The Calvinism of Jesus

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Aug 27, 2017

John 6:44

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If you have your Bibles, please take them and turn to the gospel of John, chapter 6; you’ll find it on page 892. If you’re using a pew Bible, 892. Just one verse tonight, but I’ll read beginning at verse 41 of John chapter 6. Before we hear the Word of God, let’s go to Him in prayer.

Our Father, we long for the morning we just sang about that breaks when resurrection principality will become resurrection reality. As we contemplate the great truths Your Son taught so many years ago, we pray that You would draw us closer to You, that we would leave this place with a God-centered vision of reality. Help us. We cry to You and we know that You will answer us because You love us. And so we pray with full confidence and assurance in Jesus’ name that the Holy Spirit will help us now understand this Word. Amen.

John chapter 6, beginning at verse 41. This is God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word:

“So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. 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 grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God will stand forever and ever.

Loran Nordgren is a senior researcher at the prestigious Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and he did a very interesting series of experiments on the college students there. Here's what he did. He put them in tempting situations – to smoke, eat junk food, give up studying – and he wanted to see their reactions in each of these situations. And what his research revealed, because he talked to them beforehand and then after he did these experiments, what his research revealed was what he termed "restraint bias." In other words, we are tempted to overestimate how much self-control we'll have against temptation until we actually face that temptation. We vastly overestimate our amount of self-control. Here's how he concluded. "Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give into temptation."

Now, what's that have to do with what we're talking about here in John 6:44 tonight? One of the main divides in the theological world is between Calvinists and Arminians. It goes back to the Reformation. Those who followed the theology of John Calvin and those who followed the theology of a guy named James Arminius. And that divide goes right down to the present day. And one of the main dividing points between Calvinism and Arminianism is their view of the human will. And here’s what Nordgren’s research reveals, what we all know if we read the Bible, and that is this – our wills are enslaved to something. Okay? They’re either enslaved to Christ or they’re enslaved to whatever idol we choose – pleasure, money, fame, power, whatever. Our wills – here’s the point – are not unfettered and free. We do what we do because we love what we love. And that’s the central dividing line in theological terms between Calvinism and Arminianism.

And so as we launch into this passage in John tonight, what we're aiming for, what we want to understand is – What difference does it make what we believe about the human will, especially when it comes to the matter of our salvation? Here's the question – Are you a Christian tonight because of what God did in your life, pre-eminently what God did, or are you a Christian tonight because of a choice you made? And we'll talk about that as we come to the end. That's the question. And here's what Jesus is up to. John 6:41 – the Jews are saying, "How can this guy?" And who are the Jews? Just real quick, these are the Jewish leaders. They're saying to Jesus, "How can You say You came down from heaven? We know Your parents." They understood this was a stunning claim to deity and pre-existence before He came down to the earth. And then from there on, Jesus begins this amazing discourse on Him being the Bread of Life. And it ends with most of the crowd walking away from Jesus. He says to His disciples, "Will you walk away as well?" Peter says to Him famously, "You alone have the words of eternal life. Where else will we go, Jesus?" But Jesus' teaching divides people on this subject, then and now.

And the main point of what He says is this. He’s teaching us the necessity of divine grace for our salvation which results in the certainty of our resurrection in Him. The necessity of divine grace in our salvation results in the certainty of our resurrection in Christ. And those will be our two headings for John 6:44 – the necessity of grace, in the first place, and the certainty of resurrection. The necessity of grace and the certainty of resurrection.

Necessity of Grace

Look there again at verse 44. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” So Jesus says to His hearers here and to us today, we have a problem. And it’s a categorical problem. Did you notice that Jesus uses language here that admits of no exceptions? “No one.” No one. Not a single instance of an exception here. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” And so Jesus is saying, “Why do you not understand what I am saying to you about Me being from heaven?” He’s asking this question to His original hearers and then He’s giving the answer. He’s saying, “The reason why you can’t understand what I’m saying is because no one can come to Me, no one can believe in Me, no one can accept this teaching unless the Father who sent Me draws him to Me.” He’s saying there is no circumstance in which we, by our own free will, decide to start drawing near to God.

