Drawn by the Father – John 6 (Part 2 – A Closer Look)

(To read part 1 of this series click here.)

John 6:37, 44 and 65

All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

What was happening in John chapters 5 through 8? What is the context in which Jesus makes the statements we are considering? If we don’t keep this in mind we will never correctly interpret these verses. Before we look at what was happening and why Jesus made these statements let’s first look at it from a Calvinist perspective.

Calvinism is an airtight theological system. Their view of humanity states that humans are so bound to sin that people could never trust in Christ without first being born again (i.e. regenerated). After they are born again they will irresistibly repent of their sins and trust in Christ. Since this doesn’t happen to everyone, it is logically concluded that God does not want everyone to be saved. If he did he would simply regenerate them. This leads to the question of why he chooses some and leaves the rest to die in sin. Reformed theology leaves this in the realm of mystery except to say that he doesn’t choose anyone for what he sees in them. His decision is based on his secret will alone and has nothing to do with what men do or believe. And this decision was made before God created the world.

When the Calvinist comes to John 6:37 he certainly has all of this on his mind; it is his theological grid. When he reads, “All that the father gives to me will come to me,” his theology is once again vindicated. He never asks the question (at least not without assuming he already knows the answer), “Who is the Father giving to Christ?” His theology has already answered the question for him; he is giving those individuals that were eternally and unconditionally preselected by his sovereign will. There is no need to look into the overall context of John; it is already a settled fact in his mind. Nor does he need to ask, “Why will those whom the Father gives to Christ certainly come to Christ?” His philosophical grid has already informed him that God unilaterally regenerates certain preselected souls that are dead in sin, and this inevitably leads to genuine faith in Christ. The words of Jesus in John 6:44, “No one can come to be unless the Father who sent me draws him,” are crystal clear to him. He needn’t ask why people can’t come to the Son without the drawing of the Father, the doctrine of total depravity answers that question before he thinks to ask it. So in John 6:37 he has an “undeniable” proof-text for both unconditional election and irresistible grace. And John 6:44 (and 65) confirms his devotion to the Calvinistic version of total depravity. Ironically, he is certain that those who deny the “plain teaching” of these verses are obviously reading their theology into them.

So does this interpretation fit the wording of these verses? It most certainly does! But the problem is the context; it has nothing to do with unconditional election, irresistible grace or Reformed theology’s version of total depravity. These things are completely foreign to the context of Jesus’ debate with the Jewish authorities. But by looking at the context we will see that John 6:37, 44 and 65 reveal a completely different meaning; one that does not depend on the theological debates that raged in 16th century Europe between Catholics and Protestants, but on the debates that took place in 1st century Palestine between Christ and Jewish unbelievers. This debate is first referred to in John 1:11, actually begins in John 2:18 when Jesus cleanses the temple, and is really brought into focus in chapter 5.

Getting Our Bearings

John 5:22-24

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.

John 5:36-43

But the testimony I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.

What was the debate that was raging in John chapter 5? The Jewish leaders were not accepting the claims of Christ. They claimed to be followers of the Scriptures and God, but they refused to follow Jesus. Jesus answer to this was to say that if they didn’t honor him, then they were not honoring the One who sent him. These Jewish men were not true followers of God or the Scriptures. Jesus told them that they had the Scriptures but didn’t listen to them. And they claimed to be followers of the one true God, but actually they did not recognize his voice. They couldn’t even recognize that the miracles Jesus was performing proved the Father had sent him. They showed that they didn’t truly know God by rejecting his Son. They did not love God (vs. 43). Jesus was telling them what John later told others in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

This debate between Jesus and “the Jews” (as John calls them) did not end in chapter 5 but continued on through chapter 6. When we turn to chapter 7 we see that the debate is still raging.

John 7:16-17

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

John 7:28b

He who sent me is true, and him you do not know.

Jesus tells those who question his teaching that anyone who truly wants to please God will know instinctively that he is speaking the words of God. They would recognize the voice of the Father in his words if they were true followers of God; that is if they were “Israelites indeed” (John 1:47). He is telling them that they cannot recognize the voice of the Father because they don’t actually want to do God’s will, but their own. They are not God-seekers, but self-serving rebels. He is telling them that they simply do not know, and do not follow, the living God. They claim to be members of God’s people, but the fact is they simply don’t know God. They think that they are following the God of Israel because they are devout law-abiding Jews; Jesus is telling them that they are greatly mistaken.

