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Finally, we have here below the last installment on the series of Ten Questions on Election by Pastor John Samson. 2 Peter 3:9 is one verse that has been commonly misunderstood because it is normally quoted out of its context.  This article explains this briefly and clearly. When all is said and done, I sincerely hope that after going through questions 1 to 10, a clearer understanding of election – a biblical doctrine – has been achieved. God bless you all!

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Question #10:  If Election is true, can you explain 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance?

Without doubt, this is the single most popular verse used to dismiss the biblical doctrine of election, bar none. We usually assume the meaning of the verse without taking time to study it, which is the very hallmark of tradition.  In fact, traditions are so strong that many do not even feel the need to study the verse in context because they believe there is no need to do so. I have to admit that I did this for many years. Those most enslaved to tradition are those who think they do not have any.  First of all then, let us read the verse in its context.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:1-9)

The first thing we notice is that the subject of the passage is not salvation but the second coming of Christ. Peter is explaining the reason for the delay in Christ’s second coming  He is still coming, and will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (v. 10).

The second thing to notice is the clear identity of the people he is addressing. He speaks of the mockers as “them”, but everywhere else he speaks to his audience as “you” and the “beloved.” This is very important because the assumption that is usually made is that the “you” the “any” and the “all” of 2 Peter 3:9 refers to everyone on the planet.

But surely “all” means “all,” right? Well usually, yes, but not always. This has to be determined by the context in which the words are found. For example, if a teacher asks his class of students, “Are all here?” he is not asking if everyone on the planet is present in the room, but rather he is referring to all the students enrolled in the class.

So, the question in 2 Peter 3:9 is whether “all” refers to all human beings without distinction, or whether it refers to everyone within a certain group. The context indicates that Peter is writing to a specific group and not to all of mankind  “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours” 2 Peter 1:1. The audience is confirmed when Peter writes, “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.” (2 Peter 3:1)

Can we be even more specific? Yes, because if this is the second letter addressed to them, the first makes it clear who he is writing to. 1 Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect” So Peter is writing to the elect in 2 Peter 3:8, 9, saying:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

If the “any” or “all” here refers to everyone in human history, the verse would prove universalism rather than Christianity. (Universalism is the false doctrine that teaches that everyone will in the end be saved, with no one going to hell). If God is not willing that any person perish, then what? No one would ever perish! Yet, in context, the “any” that God wills not to perish must be limited to the same group he is writing to, the elect, and the “all” that are to come to repentance is the very same group. Christ’s second coming has been delayed so that all the elect can be gathered in. God is not willing that any of the elect should perish, but that all of them come to repentance. Rather than denying election, the verse, understood in its biblical context, is one of the strongest verses in favor of it.

 

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Here’s another installment of Pastor John Samson’s Ten Questions on Election – Q#9. As this question will be on every person’s mind confronted with the issue of election, the answer is not found on human philosphy or assumptions but on the very Scripture of God in the epistle to the Romans and partly in the Old Testament books of Malachi and Exodus. 

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Question # 9: When all is said and done, isn’t Divine election unfair?

To answer this, let’s go to Romans chapter 9, where the Apostle Paul is dealing with the issue of God’s Sovereign Grace in election. Obviously, Romans 9 follows on from Romans 8, and in the latter part of Romans 8, Paul is stating the fact that nothing and no one can separate the true believer from the love of Christ. But this raises a huge question; namely, why is it that not all Jews, the chosen people, have recognized their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ? How can nothing separate God’s people from the love of Christ and many of the Jews be separated from it? That’s exactly the question Paul is seeking to answer in Romans 9.

 There are no chapter and verse divisions in the original Greek text, and actually, Paul starts talking about predestination and election in Romans 8. So let’s start at Romans 8:28 reading through to chapter 9 so we can establish the context for Paul’s argument.

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For 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; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
 
In what theologians refer to as “The Golden Chain of Redemption,” God is revealing to us an unbreakable chain that starts in eternity past, goes through time, and on into eternity future. This chain is forged by God Himself, and has five unbreakable links: God foreknows, predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifyies.
 
Notice that there is one ambiguity in the text; something that is not actually stated but is definitely implied – that being the word “all.” Let’s see this clearly by inserting another possible implication by way of contrast, the word “some.”
 
“For (some) whom He foreknew, He predestined; (some) He predestined, He called; (some) He called, He justified; and (some) He justified, were glorified.” What kind of comfort and security would that give to us? Would we be able to say “who can separate us from the love of Christ?”
 
I think our answer would have to be, many things could separate us (if the intended implication was the word “some” in this passage). It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and certainly would not give us any kind of security in Christ, the very thing Paul is seeking to do in this passage.
 
I believe 100 out of 100 Bible scholars would all agree that the implication of the text is that all He foreknew, He predestined; all He predestined, He called; all He called, He justified; and all He justified, He glorified.
 
When I realized this, in my studies, I began to see a key word in this text that opened up much to me. That is the word “called.” Why?
 
Because the text says “these whom He called, He also justified.” All of the called are justified. At first, this puzzled me because I knew both by Scripture and experience that not everyone who received the call of the Gospel were justified, because not all believe the Gospel when they hear it.
 
So how are we to understand this word “called”?
 
The answer can be found in a distinction made by theologians for centuries. They have long distinguished between the outward and the inward call.
 
There is the outward call of the Gospel, which while heard by the ears, can be rejected. Yet there is a second calling, an inward call (usually taking place when the outward call is made), whereby God, the Holy Spirit, calls His people to Himself effectually by working a miracle in their hearts, bringing them from spiritual death to life. I believe we can understand this passage as referring to the inward call here, for the text speaks of a call that always results in justification. Remember again what we’ve just read, “these whom He called, He also justified.”
 
To give you a mental picture: it would be likened to Lazarus while dead and in the tomb. Jesus cried out, “Lazarus come forth” and as we know, it was an effectual call, as it awakened Lazarus from physical death. Jesus didn’t merely invite Lazarus out from the grave, or suggest the benefits of doing so, waiting for Lazarus’ decision on the matter before He proceeded. No, it was gracious in the extreme for Jesus to call Lazarus from the dead. It was entirey an act of Divine mercy as well as Divine power.  So powerful was this call, in fact, that there was no way that Lazarus would not be raised. If Jesus had not specifically named “Lazarus,” perhaps all in the tombs would have come forth with Lazarus. More could be said, of course, but let’s read on:
 
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;  ” (Romans 8:31 – 9:6)

God’s word has not failed in any way because God’s promises always hold true for the true Israel. However, not all of what we see as ethnic Israel is the true Israel, according to God. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” God’s saving promises are made only to the true Israel; and Paul is declaring that these promises have never failed.


nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” (Romans 9:7)
 
Paul makes a distinction between two kinds of “children.”  There is the group known as Abraham’s descendants, and there is a narrower group in that number whom he calls “the children,” or we could call them, “the true children,” since the others are also physical children. Paul then goes on to explain: 
8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,” (Romans 9:8-11)
 
Before either son was born, God chose one and not the other. This was not because of anything done by either one, or with a view to the future actions of either one. It (the choice) was “not because of works.” The “works” of either Jacob or Esau had absolutely no part to play in God’s decision to choose one and not the other.
 
