About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Craig S. Slaine on behalf of Dr. Barth Campbell at Simpson University during my junior year for a writing intensive course on New Testament theology.
All too often when we look at the Bible we come with our presuppositions and theological constructs and do not allow the Scriptures to speak out to us. We force the Scriptures to support our ideas and personal beliefs. Predestination and free will are both examples of this. The predestination thinker might approach the Bible and extract everything that supports predestination. The same practice is utilized by the free will enthusiast. This is how many people build their theology: they run through the Scriptures, take out all that applies to their beliefs and ideas, and they discard the rest that do not support their theology. Some will ask, “Is John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, a predestination believer or is he strong in free will?” Or perhaps others will ask, “Are Paul’s letters more Calvinistic or Arminian?” Such questions do not result in good biblical theology. Good biblical theology seeks to see what the Scriptures contain in themselves. Instead of asking what author aligns with which type of theology, for example, biblical theology seeks to find the theology which the author, the book or letter, and the Scriptures as a whole contain. In this case, we are going to look at the Scriptures regarding salvation through the lens of the Fourth Gospel. What does John say about salvation? Does he say anything about it at all?
John has quite a bit to say regarding salvation, but he never mentions it in terms of predestination or free will. To say that predestination or free will can be found in the Fourth Gospel is a misleading idea. The concepts are there, but not in these terms. John refers to salvation or eternal life, but in the back of his mind, as is evident in his account of the gospel, there are two parts to it. These two parts are what we know and describe as “predestination” or “free will.” For John, these two ideas simply are “salvation,” that is, it is both God’s choice and man’s choice. Therefore, salvation is both predestination and free will in the Fourth Gospel. John does not give preference of one over the other. We must understand, then, that although we have preconceived ideas about predestination and free will, the Gospel of John does not view salvation in these terms. In other words, salvation is not just predestination or free will alone. The Fourth Gospel portrays salvation as two equal truths: one, God divinely chooses his believers; two, man is responsible for making the choice to believe in Christ. These two ideas coexist in John and must not be separated from each other. Although many people take sides, we must realize that Scripture says both. The Fourth Gospel reveals that we must think of salvation both as predestination and free will, for it is both by God’s divine will and man’s choice to believe that salvation is made possible. Before we examine particular passages in John, we should gain a quick understanding of both extreme views as seen in the Fourth Gospel.
TAKING THINGS TO THE EXTREME
In order to help make the point clear that some people choose sides, perhaps it would be best to take a look at how people go to the extreme. In particular, some people will go too far with Calvinism or Arminianism. In doing so, we will be readily able to identify the two poles involved in salvation. As a result, we will be able to see that salvation is two equal parts that stand in tension with one another. Salvation is a dichotomy, as is evident in the Fourth Gospel. Before we can dive into salvation as dichotomy in John, we need to understand the two sides of salvation, and extreme Calvinism and Arminianism will help summarize the main points. Let us begin by looking at the extreme Calvinist view which polarizes salvation as “a gift from God, [which] cannot be achieved without a human-ward reaching out by the Deity” (Hammond-Tooke 2000, 74-5).
In extreme Calvinism, salvation is entirely God’s doing. No man can achieve salvation. Man is not responsible for salvation. Rather, God is the one responsible for and the one who works salvation in the lives of men. Man cannot achieve it by reaching out to God (Hammond-Tooke 2000, 74-5). John 6:43 shows us that only those whom the Father has drawn to Christ can come to him; in 15:9, Christ chooses his followers; in 17:6, Christ reveals the Father to those whom God gave to Christ (Hammond-Tooke 2000, 75). The extreme Calvinist affirms total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints (TULIP).