In chapter 8 Jesus conflict with unbelieving Jews becomes even more heated and Jesus does not hold anything back that will make his point clear.

John 8:17-19

“In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

John 8:23-24

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

As we see the debate rage and the accusations begin to fly we must keep something in mind. Jesus has been telling them that they do not know God; this is the reason he offers in order to explain their rejection of God’s Messiah. But he is not telling them that they can never know the Father. He is not saying, “You don’t belong to God and you can never follow him.” Instead he is telling them, “You are not following God and unless you repent and start listening to the Father, you will never know the Father or me.” Jesus was not a fatalist; he was doing everything he could to show them their rebellion against God in rejecting him, but they were resisting him. He was not telling them they could never repent, but that they must repent. Until they ended their rebellion against God, they could never come to Christ because he was representing the Father. Rejecting the Father could only possibly lead to a rejection of the Son.

Let me consider a verse from John chapter 13 so we can understand Jesus’ line of reasoning.

John 13:20

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Jesus gave us this principle. If we come to people in the name of Jesus preaching his message and people receive us, they are doing so because they are receiving the one who sent us. But if they reject us, they are not rejecting us only, but the one who sent us. If they say, “We already believe in Jesus, but we do not accept you or your message,” we know that they are not true followers of Christ. If they were disciples of Jesus they would accept us and our words since both we, and our words, are from him. And he goes onto say that those who accept him are actually accepting the One who sent him. People can’t reject Christ’s followers without rejecting Christ. And people can’t reject Christ without rejecting God. Acceptance of Christ is the litmus test by which we know the true followers of God. Again and again Jesus is telling unbelieving Jews that they are not followers of God, no matter what they tell themselves.

John 8:31-41

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father -even God.”

Jesus no longer holds any punches. He begins to tell the unbelieving Jews, who were listening in as he instructed his disciples, that they were illegitimate children. He tells them that they bear the name of Abraham, but they don’t look or act like him at all. They understood what he was implying; Abraham was not their true father. Jesus was calling them “bastards”!

John 8:42-47

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear my word. You are of your father the Devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

John 7:17

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

John 5:38

You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.

Wow! Jesus first tells them they are not truly Abraham’s children because they don’t act like Abraham. Now he goes even further and tells them whose children they are, the devil’s! Why does he consider them children of the devil? We must understand that Jesus is not telling them that they are children of the devil because of God’s failure to choose them as Reformed theology would have us believe. Instead it is because their character resembled the devil. They didn’t act like Abraham who trusted and obeyed God. Instead they were acting like Satan who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning. Their “will is to do their father’s desires.” They won’t accept the words of truth Jesus is preaching because they don’t want the truth. They don’t believe the One who sent Jesus so they don’t accept the words he brings from him. Instead they want to kill Christ. This shows they are the devil’s kids, following in the footsteps of their murderous father.

Jesus asks, “Why do you not understand what I say?” The Calvinist would answer that it was impossible for them to receive his word because they had not been regenerated by God’s Spirit. And they will never understand God’s word because God is not willing to open their eyes since they are not among the elect. But this is not the answer Jesus gives to his own question. He tells them they can’t understand his teaching because they “cannot bear his word.” In other words he tells them that they can’t understand because they don’t want to understand. They hate the truth and cannot stand to listen to it; it is contrary to what they want. They are men like Saul of Tarsus who covered his ears when Stephen declared the testimony of Christ (Acts 7:57-8:1). They want to keep following the desires of the devil, and so Jesus’ word “finds no place” in them. They can’t possibly accept the word of Christ without totally denying themselves and their own desires. If they sincerely desired to do God’s will, they would be able to understand and believe his word, but that is not what they want (John 7:17).

The disciple of Reformed Theology believes that when Jesus says some “cannot bear his word,” he means that it is actually impossible for those people to receive God’s word because they are spiritually dead. They think “cannot” here is used in the same sense one would say, “A bar of gold cannot float on water without something else holding it up.” For them an unregenerate (not born again) person repenting of their sin and coming to faith in Christ is an impossibility unless God first unilaterally regenerates them. But this is not the sense in which Jesus is using the word “cannot.”

