Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 2, 2008

John 6:35-47: Theological Analysis

THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

 

It has been the burden of this work to demonstrate that the pactum salutus or Covenant of Redemption is a biblical doctrine, which is manifested within this text of Scripture.  This doctrine is the articulation of the role that each member of the Triune Lord performs in the process of redemption.  The criticism of this doctrine has traditionally been that it has no biblical support.  For the most part this doctrine employs a hermeneutical perspective, or system, that seeks to unify several related passages describing the Trinitarian roles in different areas of Scripture. However, in considering this text, as noted above, it is apparent that these three distinct roles of the Triune Lord converge.  Moreover, in order to understand the passage properly the pactum salutus must be affirmed as a biblical doctrine.  Thus, in this section the system proper will be explained to further elucidate the meaning of the text with a more robust understanding of this vital doctrine known as the Covenant of Redemption.

 

As many theologians have pointed out, the Christian religion and the Scriptures are based on covenant16.  This provides the framework or paradigm for how the Scripture’s are to be understood properly17.  Throughout the Scripture two over-arching covenants, known as the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, are made between God and man.  Although, this has been introduced in the previous historical analysis, further explanation will be made since a proper understanding of these covenants is imperative for the Covenant of Redemption.

 

The Covenant of Works, also known as the Covenant of Creation, was first made with Adam in the garden.  It is a conditional covenant between God and man who merits blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  All humanity is under this covenant with God, which will be the basis for their judgment on the Day of the Lord.  As discussed above, Adam failed to keep this covenant with God, incurred the curses associated with its violation, and the consequences of this fall have been transmitted to all of Adam’s progeny in a depraved sin nature.  This fallen nature has corrupted the original righteousness that humanity was first created with and precludes them from obeying God’s Law.  Thus, mankind is in a state of enmity against God (Rom 3:10-23; Eph 2:1-3), unable to merit the blessings based on their own righteousness and will be brought to justice at the end of the age for their rebellion against God (Rev 20:11-12).

 

The Covenant of Grace encompasses the various individual covenants progressively revealed to God’s people throughout redemptive history.  There are different administrations of this covenant, however, they all are based on the principle of grace.  The term grace is indicative of the fact that man has acquired “demerit” before God as a result of his sin and rebellion.  This is an unconditional covenant that is based on a promise that God has given to man that a Redeemer would come to save him from his state of demerit.  The nature of an unconditional covenant is that it is simply received and not earned, which is a necessity for man who is incapable of reconciling himself after the curse of the fall.  However, God by His nature is just and cannot simply overlook the sin and rebellion that man has accumulated against Him.  Thus, the Covenant of Redemption is required to allow the fulfillment of the promises in the Covenant of Grace to be realized while allowing God to remain consistent with His own just nature.

 

Therefore, the Covenant of Redemption provides the basis for God to maintain the unconditional promises made in the Covenant of Grace while preserving His own essential attribute of being just.  It is apparent that these two biblical truths, God’s unconditional promises and His justice, are in tension and require reconciliation.  This reconciliation occurs in the Covenant of Redemption where the Son is assigned the burden of fulfilling the Covenant of Works.  In accomplishing the demands of God’s righteousness, or the Father’s will, the conditions required of man in the first covenant are met by the God-man Jesus Christ.  Moreover, the demands of God’s justice that must be placated in the punishment of man’s sin are further accomplished in the Son bearing the punishment on the cross.  This was the purpose of the divine condescension, which was indicative of this agreement or covenant made amongst the members of the Trinity18.  The Father chooses to redeem a people and gives them to the Son, the Son fulfills the conditions and the demands of justice on behalf of the people’s redemption, and the Holy Spirit is sent to make effective the redemption earned by the Son in “drawing” all those who have been given (Eph 1:3-14).  This is essentially a summary of Jesus’ words recorded in this text, which has been the scope of the preceding work.  Furthermore, it is evident that this summary is loaded with a whole host of other biblical doctrines, which will be unpacked in the subsequent remainder of this work.