Total depravity understands that good is being destroyed, that the effects of sin are intensive (destroy the ability of salvation), that men are born with the necessity to sin, and that the human will is destroyed (Geisler 1999, 56-7). To sum it up plainly, extreme Calvinists deny that fallen humans “are alive in any sense in which they can respond to God; their natures are so totally corrupt that sin is an unavoidable necessity. And whereas the faculty of will is present, nonetheless, the ability to choose to follow God is destroyed” (Geisler 1999, 57). John 1:12-13 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Extreme Calvinists take this verse to mean that one is born into the family of God not by one’s own choice but by God’s (Geisler 1999, 58). It is written in John 3:3, 6-7, “Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again … Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”‘” Looking at this verse, the extreme Calvinist would argue that one could only be born of the Spirit by the choice of God (Geisler 1999, 60). Jesus said in John 6:65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” In this instance, the extreme Calvinist understands that no one can come to Christ unless there is a sort of divine agent that helps them towards Christ (Geisler 1999, 60). John 8:44 says, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” From this verse, extreme Calvinists have determined that fallen humans can do nothing but sin because they are not children of God but children of the devil who carry out his will (Geisler 1999, 62). In terms of total depravity, the extreme Calvinist would say that man is totally unable to obtain salvation and it is only by God’s choice to take in a man as his son and receive salvation. The bottom line: salvation is God’s choice alone.
In light of unconditional election, the extreme Calvinist follows the same method that he or she does with total depravity, only utilizing Scripture that supports their theology and discarding the rest. John 15:16 says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” For the extreme Calvinist holding fast to unconditional election, “there are absolutely no conditions for God’s electing some to salvation. There are no conditions, either for God’s giving of salvation or for our receiving it” (Geisler 1999, 66-7). The bottom line: salvation is God’s free gift and will to choose.
Extreme Calvinist’s also argue for limited atonement, meaning that Christ only died for the elect and not for the unsaved, fallen humans (Geisler 1999, 74). John 1:9 says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” The extreme Calvinist would argue that “every man” is every elect man around the world (Geisler 1999, 81). It is written in John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” Extreme Calvinists will refer to this verse to argue that Christ died only for the elect (Geisler 1999, 78). John 17:9 reads, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Some extreme Calvinists argue that this refers to Jesus’ denial of praying for the unbelieving “world” (Geisler 1999, 78). In effect, they argue that this verse shows that Jesus came to provide atonement for the elect only (Geisler 1999, 78). For the extreme Calvinist adhering to limited atonement, there is no hope outside of election, for Christ came to save the elect and not the unsaved world. The bottom line: salvation is only for the elect whom Christ died for.
The idea of irresistible grace in extreme Calvinism involved the inability of the person to deny God’s election. Those who are elect cannot run from it and for those who are unsaved it is unattractive. This completely denies man’s free will. Because God’s grace cannot be resisted, there is no choice in the matter. John 3:27 says, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” According to Geisler, some extreme Calvinists attempt to use this verse to prove that God’s grace is irresistible, but it is loose in relation to the issue (1999, 94). The Scriptures say, in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Geisler says that “According to extreme Calvinists, this speaks of an irresistible drawing by God” (1999, 92). Even more specifically, they rely on the word, “draw” (helkô), which means to “drag” (Geisler 1999, 92). For the extreme Calvinist, they understand, then, that for those who are the elect, God’s grace is irresistible, while those who are not elect, it seems to have no effect (Geisler 1999, 94-6). The bottom line: salvation is irresistible to the elect and unappealing to all else.
The last part to five-point Calvinism is the perseverance of the saints. This idea branches out of the idea that “once saved, always saved,” or as Geisler puts it, quoting from the Westminster Confession of Faith: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (1999, 99). However, “no professing Christian can be absolutely sure that he is one of the elect until he meets the Lord” (Geisler 1999, 99). In other words, for the extreme Calvinist, no man can be certain that he or she is an elect until he arrives at heaven’s gates (Geisler 1999, 100). In these terms, the Fourth Gospel is not a main source for the perseverance of the saints, but the most related passage to this topic is John 10 (cf. vv. 25-30). John 10:28 reads, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand.” For the extreme Calvinist, this verse bears witness that the elect will never lose their salvation. The bottom line: only the elect will be saved, guaranteed.
Now that we have a good understanding of extreme Calvinism, we can now pursue a firm knowledge of extreme Arminianism. Once we have gained a good understanding of these two theological constructs, we can then turn to the Fourth Gospel and understand John’s view of God’s plan of salvation between Christ and the world.
Arminianism is a little different from Calvinism. Here are five main points of Arminianism which can be compared to the five points of Calvinism. First, God elects according to his unalterable will only those who accept the grace of God through Christ (Geisler 1999, 101). Second, Christ has atoned all men of their sins but only those who believe in Christ will enjoy that atonement (Geisler 1999, 102). Third, man cannot save himself nor do anything that is truly good and therefore must be born again of God in his Son (Geisler 1999, 102). Fourth, the grace of God is not irresistible and can be rejected (Geisler 1999, 102). Last, it is possible to lose the grace given from the Father if the believer does not come out victorious in the end (Geisler 1999, 102). Compared to TULIP, these points seem to be quite opposite poles of the salvation of God for humanity.