So what was the reason or deciding factor, if it was not to be found in either Jacob or Esau?
 
Hear the Bible’s clear answer to this question …. “because of Him who calls.” The choice was not based on anything done by Jacob or Esau, but entirely on God’s electing call, and nothing else!

12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” (Romans 9:12-13)
 
To quote Dr. John Piper in his comments on these verses, “After saying in verse 11 that God determines the destiny of Jacob and Esau before they were born or had done anything good or bad, he supports this with a quote from the Old Testament. “Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” [Malachi 1:2-3]
 
What did Paul see in this quote from Malachi that made it right for him to use it in this way to support the unconditional election of Jacob over Esau? Let’s go read it in context. What we will see is that Malachi’s way of arguing is exactly like Paul’s. Malachi 1 declares: 
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” [Then God answers]”Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” (Malachi 1:1-3)
 
Do you see how God is arguing for his love for Jacob?
 
They say, “How have you loved us?” And He answers, “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?”
 
In other words, “Didn’t Esau have as much right to be chosen as you? Wasn’t he the son of Isaac? Wasn’t he a twin in the same womb with you? Wasn’t he even your elder brother? Nevertheless, I chose you.” The whole point of that question, “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” is exactly the same point Paul is making here.
 
Paul saw it in Genesis. And he saw it in Malachi. Jacob and Esau had an equal claim on God’s choosing, namely, no claim. And God chose Jacob unconditionally. That is the meaning of “Jacob I loved.” In fact, we will never understand or experience the fullness of God’s love until we grasp what it means to be chosen freely by God on the basis of nothing in us.”
 
What should amaze us is not that God hated Esau, for he was a sinner by nature like the rest of us, fully deserving God’s wrath and justice. What should shock us to the core is the fact that God for no reason in Jacob, set His love on Jacob.
 
Jacob was not in any way more deserving of God’s love than Esau. So why was Jacob loved and Esau not… at least not in the same way or to the same extent? Verse 11 has already told us the answer to that, ” so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
 
What about God’s hatred of Esau? How are we to understand this “hatred?”
 
Again, let me quote Dr. Piper, “I think we should put aside all speculations here and get the meaning strictly from the context in Malachi and Romans 9. Let’s read Malachi 1:3-4,

3 “But I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom [i.e., Esau] says, ‘We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins;’ thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.'” (Malachi 1:3-4)
 
Verse 4 points to two ways of understanding God’s hatred.
 
The first meaning is seen in the word “wicked.” Near the end of verse 4 God says,
 
“Men will call them the wicked territory.” “I have hated Esau . . . I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory.”
 
In other words, God gives them up to wickedness. This is important in view of what we said earlier about the conditionality of God’s final judgment. God does not bring judgments on an innocent Esau or Edom.
 
Edom was judged as wicked. When God passed over Esau and chose Jacob before they were born, there was no decree that an innocent Esau would be judged. Rather what God decreed was to pass Esau by, to withhold His electing love, and to give him up to wickedness. And as Esau acted in wickedness, he was accountable for that wickedness and deserved the indignation and judgment of God.
 
Which leads to the second meaning of God’s hatred. At the end of verse 4: 
4 “And men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant [or angry] forever.'” (Malachi 1:4)
 
In a sense you might say there is a passive and an active side of God’s hate. Passively, He withholds electing love from Esau and gives it only to Jacob, and hands Esau over to wickedness – a wickedness for which he is really accountable and blameworthy. Then actively, God is angry with this wickedness forever. And if Esau is finally condemned, he will not be able to say “I do not deserve condemnation.” His own sins will shut his mouth, and his own conscience will condemn him. And Jacob on the other side will tremble with fear and wonder that he was chosen to believe and be saved.”
 
As we continue in the text of Romans 9 we see that Paul then anticipates the response of an imaginary objector: namely, that God’s choice to have mercy on some but not on all, but for the rest to receive His justice, is unfair or unjust.
 
Paul raises this as an anticipated response from someone taking exception to what Paul was writing. In all probability, this was not the first time he had taught on this theme, and therefore, he would know all too well the objections that would usually be raised to his teaching. He says, in so many words, “I know exactly what you’re going to say in response to this. You’re going to say that this election idea is just not fair, for God is obligated to show the same kind of mercy to everyone or else He is not being fair. Right?”
 
Many today believe this exact same objection to be true, but it is important to point out that those who believe Divine Election to be unfair, believe something the Apostle Paul raised as a possible objection to his own teaching. There is absolutely no doubt that the Apostle Paul would not be counted amongst those who thought it unfair of God to choose some but not all for salvation. In fact, he couldn’t have been more clear as to where he stood on this issue.
 
This should at least make us stop in our tracks. How can we accuse God of being unfair in this doctrine of election, when the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that there is absolutely no injustice on God’s part to show mercy to whom He will? If God is the author of Scripture, which I believe He is, then it is God Himself, through Paul, who is flatly denying any alleged injustice on His part!
 
Mercy can never be demanded. If mercy can be demanded, then we’re no longer talking about mercy. Mercy is always given at the discretion of the one showing mercy; for if this is not the case, we would be talking about justice and not mercy.
 
For example, if a Governor pardons one criminal on death row, it doesn’t mean he has to pardon every criminal on death row. Showing mercy to someone is not unjust, nor unfair, and neither is showing justice to others. It is never unjust to be just. There is no crime committed when a Judge dispenses justice; and likewise when a Judge shows mercy.
 
Let’s continue with Paul’s argument then….
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! (Romans 9:14)
 
Regarding this issue of election, of God choosing one and not another, the Apostle denies in very clear and emphatic language that there is unrighteousness or unfairness in God. There is no injustice in God, and lets remember, there was no righteousness in us, which would require God to be gracious to us. As Paul writes elsewhere, predestination and election occurs “according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” (Eph. 1:5, 6) Mercy is always given at the discretion of the one showing mercy. God reserves the right to dispense His mercy as He sees fit, to the person or persons He chooses.

15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” (Romans 9:15)
 
Then notice verse 16, where Paul starts with the words, “So then…” These are key words to help us as readers to know that Paul is summing up his teaching here, and saying, in so many words, “on the basis of what I have made clear, I am now giving you my conclusion.” What is Paul’s conclusion?
 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Dr. James White has commented, “After introducing the freedom of God to act outside of man’s merits or deserts in regard to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), Paul allows the “imaginary objector,” who sounds oh so much like your average “free will is the answer to all things” evangelical, to speak: “What then shall we say? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Whenever God’s freedom is asserted men cry out “Unjust! Unfair!” Paul’s response must be understood within the context of the passage itself. 9:15 is explaining why there is no unrighteousness in God when He exercises the kind of sovereign freedom He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. He draws from Exodus 33:19 as a second example of His freedom drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be remembered that 9:16 provides us with the apostolic interpretation of 9:15; interpretations ignoring this will, by so doing, convict themselves of their eisegetical nature.”

