There is a great debate amongst Christian theologians that has existed for many years. It is the debate between free will and election. It is the debate between whosoever will and God’s sovereignty. On one side of the debate you have those who call themselves reformed or better known as Calvinist. On the other side of the debate you have those who are either Arminian or Traditionalist. There are those who side heavily with the Calvinist view and there are those who side heavily with the Arminian view. There are also those who find themselves on neither side of the extremes of Calvinism or Arminianism, and these are who we call traditionalist. In tackling these issues, it is important to make it clear where I stand on the very onset of this discussion. I am one who is more aligned with the traditionalist point of view. When it comes to being a Southern Baptist, you may say that I am a traditional Southern Baptist. Unfortunately, Calvinism is starting to take a foothold in the SBC and it must be dealt with before it is too late. As a traditionalist, there may be elements of both Arminianism and Calvinism that I would agree with. The main point of Arminianism that I would strongly disagree with is the idea that one can lose his salvation. However, when it comes to Calvinism, there are many points on which I would disagree.
Our text in John 6 is one of those difficult passages of scripture that sparks this great theological debate. However, the key to dealing with any difficult passage is to consider the context of the passage in relation to the whole of scripture and to compare or interpret scripture with scripture. Before we dive into this passage, I believe it is necessary to give a basic overview of the belief of Calvinism so that we can understand how some would approach this passage and how we then should examine the text in light of the entire counsel of God’s Word.
Let me begin by stating that not all Calvinist agree on every detail of doctrine. I, not being a Calvinist, may not be able to fully represent the Calvinist point of view, but I can give you a basic overview of what the Calvinist believes. The Calvinistic doctrine is summarized in the famous T.U.L.I.P acronym. The basic points of this doctrine are as follows:
Total Depravity. This is one point of Calvinism that, as a traditionalist, I would agree with. However, I do not agree with the way in which a Calvinist defines Total Depravity. Total Depravity is the idea that mankind is completely and totally sinful. We are depraved. Every part of man is infected with sin. There is no good in us at all. There is none who are righteous. This is certainly a Biblical view. However, most Calvinist would say that man is totally depraved in that he has no ability to choose. In other words, man is so blind and influenced by sin that it is impossible for man to come to Jesus for salvation. Many who are Calvinist believe that man does not have a free will at all, that free will was lost at the fall.
Unconditional Election. Calvinist believe that God chooses certain people for salvation no matter who they are and how sinful they may be. It is only those whom God chooses that are saved and given eternal life. Hidden in the idea of unconditional election is the belief that since God chooses only certain people for salvation, then God chooses certain people for hell. Basically, the belief is that there is nothing you and I can do, we are either chosen or not.
Limited Atonement. Limited Atonement means that Jesus died only for the elect. In other words, the blood of Jesus does not pay for the sins of the whole world, it only pays for the sins of those whom God has chosen.
Irresistible Grace. The thought here is that because God chooses who will be saved and who will not, then those who are given the grace of God cannot reject it. In other words, if you are chosen by God, you will be saved whether you want to or not. I had a Calvinist friend explain it to me this way: The Holy Spirit indwells a person first, revealing God’s grace in such a beautiful way that it is impossible for them to resist.
Perseverance of the Saints. This last point of Calvinism is one that as a traditionalist, I would agree with. However, I do not agree with the Calvinist distortion of this truth. I firmly believe that the Bible teaches eternal security. Once you accepted God’s gift of grace by faith in the Lord Jesus, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and nothing or no one can take your salvation away. However, the Calvinist would say that those whom God has chosen will persevere. The proof that someone has been chosen by God is seen in holy living that perseveres through this life. Sadly, I have seen many Calvinist who live miserable lives trying to live holy in order to prove to themselves and others that they are one of the chosen.
The problem I have with Calvinism is that it appears that they state their doctrine and then try to make the scripture fit with what they believe. They will go to great lengths to explain a small number of Bible passages in ways that will fit their point of you, rather than taking the whole counsel of God’s Word into consideration.
In our text here in John six we see two basic truths: whosever will and the will or sovereignty of God.