If extreme Calvinism is the farthest pole left of the biblical idea of salvation, then extreme Arminianism is the farthest pole to the right. These two extremes are as opposite as they can get. According to Geisler, the fundamental attributes of God are denied in extreme Arminianism (1999, 104). According to Geisler, extreme Arminians go so far as to deny God’s foreknowledge (1999, 104). They hold fast to the fundamental Christian doctrine of free will, so much so that they believe it is man’s complete responsibility “to ensure salvation by an act of unconditional faith, ultimately involving free choice and an act of will” (sic; Hammond-Tooke 2000, 75). They would argue that “the impediment of the human heart [is] what renders some people incapable of entering into relationship with God” (Pazdan 2003, 670). In other words, the extreme Arminian upholds the idea of libertarian freedom, which is “a freedom of choice that is self-determined and not caused by events outside the control of the agent … the individual can choose either way, and once a choice has been made, it is asserted that the agent could have chosen otherwise” (Laing 2004, 455). There is no work of God involved in salvation as far as drawing the person to Christ. There is no cause, there is only a choice. Laing sums it up in a nut-shell: “it means both that the choice was made by the individual and that it was not caused by anything outside the individual” (2004, 455-6). The bottom line: salvation is man’s choice to make.
They argue further that it is impossible to know anything in advance because the future has not yet actually occurred, truth is what corresponds to what actually is, and it is impossible to know something is true before it actually occurs (Geisler 1999, 107). The problem with this line of thinking is that nothing is impossible for God and he is not bound to time because he created it and he is eternal (Geisler 1999, 107). Extreme Arminians admit that God is infinite but that his knowledge is finite (Geisler 1999, 107). Moderate Arminianism understands that the future is certain and foreknown by God. Still, certainty and foreknowledge “in no way undermines human freedom and moral responsibility” (Studebaker 2004, 471). But the extreme Arminian takes it even further: God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the past and present and all future possibilities and probabilities. In respect to knowledge of the future, God also foreknows future events that occur due to the necessity of physical forces” (Studebaker 2004, 475). The extreme Arminian understanding is that divine knowledge is consequential and historical, yet “God’s knowledge is ontologically and temporally subsequent to, or at least coincident with, temporal occurrences” (Studebaker 2004, 475). In other words, “God must wait until the person makes the choice in order to know what choice the person will make” (Studebaker 2004, 475). God’s knowledge, therefore, is conditional and dependent upon an individual’s choices. The bottom line: salvation is God’s election according to man’s choice.
Extreme Arminians also deny God’s unchangeability (Geisler 1999, 108). Sometimes, extreme Arminians will argue that God does change, especially in regards to prayer, but as Geisler notes, these changes are not in his nature (1999, 109). Extreme Arminians will also deny God’s eternality (Geisler 1999, 110). They emphasize that God is subject to time and because time is always changing, God is changing too, and because time has a beginning, so must God (Geisler 1999, 111). They completely deny God’s sovereignty (Geisler 1999, 112). The bottom line: God has no control in the matter of salvation.
John 1:21 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Here, the extreme Arminian would use this verse to say salvation comes about when man chooses out of his own free will to receive Christ. The Scriptures say in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” According to extreme Arminianism, man has the ability to accept or reject Christ, and those who accept Christ receive salvation while those rejecting Christ remain condemned. John 7:37 reads, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” The extreme Arminian would use this verse in John to support the idea of free will to choose to approach Christ and allow Christ to satisfy his every need. Through these verses in John, the extreme Arminian would deny God’s sovereignty in salvation and uphold man’s free will to choose Christ, and only those that choose Christ will be saved. These are but a few of several passages in John which extreme Arminians would utilize to support their theological construct.
Essentially, the extreme Arminian is guilty of sacrificing God’s sovereignty in order to emphasize man’s free will, and the extreme Calvinist is guilty of sacrificing man’s free will in order to uphold God’s complete sovereignty (Geisler 1999, 114).
