Calvinism or Given-ism? (John 6:35-51)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: John 6:35–6:51
Several weeks ago, our college-age daughter walked into the kitchen and asked, “What is Calvinism?” Well, the first thing I asked her was if she was actually talking with someone about Calvinism; specifically, was it a topic someone else brought up. If it was, I stressed the importance of having that person define their terms. Whether accurate or not, what did they mean by the term Calvinism? Her question to me opened the door to a good 10-15 minute conversation about some very deep and extremely powerful ideas.
Are you familiar with this term, Calvinism? Someone may ask, “So how did you answer your daughter's question?” Here's the short answer: Calvinism is a system of interconnected ideas that attempts to explain, from the Scriptures, the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility when it comes to our redemption in Christ.
One of my biggest problems with Calvinism is the label. Calvinism was named after John Calvin, a French pastor who ministered in Switzerland during the Protestant Reformation. Now I am extremely grateful for the ministry of John Calvin. In spite of his flaws (and we all have them), he was one of the finest pastor/teachers in all church history. But the label Calvinism can be misleading. Why? Because for some, it seems to communicate that Calvin invented this system; that these ideas did not exist before the 16th century. That is demonstrably false. I say that, not because I have a list of other teachers from church history in mind, but because I have one teacher in mind. Turn, if you would, to the Gospel of John, chapter 6.
II. The Passage: “All that He Has Given Me” (6:35-51)
The teacher I have in mind is the One we find teaching in this very chapter: Jesus. Look with me at verses 35-46. Let me first read through this passage, and then we can think together about some of the key ideas revealed here by Jesus himself. Starting in verse 35...
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  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.  It is written in the Prophets (probably Isaiah 54:13), ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. [speaking, of course, about himself in that final statement]
So how does this discussion about our redemption, about God's sovereignty and man's responsibility begin? It always begins with the revelation of Jesus Christ, and how people respond to that revelation. We find that revelation here in verse 35: “I am the bread of life...”.
Notice first, that Jesus presents a contrast here between those who “do not believe” and those who “come”. Disbelief results in not coming to Christ. We heard this in the previous chapter where Jesus was clear with some of the Jewish religious leaders: “...you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (5:40) Why didn't they come? Because they didn't believe. In this passage, Jesus is specifically addressing the crowd's unbelief: (v. 36) “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” Remember, many of these people had seen Jesus miraculously multiple the fish and loaves to feed thousands, and they wanted more food and more signs, but they still would not trust him as the “bread of life”. In contrast, those who do come are described as (v. 40) “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him”.
Second, those who come in faith are those given to Jesus by the Father. Consider how verse 36 is connected to verse 37. Someone might ask, “If so many in this crowd saw this miracle but did not believe, then will anyone believe?” Yes! Verse 37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me”. Those who come... come because they were first given. But what exactly does that mean? How does God give someone to Jesus? We find one aspect of this in verse 44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Now, remember, to come to Jesus is just another way of talking about saving faith in Jesus. So Jesus is telling us here that no one can have this saving faith unless God actively draws or leads her or him. Even the OT prophets spoke about this. Such people are (v.45) hearing and learning from God because of his direct intervention, in order to direct them to Jesus. And if you drop down to verse 65 of this same chapter, you'll see how Jesus expands on God's role in all this: And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Now, the third idea that's crystal clear in this passage is that those who come will be kept, both in and for eternal life. Look again at the entirety of verse 37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” So according to verse 39, God's will or plan is that Jesus “should lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given [him]”. Listen to this reassurance: If you come, you will not be cast out. If you come, you will not be lost. No matter what happens, those who come to the Son, because they were given by the Father, will never be separated from the Son or the Father. How long, how far does this promise extend? Until the end! Three times Jesus declares that he will (v. 39) “raise it [i.e., raise this “all”, this whole group] up on the last day”; (v. 40) “...and I will raise him up on the last day”; and again in v. 44: “...I will raise him up on the last day.” (and again in v. 54!) Talk about a clear emphasis.
Let me also point out that there is an idea, a truth, woven through this chapter (and throughout this book) that helps us better understand the why of what Jesus is revealing here about the work of God in our redemption. This particular idea is pretty clear in verse 36, as well as in verses 41 and 42. What explains that disbelief in spite of the miracle? What explains this grumbling about the identity of Jesus? Well, please don't forget why Jesus left that first crowd of thousands, the crowd we heard about in the opening verses of this chapter. He left because, (v. 15), “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king”.