 
I don’t know how Paul could have been more clear here. This is, perhaps, the chief passage on the subject of election in the New Testament (along with perhaps John 6:37-45, and Ephesians 1:3-14). Paul concludes by stressing that election does not depend on the will of man, or the efforts or exertion of man in any way, but on God alone who has mercy. This conclusion should end all arguments on the subject, don’t you think?
 
So, in conclusion, what is the deciding factor in election?
 
Is it the will of man? Paul says “no, it does not depend on the will of man.”
 
Is it the efforts of man? Again, Paul denies that this is a factor.
 
So Paul, what is the deciding factor? Paul’s answer is clear, it is “God who has mercy.”
 
James White adds a further commentary at this point: “Paul is ready with an Old Testament example to buttress his arguments: Exodus 33. This tremendous passage contains themes which find their full expression only in the New Testaments full revelation of the doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace. God showed mercy and compassion to Moses, choosing to reveal His glory as an act of grace. We must understand, in light of the prevailing attitude of the world around us, that Gods mercy, if it is to be mercy at all, must be free. Literally the text speaks of mercying and compassioning, again verbs of action which find their subject in God and their object in those chosen by His decision. It does not say, “I will have mercy on those who fulfill the conditions I have laid down as the prerequisite of my plan of salvation!” Both the source of compassion and mercy and the individual application find their ultimate ground only in the free choice of God, not of man. This divine truth, so offensive to the natural man, could not find a clearer proclamation than Romans 9:16. We truly must ask, if this passage does not deny to the will of man the all-powerful position of final say in whether the entire work of the Triune God in salvation will succeed or fail, what passage possibly could? What stronger terms could be employed? The verse begins, “so then,” drawing from the assertion of God that mercy and compassion are His to freely give. Next comes the negative particle, “not,” which negates everything that follows in the clause. Two human activities are listed: willing and literally “running,” or striving. Human choice and human action. Paul puts it bluntly: it is not “of the one willing” nor is it “of the one running.” Paul uses two singular present active participles. The fact that they are singular shows us again the personal nature of the passage. The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to “nations” cannot begin to explain how nations “will” or “run.” In contrast to these Paul uses a present active participle to describe Gods act of “mercying,” showing mercy. Man may strive through his will and his endeavors, but God must show mercy.”  (The Potter’s Freedom)
 
Let’s then read Paul’s conclusion again in verse 16 and read on through to verse 24, and I think you will agree with me, that Paul does not back down for one minute on the issue. Without any apology at all, he writes that to question God in this matter is unparalleled arrogance. He writes:
16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Romans 9:16-19)
 
Again, Paul anticipates the objection that would be raised to his line of reasoning, namely that God is finding fault. How can God find fault with the non-elect, when, if all that Paul writes is true, then the non-elect are not responsible for their unbelief, God is. Why? Because both the elect and the non-elect are doing only that which is God’s will. And here is the kicker: They cannot resist God’s will!
 
This seems, at first glance at least, to be a strong argument against Paul’s teaching. Its also the one raised in our own day to this exact teaching.
 
Lets keep in mind that Paul brings up this objection, knowing that it would be voiced by those who would not embrace Paul’s apostolic message here in Romans 9. What we should not do, if we want to understand and believe the Scriptures, is to agree with this objection, and make it our own. Paul only raises the objection to dismantle, destroy and annihilate it, with apostolic authority, once and for all!
 
“The example of Pharaoh was well known to any person familiar with the Old Testament. God destroyed the Egyptian nation by plagues so as to demonstrate His might and power in the earth, and key to this demonstration was the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Before Moses had met with Pharaoh the first time God told him: When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)

It was God’s intention to bring His wrath upon the Egyptians. God’s actions were not “forced” by the stubborn will of the Egyptian leader. God said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he did. Listen to the impudent response of this pagan idolater to the command of Moses:
And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)
Is this not what God said he would do? Will someone suggest that Pharaoh’s heart is “soft” here? No indeed, and Moses well knew that God was behind this for when the Pharaoh then increased the work load of the Israelites, Moses complained to God in Exodus 5:22. Why complain to God if, in fact, God had nothing to do with it and it was all just a matter of the Pharaoh’s “free will choice”?
 

This provides the background of Paul’s citation of Exodus 9:16. The portion of truth that here stings the pride of man is this: it is more important that God’s name be magnified and His power made known than it is any single man get to “do his own thing.” Pharaoh was surely never forced to do anything sinful (indeed, God probably kept him from committing many a sinful deed). He acted on the desires of his wicked heart at all times. But he is but a pot, a creature, not the Potter. He was formed and made and brought into existence to serve the Potter’s purposes, not his own. He is but a servant, one chosen, in fact, for destruction in the waters of the sea. His destruction, and the process which led up to it (including all the plagues upon Egypt), were part of God’s plan. There is simply no other way to understand these words.
 
Paul then combines the fact that God showed undeserved compassion and mercy to Moses (Exodus 33) with God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 5) and concludes that whether one is “mercied” or “hardened” is completely, inalterably, and utterly up to God. The verbs here are active: God performs these actions. He “mercies” whom He wills and he hardens whom He wills. The parallel between mercy and hardening is inarguable. We may like the mercying part more than the hardening, but they are both equally a part of the same truth. Reject one and you reject them both. There is no such thing as preaching God’s mercy without preaching God’s judgment, at least according to Scripture.” (James White – The Potter’s Freedom)
 
How exactly does God ‘harden’ a human heart?
 
Well there two possible answers. One is to actively put evil into the heart of man – which I do not believe to be true of God biblically. The second, and I believe scriptural view is that in some people’s cases, God withholds mercy, (let’s always remember mercy by definition can never be demanded) and leaves them to the stubbornness of their own (hostile to God) nature. God doesn’t need to actively put evil in a human heart, to harden it – He can just withold mercy and leave us to our own evil desires. The worst thing God can do for us while we are in a state of spiritual deadness is to leave us in the hands of our boasted free will.
 
God holds people responsible for something they cannot do, which is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ by their own power and will! (v. 16) In this case, they cannot resist His will, but yet they are still at fault. Still the pot screams, “THAT’S NOT FAIR, GOD!”
 
Today, the vast majority of Christians hold the unbiblical belief that God does not hold us responsible for things we cannot do. Why do they hold to this idea? Because they believe the alternative is not fair.
 
What is Paul’s answer to this?
 
Well lets read it in the next verse: 
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20) 
 
Paul’s answer is to point out that God is God, and man is man, and man has no business telling God what to do with His creation.