DICHOTOMY AND THE FOURTH GOSPEL
When referring to the thoughts and ideas of these two poles in the Bible, it should not be said that one is more true than the other in any instance of Scripture, nor should it be claimed that one is more right than the other and should be the only accepted theological construct. In fact, while conversing about biblical thought on the plan of salvation, it is bad biblical theology to refer to “Calvinism in the Bible” or Arminianism for that matter. Why are we not able to do so? The answer is simple: the authors of the Bible never held understanding an understanding of Calvinism or Arminianism. These two particular theological constructs were developed hundreds of years after the canonical Bible was assembled. John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, for example, was not Calvinistic or Arminian because these two theological ideas did not exist during his time. John did not write from either of these perspectives and it is bad biblical theology to describe his writings through these terms. Instead, we must ask what his gospel says about the plan of salvation. The two extremes are guilty of trying to uphold one side as truth over the other by holding fast to the Scriptures which support their claims. The problem with this is that Scripture affirms both—not one over the other. One cannot accept a portion of Scripture as truth and discard all else which do not support it. And both extremes are guilty of Scripture twisting—the art of taking a portion of Scripture and molding it to fit one’s own theological idea or construct. When doing biblical theology, there is no room allotted for Scripture twisting. Only that which is evident may be taken from the Scriptures. In this case, the Fourth Gospel upholds and affirms the idea that the plan of salvation is twofold: on the one hand, God acts out of his divine sovereignty to choose his believers; on the other, man has to make a choice to respond. This twofold plan of salvation is a dichotomy. To understand salvation in its entirety, we must first understand what a dichtomy is by definition.
Webster’s College Dictionary defines dichotomy as a “Division into two parts or kinds;” a “subdivision into halves or pairs.” Dichotomy involves two equal parts to the whole. The American Heritage College Dictionary (4th ed.) defines it as a “Division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions.” We see, then, dichotomy is two equal parts which are at tension with each other in the whole. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) defines dichotomy the best. It shows that it comes from the Greek word, dichotomos, which means “cut in half, equally divided.” It is a “Division of a whole into two parts.” The Oxford English Dictionary notes that this word can have a general meaning or a specific meaning in logic. The first function indicates a “Division into two. Something divided into two or resulting from such a division; something paradoxical or ambivalent.” The latter function denotes “Division of a class or genus into two lower mutually exclusive classes or genera; binary classification.” Therefore, dichotomy is a division of a whole into two equal, paradoxical parts. In this respect, we can understand dichotomy to be two polls of equal truth in a subject or idea which stand in constant tension with each other.
The Old Testament contains this idea of dichotomy in wisdom theology. On the one hand, wisdom theology states that the righteous man will prosper; this is what the book of Proverbs is primarily about. On the other hand, the Old Testament also affirms in wisdom theology that the righteous man will suffer; this is what the book of Job is all about. Both statements are true, but they stand in great tension with each other. Yet, despite the tension, these two poles do not contradict. It is true that the righteous man will prosper, but it is equally true that the righteous man will suffer. Wisdom theology is not one-sided, but two. It is divided into two different paradoxical categories: prospering and suffering. For this reason, when reading either Proverbs or Job, they should always be understood in lieu of both sides in wisdom theology.
We also see dichotomy in Christology. On the one hand, Jesus is fully human. On the other, he is fully divine. The identity of Jesus is indeed a dichotomy—it is cut into two equal poles. The two poles to his identity are completely true in themselves, yet they stand in constant tension with each other. To understand who Jesus was and is, we must take into account not only his humanity but also his divinity. When we try to emphasize one over the other, we become heretics much like the extremists of Antioch or Alexandria. It is important to approach the identity of Jesus as a dichotomy, not ignoring his humanity for the sake of his divinity or vice versa. In the same way that wisdom theology and Christology is twofold, so also is salvation.
Salvation theology, then, is a dichotomy. In other words, it is built up of two equal poles—God’s sovereignty and man’s free will—which stand in constant tension with each other. Salvation is cut into two equal parts: election and free will. This is what we find in John. For John, salvation is predestination and free will, that is, salvation is God’s choosing and man’s accepting. To say that John tries to work out these two ideas of salvation systematically is simply not true. As Ladd puts it, “John makes no effort to reconcile systematically these sayings about divine predestination and moral responsibility” (1993, 313). In fact, in light of dichotomy and the two poles standing in constant tension with one another, John does not see any contradiction, and for him salvation simply is “the free decision of a person’s will and at the same time the gift of God’s grace” (Ladd 1993, 313). Bearing all of this in mind, we can now look into a few specific passages in the Fourth Gospel to see what this biblical book says about salvation theology. For the sake of simplicity and for best clarification, we will only look at a few passages that most clearly show this dichotomy, specifically from chapters 6, 8, 10 and 17. Before we dive into specific texts in John, we should take a look at his general understanding of salvation.
