John (Part 18): Bread of Life (part 2)
Many of the crowd that had sought to make him king were still at the miracle spot in the morning. They had seen the one boat depart without Jesus, and so they assumed he was still there as well. But when they couldn’t find him, they drifted back to their homes—mostly in Capernaum. There they did find Jesus. They addressed him as “Rabbi” in 6:25—still offering him the respect that had pushed them to want him as king. They wondered about his departure—not about the how of it so much as the why. They wanted him as king, why did he leave?
Jesus responds by highlighting their error in interpreting the sign miracle. They were excited about its physical, temporal aspect. But Jesus told them not to work for the temporal but rather for the eternal. He wanted them to understand that the food provided that supported physical life was but a sign of spiritual nourishment that brings spiritual life (i.e., relationship with God). But notice that he said to “work” for it. And so their response was to ask what work they could perform that brings about this spiritual growth (6:28). Their question is reminiscent of the rich, young ruler who asked Jesus what good he could do to have eternal life (Mt 19:16-21). Jesus responded by telling him to keep the commandments, and he lists the six having to do with relationship among fellow people. The man complained that he has already done this. Jesus pointed out how feeble and less than whole-hearted his motives were. In other words, the man seemed to be looking for spiritual advancement for himself by giving minimum obeisance to help for others. Jesus pointed this out by telling him to give up everything he had. By doing so, he would be showing greater love for his fellow man while resulting in a total dependence on God for further care for himself—the perfect combination for someone truly seeking relationship. But the man went away disappointed. He didn’t want to give up so much.
Back in John 6, the people were wanting to know the same thing—how do they advance their spirituality. Jesus replied that they should believe in him. They still didn’t quite understand what he was saying, although they thought they did. They considered Jesus merely a wise man who could help them (covenant people of God—people already in relationship with God) toward greater spiritual standing. And so, when Jesus told them to believe in him, they think Jesus is claiming a prophet status that they should follow. So they respond by wanting Jesus to perform a sign signifying his prophet status. It is not that they had already forgotten the miracle of the bread and fish. But Jesus himself had seemed to separate his bread miracle from their current discussion by (in their minds) distinguishing it as something temporal. So the people wanted a more spiritual sign. Again, they brought up Moses. He gave them a spiritual sign. He gave them bread that was actually from heaven—the manna.
Jesus responded to the people by telling them Moses did not give them (that is, their ancestors) manna, but rather God did. And God is the one who gives bread from heaven. This response seems to have excited the people even more. They cried out for Jesus to give them this bread from heaven, no doubt excitedly anticipating a miraculous rain of manna. But then Jesus stunned them by saying that he was the bread from heaven. Imagine their shock and disappointment after expecting a miracle of manna from heaven and then being told it was all a metaphor—and one they didn’t even understand.
But Jesus was going to explain it, and the next few verses do that in such a way that they were no longer puzzled about the point Jesus was making. In verse 35, Jesus mentions two ideas in parallel. Those who come to him will never hunger, and those who believe in him will never thirst. This shows us that “coming to him” means believing in him. And this coming and believing is metaphorically shown in the eating of the bread.
In the next verse, verse 36, Jesus referred back to the people’s demand for a sign in verse 30. They wanted a sign of heavenly significance so they could “see and believe.” Jesus said they have seen but do not believe. He was their sign. He was the one who came down from heaven. And yet their seeing produced no belief.
That Jesus expects them to respond based on hearing him and seeing miracles of healing and feeding means, I think, that there is more going on than simply a physical activity. How did people know that God was directing in the miracles? How were the OT prophets sure that their messages were from God? How was Abraham sure it was God’s voice that told him to kill his son rather than some creeping lunacy on his own part or maybe even the voice of a demon? The more that is going in this is revelation / enlightenment by God. When God communicates, he does so to clearly indicate to the minds and hearts of the listeners that it is, in fact, God speaking. And it is this realized communication from God that the people are rejecting.
Verse 37 presents an idea that seems awfully Calvinistic in a simple reading. Jesus said, “Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me.” This certainly sounds like the Calvinistic idea that regeneration precedes faith. In order to examine this verse fully, we need to be sure of our soteriological understanding first. I want to present the differences among Calvinism, Arminianism, and Faith Electionism before we proceed.
A simple illustration may help highlight the differences. Imagine a person seated in a chair across from an easel with a painting on it. In the example of Calvinism, God comes in and says to the person, “I want you to see this picture of truth, goodness, and beauty I have painted.” The person doesn’t respond. Of course, he can’t; the person is dead. So God goes over to him and places his arm around him (in this illustration, the touch of God gives regenerated life). Once alive again, the person opens his eyes and sees the painting and leaps from his chair (faith is illustrated by the leap) to embrace the painting. So that’s the Calvinistic process: regeneration precedes faith.
Now let’s look at the Arminian example. The person is in the chair and the painting is on the easel in front of him. God comes in and says, “I want you to see this picture of truth, goodness, and beauty I have painted.” But the person, although not dead as in the Calvinism example, has no muscle capability, not even enough to raise his closed eyelids in order to see the painting. The curse of sin has rendered him in capable of any movement, even the raising his eyes to gaze on the painting. So God comes to the person and touches his eyes and legs. By this grace of God (prevenient grace) he is enabled to see. By seeing he decides whether to embrace the painting in faith (stand up) or reject it.