When we say, “I cannot give you all of my money,” we are using the word “cannot” in the same way Jesus is. If someone asks us to do something we are not willing to do we often say we cannot do it. We cannot give you our money, we cannot attend your party, we cannot let you swim in our pool, etc. We cannot give you our money because we want to spend it ourselves. We cannot come to your party because we want to go somewhere else. We cannot let you swim in our pool because we think you are annoying and don’t want you anywhere near our house! In the same way Jesus says, “You cannot obey my teaching because you desire to do the will of the devil” (vs. 43-44). These men had rejected God, and so it inevitably led to rejecting his word spoken by his Son. They weren’t righteous men, as they supposed, but rebels and sinners; this was Jesus’ point! They were no more morally depraved than the many sinners that repented at the preaching of John the Baptist, but they chose to remain in their rebellion, and for this reason they were wholly accountable for their rebellion.

The Calvinist would say, “Right, they are naturally able to repent, but they are morally incapable. If they wanted to serve God they could, but they can never ‘want to’ because they are spiritually dead.” But Jesus is telling them that they cannot believe in him while they are in their present state of rebellion, not that they are have no way of ending their rebellion through repentance. They are unable to believe in the Son and listen to his words with spiritual understanding because of their moral depravity. But Jesus is no way implying that they are morally incapable of repenting of their rebellion as many others had already done through the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself. Jesus’ point is not that they are morally incapable of repentance but are spiritually incapable of divine revelation about the Son until they repent before the Father. In this way he is making them accountable for their unbelief because though as men created in God’s image they have the freedom to choose rebellion against, or surrender to, God, they have willfully denied the Father. Calvinism would say they are guilty THOUGH they were morally incapable of repentance, but the Bible teaches men are morally accountable BECAUSE they have chosen rebellion THOUGH they could have chosen submission to God.

The Jews Jesus was speaking to “could not” understand Jesus word because they “would not” repent and receive understanding from the Father. Jesus speaks to the Jerusalem, representing the Jewish nation, saying, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers here chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 – HCSB) The Pharisees and other religious leaders had already “rejected God’s purpose for themselves” by not receiving John the Baptist, now they were rejecting the Son of God as well (Luke 7:29-30). Jesus doesn’t call these men children of the devil because God had no desire to save them, but because they were unwilling to repent of their rebellious pride and submit to almighty God, though they had the ability to do so.

John 3:19-21

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Jesus called the religious leaders children of the devil because they responded to God in the same rebellious way as he does. They lived in darkness so their wicked deeds would not be exposed, just like their father. These were men with characters like Saul of Tarsus; they seemed to be zealous for the God of Israel, but they were actually wicked men who hated Christ because he exposed their rebellion. They seemed to be devout Israelites, but Jesus calls them illegitimate children born of the devil.

Calvinists have no problem saying that the non-elect are like the devil, but according to their theology everyone, including the eternally predestined elect, should be like the devil before they are born again. The elect, before they are regenerated, should also hate the light because they walk in wickedness and total depravity. After all that is why Reformed Theology insists that regeneration must precede faith and repentance. But in John 3:21 Jesus speaks of people who were walking in righteousness, following God in truth, people who were happy to come into the light. There were people who gladly accepted the Son because they were already following the Father. Jesus seems to be speaking about men that came to the light (i.e. Jesus) precisely because they were walking with God. These were men whose “works had been carried out in God.” There were people during Jesus’ earthly ministry whose desire was “to do God’s will”; and these people had no problem understanding that Jesus’ “teaching was from God” (John 7:17). Understanding who these people were is key to a proper understanding of the Gospel of John in general, and John 6:37, 44 and 65 in particular. We will discuss these people in the next post.

To be continued…

20 thoughts on “Drawn by the Father – John 6 (Part 2 – A Closer Look)

  1. Hi Pastor Christopher,

    Thank you for your blog.. It has been a blessing to me as someone who is with Calvinist church for more than 20 years (still).

    Reading this blog, make me study again John 6 and I just realize one thing.

    Joh 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)
    Joh 6:65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

    I always understand the verses above as follows: the reason why people do not believe in v64 is because they are not granted by the Father as explained in v65.