21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:21) 
 
The implication in Paul’s question here is that yes, indeed, God as the Potter has every right to make what He likes from the clay. Though man will shout loud and long about what seems to be man’s lack of freedom in all this, God’s answer is to shout back, “What about My freedom as the Potter?” In Romans 9, Paul contends for the Potter’s freedom to have mercy on whom He will.

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
 
Though these words are phrased as a question, it is obvious that these words are indeed Paul’s continued answer to the claim that this idea of election is unfair.
 
Paul refers to “vessels of wrath” which were created for the purpose of destruction!
 
When seeing these words we immediately think that we have misunderstood them, for surely they can’t mean what they appear to say…. or can they?
 
Actually, if we hold to the inspiration of the Scripture, we have to submit to its teaching as God breathed revelation, and here Paul says that there are some, (obviously the non-elect) who were created for the purpose of destruction. These “vessels of wrath” are created for this purpose, and yet remember, as we follow Paul’s thinking here, God still finds fault with them.
 
How can this be? Well, the fact that mankind will not come to Christ without God’s intervention is not due to a physical handicap that man has, but rather to a moral inclination, to avoid submitting to God and His ways at all costs. (Rom 3:11; 8:7-8) Man cannot come because he will not come. As Jesus declares in John 6:44, “No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The only ones who can come are those drawn by the Father, and all that are drawn in this way are raised up to eternal life. God will have His way with His creation, and He has every right to rule in this way. He is God!
 
“Why are there vessels prepared for destruction? Because God is free. Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all vessels are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all vessels are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potter who decides which are which. Why is there no fourth option, one in which the pots prepare themselves based upon their own choice? Because pots don’t have such a capacity! Pots are pots! Since God wishes to make known the riches of his grace to His elect people (the vessels prepared of mercy), there must be vessels prepared for destruction. There is no demonstration of mercy and grace where there is no justice. The vessels of wrath, remember, like being vessels of wrath, would never choose to be anything else, and they detest the vessels that receive mercy.” (James White, The Potter’s Freedom)

23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (Romans 9:23-24)
 
If God had mercy in this way on only one sinner, He would forever be called a God of mercy. The fact that He elects to save a number that no man can count (Rev. 7:9) is the wonder of all wonders. God had every right to send all mankind to the lake of fire, but in His amazing grace and mercy, He has Sovereignly decided to save a people for Himself.
 
God’s grace will be marvelled at throughout the eternal ages because of the great contrast between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy. Why is this? Because the only difference between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy is a five letter word called GRACE – Sovereign grace which changes the hearts of hostile, rebellious, God-hating sinners into those whose hearts love God. Because this change in the heart is wrought by God alone, for He along takes out the stony heart and puts in a heart of flesh – there is absolutely no basis for the boasting of man, ever. It is by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus and therefore no flesh will glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1: 30,31)
 
Though I wrestled for a long time with the issue of Divine election, in the end, I realized that all my efforts to get round Paul’s clear words in Romans 9 were futile. Though I have read many commentaries on this chapter, I have yet to hear a consistent argument or exegesis from the “free will” side that does not in some way twist Paul’s words here.
 
So to sum all of this up, Paul has answered the question as to why many of his fellow Jews did not embrace the Messiah when He came. Not all of ethnic Israel is the true Israel. Not every physical descendant was chosen by God to receive this mercy. Paul argues this, contrasting the Old Testament figures of Jacob and Esau. Both had the same mother, the same father, and were even in the same womb, when, before either one had done anything good or bad, God chose Jacob and not Esau.
 
Why? “…so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
 
The word of God has not failed in any way whatsoever. All to whom the promises were made, the true Israel, will enjoy those promises. That’s also why you and I, are children of God, by God’s Sovereign electing grace alone. As Paul makes clear elsewhere, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8, 9)
 
If we are true believers, and therefore, true children of God, we can always count on the promises of God. God has chosen to save His people in such a way that makes His promises incapable of failure. God’s electing purposes will stand because they don’t depend on us and our efforts but on the One who calls. As Jonah 2:9 declares, “salvation is of the Lord.” God is the one who foreknows, who predestines, who calls, who justifies and who glorifies. “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:16
 
We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone… and all the glory for it, goes to God alone.
 
If you are a true child of God, and know that you are born again, stop for a moment and thank God for the mercy He has shown to you. I would also encourage you to think back to when God began to draw you to Himself (whether it was recently or long ago). What or whom did He use to bring you? As you think of that time, thank God for His plan and the people He used to produce your conversion. If it is possible, tell these people what they have meant in your life.

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Foreword

A few years ago, together with the brothers at JOGL, we invested some time in meeting an unbeliever in order to deliver to him the good news (Gospel of Jesus Christ).  It was not to be the first time this person heard about it but since a brother in the Lord desired sincerely for him hear the good news again, we planned to have it over dinner.  So we met him and as the conversation progressed, God gave way for the door of evangelism to spring open. He was attentive and would interject once in a while for a question. I learned as a young Christian to be careful of the ‘pandora’s box’ method (a mythical box opened by Pandora releasing every trouble and malady into the world). Sometimes, the questions asked would be a related issue but would nevertheless derail the flow of thought altogether turning the whole evangelism into disarray.  If I entertained every question, we would be sidetracked on our message. Politely, I requested that he allow me to complete what I have to say, and then we will get back to his questions. 

We arrived to the issue of faith in Jesus Christ, to which he claims to possess.  Providentially, the Lord granted me understanding concerning the issue of notitia-assensus-fiducia as three parts of one faith even a few years back through one of the books in my reading list. The article below from Pastor John Samson explains these Latin terms briefly and clearly. Our friend, at that moment, heard these 3 little words and as I explained each to him, he agreed to having the first two (notitia – assensus) but when the reached the part on fiducia – entrusting himself to the Lord, he said that he has not done that and could not commit to doing it right that very moment.  Of course I knew why…only those drawn by God to Christ Jesus will entrust themselves.  No, this is not “work” because as explained below and in post #7, the drawing of men to Jesus is the work of God the Father.

Of course, the original article of Question #8 can be accessed through the Reformation Study Center website.

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Question #8: How can I know if I am one of the elect?

To the question, “can a person know they are eternally secure?” I would answer, “most definitely, yes.” That’s because all those given by the Father will come to the Son, and will be kept by Him and raised up to eternal life. Not one of the elect… absolutely no one, falls through the cracks. (see John 6:37-39)

But as you rightly ask, the next question is “how do we know if we are numbered among the elect?”

Well, that’s actually a fairly easy question to answer, believe it or not.