And our Lord’s teaching here has some massive implications for how we look at ourselves. He’s saying in the first place, everyone by nature turns away from God. Everyone by nature, born in original sin, born as a son or daughter of Adam and Eve, everyone by nature runs away from this God. There’s really, in one sense, no “seekers” in that sense. If you’re seeking God it’s because He first sought you. So everyone turns away. And in the second place, no one will get to God by his or her own reasoning or resources. That’s hard for us to hear in the West especially. We like to think we can tackle any problem, and whatever the problem is, we’ll figure it out and we’ll solve it whether by money, military, or technology. And Jesus says here, “No, it doesn’t work like that.” It doesn’t work with you and I working up our best arguments and reasonings. It’s not us using our best resources and figuring it out. He says, “It only happens if the Father who sent Me draws.”

It is All God

And this goes against what so many believe about salvation today. I well remember a conversation I had with my best friend and college roommate. He was the best man in my wedding, and we were both wrestling through the doctrines of grace, as they’re called, together; the teaching of the reformed faith. And eventually, we got to a point – he was saved just suddenly and wonderfully at a meeting. He heard the Gospel, he believed, and that was sixteen years ago, and he’s now following Jesus and we both thought it’s wonderful to talk about these things. But we had this conversation about fourteen years ago where we finally just asked each other, “Why did we believe?” And I asked him, “Why did you believe when you had a family member sitting next to you who heard the same message, the same exact preaching, and you’re a Christian today and he’s not?” And you know what he said? He said, “I guess I have to say it’s all of God.” And both of us, as we were wrestling through this said, “Yes, that’s it!”

And if you read the Bible, that’s what Jesus is saying. It’s all of God. And friends, I want you to know this because this is a unique teaching among world religions. We just heard from Stuart about this wonderful trip to India. Let’s pray for that country. Let’s pray for the Gospel to go forth in power. Do you know what the difference will be with the Gospel that is preached in India and in Mississippi and anywhere else in the world? It’s the Gospel of sovereign, divine grace that saves and nothing else! That’s it. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

God Draws Men

Now interestingly, the word here for “draw” is almost without exception elsewhere in the New Testament translated as “drag.” In fact, we were studying the book of James not too long ago. James 2:6, he says, “Is it not the rich who drag you into court?” Same exact word. And R.C. Sproul, who is one of the great reformed theologians of modern times, tells the story of when he was debating somebody about this verse and free will and salvation. This professor said to Dr. Sproul, he said, “Well actually the word means closer to what we translate it here in the English Bible as ‘draw,’ professor Sproul. After all, you don’t” – he quoted some extra-Biblical source about this word being used of how we get water out of a well. “We draw it out of the well,” he said to Dr. Sproul. “We don’t drag it out. We draw it out. This word, therefore, has much more of a sense of wooing all men to Himself. So it doesn’t mean what you think it means, Dr. Sproul.” And Sproul said, you know, there was laughter after this whole well business and then he looked at his friend, his debating partner, and said, “Yes, I understand that it can mean ‘draw,’ but it also means ‘drag,’ because none of us stand at the top of a well and go, ‘Here water, water, water!’ We compel it to come out!”

And of course, the classic objection here is that when you understand what Jesus is saying, it can be sometimes said that, "Well, do we believe that God drags people kicking and screaming into the kingdom?" No. No, what He does is He works with our wills. He takes our hardened, dead in sin wills, which want nothing to do with Him, and He makes them alive again and makes us want to choose Him. That's what this verse is talking about. That's the force of that word there – that God compels us to come to His Son but it's a gracious compelling. It's not a dragging, kicking and screaming against your will. It makes Jesus more beautiful and believable than anything else in this universe kind of drawing to Himself. It’s the kind of compulsion you want. After all, nobody has to beg you, I hope, to eat a bowl full of chocolate ice cream after a great steak. You want to be there. That’s what the Father does for us in Jesus. So there it is. We see the necessity of divine grace in our salvation.

Certainty of Resurrection

But notice, almost surprisingly, what Jesus says next. Verse 44, “And I will raise him up on the last day.” Why does He connect these two? Drawing, pulling, gracious compelling to come to Him; why then does He go right to resurrection? Because what He is saying to us is that if the Father draws, the Son will raise up. It’s the assurance of salvation. Because if no one can come unless the Father draws, the first question so many of us are going to have is, “How can I know I’ve been drawn?” And Jesus says, “Don’t worry about that. I am going to raise up all who My Father draws. If He brings them to Me, I will raise them up.” This is the greatest assurance of salvation possible, friends. Because here’s the question that’s going to inevitably come up in all of us as we follow Jesus. What about all my sin? What about those sins I keep returning to that I can’t seem to shake? Won’t God eventually give up on Me? Won’t He eventually have had enough with all of my struggles and my shame? And Jesus says, “It’s not what you do that either brings you to Me or keeps you with Me. It’s all of grace.” And that grace terminates, culminates, has its apex, reaches its zenith in the resurrection from the dead at the last day when Jesus will raise them up.