    I just realize that this is not right…. I found out that it actually says the other way around… The unbelief was the reason why Jesus said “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

    Let me explain… in v65 Jesus said “This is why I told ‘A’ ” … so why did Jesus said ‘A’? The answer is given in v64 i.e. because they do not believe. See once I replace the sentence with ‘A’, it is clear that ‘A’ is not the reason but rather what Jesus said… The reason why Jesus said ‘A’ is given in v64 i.e. unbelief.

    Maybe because english is my second language, I have misunderstood these verses.

    Would you mind to comment this whether I am on the right track?

    Regards
    Pongz

    1. Pongz,
      English is my first language and i still have problems with these things;)
      If i understand you I think you are on the right track. I have been thinking so much on the surrounding context in the last few weeks, so i havent worked on the immediate context of 6:64-65 recently. but as far as i understand your breakdown i think it is on the right track.
      The key to the chapter as a whole is understanding the transitional period between the old and new covenants being addressed in the gospel of John. From the “Father” to the “Son” is the way that transition is described. I believe the error of the common Calvinist interpretation is that it reads eternal predestination into the text when actually the transition from the old covenant to the new is what is being addressed by Jesus. And he is addressing it to point out why those who claim to be devout Jews can possbibly reject the Messiah. He is pointing out that they are not true followers of God. Those who do not follow the Father obviously wont follow the Son.
      My latest post part 3 (just posted) touches more on this transitional period. After i have finished this series, and you have a chance to know all my thoughts, i would like you to share your interpretation on 6:64-65 again, just so i can see if we are coming from the same perspective.
      Anyways, there are some things i am certain about in my interpretation given the context and theme of John. But some fo the details are still rattling around in my mind. that is why i would like to hear your interpretation again after you have heard all my thoughts on the subject. I think they will be helpful for me.
      God bless,
      chris

  2. I have to agree with Alan and Christian. Independently of them I blogged my own response to Pastor Chapman’s second article and came to the same conclusion: He fails to understand the Reformed distinction between natural and moral ability and ends up creating a false dichotomy between desire and ability. The crucial error on is part is in reading “can” (Greek, dynamai) as “will” (Greek, thelo). But John says nothing of “thelo” in John 8; rather unregenerate man is “not able” to believe in Jesus (moral ability), which explains why he is unwilling to come to Jesus. Further, as I predicted in several com-boxes in the first article in his series, the appeal to the larger context only served to obfuscate the issues at hand. Here is a link to my blog where I have responded to his article in toto.

    http://fallibility.blogspot.com/2012/11/my-favorite-arminians-misreading-of-john.html

    Also, I’m going to admit to a bit of “snark” on my part. But know that it’s only because I think the pastor has grossly misrepresented the Reformed view, and more seriously, the Gospel of John. Perhaps I’m employing a double-standard here, but I do think a pastor must be held to a higher standard than the average blogger when it comes to handling the Word of God. (Off soapbox, now.)

    Blessings,

    Mike Taylor

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with you. And I am about half way done with your blog post and it is very beneficial to me and I hope it helps Pastor Chapman here as well. Thank you for your effort to bring clarity out of the confusion that is taking place here. I am not trying to be mean to Pastor Chapman by saying that, but it’s true. The plain reading of the gospel of John (especially John 6) is straight forward monergism. John 1:13 “…not of the will of man, but of God.” Seems pretty clear to me.

      1. Alan, Christian & Michael,
        I have adjusted the illustration that i think caused you all to believe i was accusing Calvinism of denying “natural inability.” I have also added a paragraph to clarify my second illustration which was (as should now be clear) intended to oppose Calvinism’s doctrine of “moral inability.” I am grateful for the input. My posts are not written for Calvinists but for non-Calvinists and those who have been confused by the claims of Calvinism. For that reason i write, and use illustrations, with such people in mind. Claiming that Calvinism rejects what is philosophically termed “natural ability” never crossed my mind, nor do i believe most of my readers would have read that into my illustrations and points. But, anyway, i am grateful to you all for your input. It has helped me make my point clearer for educated Calvinists as well. Though i am quite certain none of you will agree with my changes;)
        In the future i would appreciate that if i write something you perceive is false concerning the views of Calvinism that you all read it charitably. That is, that you assume it is just me communicating poorly, as i believe was the case this time. Or that it is due to me unintentionally misunderstanding Calvinist teachings, which you all have said was the case this time, which i still deny;) But not that it is due to a lack of integrity, as i believe Michael seemed to insinuate with “needing to have higher standards as a pastor.” Whether i am communicating poorly, or just ignorant about what i am talking about, i am attempting to write with integrity. I do not appreciate people using straw man arguments about what i believe, and i would count myself guilty of lying and deception if i did the same to others. I would appreciate if you would just trust me on that unless i become blatantly deceptive or beligerent.
        Thanks for the sharpening guys!
        Gbu
        Chris
        P.S. please call me Chris or Christopher, i dont even feel comfortable with people in my church calling me pastor;)