The Reformers of the 16th Century described true saving faith as having three parts to it, using three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

  1. CONTENT OR INFORMATION (notitia). Like our modern day word “notice”, notitia concerns information or knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We need to understand the facts of the Gospel.
  2.  BELIEF (assensus). It is entirely possible to understand something (the notitia) and yet not believe it personally (assensus). We need to be able to say “I both understand and believe the content of the gospel.”
  3. COMMITMENT (fiducia). The last part of faith is commitment to the One who loved us and died for us. It is of critical importance simply because it is possible to understand these truths, believe they are true, and yet pull back from the necessary commitment that will actually enlist us as one of Christ’s followers. To possess only the first two parts (notitia and assensus), without the third part (fiducia), merely qualifies us to be demons! James 2:19 declares, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Even demons understand and believe, but that does not mean that they have a share in redemption. This commitment spoken of here will always produce the fruit of good works.

Though our works play no part at all in justifying us before God (Rom 3:28; 4:4, 5) they justify or vindicate our claim to faith before a watching world. Our lives should demonstrate that the faith professed was, and is, also possessed.  

With this in mind, lets get back to Jesus’ words when He said,

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” (John 6:37)

Now, let me ask you, “have you come to Christ?”

I mean, have you genuinely come to the biblical Christ, repenting of your sin and putting your faith in Him to save you? And how about your affection for Christ? Do you have a genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

If you can in all honesty say “yes” to these questions, and have indeed come to Christ, then scripture is clear that you could not have come unless you were first amongst those given by the Father to the Son (John 6:37).

If you have come with genuine saving faith, knowing the content of the Gospel, believing it, and then commiting your life to Christ, trusting in Christ alone to save you, then without doubt you are numbered among the elect.  That’s because only the elect genuinely come. Only the elect genuinely love Christ. You would have no measure of affection for the biblical Christ unless God had first done something in your heart. By nature, we do not seek God or want Him. But the fact that you love Him, albeit imperfectly, indicates that you are one of Christ’s sheep.

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In the latest post by Pastor John Samson in Reformation Theology website, he encourages everyone to learn from articles posted at Monergism (and there are lots of them!).  At the same time, he hopes that other people can also benefit from his articles at his own website, Reformation Study Center and indeed we are, at the very least here at EmmausTrekker and those who plug in on his series of Q&A on the Doctrine of Election. So today we continue on the 7th installment of John’s series and we have the question below.

Question #7:  Doesn’t John 12:32 teach that Christ is drawing everyone to Himself?

[Note: The original question posted to Pastor John Samson is as follows: I read your article on John 6:35-45 entitled “The Perseverance of the Saints,” and I understand the following to be a brief summary of Jesus’ words regarding God’s Sovereign purpose in election from John 6:35-45: Unless it is granted, no one will come to Christ. All to whom it is granted will come to Christ, and all of these will be raised up to eternal life on the last day. So, this being the case, can you please explain to me the meaning of John 12:32, where Jesus said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”?]

 

What I will say here may surprize you, but the word “all” has a number of different meanings in the Bible. We tend to assume that when Jesus speaks of drawing “all men” that He is referring to every last person on the planet. Well, that may or may not be true, but it is in the CONTEXT where we find the phrase that tells us if this assumption is correct or misplaced.
 
Even today we use the words “all” or “every” in many different ways. When a school teacher asks the people in his classroom, “Are we all here?” or “is everyone listening?” we understand he is not talking about every one of the 6 billion plus folk on the planet, but all the students who have signed up for the class. Context determines the proper interpretation or meaning of words. When the word “all” is used, it is used within a context.
 
In this illustration, the “all” had a context of the school classroom, which did not include “all” the hockey players in Iceland, “all” the dentists in Denmark, or “all” the carpet layers in Atlanta, Georgia. To rip the word “all” out of its setting and say that the teacher was refering to all people everywhere, would be to totally misunderstand and misinterpret how the word was being used. Again, it is context that determines correct interpretation.
 
I believe you are correct in your understanding of what John 6:35-45 teaches. So how do we understand the nature of the drawing in John 12:32? Who is being drawn?
 
We find answers to these questions by refusing to be lazy, doing some serious study, and by consciously allowing our traditions to be exposed to the light of Scripture.
 
So if understanding the context plays such a major role in getting the correct interpretation, exactly what was the context in John 12? Well it is a very different setting than the one we find in John 6. In John 12, Greeks were coming to Jesus and believing in Him.
 
John 12:20-22 – Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
 
Dr. James White, in his book the Potter’s Freedom (p. 163), describes the background as follows: “John 12 narrates the final events of Jesus’ public ministry. After this particular incident, the Lord will go into a period of private ministry to His disciples right before He goes to the cross. The final words of Jesus’ public teachings are prompted by the arrival of Greeks who are seeking Jesus. This important turn of events prompts the teaching that follows. Jesus is now being sought by non-Jews, Gentiles. It is when Jesus is informed of this that He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This then is the context which leads us to Jesus’ words in verse 32:
 
John 12:27-33
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour ‘? But for this purpose I came to this hour. “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

 

I believe that in its context the “all men” refers to Jews and Gentiles, not to every individual person on earth. Through His work on the cross, Jesus will draw all kinds of men, all kinds of people to Himself, including those from outside of the covenant community of Israel. We must bear in mind that this would have been an extremely radical thought to the Jews who were hearing Him say these words.
 
But lets look at this issue from another angle by asking the question, “Is it true that everyone on earth is drawn to the cross?” Is that what the Bible really teaches about the cross?
 
What does the scripture say? It says that the cross is foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 says, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
 
Question: Who views the cross as something other than foolishness or a stumbling block?
 
Answer: “…those who are the called, both Jews and Gentiles…”
 
Again, to quote Dr. White: “To whom is Christ the power and wisdom of God? To “the called.” What is the preaching of the cross to those who are not called? Something that draws them or repels them? The answer I think is obvious. The cross of Christ is foolishness to the world. These considerations, along with the immediate context of the Gentiles seeking Christ, make it clear that if He is lifted up in crucifixion, He will draw all men, Jews and Gentiles, to Himself. This is exactly the same as saying that He has sheep not of this fold (John 10:16), the Gentiles, who become one body in Christ (Eph. 2:13-16).”
 
If we assume that God is drawing every single individual on the planet we run into a major problem when we use this interpretation of John 12:32 (out of its context) and to try to understand the drawing in John 6:44 in the light of it. Lets also bear in mind that we would need to demonstrate that the simple word “draw” MUST have the exact same meaning and objects in both contexts – something I don’t believe bears out at all. What is the problem? Well, if we do this, we end up with the unbiblical doctrine of universalism (all people will be saved).
 
Why? Because Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” The one drawn here is raised up to eternal life. If everyone on the planet is drawn, then all will be saved, which, I am sure you will agree is not a biblical position, for scripture teaches clearly that not everyone will inherit eternal life.
 
Rather than solving the issue, this interpretation causes severe problems and in fact undermines the truth of the Gospel. I believe we therefore need to discard this assumption, and interpret both passages in their biblical context. The result will be, as I believe I have shown, a consistent revelation of the Sovereign purposes of God in drawing His elect to Himself, for His own purposes, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
 

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On this section, Pastor John Samson lays before us scriptures concerning human will. In Q#6, the subject of free will is dissected with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In Q#5, the issue of human tradition is addressed concerning John 3:16 and here’s to hoping that our traditions be tested against the Word of God as it unfolds to instruct us.  As always, you can access the original article at the Reformation Study Center website.