Salvation as Dichotomy in John
John uncovers in 1:18 that God has been revealed to the world through Jesus because he was the only human being who has seen God (Hamid-Khani 1997, 345). It is only in and through the incarnate Jesus Christ that God is encountered (Hamid-Khani 1997, 346). Therefore, the only way to God is Jesus Christ. God made himself accessible and knowable through his Son. Involved in this plan is God’s work and man’s. God must send his Son to the people and draw them to himself through his Son. Therefore, the Son was “a revelation of God” (Ryrie 1968, 336). Christ revealed truth and witnessed to the truth which liberates and sanctifies the believer (Ryrie 1968, 336-7). Yet, the people must be responsible for their faith (or lack thereof) and believe in Jesus, the only way to God. Jesus “calls people to himself and demands a response” (Hamid-Khani 1997, 350). Ryrie states, “Salvation, the work of the person, comes to man through faith in that One and what He did” (1968, 343). Jesus, the Savior of the world (4:42), “offers salvation to ‘everyone who believes’ (3:16)” (Köstenberger 1999, 40). And this Savior calls his “disciples ‘friends’ and enjoins them to acts of friendship,” for “friendship is one of the ways in which the revelation of God in Jesus is extended beyond the work of Jesus to the work of the disciples” (O’Day 2004, 148). Salvation involves friendship of Jesus with his disciples as well as friendship of disciples with one another. This is so the world might see the power of the revelation of Jesus in the disciples through their friendship with each other. Through such friendship, Christ reveals the Father to all those whom has been given him. John understands that, in Jesus, both election and free will are incorporated.
Both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are spoken of as part of the plan of salvation here in John 6, particularly vv. 39ff. In vv. 39 and 40, Jesus explains the plan of salvation (Michaels 1989, 112). In verse 39, Jesus speaks of the Father’s will for salvation, specifically relating to the idea of God’s sovereignty. By God’s sovereign grace, Jesus has been given the chosen ones whom he is to keep secure until the last day when he will raise them up. But this is only one side of the coin. Verse 40 goes on to show that the other part to the Father’s will for salvation is that man has the choice to believe in Christ or not, and for those who do, these are the ones who will be raised up on the last day. Michaels states it well: “The Father’s intent, realized through the Son, is a saving intent. Those who come to Jesus, those who see and believe [by the free will of man], are those the Father has given him [by His sovereignty]” (1989, 112). Ernst Haenchen says that “the Evangelist knows about the deep mystery touching the message of Jesus: no matter how persuasively and scintillatingly it is presented, it still seizes some while leaving others cold” (1984, 1: 292). Why this is true, we do not know, nor do we know why God has not given over all people into the hands of Jesus, but “the Evangelist does not know either. He can only determine that it is so and respect the inscrutable will of God” (Haenchen 1984, 1: 292). Furthermore, only those whom the Father draws can come to Christ (v. 44). “Draw” comes from the Greek word, helkô, meaning, “to draw a person in the direction of values for inner life … attract” (Bauer 2000, 318). No man can come to Christ unless God draws him in the direction of Christ for eternal life.