      2. Pastor… err… Chris. lol J/k. Chris, you have correctly stated the reformed understanding of regeneration preceding faith, you have said it many times. The problem is that you don’t seem to give your opinion of what the truth is, at least you don’t come out and say it. You have hinted at it, but I think it would be helpful to reformed folks, as well as undecided folks, if you just lay your cards on the table. Calvinists are totally okay laying our cards on the table. We believe in TULIP. People that disagree very seldom just come out and say they are Arminians, so they are hard to figure out. If you disagree with calvinism (monergism), then I can only assume that you believe that people have the ultimate free will and the deciding vote in their salvation. God has done everything He can and now its up to mankind to cast the final vote for their salvation. Man and God work together cooperatively for their salvation (synergism). All I can say is that I had no part in bringing about my natural birth. That was the actions of my parents and, ultimately, God. And so when Jesus uses the analogy of being “born again,” He is suggesting that we have no rule in our spiritual birth either. He does more than suggest it by saying that the wind blows where it wishes and we can’t control the wind, just as we cannot control the new birth. It is solely of God. Do you agree it is solely of God, and not in response to our faith?

      3. Christian,
        This is not my first post on Calvinism. I have written on monergism very clearly elsewhere, & also in later in this present series. For the clearest statement on my rejection of monergism see the my post entitled something like “the extent of spiritual death”. It is in the Calvinism section in the menu. Also see “A much sbused passage” discussing Ephesians chapter 2.
        I am in agreement with all the PreNicene Fathers on this issue. I believe in the free response (& thus responsibility) of men to God’s convicting & enlightening grace. That is i believe in God’s image in man & libertarian free will.
        Gbu
        The most venerable & illustrious pastor Christopher 😉
        (if we call each other titles we might as well go all the way with it;) haha

      4. Is it because of God that we are in Jesus Christ, or is it because of mans freewill choice and desire to follow Christ? 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 states it clearly;

        “But GOD CHOSE what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; GOD CHOSE what is weak in the world to shame the strong; GOD CHOSE what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,”

        (my interjection… So why did GOD CHOOSE?)

        “SO THAT NO HUMAN BEING MIGHT BOAST in the presence of god.”

        (If it was mans choice to follow God, he would then have reason to boast. And who is responsible for us Christians being in Christ? Man or God?)

        “And BECAUSE OF HIM YOU ARE IN CHRIST JESUS, who…”

        (after/during regeneration and all that comes with salvation, not before which then lead to our salvation)

        “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written,’Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

        Sorry for the interjections, but I had to at least show what I believe the text to be teaching. Seems clear to me that it is God who is first working on, in, and through us and causing us “to walk in [His] statutes and be careful to obey [His] rules,” – Ezekiel 36:27, and “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Phil. 2:13.

  3. What do you think of the Reformed distinction between natural ability and moral ability? I could certainly be misunderstanding you, but it seems to me that in your explanation of what Jesus means by the word “cannot” you are actually affirming the Reformed understanding of man’s ‘total depravity’ as an issue of moral inability, especially with your handful of examples (“I cannot give you my money,” etc.).

    To get at it from another angle, I believe the analogy you give to explain the Reformed understanding of man’s inability (“They think ‘cannot’ here is used in the same sense one would say, ‘A man cannot fly by flapping his arms very fast.’) is an unfair and incorrect one: that analogy presents the inability as a PHYSICAL (natural) inability, whereas Reformed theology does not teach this about man’s depravity.