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Question #6: We are all conscious of having our own free wills. How are we to understand the human will?

This is a very important issue that certainly needs to be addressed when we talk about Divine election. Let’s start with the words of Jesus Himself in John chapter 8.

Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?  “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (v. 46, 47)

Jesus answered this exact question as to why some did not believe. Note how clear Jesus is regarding this issue.  He Himself raised the issue as to why some did not believe, and notice the precise words of the Savior. The reason why they did not believe was because they were not of God.

That’s plain enough isn’t it? Those who are of God hear His voice; those who are not, do not!

Jesus also said, in John 10:25, 26:

I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”

Why did they not believe, according to Jesus? Answer: Because they were not Christ’s sheep. To believe anything other than God’s Sovereign Grace in election would mean making these words mean the exact opposite of what Jesus said. They would have to make Jesus say something like, “you are not My sheep because you do not believe.” But Jesus said the reason you don’t believe is because you are not My sheep.”

He goes on to say in the next verse:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;  28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  30 “I and the Father are one.”

People don’t always take kindly to this idea of Sovereign election, and the Jews here were no different. The next verse says: 31 “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.”

Turning now from Jesus’ words on the issue, the first debate in the Reformation was between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic theologian Desiderius Erasmus on this very issue of the will. Luther wrote the book “The Bondage of the Will” which he later described as his most important writing. It is important to note that many Evangelicals today would side with Rome and against Luther on this issue. So far has the tide turned in the way of opinion.

Later on, the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote a book on this subject entitled “The Freedom of the Will.” His sentiments were much in accord with Luther’s before him, though he did go further in his explanation than Luther had done. Here, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” What he was saying was that while there is a distinction between mind and will, the two are inseparable in action. We do not make a choice without our mind’s approving that choice.

Free moral agents always act according to the strongest inclination they have at the moment of choice. To say it another way, we always choose according to our inclinations and according to our strongest inclination at a given moment. When we commit a sin, at that moment our desire to sin is greater than our desire to obey Christ.

Even when we seem to choose something for no apparent reason, we had some kind of inclination. You come into an auditorium and sit in a seat. Why that particular seat? Maybe you like to sit in the front, or in the back, or on the aisle. Maybe it was the nearest empty seat, and you preferred not to wander around looking. Whatever the reason, there was some inclination behind your decision.

Aside from being physically coerced, if we have options, even options we don’t like, we have the freedom of choice. If a man points a gun at me and says, “Your money or your life,” I still have a choice. I may not like either one, but I will make my choice in terms of my inclination which will be my inclination to live and lose my money, rather than die and lose my money anyway.

John Calvin writes that if we mean by free will that fallen mankind has the ability to choose what it wants, then of course fallen humanity has free will. If we mean that mankind in a fallen state has the moral power and ability to choose righteousness, then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to fallen humanity. Human will is free to follow personal inclinations, but fallen inclinations are always directed away from God (Rom. 3:11; 8:7, 8 ).

Of course, God permits us to exercise our will and make free choices. The problem is that, left to ourselves, we always choose the wrong thing when it comes to true holiness. Ask yourself: Before conversion could I have willed to love God on my own? Who or what inclined my will toward God? To whom should the credit be given for my salvation – God or me?

Regarding this issue, Jesus said:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)

Let’s look more closely at Christ’s words. Firstly, the phrase “no one.”

This is a universal negative statement. It does not mean that some cannot come unless the Father draws them. It means absolutely no one can come unless God does something first. Mankind is so depraved in fallen-ness that, apart from the irresistible grace of God, no one would ever turn to Christ.

Second, we notice that Jesus said “can.” Remember the difference between the words can and may?

The word “can” speaks of ability, while “may” speaks of permission. The literal Greek text translation is “No one is able…” Jesus is not saying that no one has permission to come to Him. Rather, He says that “no one is able to come” to Him. This is the doctrine of total inability… man is entirely unable to come to Christ left to himself.

Thank God, that’s not where Jesus stopped speaking! He goes on to say the word “unless.” This introduces an exception. Apart from this exception, Jesus makes it clear that no one would ever come to Him. No one is able… unless! Unless what? Unless the Father…

Notice, Jesus says that it is the action of the Father who works the exception. No one else is mentioned in the text, and certainly not the “free will” of man. Man is helpless and hopeless, without any ability in this regard, apart from the action of the Father.

Finally, we come to the word draw. Some have said that draw only means “woo” or “entice.” That is not the case, however. In James 2:6 we read, “Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” In Acts 16:19 we find, “They dragged them into the marketplace.” The same Greek word is used in all three verses, translated as “draw” in John 6:44, “dragging” in James 2:6, and “dragged” in Acts 16:19.

Obviously, enticement is not in view here. Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the word translated “draw” in John 6:44 means “to compel by irresistible authority.” It was used in classical Greek for drawing water from a well. We do not entice or persuade water to leave the well; we force it against gravity to come up by drawing it. So it is with us. We are so depraved that God must drag us to himself. The beauty of the gospel, however, is that, at the same time, the Spirit’s work is to make us willing to come. Jesus states that all who are drawn in this way are raised up at the last day, signifying that they are raised to eternal life with Christ in heaven.

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In this post, Pastor John Samson asks one of the most vital issues concerning the much loved verse – John 3:16. He then refers his reader to a separate article which I havfe appended herebelow. The original article at the Reformation Study Center website can be accessed here.

Question #5: Can you explain John 3:16? Doesn’t this imply no election, but rather free choice?
  

Exposing our Traditions (John 3:16)

 

14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:14-17
 
Traditions – we all have them. In fact, those with the most traditions are those who don’t think they have any.
 
We would be horrified to hear of a surgeon who had just 2 weeks of training operating on someone’s brain. As important as brain surgery is, I believe the job of the preacher is far more important. Eternal souls hang in the balance, and great care and attention is needed to ensure that a teaching is sound, healthy and accurate. A teacher of the Bible needs rigorous training in the science of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). But that’s not just true for the preacher; every one of us needs to know how to gain an accurate knowledge of the Word of God.
 
Some people think that if God wants you to know something about the Bible, He will just reveal it to you supernaturally. Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of cults get started. 1 Tim 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Correct interpretation requires work; sometimes, a great deal of hard work.
 
We are also told to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). Without diligent study, it is easy to wrongly divide the word; to believe and to teach error. The main way this takes place is because we draw illegitimate inferences from the text – when we read into the text things that are not actually said by the text, and draw out of the text things that are actually not there. Sadly, this happens all too frequently. Though there may be many applications of a text or passage of Scripture, there is only ONE correct interpretation. In other words, it doesn’t mean one thing and the exact opposite thing at the same time. Scripture is consistent. Scripture was written down by men, but in reality, there is only one Author, God Himself. God does not contradict Himself; He is not the author of confusion. Though, at times, we may be confused about what a passage means, God is never confused, and it is precisely because the Bible has a God inspired consistency that we can study it to find out what it means.
 