Finally, let’s consider the Faith Electionist approach. Again someone is seated in a chair but this time he is turned so that his back is to the painting (which is also hidden by a cloth). God comes in and says, “I want you to see this picture of truth, goodness, and beauty I have painted.” The person in the chair, fully capable of seeing, nevertheless replies that he sees no painting. This is because he is turned away from the painting. God tells him to turn, and the person responds to the instruction of God by turning somewhat. God urges him to turn more. He responds, doing so. God tells him to lift up his eyes to the painting. He does so. God pulls off the cloth revealing the painting, and the person can see. The person stands (in faith) to embrace the painting. Now, in this example, the person could have refused the instruction (revelation) of God at any time in the process. He could refuse to turn, refuse to lift his eyes, and even refuse to stand in embrace. But as the person responds in faith to God’s revelation, God continues to provide additional revelation until that point when revelation for salvation is presented.
The difference between the Arminian outlook and that of the Faith Electionist is significant. First, the Arminian prevenient grace is a universal grace given everyone. In Faith Electionism, the grace in revelation that God offers is initially universal (general revelation), but then is highly individualized according to the revelation/response interaction that God conducts with each person. Some reject God early and so, as Romans 1 informs us, God “delivered them over” or moves away, limiting his revelation. When the person responds in faith (drawing nigh to God), he draws nigh to him/her (James 4:8). Second, the prevenient grace of the Arminian sees God fixing a brokenness in the person. The person is incapable on his/her own of responding to God. This brokenness of not being able to respond is repaired by God so that the person may respond. In faith electionism, there is not a broken ability that must be fixed, but rather it is the receptors of truth, goodness, and beauty that have been turned away from God so that the person seeks only his/her own judgment. God, rather than fixing something, overwhelms in revelation so that the person sees even though he had not been looking. This difference is not merely semantical. The Arminian requires God to repair a brokenness caused by sin without benefit of Christ’s atonement. We know it is without benefit of Christ’s atonement because the person may still reject Christ. We are left, then, with a person whom God has reversed (in part) the effects of sin without benefit of the atonement. That is not biblical.
In faith electionism, there is no fixing of sin-imposed brokenness. It is rather the overwhelming revelation of God that finds its way to the person’s unbroken but turned-away receptors of truth, goodness, and beauty.
The Calvinistic approach also has its problems. Two of the problems may be seen if we continue the illustration to a second example. In example 2, Person B is in the chair facing the painting. God comes in and says, “I want you to see this picture of truth, goodness, and beauty I have painted.” Person B also does not respond for the same reason—he’s dead. This time, instead of touching him to life, God merely repeats his request. He repeats it slowly. He repeats it loudly. But each time there is no response because, of course, Person B is dead and incapable of responding. God knows that Person B is dead. God knows that Person B is incapable of responding, and yet God continues to call to him to look at the painting. This is, of course, disingenuous of God. The picture of God given us in his Word is not that of disingenuousness.
Secondly, we may wonder why God does not extend his touch to Person B as he did to Person A. If we ask God why, the Calvinist seem to think that God will answer merely that he is God and can do as he pleases. This is a significant problem. God tells us that he is love. God tells us that he is infinite, thus infinite in his love as well. And, God tells us that we should imitate his love. Yet we are left with a puzzle of why the God of infinite love should limit his love for no apparent reason by not extending it to Person B. Is God not truly infinite in love? If not, is God sending us a confusing and contradictory view of love, yet still asking us to imitate him in that love? The Calvinistic approach leaves us in an incoherent position regarding the love of God.
A third significant problem with Calvinism is found in the approach to Person A. In that approach, regeneration precedes faith. While in the illustration, we seemed to find a sense to being made alive first so that faith may be enabled, its logical order does not seem to make sense when coupled with another ordered set the Paul argues in Romans 3:28 and 5:1. There Paul says that we are justified by faith. Thus, the Calvinist’s ordo salutis runs from regeneration to faith and then to justification.
Here’s the problem: regeneration means not just to have life, but to be born into Christ and thus inheriting from Christ his righteousness. Righteousness, of course, means faithfulness to the covenant. And justification is the declaration by God of someone’s faithfulness to the covenant (righteousness). Therefore, as a logical order, we can readily see that regeneration precedes justification: one must be born into Christ, inheriting his righteousness, in order to be declared righteous. However, for what logical purpose is faith inserted in the order between regeneration and justification? Why does Paul logically argue that we are justified by faith? If we gain righteousness by regeneration, why does not Paul say we are justified by regeneration? Why does he say by faith? There appears no logical reason for the insertion, making the naming of this a logical ordo salutis simply not correct.
The Faith Electionist argues that faith precedes regeneration which, in its turn, precedes justification. In that lineup the logic is maintained. Regeneration—the making righteous—precedes the declaring of being righteous. And Paul’s insistence that we are justified by faith also makes logical sense because faith is what leads to regeneration.