    To use an example I once heard John Piper give (and I think you’ll find it’s similar to your explanations of “cannot,”) imagine two people, each sitting in a chair, each of whom you command to get up and walk to where you stand: the first is paralyzed from the waist down, and physically unable to walk, thus you are commanding him to do something which he is physically incapable of doing (natural inability); the second is not paralyzed at all, but rather is simply too comfortable where he is, and prefers, without hesitation, to remain in the comfort of his chair rather than obey your command (moral inability). The Reformed understanding of man’s depravity is reflected in the latter (and, once again, in your “cannot” examples), not the former; and we should agree that the latter is guilty of sin and disobedience, whereas the former is not.

    The Reformed understanding of man’s depravity is a matter of moral inability, not natural inability as your “person flapping their arms” analogy implies—our sinful depravity and rejection of God, and the numerous Jews’ rejection of Christ, is a matter of being too comfortable in sin, preferring sin over God. There is nothing external preventing the Jews from turning to Christ and receiving Him; rather, the matter is an internal, moral matter of the heart. You’ve already quoted John 3:19–21 as an affirmation of this, and rightly so.

    So, as I qualified all of this earlier, unless I’m misunderstanding you, I actually don’t see where the Reformed understanding of this “cannot” matter disagrees with what you’re saying; it seems to me, actually (and please don’t detect any snark, sharpness, or condescension in my tone—I say this humbly with the honest desire that we, as brothers in Christ, might be able to understand one another as much as possible, bless and edify one another, and be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith) that you have an incorrect understanding of the Reformed teaching of man’s depravity and inability.

    I’m excited to read your next post, as you end this one by leading up to, and ending on, the question “Who are these people of John 3:21?” in a quite intriguing way. You’re absolutely right that there are people who are doing “what is true” and “com[ing] to the light,” but the fact that there are such people does not necessarily require, nor even imply, that these people are doing these things completely on their own, apart from regeneration: it simply states that there are people doing such works, which does not necessarily rule out
    God working behind and underneath their working (Phil 2:12–13; 1 Cor 15:10). In fact, as you quote, “[their] works have been carried out in God”—what, then, does this mean, if not that they are IN GOD in a regenerated sense, as so much of Scripture seems to make clear that God is the initiator in any person coming to Christ (Ezek 36:22–32, especially vv. 26–27; John 15:5; Rom 8:7–8; Eph 2:1–10, especially v. 10; 1 Jn 5-1; see also Matt 13:11 and Mark 4:11–12)?

    I do apologize for going on for so long here; and I am also sorry if I have misunderstood you, or have been unclear, argumentative, or aggressive in anything I’ve said! I’m confident that I’m not saying anything you have not already heard, or pointing out any texts that you have not already studied, but am simply interested to hear your approach to these texts.

    Just a couple more questions to perhaps further the conversation (and please do forgive me if you’ve already spoken to any of these texts on your blog, as I was just introduced to it yesterday—feel free to direct me to any previous posts): What do you make of Jesus’ words in John 3:3–8, and his clear emphasis on our need to be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God? In light of that, how do you understand Rom 8:7–8, which seems to affirm the above-explained understanding of man’s moral inability apart from divine intervention?

    I’ll stop with those—there are many more texts we could look at together, and Lord willing, maybe we’ll get to do so over time!

    In closing, I’ll simply mention that out of all the verses in John 6, the most powerful display, communication, and expression of the doctrine of irresistible (or, preferably, effectual) grace is Peter’s response to Jesus’ question posed to the Twelve after many disciples have turned away, offended by his hard teaching:

    “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'” (Jn 6:67–69).

    Peter’s response, now THAT sounds like irresistible/effectual grace: their hearts of stone have been removed, and they have been given hearts of flesh, and new affections for God, for Christ; all other things—all the idols in the world which so many seek, believing that they will give life and satisfy our infinite longings—have been ruined for them, as they’ve been shown to be empty, vain and lifeless in contrast to Christ, his words of life, and his light which shines so brightly and purely in their hearts now; “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in [their] hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:3–6); they “were once slaves of sin [but] have become obedient from the heart… and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness,” and “thanks be to God” for it (Rom 6:17–18)!

