Does the Gospel of John Teach Unconditional Election? | Conclusion
Dr. Bill Helton | Leroy A. Peterson Professor of Homiletics
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY
Some Verses in John That Teach Unlimited Atonement Thus Refuting Unconditional Election
“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (NASB)
When looked at as a whole, the Gospel of John consistently uses the words “all” and “world” in salvation concentrated passages to mean the whole of lost humanity, not just an elect few. Outside of the context of salvation sometimes the words “all” and “world” are sued to refer to a group less than the whole of humanity, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.’” (John 12:19, NASB) It is clear in this context that the Pharisee’s are using hyperbole. To argue as some, “that often the Bible uses the words “world” and “all” in a restricted sense” and ignore the individual context of each use is clear hermeneutical violation. The clear meaning of this verse is that the blood of “The Lamb of God” was sufficient to cover the sin of the whole of fallen humanity.
“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.” (NASB)
John 3:16 can be read from different theological perspectives and has been a source of different doctrinal positions. The Calvinists will tend to emphasize the role of “God” in loving the world and giving the Son. The Arminians will tend to stress the word “whosoever” as indicating human freedom and the human decision-making process in salvation. But this verse is in fact an excellent reflection of the wonderful tension in the Bible that must be maintained in all discussions on salvation.
The full perspective is that God is the initiator and principal actor in salvation, and we should never think that salvation originated with us (cf. 1 John 4:9-10). God, however, has given humanity a sense of freedom and requires us to make a choice. Accordingly, people are responsible for their believing. It is unproductive theological speculation, therefore, to minimize either the role of God or of humanity in the salvation process. The Bible and John 3:16 recognize the roles of both.
John 3:17 expands on 3:16 giving God’s purpose for sending the Son and “makes it unmistakably clear that “world” here means the whole fallen world, for it is the same world that is under His condemnation (vv. 17-18). To find unconditional election in this verse would require a retranslation such as that of Calvinist John Owen, “God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved.” Such tampering with the Scriptures “needs no response, simply a sober reminder that God repeatedly exhorts us not to add to or subtract from His words (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19).”
“If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (NASB)
The plain teaching of this verse is that, as the whole world deserves God’s judgment, the coming of Jesus as Savior was for the whole of fallen humanity. Once again, the only recourse Calvinists have is to claim that the word “world” is used here in a limited sense. This argument was refuted earlier and needs no further discussion. John writes clearly of Jesus in 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, NASB) It seems unsupportable to take the position that John’s reference is somehow limited to the Christian world and not the world in general.
The tension between the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man will not be ultimately resolved this side of heaven. The debate over unconditional election will continue until the Lord Himself returns and we can all see clearly, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB) A close look at the Gospel of John revealed that there are numerous examples of God’s sovereignty, initiative, prompting, and even choosing to discipleship and fruit bearing, but there are no clear examples of unconditional election in John’s Gospel.
Man cannot set about to save himself; therefore, to God be all the glory for salvation. Jesus came to all but not all would receive Him. John 1:12 could not be more clear concerning those who will receive the power to become the children of God, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12, NASB) This gospel begins on this note of believing to receive and remains consistent throughout. Jesus Christ is the Elect One and all those who believe Him become part of the elect. To God be the glory, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NASB)
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