father's will who hath sent me, that of all that He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (KJV).
The words "nothing" and "it" are again singular particulars. The collective electionists would have us believe that the Father promised the Son a collective whole which could consist of as few as one or two or as many as several millions -- the number determined, not by the Father, but by the capriciousness of the wills of men who, by specific declaration, are at enmity with God and believe Him to be contrary to their best interests.
Then, the most affirmative statement concerning man's coming to Christ is given as yet another example:
"No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:44: KJV).
Here the collective electionists would have us to understand that, REALLY, every man can come to Christ because the Father draws them all. But, to take Jesus' words in that sense is to destroy the force of the words altogether. What is the sense in Jesus claiming a restriction to "who" can come to Him, if, in fact, no real restriction exists? When this truth is repeated in verses 64-65, the "disciples" went back and walked "no more with him". But for what cause? Because they understood Jesus to be saying that, "though none can come to me, except the Father draw him, it is yet true that the Father draws all men, so all can really come"? No, they left then for the same reason that some leave today -- because Jesus was saying that man cannot come to Him unless the Father draws him, which the Father may or may not do depending upon His sovereign prerogative.
Also, note that Jesus says that He will raise up every one that the Father draws. Thus, if the Father draws all, all will be raised, and the specter of Hell is an illusion.
But, the collective electionist will argue that the text supports his view since it plainly says:
"It is written in the prophets, And they shall ALL be taught of God..." (6:45; KJV).
However, the Author of this quote, unlike the collective electionist, paid attention to the context of the verses He quoted. The context of the prophetic utterance is Isaiah 54:13 (or perhaps Jeremiah 31:34). In both of these contexts, the persons meant by the "all" are clearly the sons of regathered Israel in the time of the everlasting covenant. The purpose of the statement as originally given was to affirm the fact that these "sons" would never depart from the teaching of God (to quiet any apprehension that Israel would, in that day, perhaps again depart from their God). To appeal to an "all" that will be taught of God in a context such as this, in order to claim that all men on the planet are "taught of God" in the sense meant in the quote, so that whether they respond or not depends upon their willingness rather than God's teaching, is a manipulation of the text -- not the use of integrity in the approach to the Scriptures! Jesus is clearly not violating that context in His use of the utterance. He is simply using the principle that it teaches -- that the establishment of righteousness in the heart of men requires the effective teaching of the Father. The text that He quotes clearly teaches that the men that ARE "taught" will not violate the teaching -- which is precisely what He was claiming:
"All that the Father giveth me SHALL COME to me..." (6:37; KJV).
Therefore, to use the verse in support of His claim that "no man can come...except the Father...draw him..." and "...every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, COMETH unto me..." is perfectly legitimate in that the verse declares the efficacy of the teaching of the Father against the backdrop of man's history of preference to sin.
The collective electionist will also say that John 6 supports his view be cause it plainly declares:
"...he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst..." (6:35; KJV);
"...everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day..." (6:40; KJV);
"...he that believeth on me hath everlasting life..." (6:47; KJV);
"...if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever..." (6:51; KJV):
"...whoso eateth my flesh...I will raise him up..." (6:54; KJV);
But, these statements must be taken in their context with the other claims of Jesus about man's ability (or lack of it). It is true that he that comes to Jesus will never hunger; that he who believes will never thirst; that everyone who believes may have everlasting life; that if one eats of that Bread he will live forever. It is not true that any man who hears those words has the automatic ability in himself to believe them.
Thus, the concept of collective election is an erroneous one. All who opt for it are going back to no longer walk in the Truth IF they opt for it IN ANTAGONISM toward the concept of individual election. Only as a person recognizes his total inadequacy can he continue to be His disciple.
This brings us to the third view of election that men hold today -- that of individual election by God of particular men unto salvation and eternal life. This view has no difficulty with anything that Jesus said in John's record. In fact, it best fits the concept of Jesus' claim concerning the inability of man in respect to faith in Himself, for it agrees with that claim conclusively. That God must teach, draw, and give ability to men in order for them to be able to believe and come to His Son fundamentally means that God must decide WHO He will teach, draw, and impart ability to. That He has made such a decision is the essence of the doctrine of individual election. It is a fact that information about God often, in the will of God, falls upon the hearing of men who are not, by it, "taught of the Father" ("hearing, they hear not"). It is also a fact that the promise of life often, in the will of God, falls upon the hearing of men who cannot, and consequently will not, believe it. It is a fact that man is so dominated by his egocentrism and its corresponding world view that a special work of God in "teaching, drawing, and imparting ability" must be done or that man will perish. That some do perish is evidence that God does not do His work for all. That some do not is evidence that God does do that work for some. Jesus' teaching in John 6 clearly demonstrates these facts because He says that even though
"...he that cometh to me shall never hunger..." (6:35; KJV),
it is also true that
"...no man can come to me, except the Father...draw him..." (6:44; KJV).
But, does the fact that it was "many of His DISCIPLES" that "went back, and walked no more with him" militate against this thesis of individual election and its biblical corollary of the divine guarantee of perseverance in those so chosen?