    Alright, I really will stop there. I pray that my words have been spoken (well, written) in humility, and that they may be received in the same. I look forward to any response you may give.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and sincere handling of the Word of God, and your earnest desire to teach. God bless!

    1. Alan,
      Thx for your input. I think my point will become clear in later posts, but i might need to clarify my analpgies depending on your answer to one question: Can sinners choose to deny themselves and repent? That is, is repentance possible (i will give you my money by denying myself) or impossible (flapping my wings cannot make me fly)?

      If you say it is impossible, then you do not yet understand how I, or Christ, is using the word “cannot”. My following posts should clarify.

      Gbu
      Chris

    2. Alan, let me try to cut thru any word wrangling by putting it this way: Is it as impossible for a sinner to repent of their rebellion against God (without first being regenerated monergistically) as it was for Lazarus to raise himself from the dead?
      If you say yes, then my analogies stand. The first shows an impossiblity. The second a choice. & a choice can be changed by the person who makes it.

      As for jn3:19-21 i will address its context more clearly. obviously it cant mean no sinners can repent & only those living righteously (who need no repentance) can repent. instead Jesus gave the reason why those Jews who were following the Father would naturally accept the Son, & those Jews who were in rebellion to the Father would not accept his Son either. that is, those unrepentant Jews couldnt believe in Christ, only those who were righteous covenant keepers.

      Of course we know elsewhere that rebellious Jews could repent towards the Father & then come to the Son, but that 3rd situation is not addressed in Jn3:19-21.
      Gbu

      1. I know this was addressed to Alan, but I wanted to take a crack at this because I think it does get right to the issue at hand. Pastor Chapman asked:

        “Is it as impossible for a sinner to repent of their rebellion against God (without first being regenerated monergistically) as it was for Lazarus to raise himself from the dead?”

        Yes. But keep in mind that the analogy only works if we keep in mind the distinction between natural and moral ability. Unlike Lazarus (because he was dead), spiritually dead sinners have a will and therefore can make decisions. Viewed that way, they have the natural ability to repent and obey. And because no one is holding a gun up to their head forcing them to sin, it is not absolutely necessary for spiritually dead people to commit sin. And yet “all have sinned.” What accounts for the fact that 100% of humanity chooses to sin? Is this just a statistical miracle? Or is there something “in a man” (John 2:25) that explains this? We think that something is the T in Tulip. Total depravity. This is why we have to answer yes to your question. If repentance is, if you will, a spiritual decision, then a spiritually dead sinner cannot repent. Regeneration, therefore, precedes repentance. So my answer to your question is “yes.”

        >>If you say yes, then my analogies stand.<<

        They don't stand because they are based on a confusion between "can" and "will". You have defined dynamai (to be able) as thelo (to be willing). That's lexical sleight of hand, pastor. If you disagree, and can show us the lexical backing for reading dynamai as "to be willing" rather than "to be able," by all means produce the evidence. I scoured BAGD and found nothing helpful to your cause. I'll check the TDNT to see if there's anything there that might give you some support. But so far, my search has yielded nothing that would justify your interpretation.

        Blessings to you!

        Mike Taylor

      2. “If repentance is, if you will, a spiritual decision, then a spiritually dead sinner cannot repent.”