Because Scripture has only one correct interpretation, we can learn to be consistent in our interpretation of biblical texts by following some basic rules. These include reading any text in its context, finding out the meaning of the original words and grammar, and following the basic rules of English – verbs always stay as verbs, nouns as nouns, etc,.
 
The law in this country gives us the right to interpret the Bible as we want to, without any fear of prosecution. Thank God that we don’t have to go to jail or be burnt at the stake if our interpretation is wrong (as in former eras). Yet we should always remember that God never gives us the right to interpret His word incorrectly.
 
Let us dispense with our traditions whenever we encounter them. What matters is not what we have assumed that a text says, but what it actually says. When the plain meaning of the text says something that challenges our traditional assumptions, we have a choice. We can say “it can’t mean that because of” (and we immediately take refuge in our traditional assumptions about what Scripture says), or we can be willing to bow the knee to God and His Word. Obviously, we should do the latter. The Word of God is right, when our traditional assumptions about it are wrong.  As someone rightly said, “When the Judge comes into the courtroom, don’t be found sitting in his chair!” We must allow the Word of God to sit in judgment on us, rather than for us to sit in judgment on the Word of God.
 
The most famous verse in the entire Bible is John 3:16. Here Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
 
For the understanding of a text in the New Testament, we need to become familiar with the original language in which it was written, namely Koine Greek.
 
It may come as a surprise to learn that in the original Greek of John 3:16, there is no word “whoever.” The word “whoever” is expressing a phrase in Greek which is difficult to express smoothly in English.
 
Literally, the text reads
 
“in order that every the one believing in Him,
not to perish, but have everlasting life.”
 
It says “every” or “all the one believing”.
 
That’s hard to express in English, but in essence, it is saying “all the ones believing.” That’s what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes.
 
Though our English translation says “whoever believes” the literal rendering is accurately translated as “every believing one” and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the “whosoever” but on the belief. The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.
 
Why? Because of the main verb – because God GAVE His Son.
 
God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.
 
When hearing the biblical teaching on the subject of election, some have immediately gone to a traditional understanding of this verse, John 3:16, to say “God can’t elect certain ones to salvation because John 3:16 tells us each person has the ability to believe – God gave His Son so that WHOEVER believes would have eternal life. Therefore, God has done His part in offering the gift of salvation in His Son and  just leaves it up to us to receive the gift through faith.”
 
Though this is a very common tradition, and one I held to myself before I exposed the tradition to the study of the Scripture. It is simply a statement of fact to say that the text does not discuss who or who does not have the ability to believe. It is not addressed in the text. To say that it does do this (talk about our ability to come to Christ in faith as a fallen humanity) would be saying something that is not even addressed. You might as well quote John 3:16 to suggest that all churches need to have red carpets in their sanctuaries! Why? Because that also is not a topic addressed in the text. You could quote the verse, but actually it has no relevance to the subject of the ability or inability to believe.
 
So, what John 3:16 teaches is:
 
 
ALL who do A   (believe in Him)
will not B         (perish)
but will have C    (everlasting life)
 
What does this text tell us about who WILL believe or who CAN believe?
 
The answer is: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The text does not address the issue of who WILL believe or who CAN believe.
 
However, if you do want to know John’s view on who CAN exercise faith, he does deal with that question – just not in this text. If you go back a few verses in the chapter to John 3:3, John quotes Jesus as saying “unless a man is born again he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.” That’s clear isn’t it?
 
Jesus said that a pre-requisite, a necessary condition, that must be met before someone can enter the kingdom of God is that they are born again. We enter the kingdom of God through faith, but in order to enter the kingdom, we must first be born again, or made spiritually alive. If we are not FIRST born again, we CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.
 
This same issue is certainly addressed by Jesus 3 chapters further on in John 6:44, when He said,  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…. (we should note that the one drawn by the Father to the Son is also raised up on the last day to eternal life). (John 6:39, 40)
 
In John 6:65, Jesus said,  “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
 
In Romans 8: 7, 8, Paul stated “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
 
Of course, all who exercise true faith will certainly be saved. John 3:16 teaches clearly that anyone believing in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. But what we need to ask is “who WILL have faith?”
 
The Augustinian, and I believe biblical view, is that only the elect will be brought to faith. No one can come to Christ unless God does something to enable that person to come.
 
The same Apostle John confirms what he has made clear in his Gospel, when in 1 John 5:1 he writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
 
The verb tenses are very revealing. As Dr. John Piper points out, a literal translation reads: “Everyone who goes on believing (pisteuon, present, continuous action) that Jesus is the Christ has been born (gennesanta, perfect, completed action with abiding effects) of God.” Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it. Since both repentance and faith are possible only because of the regenerating work of God, both are called the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim 2:24-26).  Acts 18:27 says, “When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.”
 
When Paul writes about our salvation in Christ, He gives God all the credit for our salvation. Salvation is the work of God. Even though it was our faith that was exercised for salvation, even that was God’s gift.
 
Hear the Apostle Paul afresh in Ephesians 2:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,  2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
 
Jesus said, in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” and as Acts 13:48 says, in referring to those who came to Christ under the preaching of the apostles, it simply states that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
 
So why do people miss what John 3:16 teaches or read into it (eisegesis) what is not actually in the text?
 
That’s easy. It is because of how they have heard John 3:16 used over and over and over again. They have an ingrained, preconceived notion of what the verse says, and fail to question that assumption and read the text for what it actually says.
 
It’s a TRADITION and if you dare question it, you might be accused of questioning the very word of God, rather than their traditional interpretation of the word of God, and that can create a whole lot of emotion.
 
The text (John 3:16) tells us that there is a limitation – the Father gave His Son for the purpose of those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but opposite to that, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.
 
This text, of course, is just one example of many that could be quoted, but it does show us how powerful our traditions can be. We need to continuously expose our traditions to the light of God’s Word. If they can be confirmed by detailed study of the text of Scripture, we can be sure that the traditions are valid. If not, then we need to dispense with them. Let God be true and every man a liar… even if the “man” here refers to our own firmly held beliefs, but not the testimony of Scripture itself.
 

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We continue on the article posted by Rev. John Samson at his website, Reformation Study Center. On this 4th part of the Q&A on Election series, I believe this is one of the most significant questions pertaining to election particularly, and on predestination as a whole. I sincerely hope that the article below would provide, at the very least, a door into the understanding of this biblical doctrine.

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Question #4: What would be the point of evangelism if some people are “elect” and some are not and don’t have the free will to choose Christ? Doesn’t this make evangelism a farce?