Jesus, being ever dependent upon the Lord, understands that the Father has given the elect to him (Haenchen 1984, 1: 292). John is seemingly attempting to emphasize God’s sovereignty in vv. 44 and 45. Jean Calvin notes that “it is a peculiar gift of God to embrace the doctrine which is exhibited by him” (1949, 256). It is truly by the grace of God that any man can accept the truth which exists in Jesus. Michaels notes that “All whom the Father gives Jesus will come to him, and no one can come unless ‘drawn’ to Jesus by the Father” (1989, 113). All those whom the Father has handed over to the Son will indeed come to know Christ. And those whom the Father gave to the Son are “drawn by hearing the Father’s voice and hearing from him. Though this ‘educational’ process has deep roots in divine election and in the individual conscience (cf. 3:20-21), only the free outward act of coming to Jesus in faith proves that a person has been thus taught by God (v. 45)” (Michaels 1989, 113). And in light of Jesus’ words, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (v. 45), Bultmann writes “the pa~j by itself [‘everyone’] indicates that everyone has the possibility of letting himself be drawn by the Father (and also the possibility of resisting)” (Haenchen 1984, 1: 293). However, Haenchen disagrees with Bultmann arguing that vv. 44 and 45 affirm the sovereignty of God and not man’s free will: “For the Evangelist the determination of eternal life and death does not lie with the decision of man, but with the decision of the Father, which lies beyond our conceptual powers” (1984, 1: 293). For John, man does have a responsibility to put faith in Christ. However, Bruce Milne notes that “God has claimed us from the beginning; the Son will raise us at the end; we belong to eternity” (1993, 112). In this chapter of the Fourth Gospel, John understands salvation as both God’s and man’s responsibility. He does not separate the two or uphold one over the other. For John, salvation simply is God’s choosing and man’s accepting.
John 8:34-36 affirms God’s sovereignty in the plan of salvation. The Son must set the person free from sin, and the person can do nothing about it. However, Jesus was not denying freedom of the will, but he was referencing his Messianic office and the role which he played in the plan of salvation (Ridderbos 1997, 310). Only those who are Christ’s will be freed from the bondage of sin. And again, v. 47 affirms that God owns his own, and only those who belong to God can hear his voice. However, as Ridderbos understands it, “To be ‘of God,’ that is, to be ‘born’ of God, to be born ‘from above’ (1:13; 3:3), is to hear, understand, and believe the words that God has spoken in this world. Therefore, despite all the words extended to them, Jesus’ disputants do not ‘hear’ because they are not of God” (1997, 317). Indeed, only the children of God will listen to him; those who do not listen to God listen to the devil, their true father (Beasley-Murray 1991, 136). God, therefore, calls to his children, the elect, and only his children will listen to his call. Furthermore, the same chapter affirms man’s responsibility and free will in faith. Jesus says that if one does not believe then that one will die in sin (v. 24). The converse is assumed, that “if they do believe, they will find what they seek” (Beasley-Murray 1991, 130). Believing, here, refers to the person who accepts Christ’s disclosures without doubt (Bauer 2000, 816). Furthermore, the one who keeps Jesus’ words, this one will be saved and not see death (v. 51). In other words, he who believes in the words of Christ, holds on to it unwaveringly, carries them out, and lives by them, he is the one who receives eternal life (Beasley-Murray 1991, 137). In this portion of chapter 8, Jesus affirms that man must assume responsibility for his faith, whether he believes or whether he disbelieves. At this point in the Fourth Gospel, John notes Jesus’ understanding of the plan of salvation. Salvation is one part his responsibility, but it is also one part man’s responsibility. In other words, God bears a certain responsibility through his Son. Jesus has the responsibility to reveal to the elect the one true God through his words (Moloney 1998, 285). Yet, everlasting life “flows from keeping the word of Jesus, holding on to it, carrying out its demands, and thus living by it (v. 51)” (Moloney 1998, 283). God reveals himself through his Son to the elect. Therefore, salvation in John is both election and free will, for God bears the responsibility of revelation, Christ the responsibility to gather together God’s chosen ones, and man the responsibility to respond to Jesus’ word.
Jesus knew his responsibility while here on earth. God sent him to hold his chosen ones in a secure fashion, so as to never lose them and perish (v. 29). Jesus said that the Father gave his chosen ones to him. Thus, “The sheep cannot be snatched away from Jesus because the life the believer receives from attachment to Jesus is a gift of the Father” (Moloney 1998, 315). And God’s election by grace of his chosen ones whom he handed over to Christ is salvation. Yet, Jesus affirms in the same discourse that whoever enters through him shall be saved (v. 9). It is only through Jesus that man can have access to God and vice versa (Moloney 1998, 303). Therefore, “Jesus is the mediator who will provide what the sheep need for life” (Moloney 1998, 303). However, the sheep must place itself under the protection of Jesus by choosing to enter through the gate (Ridderbos 1997, 358). We see, then, that man does not provide life, Jesus does. It is Jesus’ work that saves the world and not man’s. Yet, one must make the conscious choice to enter into fellowship with God through Jesus. And to these that enter through him, Jesus gives eternal life and eternal security (v. 28). The one who enters through Jesus must do so on Christ’s terms; he must respond, but he must respond in the way Christ deems appropriate (Moloney 1998, 315). In chapter 10, the plan of salvation is both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will: God, out of his divine sovereignty, hands over his elect to Christ who guards them with his life, but man also is responsible to walk through the gate called “Jesus Christ” in order to be guarded eternally. In the Gospel of John, salvation is God’s sovereign election but it is also man’s choice to believe and partake in Christ.