        So u agree that it is impossible (just like a man flapping his arms to fly) for a sinner to repent. My analogies did not consider how they are impossible, just that they are impossible. On the other hand it is possible for a person who doesnt want to give all his money to change his desire & give all his money (possible).
        This sense is clear if the average person reads my post. Maybe not so much for religious philosophy students. Those it was written for will understand the point.
        As it stands my post above confirms that Calvinism believes that a sinner is unable (cannot choose for whatever reason- a moral impossibility is an impossiblity) to repent of their sins without first being regenerated. Just as impossible as a person trying to fly without any help from a plane. Do deny this basic fact of calvinism and use philosophic terms in such a simple discussion is unnecessary.
        The will of man, if it cannot choose anything good has been depraved. The will is part of human nature. If the will of man has become unable to choose good, then saying man has “natural ability” to repent is confusing to many of my readers.
        If you say man cannot choose to repent because he has no “moral ability” to do so, then the point is made that a man cannot (impossible) choose to repent.
        Both of you have mistaken the point of my analogies because you guys have studied this issue deeply. You thought im saying that Calvinism holds that it is “physically impossible” for a sinner to repent just as it is “physically impossible” for a man to fly. Actually i was using the illustration of one impossibility to show that Calvinism believes it is “impossible” (not “physically impossible”) for an inregenerate man to repent. You have confirmed that Calvinism indeed teaches this, as all mist agree.
        I used the oppisite illustrations to show that the pharisees did not follow christ because they desired something else. They could not repent & believe becsuse they were unwilling to do so. But i used the illustrations about money, party, pool, as illustrations to show that they could possibly repent. Since not wanting to is a moral category, and everyone common man (as opposed to philosophers & certain theologians)knows that humans are moral creatures with the freedom of choice, such illustrations showed that they could possibly repent. You both assumed i was using the illustrations to say that ” it is morally imppssible for the pharisees to repent & calvinism doesnt recognize this is why they cannot repent, they think it is because of a physical natural impossibility.” that was not what i was saying at all. Only people like you two who are deep into the reasonings & philosophy of reformed theology would make that assumption. My readers would all recognize i was saying that the pharisees could repent, but “would not” repent. To you this would mean that they “could not” because the morally “cannot will to do good.” my readers would know that the pharisees could morally choose to do God’s will, but had chosen not to do so. My illustration showed that the failure of the pharisees was a moral failure. & since it was a moral failure, they could have chosen to do differently.
        When reading my posts please try to think about who they are written for & put yourself in their shoes. Then you will not misunderstand such illustrations to be a misunderstanding of deep calvinistic philosophy. I am writing for those unfamiliar with such things. If i referenced such philosophic subjects i wud explain them.
        Thx & Gbu
        Chris

      3. The pharisees could not (“cannot”) believe in Jesus because they had not repented, which was within their ability to do (i.e. it was possible for them to repent. Their repentance towards the Father was a condition for them to be capable of believing in the Son). “Cannot” in John 8 does not mean they cannot possibly repent of their rebellion to the Father because they are morally unable to choose repentance. Instead it means they could not brlieve in the Son until they repented towards the Father. Im arging against Calvinism’s idea of moral inability by going thru the context in which Jesus says “cannot.” I dont know what any lexicons say about the word “cannot.” I assume that it means something like “unable to do so.” Im saying tgey were unable to believe because they had not yet chosen to repent. i am contradicting the idea that they were unable to repent because tgey were morally depraved.
        Hopefully the context & meaning of these passages will become clearer as we progress. Gbu

      1. I don’t think you understand what Alan is saying because you created a false dichotomy. Yes men have the natural ability to repent; they have all the physical faculties needed in order to repent and become a Christian(refer to the chair analogy of my friend Alan, which I believe Piper got from Jonathan Edwards). We also have the natural ability to live a sinless life. Now before you misunderstand me, we absolutely DO NOT have the MORAL CAPABILITY to live a sinless life, to repent (realize how we’ve offended a Holy God and ask for forgiveness and a turning away from sin), and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We dont have the moral ability to do those things apart from the power of God, and even with the power of God we still cannot live a sinless life while we are still weighed down by these fleshly bodies (Romans 7). There are too many scriptures dealing with regeneration preceding faith that it is very difficult to even begin to address them all. The problem with verses that you are using to suggest the opposite is that these verses are not talking at all about what is going on, to use Alan’s words, behind and underneath these human actions. They are just addressing the actions themselves, not the cause of those actions.

      2. “There are too many scriptures dealing with regeneration preceding faith that it is very difficult to even begin to address them all. ” A statement most certainly open to question and highly debatable. Well at least you know what your next topic could be Chris -Do we have to get born again in order to believe……. er and get born again….?!?!?? But I think you already dealt with this partially when you dealt with the nature of spiritual death.

      3. Besides the post on “spiritual death” i also did a post on ephesians 2, i think it is called “a much abused passage”. By comparing eph 2 with col2 we see the order of salvation clearly. Colossians 2 tells us that being raised up with Christ comes after faith & even baptism. I dont know of any passages that teach we must be raised with Christ before we have faith. The Scriptures seem plain for those not indoctrinated into reformed theology. Salvation comes “by grace”, which is received “thru faith.”
        Gbu

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