Well may I first alter the question? In that I am convinced that Divine election is clearly taught in Scripture, I believe it would be better to ask, “Since Divine election is true, why are we told to evangelize?”

The first obvious answer to this is because God tells us to. The same Bible that teaches Divine Sovereign Election in Romans chapters 8 and 9, also gives us Romans 10, saying “how shall they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10 is in no way a contradiction to Romans 8 and 9.

The simple answer to this question is that God has ordained both the ends and the means. The ends, are His elect coming to Himself in saving faith. The means, is the proclamation of the Gospel.

In John 10: 16, Jesus, in speaking of His sheep amongst the Gentiles said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

Notice the experience of the early Apostles in Acts 13:

43 Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.  44 The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.  46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.  47 “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”  48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Who was it who believed the Gospel here? “As many as had been appointed to eternal life.”

The ends – the elect’s salvation; the means – the preaching of the Gospel.

Dr. James White points out the parallel between 13:46 and 13:48 – “the Jews “repudiated” the word of God (to push aside, ignore, refuse to listen to) and, by so doing, judged themselves unworthy of eternal life (a conclusion they would have rejected, of course, but this is Paul’s divine interpretation of their actions).  In contrast, the Gentiles rejoiced at the word of the Lord.  But the second half of the contrast is very interesting, for though our English translations tend to place the verb at the end of the clause, in Greek the verb comes first (“they believed”) and the controversial descriptive phrase comes after.  Who believed?  Those who had been appointed to eternal life.  The number of attempts to get around the meaning of the phrase is large, but the meaning is clear: while both groups had heard the same message in the same context in the same language based upon the same Scriptural texts, it was not that one group was “better” or “more spiritual” so that they believed: no, those who believed did so because they had been (graciously) appointed to eternal life (just as Lydia later in the narrative).”

We should also note how the Lord spoke to the Apostle Paul, in the middle of an intense situation, telling him to stay in a certain city. Why was this? Well let’s read the text in Acts 18:

9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent;  10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

In other words, the Lord said to Paul, “Stay here, for I have many people in this city… I have many of My sheep here that will hear My voice and follow Me as you preach in My Name.”

God ordains both the ends – His chosen sheep who will hear Christ’s voice, and the means – prayer, and the preaching of the Gospel to all. And all who are ordained to eternal life will believe.

The fact is, we don’t know who the elect are. They are not walking around the countryside with the letter “E” for Elect stamped upon their foreheads. We are therefore to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to everyone, knowing ahead of time, that only His elect will respond to the preaching of the Gospel.

Without election, evangelism would be much like a salesman trying to sell his products in a graveyard. Mankind is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and only through the gracious act of God in electing, predestinating, and regenerating a specific people, will anyone ever turn to Christ.  As Dr. R. C. Sproul has commented, “If the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair all hope that anyone would be saved.”

Again, God ordains both the ends and the means. Prayer and evangelism are vital components of the means.

A. A. Hodge once asked, “If God has eternally decreed that you should live, what is the use of your breathing? If God has eternally decreed that you should talk, what is the use of your opening your mouth? If God has eternally decreed that you should reap a crop, what is the use of your sowing the seed? If God has eternally decreed that your stomach should contain food, what is the use of your eating?” (Evangelical Theology, 92-93).

Hodge answered his own questions, by saying, “In order to educate us, [God] demands that we should use the means, or go without the ends which depend upon them. There are plenty of fools who make the transcendental nature of eternity and of the relation of the eternal life of God to the time-life of man an excuse for neglecting prayer. But of all the many fools in the United States, there is not one absurd enough to make the same eternal decree an excuse for not chewing his food or for not voluntarily inflating his lungs.” (p. 93)

I think its important to point out that our prayers for unbelievers would be next to useless if God did not have the power to bring someone from death to life. Those who reject God’s sovereignty in salvation are trusting that God cannot really help the unregenerate by giving them a new understanding, for in their way of thinking, this would mean that God is tampering with free will, something He would not do. So in that way of thinking, when we pray for unbelievers, God can only do something outside of them, (wooing, encouraging, offering grace, etc.) but never anything inside of them (taking out the heart of stone, putting in a heart of flesh with a positive desire for Christ), which, when you think about it, is not very helpful to those who have no desire for God and who are dead in trespasses and sins.  In other words, praying for people to come to Christ makes no sense unless God alone does the saving.

Understanding the nature of regeneration (or being born again) has a vital part to play in our understanding of this. Dr. J. I. Packers defines regeneration as follows: “Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which a person’s inherently sinful nature is so radically impacted, his disposition so affected, his mind so illumined, his will so liberated that a person can and will respond to God in saving faith and willingly live in accord with the will of God.”

1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” The verb tenses are very revealing. As Dr. John Piper points out, a literal translation reads: “Everyone who goes on believing (pisteuon, present, continuous action) that Jesus is the Christ has been born (gennesanta, perfect, completed action with abiding effects) of God.”

1 John 5:1 makes it clear that faith is the evidence of regeneration, not the cause of it. Since both repentance and faith are possible only because of the regenerating work of God, both are called the gift of God in scripture. (Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim 2:24-26). Acts 18:27 says, “When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.”

Church history shows that rather than belief in election causing missions work to wane, the exact opposite is true. A case could be made that in the history of the Church, the men most used by God in the cause of evangelism, were passionate believers in God’s Sovereign Grace in election. Of course, we would say that the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul believed in it (Jesus preached it boldly, and of course, it was Paul who penned Romans 8, 9, Ephesians 1 and 2, 2 Thess. 2:13, 14, etc.).  So too did men like Luther, Edwards, Whitefield, and C. H. Spurgeon. Here are just a few of their quotes in this regard:

“If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”  Martin Luther       

Jonathan Edwards, used tremendously by God in the Great Awakening in America wrote, “…the conversion of a sinner being not owing to a man’s self determination, but to God’s determination, and eternal election, which is absolute, and depending on the sovereign will of God, and not on the free will of man; as is evident from what has been said: and it being very evident from the Scriptures, that the eternal election of saints to the faith and holiness, is also an election of them to eternal salvation; hence their appointment to salvation must also be absolute, and not depending on their contingent, self-determining will.”

“Man hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do his good pleasure.”    George Whitefield

“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, “You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.” My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.  Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven.”  C. H. Spurgeon

“The greatest evangelists and missionaries of Protestant era have been Calvinistic or Reformed. That is, they have embraced and preached the doctrines of grace. Whether it is Bunyan or Spurgeon, Carey or Nettleton or Whitfield or Duff or Stott, that you are talking about – the Baptist tradition, the Congregational tradition, the Anglican tradition, the Presbyterian tradition and so on – find the hall of fame evangelists and missionaries and you’ll find folks who live, breathe, teach and preach the doctrines of grace.” Dr. Ligon Duncan, Together for the Gospel blog, Feb 28, 2006

 

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” [Jesus] – John 6:37

 

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