Whosoever will. In Jesus’ discourse with those who followed Him to Capernaum, He shared with them that He is the bread of life. He explains to them in verses 35, 47, 51, 54, and 56 that anyone who comes to Him and believes on Him will have eternal life. For the sake of proper Biblical interpretation, we must compare these verses with other passages in the Bible. These verses are just a few of the passages in the Bible that states that whosoever will can be saved. In other words, whoever wants eternal life can have it if they believe on Jesus, not just a limited number of people that are chosen by God. Consider the following passages: John 3:15, 16, 18, and 36 ; John 4:14 ; Romans 10:9-10, 13. Consider also Acts 2:41. Those who received the Word were saved. It does not say that those who are chosen are saved, rather, those who receive and believe. There are many other passages we can look at, but those we just considered will suffice. You may say, well, what about predestination? This is something to look at more deeply another time, however, it must be understood that in every place the term predestined is used in scripture, it is referring to believers who are predestined unto certain things. Nowhere in scripture do we find where an unbeliever is predestined to become a believer. The same is true with the term election or the elect. In the context of every passage that speaks concerning the elect or election it is always in reference to believers, not unbelievers. Election and predestination has nothing to do with salvation, however, it has everything to do with the believer’s relationship with God. The point here to emphasize is that ‘whosever calls on the name of the Lord, shall be saved’. If you are breathing, if you exist, you can, if you so choose to, come to Jesus and be saved. The love of God is not limited. The blood of Jesus is not confined. The penalty of sin has been paid in full for all sin. All those who come to Jesus, repenting and believing can have that payment applied to their account and by the grace of God be given eternal life.
The Will of God. As we continue to examine this passage, we also see the issue concerning the will of God or the sovereignty of God. The difficult statements by Jesus are seen in verses: 37-40, 44, and 66. The Calvinist will take these verses to point to their belief in unconditional election, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints. We must confess that on the onset, it is very difficult for even the greatest theological minds to refute the Calvinist view here. However, as we do with any difficult passage of scripture, we must consider the context and interpret scripture with scripture. There are those who may argue that I do not believe in the sovereignty of God. This cannot be any further from the truth. I strongly believe in the sovereignty of God, perhaps even more so than the Calvinist. The truth is very clear in scripture that God is sovereign over all things and He is omniscient and omnipresent. God knows all things past, present, and future. Does God know those who will eventually come to faith and those who will not? Absolutely. He knows everything. Does God know those who are and will be predestined unto adoption and to conformity to the image of Christ (Eph. 1:5 ; Romans 8:29)? Absolutely. Does God know those who are and will be a part of His elect, the church? Absolutely. Does God have a sovereign plan for this world and for your life? Absolutely. All of these things are true and Biblical. What we see in this passage is the it is within the sovereign plan of God to accept all those who come to Jesus by faith and thus give them to Jesus to be adopted into the family of God. It is only those whom God gives to Jesus that are saved. Who are those whom God gives to Jesus? It is those who by faith believe on the Lord Jesus. Does God know ahead of time, who these people are? Of course He does, He is God. However, He does not force anyone to believe. It is only those who repent and believe that are given to Jesus. It is only those who repent and believe that are a part of God’s elected people, the church. The scripture also mentions that it is the will of God that whosoever comes to Jesus and believes will have eternal life. It is also the will God that everyone believes as stated in 2 Peter 3:9. However, not all are obedient to God’s will. Some will refuse to believe. This refusal to believe is not forced by God because God did not choose them. When someone refuses to believe they do so by their own choosing. Our text also states that it is only those who are drawn by the Father that can be saved. This is also very true and undeniable. God is at work in this world through the work of the Holy Spirit and the church to draw all people to Jesus. However, not all who are drawn will believe. Not all who are called to salvation will answer that call and be saved. The truth is that it is the will of God that everyone be saved. However, not all will obey God’s will and believe. It is the will of God that all who do believe are given to Jesus, thus adopted into the family of God. It is the will of God that all who do believe will have eternal life.
You may not agree with my views, and that’s okay. You may believe as the Calvinist do and that God chooses some to be saved and some not to be saved. You may not believe, as I do, that it is within the will of God for everyone to repent and believe. However, no matter where you stand on the issue, the fact remains that within the sovereign grace of God, a choice must be made. You still have the responsibility to say yes or no. If you do say yes and you do repent and believe, then God will not reject you. He will accept you in all your depravity and will save you from the penalty of sin and give you eternal life. I encourage you to come to Jesus and live.