It is Christmas day. And for many that means spending time with extended family. And there is great joy in that. It is great to see and enjoy time with family members. But for believers there can be a tinge of sadness. For many of us getting together with family means getting together with unsaved family members; for some of us it means getting together with only or mostly unsaved family member. And often after the last present is unwrapped and the left overs are cleared away and you are in the car on the way home often a wave of sadness comes; those people you love so much are headed to hell. And they refuse to believe it or worse yet they may not care. The pain is real, so let me point you to a comforting doctrine that is a salve for your hurting heart. Election. Yes, election.
You have done everything you can. You have faithfully and repeatedly shared the gospel (if you haven’t that is another issue for another post), the witness of your life is good (not perfect 1 John 1:8), and you have pled with God in prayer for their salvation. Yet they do not believe. Maybe those unbelieving relations even admire your “moral life.” Yet they do not believe. What gives?
There is really only one explanation for the phenomena of unbelief. The doctrine of election. And I’m not making some flippant TULIP sniffing argument, Jesus Himself used the doctrine of election to comfort those bewildered by unbelief.
John 6 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. I think objectively it is one of the most amazing chapters in the Bible. Think of what is there, The Feeding of the 5000 and The Bread of Life Discourse.
And think of the setting. Jesus’s Galilean ministry was at the height of its popularity. Jesus was ministering in Capernaum and drawing huge crowds; crowds so big that Jesus along with the 12 withdrew to the nearby village of Bethsaida. The crowds followed. This by the way is after the crowds have grown so large it was hard to even find time or space to eat (Mark 3:20). So Jesus along with the 12, leaves by boat and goes to the other side (the desolate uninhabited side) of the Sea of Galilee. And the crowd was so enamored with Jesus that they ran around the end of the lake and from the surrounding villages (Mark 6:33). And it is here that Jesus feeds the 5,000, and that number just counts the men (Matt 14:21),so the crowd was probably nearer to 20,000. And the following day when the crowd can’t find Jesus, they commandeer boats that had come near and head across the lake and tear up Capernaum looking for Him (John 6:22-24). The entire region is in the grip of Jesus fever.
Then the crowd finds Him in the synagogue of Capernaum. And He uncorks the bread of life discourse (John 6:25-59). And the don’t like it a bit. Although it is popular to say that what the crowd and His disciples (not to be confused with the 12) was all of that eating flesh and drinking blood stuff is what so offended the crowd, you’ll not find a single scholar who says the crowd didn’t understand the figurative language. (One of the most baffling things to me is the kind of historical chauvinism that thinks those poor ancients were too dumb to understand figurative language, not like us who live in the enlightened era of the Tide-pod challenge.) What they didn’t like is the teaching of the Bread of Life Discourse, that God is sovereign over salvation and that our efforts are of no account (John 6:44, John 6:63).
And the crowds melt away and most all of the disciples, those who were following Him, go with them. Yesterday 20,000 were running to see Him (think about that the next time the weather is “too bad” to go to church) and today Jesus and His ministry is utterly repudiated. Not only must this have been greatly discouraging to the 12 (and any faithful disciples), I’m sure it was genuinely bewildering. They were confused and hurting, and Jesus knows this and speaks words of comfort to them.
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65
It is absolutely stunning. These days the doctrine of election seems to be something that is only good for arguing about, but when Jesus’s true disciples are left reeling at the phenomena of unbelief, Jesus comforts them by pointing them to the doctrine of election.
Likewise if you are stunned and left reeling by the obstinate unbelief of loved ones remember this comforting doctrine. Unless God takes the sovereign and miraculous action of replacing someone’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:25-27) nothing you say or do will cause them to believe and conversely nothing you say or do will keep them from believing if God has given them a new heart.
Share the gospel faithfully and urgently, love everyone, but if they do not believe despite your faithful and winsome efforts remember the doctrine of election and be comforted.