The reason Jesus extricated himself from that situation might be best explained by his spiritual assessment of human beings (of all human beings) back in chapter 2, verses 24 and 25: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. Why did this crowd doubt and grumble? Because we are sinners. Why must God intervene and draw us to Christ? Because we are sinners. Why does Jesus need to reassure his listeners that redemption is secure and certain? Because we are sinners... living, struggling, failing, pressing forward in a fallen world. What is assumed in this account is the very thing God confirmed in Jeremiah 17:9... The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Again, the three ideas that I highlighted earlier are the key ideas that make sense of everything Jesus is saying here. Given their importance, let me see if I can summarize these three ideas (keeping in mind that truth about human sinfulness):
Mercifully recognizing humanity's desperate condition, shackled by deception and disbelief, God granted that some should be called out of this spiritual death, given to Jesus, and securely nourished by “the bread of life” forever and ever.
You may recall how John has already touched on these idea in the opening chapters of his Gospel. He spoke in chapter 1 of those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:13) Speaking about this new birth, Jesus said something similar in terms of the Spirit's intervention...
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:7–8)
And Jesus will go on to speak about these same ideas. For example, in chapter 10 he will speak of the sheep the Father (10:29) “has given” to the Son, the sheep for whom he will lay down his life as the “Good Shepherd”. In his prayer in 17:2 Jesus will describe how the Father has “given [the Son] authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
To be clear, this is not an idea we only find in the Gospel of John. It's found everywhere in God's word. For example, both Jesus and Paul refer to this 'given group' with another title. They call them “the elect”.
But I want to make sure we consider one more thing about this passage. Look with me at the final verses of our section, verses 47-51. Jesus declares...
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
We can't miss the call to faith that Jesus is issuing here. He is appealing to his listeners. Jesus' offer of eternal life is open to (v. 47) “whoever”, (v. 51) “anyone”; to (v. 51) “the world”. Why is it so important that we stress this? Because God always draws 'the given' through the gospel. The fact that God has “given” and “draws” only some to new life does not in any way keep Jesus from appealing to all. When it comes to the gospel, we don't pick and choose. We proclaim.
III. Redemption and Reassurance
What does Calvinism teach? That God's response to our complete bondage and inability under sin was to choose some, solely on the basis of his grace, that they might be rescued. And that choice resulted and results in God powerfully calling these individuals to himself, making them alive in Christ, and the very certain completion of the saving work he began. Now, I hope it's been clear from a passage like John 6 that none of this was invented by either John Calvin or his students. No. Calvin was simply articulating truths Jesus himself taught, and the Apostles after him (and in His name). So if these theological ideas are truly biblical ideas, maybe people should talk less about 'Calvinism' and more about... maybe something like... 'Given-ism'.
Given-ism: a profound and beautiful set of biblical ideas centered on the reality that you, believer, were given, in amazing grace, by God the Father to God the Son, that the Son might perfectly secure your eternal redemption and restoration. (let me say that again)
When did the Father give you to the Son? Well, the NT tells us that not only did go know you before you were created (Romans 8:29-- “those whom he foreknew”), but that he (Ephesians 1:4) “chose us in him before the foundation of the world”; that he (Ephesians 1:5) “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through... Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”. That's the will Jesus spoke about accomplishing in John 6. This is that being “given” to the Son!
Now, think with me about why Jesus revealed such things to his original listeners. Why emphasize what he's emphasizing here in our main passage from the Gospel of John? I believe the main reason is reassurance. Jesus is expanding on the reassurance he offered when he said in verse 35... “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” How could Jesus be so certain? Because both the Father and Son would most certainly accomplish the 'rescue mission' ordained in eternity past.
With all this in mind, I'd like to share with you, very briefly, three encouragements in light of the beautiful, biblical truths of given-ism. First, you can rest in the reassurance that Christ has saved, is saving, and will save you, even from yourself. It's so easy to slip into that mindset in which we base our spiritual reassurance on our feelings or our track record. So we need to remember and remind each other of the fact that when Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished”, he was talking about your past, present, and future as one given.
Second, God's sovereign grace in Christ should embolden us to share Christ, knowing that he will surely work to call his own. It's critical we acknowledge that resting in reassurance does not mean spiritual inactivity. No. When we truly understand how God works to give life to a soul, we should be inspired to share the gospel, no matter the 'odds' or opposition.
Third, because God alone grants and gives, because he convicts, converts, and completes his saving work in us, he alone gets the glory. It's so important to remember that the only reason you came to Christ is because it was granted by the Father; because you were then drawn. Similarly and ultimately, the only reason you will be raised up in the end is because Jesus will never let you go. And so we cry out with all creation, in the words of Revelation 5:13, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Brother, sister, be humbled and reassured and stirred to worship in light of the fact you were given. Friends, if you aren't sure where you stand with God, don't focus on whether you've been given. Consider instead if you're being drawn. Consider what God is doing in your heart even now, in light of the truth. Come to Christ in faith. Come to the Bread of Life.