Jesus was a “Calvinist”

It’s anachronistic, to be sure, but Jesus was a Calvinist. That is, He teaches the doctrines of grace (which the church has nicknamed “The Five Points of Calvinism”) more clearly than anyone in the Bible, particularly in John 10. This passage is the famous “Good Shepherd” discourse, and we see several things from it.

First, notice that Jesus explicitly tells us for whom He lays down His life – it’s for His sheep (15); His own, those He knows (14); those who hear His voice (16, 27); those who have been given to Him by the Father (29). (Cf. John 17:9 and 17:20, in which Jesus the High Priest only prays for the sheep the Father had and would give Him, and not on behalf of the world).

Second, notice what Jesus says that He will give to His sheep: eternal life (28). John 3:14-15 tells us that He obtains eternal life for them through His cross: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Jesus connects these dots for us in John 6:35-40 – the will of the Father is that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life; those who believe/those who will have eternal life are those who have been given to the Son by the Father (the sheep); they will necessarily come to Jesus (6:37), for the Father will draw them (6:44) and Jesus laid down His life for them and brings them to Himself (10:14, 16).

Third, notice that there is no division between the Father and the Son when it comes to the sheep: the Father is the one who has given the sheep to the Son; He is the one who has given Christ the commandment to lay down His life (18); and He and the Son are one, both holding the sheep in their hands eternally (28-30).

But fourth, notice what Jesus says to the Jews who were not believing in Him – when they ask Him if He is the Christ, He says, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep…” (25-26). He doesn’t say, “You are not of my sheep because you don’t believe,” but “You don’t believe because you are not of my sheep.” They are not of His sheep, therefore they do not believe, they don’t come, they don’t hear His voice and follow Him. Not only is this an argument for faith being a result of predestination rather than the cause, it also tells us that when Jesus says He lays down His life for His sheep, He is excluding those who are not His sheep (just as He excludes them from His great high priestly prayer in John 17) – He didn’t lay down His life for them, to give eternal life to them, to assure that they will not perish. He did not die for them, He did not intend to save them, He does not know them savingly, they will not receive eternal life, for the Father had not given them to Him, and their ongoing/persistent lack of faith is evidence of that fact. To be sure, there are some people who don’t believe right now, who will believe through the word of God preached to them; they are Jesus’ sheep, of different folds as verse 16 states. But there are others who will never believe, no matter how often the gospel is preached to them, even if it were Jesus standing here preaching the gospel – they are not of His sheep, and He did not die for them.

So Jesus’ words here pose some hard realities to those who would argue for an unlimited or universal atonement: not everyone is given to Jesus by the Father, not everyone is one of Jesus’ sheep for whom He lays down His life. Of course, as Charles Spurgeon so eloquently explains, an “unlimited” atonement actually limits the power and efficacy of the atonement: “Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, [those who say that Christ did not die so as to secure the salvation of anybody]. We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it… I would rather believe a limited atonement, that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be added to it.” If you add John 10 to this basic theological truth, there’s only one place to land: the “L” of TULIP is Biblical, sound, and full of comfort.


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