Monday, July 10, 2006

John 3:1-21 (10)

God’s love is demonstrated in effective action. For the purpose of giving eternal life to those who will believe in Jesus, God sends His Son. God loves the world in this way: every believing one will be saved. God’s saving love is restricted to believers. God does not love unbelievers in a saving way. And the objection to this view follows: By “whoever believes,” many think that God loves every person the same way, and that Christ has died and made atonement for every person. It is suggested that, since Christ has already accomplished His work of atonement, the salvation of each individual now depends on the person’s free choice. A related implication is that all people are able to make such a free choice. Let Vincent Cheung show how this is false:

If I say, “Whoever becomes a fish can breath under water,” the statement is true, but it does not say anything about a person’s ability or willingness to become a fish. Whether or not it is possible for a person to become a fish, one can not infer from the statement itself. Whenever we are talking about something that is impossible with man – such as for a man to turn himself into a fish – it means that it will either never happen, or God must make it happen. One episode in Jesus’ ministry from Matthew 19:23-26 makes exactly this point: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever believes.” He never said that man was able or willing to bring it to pass. Instead, Jesus says plainly that it is impossible for man to be saved, except that God makes it happen, since all things are possible with Him. All we read in John 3:16 is that whoever believes will not perish, but will have eternal life. “Whoever” believes depends on God, not on “whoever,” since only God could make it happen.

We need not stray from the Gospel of John to see this point more clearly. In John 10:26, Jesus says, “You do not believe because you are not My sheep.” So a person is Jesus’ sheep before he believes, and it is because he is His sheep that he believes. How does one become Jesus’ sheep? Verse 29 says, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” Jesus’ sheep are what they are because they have been given to Him by the Father, and this is why they believe. In John 8:43-47, Jesus says, “Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire…He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me! Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe Me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” In agreement with John 10 but without the “sheep” metaphors, this passage tells us that a person cannot believe Jesus unless he already “belongs” to God.

Finally, John 12:37-40 is even more explicit: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’” They cannot believe, because God actively prevents them! Although it is true to say that men can believe only when God grants faith to them, what John says here is even stronger than that. God must not only cause them to believe, but He must first stop working against them.

Who, then, is the “whoever” in “whoever believes” from John 3:16? It is the person to whom God grants understanding and repentance, thereby displaying His saving love for them. Rather than teaching man’s freedom in salvation, the “whoever believes” in John 3:16 denies salvation from all mankind except those to whom God grants faith in Jesus Christ. Thus once we take into context the whole of John’s Gospel, John 3:16 does not teach man’s ability or willingness to believe in Jesus Christ, but the opposite, that man is unable and unwilling unless God changes both of those things.

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