Friday, December 30, 2011

By Invitation Only

After walking on water to meet up with His disciples on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus arrives in Capernaum. Shortly thereafter, some Jews (who had eaten at the feeding of the five thousand) caught up with Jesus there; sparking a conversation where Jesus gets a little tangled up in His own metaphorical language. This study continues on with that same conversation, but with a special focus on exclusivity.

By Invitation Only
Often times, Christians will point to the freewill as an excuse for the way things are; such as why there is evil in the world (a consequence of humans choosing to works acts of evil on their own free will) or why God is justified in the eternal damnation of certain humans (because they have chosen to reject God's Salvation by their own free will). It is such a convenient argument that Christians completely ignore the Scripture which states the contrary. For there is one will which will always trump human will, and that is God's will.

Previously, we saw Jesus having a conversation with some Jews, where He explained that He was the "bread of life" sent by God to give eternal life, and people would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood to live (John 6:25-59). During that conversation, another theme emerged: exclusivity.

John 6:37-38 states that Jesus will accept anyone who is sent by God, the Father, which naturally implies that there are those not send by the Father, and therefore not destined for Salvation. The truth of exclusivity is more clearly claimed in John 6:44-45 where Jesus says:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me." NIV
So you must be drawn by God to the "bread of life," Jesus, to be Saved. There is a little ambiguity which seems to imply that God may speak to some people who do not listen to Him, but that apparent loophole will be closed soon enough. After all, who can resist the will of God?

With God selecting and drawing specific people to Jesus, it appears that any follower of Jesus is Saved, but that is not the case. After Jesus tells the Jews about how they must consume Him for Salvation, some of His own disciples are offended by His teaching (John 6:60). Jesus replies to the disciples in such a way that "many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him" (John 6:66).

(Note: Be careful when reading the Gospels, because "disciples" only means "students," not necessarily the Twelve Disciples/Apostles which are often thought of when the term "disciples" is used.)

What did Jesus say which turned many disciples away? Jesus reply in John 6:61-65 is, in a word, confrontational. In John 6:61-62, He starts by mocking their whining and attacking their lack of faith in His authority. Jesus begins His next thought with the "Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing," and states that the words which He had spoken were Spirit and life (John 6:63). Jesus knows, however, that some of them do not believe Him (John 6:64), which is why we find these parting words in John 6:65:
[Jesus] went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled him." NIV
Take just a moment to reflect on what this teaching means. You can choose to follow Jesus, out of your own free will. Yet you will not be able to believe in Jesus in a manner which leads to Salvation unless God also chooses to let you believe. The flesh, your choice, counts for nothing.

This teaching is a natural consequence of the teaching that God, the Father, is the one who chooses people for Salvation, because if God is the one leading people to Jesus, how could anyone subsequently leave Christianity, making God's actions result in failure? The solution to that conundrum is to establish the theological concept that some people will choose to become Christian, but are not really Saved, because God did not choose them. This is predetermined fate, not an outcome of freewill. God chooses who will be saved and who will perish, not us. This same sentiment is echoed in Romans 9:16-21:
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist His will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? NIV
Funny how you do not hear much about this teaching in modern pulpits. It is psychologically much easier to blame a person for rejecting God, than to blame God for rejecting that person.


  1. Love your conclusion. I was reading along and this thought kept popping up?

    So Jesus came to this world as a nobody to demand that people follow him? What? Where folks supposed to be psychic and guess that he was the son of god?

    It just doesn't make any sense to me that given so few clues, we humans need to come up with the conclusion that, yeah, Jesus was god. And if we don't believe it? Well, too bad. Hell is waiting.

  2. That is a great point, Lorena. Christianity often touts how humbly Jesus appeared, but how would that humble incarnation really persuade people to believe? And as you likely know, Jesus supposedly tried to keep His identity, and many of His healing miracles, a secret.

    The best defense I have heard to that argument is that had Jesus made Himself a more prominent figure, or spent most of His time in Jerusalem and other large cities instead of small fishing villages on the outskirts of the kingdom, He may have been seized and killed prior to completing all He needed to do. However, that is a weak defense, as it suggests God would have been powerless to accomplish His will under different circumstances. Doh!

    It does not paint good picture of any kind of God you would really want to follow, does it?

  3. No, it doesn't. Particularly, when the human race has seen what a real humanist looks like. We've seen people like Nelson Mandela, who doesn't demand that anybody follow him or worship him. Yet Mandela has accomplished much for the benefit of others.

  4. Isn't this basically the argument of Calvinism?

    1. Indeed, Brian M. To those who are familiar with the tenets of Calvinism, verses like the one in this study illustrate how Calvin developed his theology. If your background is Calvinist, you probably did not find this post sensational. The majority of Western Christian theologies I have run into, instead, emphasize free will and the choice of the individual.