It is clear in this chapter that God has given Jesus sovereign authority over all people, but Jesus only gives eternal life to those whom God has given him (v. 2). Jesus understands that he is not the governor of the whole world, but only of those whom God has given him (Calvin 1949, 2: 165). Only the elect belong to Christ’s flock (Calvin 1949, 2: 165). Christ is extended to all men, but he “brings salvation to none but the elect, who with voluntary obedience follow the voice of the Shepherd” (Calvin 1949, 2: 165-6). Ergo, salvation is in part Christ’s obedience to the Father and man’s obedience to Christ. And Jesus points the elect toward the Father (v. 6). The Greek verb here, phaneroô, “often appears in connection with a divine manifestation or revelation. It is telling that Jesus describes his work as revealing, manifesting, or making known the name of God” (Smith 1999, 311). The verb is defined as “to cause to become known, disclose, show, make known” (Bauer 2000, 1048). It is used, here, in reference to things, and in this case, Jesus’ teaching which “is accompanied by a revelation that comes through a deed” (Bauer 2000, 1048). Christ’s role, then, is to cause God to become known to the people, to disclose God, to show God, to make God known, and he does so through his teachings and actions.
Jesus also prays for the elect but not for the unbelieving world (v. 9). This is because the world is not Christ’s but God’s (Smith 1999, 312). What belongs to Jesus is only that which has been given to him by God out of the world. These few verses demonstrate God’s sovereignty in salvation, that Christ reveals the Father to the chosen ones of God, he gives them eternal life, and he prays for them. Only those who are chosen by God receive these things. However, Christ prays for all those who will believe when they hear the gospel being preached by his disciples, by God’s chosen ones (v. 20). This prayer is Jesus’ explicit hope for the post resurrection church (Smith 1999, 316). The church, then, is to be a missionary community (Haenchen 1984, 2: 155). Jesus did not pray for the world but for the faith of the believers to spread throughout the world; therefore, as people are coming to faith all over the world, it will believe that God sent Jesus (Haenchen 1984, 2: 159). In this chapter as well as in the rest of the Fourth Gospel, John understands salvation as two equal parts: God’s sovereign election and man’s free choice. Those who are chosen by God receive salvation, direction, and prayer from Christ. Yet, man has the ability to choose to accept or reject Christ.
It is absolutely vital that when we approach the Bible concerning salvation that we let Scripture speak out to us and not force our own theological constructs, thoughts and ideas on the Holy Word. Nor should we choose one side over the other either, for that is not good biblical theology. Scripture affirms both, whether we can explain how it works or not. The Gospel of John proves that the plan of salvation is not solely God’s election, nor is it solely man’s free choice of the will. Salvation is equally both. It is a dichotomy. God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are both equal in salvation even though they stand in constant tension with each other. Each part to salvation must always be read in light of the other. And, especially when reading about salvation in general, both sides should be kept in mind at all times. In doing so, we will have a more accurate view of the entire picture of salvation. It is not that they contradict by any means, but it is that they seemingly bash heads and because our finite minds are incapable of knowing how this works, we tend to choose sides. Sometimes people take the Calvinist side and discard the Arminian view or vice versa. Both sets of people are in error according to biblical theology, because salvation involves both. John makes it quite clear that the plan of salvation is both God’s responsibility and man’s responsibility, for God elects but man must also accept. Do not emphasize one over the other, for they are both equal co-workers of salvation. When we seek to emphasize one over the other, we become unfaithful to what Scripture affirms.
The fact is that God has a perfect will in store, yet part of that will is for man to have his own free choice of the will. God’s will is for all men to come to him through his Son, but it is equally his will for man to have a choice. The Bible speaks for itself: salvation is both predestination and free will. We need not understand it. We need only accept it and understand that God works in mysterious ways.
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