Now, why can He say this? Why can Jesus say with such confidence, "I will raise him up?" Do you see that underneath this whole discourse, if you read through it in just the few verses we've read, how Jesus has this self-awareness that He is not simply a mere man? He is God and man because mere men don't say, "I have the power to raise up people from the dead. No one can come – when that person comes, by God's grace and grace alone, I will raise him up." Why can He say that? Because the one who promises us resurrection will first be the crucified one in our place. And then He'll be the resurrected one.

The Beginning of Resurrection Life

And that brings us right to the center of the New Testament theology of resurrection. Jesus is going to say, a few chapters from now, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And He’s going to prove that when He walks out of the tomb on Easter morning. And this idea of resurrection, this beating heart of the apostle Paul’s theology, of New Testament theology, is this – that Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection He promises here, our resurrection on the last day, are not two separate events. They are two episodes of the same event. Why does that matter? Because when Jesus burst forth from the tomb, 2,000 years ago, it’s not like that is an isolated event that happens, there’s a really long time and then we’re raised from the dead. No, Jesus emerging from the tomb was the beginning, as it were. It’s why Paul calls it “the firstfruits of the harvest.” It’s the beginning, you see, of resurrection life sweeping into creation. And if you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian because you’ve been drawn by God and now you’ll experience the second episode of that event that happened 2,000 years ago.

Think about it like this, when Jesus came out of the empty tomb, what God did is said, “To be continued…” with you and me on the last day. And in between His resurrection and our resurrection is the power that He promised. Resurrection power that sweeps over our lives and begins to change us, to conform us to Christ, and to prepare us for that last and great day. The center of the New Testament’s teaching on resurrection is that because Jesus has been raised from the dead, our resurrection is certain. And if our resurrection is certain, our salvation is certain. And if our salvation is certain, then our hope is certain. And if our hope is certain, then we have no reason to be disappointed. We have no reason to fear again – not the grave, not the power of sin, not the power of temptation, not the power of the devil. We are free because He is alive and will make us alive together with Him.

Our Greatest Need

So what does all this mean for us tomorrow? Friends, I think what Jesus is telling us throughout this discourse and throughout His ministry is something that is so simple that it’s so easy to forget. Our greatest need, my greatest need – tomorrow, my feet hit the floor and that inner voice starts going, right? The minute you wake up, the minute you’re conscious, it starts going. My greatest need and your greatest need and our greatest need is more of God. Why should we care about the necessity of divine grace and the certainty of resurrection? Because Jesus here enthrones God at the center of the universe, not us! It’s not ultimately my choice from my free will that gets me to heaven. It is God! He gives us a God-centered reality, and the bigger God is in your life, beloved, the smaller everything else will be, including your problems, your trials, your frustrations. The bigger and more full of God we are, the more beautiful the Gospel becomes and the smaller everything else is.

And I don't know about you, but I've got things going on right now that I need them to be smaller. And I finish week after week and I go, "How, how did God get so much on the backburner this week?" And what Jesus does, when He locates our salvation in God, is return us to the dirt and say, "You did nothing. He did everything. It's all of Him from start to finish so no room for pride. No room for boasting." And when you're self-forgetful, it's when God is the biggest and joy comes. Joy starts to flood in because we've taken our eyes off ourselves and riveted them on the glorious center of the universe – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our greatest need tonight is more of God. And we need to ask Him for that. If you're cold towards Him, do you know that He delights to make you warm again? If you're distant from Him, do you know He delights to seek you out and bring you closer to Him? If you've wandered from Him, do you know that He is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep? And if you're trembling because you know your sin and you know He’s holy, do you know He is also the God who says, “I gave My Son to die so that My holiness and My justice and My love never have to fight against one another? They’re all honored.” Our greatest need is God.