 

As the Covenant of Redemption serves as the basis or foundation for the Covenant of Grace it helps to characterize the nature of it.  As noted previously, it is an unconditional promise that is made to certain individuals who can rely on redemption outside of themselves to be provided from above.  Certainly, this is good news for people who are unable to please God or save themselves as a result of their fallen nature.  The very nature of an unconditional promise, however, is that there is nothing earned or required for the recipient to do in order to receive the benefits.  Hence, the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone is a consequence of these covenants.  This is manifested in the concept of vicarious substitution that is inherent with the role that Jesus accomplishes in the covenant.  Jesus is sent from heaven to do the Father’s will (verse 38), fulfilling all righteousness perfectly (2 Cor 5:21).  He is also sent to assume the sanctions of the curse taking the punishment of it upon himself and propitiating19 the wrath associated with God’s justice against disobedience (Rom 3:24-26; Gal 2:19-21).  This work was performed for all those who had been given to the Son by the Father and applied in a transaction known as double imputation.  Consequently, the sin of the individual transferred to Christ is paid for on the cross and the righteousness of Christ is transferred to the individual who can now stand before God as innocent20.  This condition is fulfilled by Christ alone and is received by a saving faith in the unconditional promise.

 

This saving faith is a gift to the individual (Eph 2:5-9) who is quickened or regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5-7; John 3:3-8), and is unable to accept this promise in his fallen state (1 Cor 2:8-16).  This is also known as effectual calling, which affirms the inevitability that those who are given by the Father and redeemed by the Son will certainly be “drawn” by the Holy Spirit to accept the promise and the blessings of double imputation associated with it21.  Thus, it can be characterized as a monergistic act that the Third Person of the Holy Trinity makes alive, an otherwise dead sinner allowing them to hear the gospel and believe.  The use of the term monergism is to distinguish that it is an act solely performed by God and not a collaborative or cooperative effort between God and man known as synergism.  Otherwise, Jesus would not have used such forceful language in the text above (i.e. ελκύση), which is indicative of the innate resistance that fallen man has towards the message of the gospel (1 Cor 1:18-24).     

 

It is also evident that this text and the doctrines already discussed are integral to the theological acrostic known as TULIP22.  All five of the doctrines summarized by this acrostic are reliant on this pericope and the pactum salutus for their validity.  Due to man’s total inability to save himself in his fallen state God must choose to redeem some on the basis of Christ’s effective work on the cross.  The effective work of double imputation is applied to the individual by the monergistic act of the Holy Spirit.  The work is classified as effective, because it will produce its intended purpose in losing none who are to be saved manifested in their being raised on the last day (verses 39 and 40).    

 

Finally, another implication that this text has upon the theological doctrines of the Church has to do with the characteristics they should possess.  As a result of this text and the doctrines already considered above, it is appropriate to note that they are reliant on Christ’s divine descent not the individual’s ascent to God.  This can also be articulated as the necessity of possessing a theology of the cross in lieu of a theology of glory.   Since the incident of Adam’s fall, man-made religion has been characterized by the attempt to ascend into the heavens to gain access to God (i.e. Tower of Babel).  Nonetheless, this quest for unmediated access into the presence of the thrice Holy Lord would only culminate in instantaneous death for sinful man.  Thus, it has been the attribute of biblical religion to seek God through a mediator from heaven who would inevitably condescend to man accommodating his weakness23.  