First, let it be understood that the text establishes that discipleship is something that a person can begin, and then forsake. In itself, the verse does not tell us whether these "disciples" had believed unto justification. Therefore, to say from this verse that Jesus taught that it was possible to be justified, and then regress to a point that the one so justified "walked no more with him" is a theological and prejudicial eis-egesis (reading into the word "disciple" the assumption of justification) and a distortion of the text. In fact, the context plainly teaches just the opposite:
"Many therefore of his DISCIPLES, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" When Jesus knew in himself that his DISCIPLES murmured at it, he said unto THEM, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are SOME OF YOU that believe not..." (John 6:60-64; KJV).
One can be a temporary disciple and yet never really come to justifying faith. However, it is also true that one cannot come to justifying faith without first becoming a disciple. A disciple, by definition, is one who learns from another. That saving faith is not the first faith exercised should be apparent to all. Before one can believe God's promise of life through Jesus Christ, he must first believe in God's existence. But, that faith does not justify (James 2:19). Then, having believed in God's existence, he must believe in God's integrity. But, faith in God's integrity does not itself justify (Rev. 12:12 -- the devil knows that God's word regarding His timetable will not be altered). Then, he must understand somewhat of his condition in death (else the promise of life is meaningless). Then, finally, he must believe the promise of life through Jesus Christ. If one teaches another that God exists, and that other accepts that doctrine, that other has become a disciple -- but he is not yet justified. If, once he gets the truth of God's existence across, the teacher moves on to the concept of God's integrity, and his "disciple" also accepts this, the disciple has continued as a disciple, but he is not yet justified. Then, suppose the teacher next moves into the area of the disciple's condition under sin and his disciple does not want to accept this. At this point, he will go back and walk no more with his teacher. The statement that John makes about some of Jesus' disciples going back and walking no more with Him is not, contextually, any more than what we have described to you in the illustration above.
Therefore, though one can be a temporary disciple without coming to grips with the teaching of Jesus concerning God's sovereign prerogative in respect to salvation, one cannot continue in discipleship if he comes face to face with it and then rejects it.
The text does not tell us this, but it seems a likely assumption that those who went back from Jesus continued to put on the religious front that they had worn all the time that they followed Him. These "disciples" put the blame for their lack of interest in His teachings upon Him, not themselves -- and it is very likely that they continued to attend the 'synagogue of their choice' and put the cloak of religion over their rebellious hearts. But, the sad fact is that they "walked no more with him".
This brings us again to the fact that in order to develop into a genuine and continuing disciple, one must accept and submit to the fact that man is incapable of coming to Jesus unless the Father draws him. At this point, however, we must deal with just what it is about this doctrine that turns men off so badly. Some would have us believe that the reason that they do not believe it, is that it impugns the character of God and makes Him out to be some kind of monstrous ogre. That is not really the cause of their rejection of Jesus' doctrine. The real reason for their rejection is that the doctrine offends their pride. They have believed themselves capable of doing the work of God and controlling their destiny by choice. Jesus' words take all the wind out of their proud sails. It is for this cause that the doctrine is so critical to discipleship. Sooner or later, any who would be His disciples must come to the awareness of their total inability to produce out of themselves any "good" thing -- including faith. Once one recognizes this inability which arises out of perversity, it is possible to be genuinely dependent only upon God.
One of the most interesting phenomena concerning the debate over this entire issue is that those who reject what Jesus was saying attempt to divert the focus of the text from themselves to God. THEY claim that the reason for their rejection of individual election is that it turns God into something He is not, when, in reality, John taught that it was Jesus' words about THEM that caused them to go back and "walk no more with him". Satan, Adam, Eve, and all their progeny, have always managed to make their rejection of the Truth someone else's fault (Adam, notably, blamed God). The focus of the text is not upon the question of whether the Father is capricious and arbitrary in relation to the eternal destinies of men (which question we will be dealing with at a later point). The focus of the text is upon the phenomenal hardheartedness of men who were able to stare pointblank evidence in the face, and then reject it as though they were totally blind (which, in fact, they were). In the light of the fact that this was something of which they were capable, the issue Jesus addressed was HOW, given this deep perversity of humanity, was it that some KNEW and BELIEVED that Jesus was the One sent by the Father? The answer was, of course, that their believing was something that the Father had wrought because He had made a promise to the Son concerning His elect that would come to Jesus, be raised by Him, and inherit eternal life.
Though the outcry of unbelief is hidden under a cloak of pretensions about concern for the character of God, it is really the concern about what God says about their character that creates such antagonism toward this doctrine.
Thus, the reason that men reject Jesus' doctrine today is the same as then: they do not want to admit their utter incapacity to do even the smallest act of righteousness -- believing in Him. To admit that men are like this is to admit great depravity. God, who created all that is, is trustworthy and His words can be depended upon -- but men, His creatures, do not depend upon them! To admit this great depravity is humiliating -- something that pride will not allow. How many times have you heard someone say "I was so humiliated that I could have died!" when the cause of embarrassment was a minor charge of imperfection? If men hate exposure that badly in relation to minor flaws of their character, think how quickly they would leave Jesus if He were to tell them that they were far worse than they ever dreamed.
In conclusion, then, we are interested in firmly establishing 1) that what one does with the doctrine of individual election determines (from the perspective of men) the status of the true and continuing disciple, and 2) the hypocrisy of men of religion who tenaciously cling to some remnant of their respectability. There are other texts which also establish this, notably Romans 8-11, but we may already have belabored the point. If we find ourselves willing to admit what Jesus' words declare, we shall find ourselves continuing as disciples. If, however, His words sting us sorely, we may find ourselves at a loss to explain why our religion leaves us so empty.