The Chief Difference

And then the last thing is this. Salvation by God's grace alone is the chief difference between Calvinism and everything else. We're not here to have a party spirit. We're not here to preach John Calvin. John Calvin would hate that if you've read anything by the man. Why we call it Calvinism is because when you read the theology of that great reformer and you read what he says about salvation by grace alone, and he wrote it 500 years ago, and you begin to take it in, you realize all he's doing is just giving you what the Bible says. And that matters today because every other religion ultimately says it's what you do that saves you. It's your feelings, your decision, your free will. And friends, aren't you rejoicing tonight if you're a Christian that God conquered your will? That He brought you to Himself? And aren't we all going to rejoice here in heaven when we don't have the free will to not praise God? In heaven, your will won't be free! You'll be constrained, joyously constrained to praise Him forever and we're going to have a foretaste of that in a minute.

Grace alone is different than anything else. It’s all of God’s work – back to eternity; forward to eternity. He chose you before the foundation of the world. You’ll praise Him after the world is gone and the new heavens and the new earth are here forever. All of grace. And that is terrifying, isn’t it? Because it’s bringing us to the end of ourselves. That’s why this is scary. When you realize it’s all of grace, you can’t do, “Yeah but,” anymore. Grace says “No” to “Yes but.” “I know it’s grace, God, but…” “Yes, I know there’s grace, but I’m an addict.” “Yes, I know there’s grace but I’ve got this sin.” “Yes, I know there’s grace, but certainly I have to do something, feel something, read something, believe something in a certain way.” Jesus says, “No more” to “Yes but.” It ends at the cross. It ends because of grace.

The Cure to Boredom

And that is thrilling. If you’re bored with God tonight, you don’t want to admit it but you are, this will cure boredom. There’s nothing more thrilling than to know this God who draws you. Why is that thrilling? Because you realize how bad you are that He has to draw all of us! We’re not good. We don’t want Him. But then you realize He does draw you, He does compel you to come because He loves you. That’s thrilling. And friends, this is the only way to fight sin. If you don’t know God loves you tonight, you are going to be terrified of Him. You are going to try to live a life where you are constantly afraid that He is looking over your shoulder and ready to drop the hammer on you at any moment. The only way you’ll make progress in holiness and obedience “without which no one will see the Lord,” as the author of Hebrews tells us, is if you are assured that you and I live under a smiling heaven. And we do! That’s what the resurrection guarantees. If you know your Father loves you, you’ll want to obey Him; you’ll want to follow Him because you live in light of that love.

I’m thirty-nine. My dad’s going to be eighty next month. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, if I call my dad tonight and I need something, there will be no questions asked and he would give me whatever I need because he loves me and I’m his son. And to this day, I still have that awe, that trembling when I’m around my dad. I want to do nothing to displease him. That’s not because I’m scared of him; it’s because I know that I am his son and he loves me. And the Father says to us, He grabs us by our lapels in the resurrection, as it were, and pulls us out of the dirt and says, “I love you! Don’t ever forget it! You’re Mine! You’ll always be Mine! You’re My child! Don’t forget it!”

This is so refreshing to hear in a culture of death, isn’t it? I’ve missed the zombie craze. I’m going to confess that to you. I see that there’s a zombie craze. I’ve tried to watch The Walking Dead. No offense to those who are big fans; couldn’t get into it! But what I did read was an interesting article by an atheist in Esquire magazine on the current cultural fascination with zombies. Stephen Marche writes this. “After seeing dozens of zombie movies, I’m convinced that the reason zombies are so powerful is that they capture an atheistic fear of the dead. I don’t just mean the fear of dead bodies, though that fear is there too. Materialistic atheism does not provide a very comforting way to deal with the dead. Christians and others have prayer and visions of an afterlife. Atheists, like myself, have rotting corpses and oblivion and zombie movies.”

Here’s what the choice is. Rotting corpses, oblivion, zombie movies, zombie fascinations, culture of death. Or, “I will raise him up at the last day.” Those are the choices set before us every day. And the table, the table we’re coming to right now makes that choice so easy. Doesn’t it? The resurrected One is your host. His table is set. He says, “Eat, drink, live because I have brought you here. And do this with the hope of the resurrection because it ultimately depends on God, not you, not me. That’s the essence of Calvinism. God, not us. And that’s the only hope any of us have.

Let’s pray.

Father, thank You. Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for a salvation which is all of grace. O Father, would You help our cold hearts tonight? Would You inflame us with love to You and would You be so big for us, so glorifying and satisfying of Yourself and satisfying us in You this week that everything else fades away and we just crumble in Your presence. Make that happen. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

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