 

As Luther would insightfully observe it is not the characteristic for true religion to climb the ladder into the heavens to “see God in the nude”.  No, it is the characteristic for true religion that man find God clothed in flesh through the Person and work of Christ, which is an act of His humiliation (Phil 2:5-11).  This is indicative of the fact that biblically it is not our role to earn our redemption or reconciliation with God, but to simply receive the unconditional promises procured by Christ as a passive recipient.  This is supported by the text when Jesus alludes to His divine condescension to fulfill the will of the Father for those given to Him (verse 38).  It was this task that was determined from the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:18-20) that Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune God, acquiesced in accordance with the covenantal agreement that had been ratified with the Father and the Spirit.  In compliance with the terms of that agreement Jesus willingly humiliated Himself by assuming creaturely flesh (John 1:14), subjecting Himself to frailties of humanity (Heb 4:15), obediently fulfilling the Law (Matt 5:17), and becoming a curse on behalf of those He represented (Gal 3:13-14).  Although our first representative failed to give us peace, rather bringing alienation, Christ Jesus became incarnate to actively and passively perform the task of peacemaking indispensable for our reconciliation with God (Rom 5).  The crowd’s response throughout the entire discourse manifests that they were seeking glory, not a cross.  This expectation certainly was contributory to the notion of the cross being a considerable stumbling block for the Jews (1 Cor 1:23; 1 Pet 2:8). 

 

Thus, it is evident the Covenant of Redemption is an integral part to a proper understanding not only of this pericope, but of several other important doctrines.  As this covenant is considered the articulation of it, necessarily, leads to other theological conclusions as demonstrative of the content above.  It provides the appropriate context for how these other important doctrines are to be understood.  Consequently, when it is denied as a biblical doctrine it increases the risk that the proper context to the other doctrines, which are invariably still affirmed, will be lost.  Moreover, its denial would also detrimentally affect the proper understanding of the pericope that is the concern of this work.  The edifying richness of the framework that an affirmation of this covenant provides, if denied, would then be absent.  As a result, it should also be noted that this pactum is completely reliant upon an essential doctrine itself.  The concept of the Trinity, which has been referred to throughout this work, is a vital doctrine whose biblical validity must be affirmed for the pactum to be maintained.  Thus, the one true being whom has revealed Himself to man through covenant as God consists of three persons known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit who although are distinct in person remain one in essence.

 

God the Father chose in eternity to elect a people based upon nothing within them or nothing that they could ever do.  This election was based solely upon His mercy and grace without any conditions being fulfilled by the individuals.  These are the people whom Jesus refers to in this pericope (verse 37) that were given to Him by the Father.  God the Son, thus, was assigned the task of condescending into this world to perform the Father’s will (verse 38).  It was the Father’s will for the Son to redeem this elect people through His substitionary work carried out in His life and death.  This substitutionary work would provide the basis for this elect people to look to the Son and be saved through faith in Him (verse 40).  However, since the elect people were incapable in and of themselves to coming to Jesus and believing in this work, the Father and the Son send the Spirit to effectively draw them into faith (verse 44).   God the Holy Spirit, thus, would perform the task of applying the redemption earned by the Son for the elect people and making it effective.  His application of redemption could never be prevented from successfully gathering all those whom had been chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Son into the unconditional gracious promise they were predetermined to receive (verse 39 and 45).  Hence, those who are to be redeemed would be unable to resist this calling, just as a fish caught in a net, would be unable to resist being dragged out of the water into the boat (i.e. ελκύση).  This eternal covenant, known as the pactum salutus, is an agreement between the Trinitarian members of the God-head who are all an integral part in actively ensuring the redemption of the elect (1 Pet 1:1-2).

16 Morris, Leon. 1965. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapdis, MI: WB Eerdmans) p 65

17 Horton, Michael S. 2006. God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker) p 10-22

18 Kline, Meredith. 2006.  Kingdom Prologue Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock) p 145

19 Morris, Leon. 1965. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapdis, MI: WB Eerdmans) p 65

20 Murray, John. 1955. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: WB Eerdmans) p 117 & 124

21 Murray, John. 1955. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: WB Eerdmans) p 92

22 TULIP stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints

23 Horton, Michael S. 2002. A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker) p 122

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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