If we would take the basics of the Christian faith seriously, then we must begin with what Jesus actually said.
Of God's Love

Jesus said: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16).

By this word Jesus teaches that God's love for the world is not a love for all men head for head but a love for believers (see also verses 17, 18). The world God loved and for which He gave His Son is the world of those identified by the grace of saving faith, "that whosoever believeth should not perish." Do not pervert the text by twisting that "whosoever," into what it does not say, as if "whosoever" means "anyone who chooses of himself to believe. "Since the text literally says, "all the believing ones," the "whosoever" should be understood as identifying certain individuals by their spiritual characteristic, namely, the believing ones or believers. They are the world God loves, the sheep of Jesus Christ, gathered of Jew and Gentile (John 10:16). It is for that world of His love that God gave His Son.

For these believers only Jesus also prays: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine...Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word," (John 17:9, 20). By this word Jesus prays for His eleven believing disciples and also for those who shall believe. He does not pray for every man. He prays for His people, for those whom God loved. Note that they were "given" to Christ, both the believing disciples and those yet to be born "who shall believe." They belong to Christ because God in His love gave them to Christ. God's love in Christ is first, the source of their salvation and of their believing.

Of that love of God Jesus says, "...Thou hast loved them, as thou hast loved me," (John 17:23). God loves His people with the same love with which He loves Christ. Jesus declares that to be an eternal love when He says, "For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world," (John 17:24). As God loved His Son with an eternal love, so God loved His people with the same eternal love. Jesus does not say God will love them, only in the future, though He is speaking of those not yet born, but "thou hast loved them." Always God loved His people. Nor is Jesus speaking merely of the disciples, but in the context of those, "which shall believe on me through their word," (John 17:20). Those whom God loves are His people. Before they were even born or had done good or evil, they were the objects of His love. Nor is there any doubt in Jesus' mind that they shall come to faith, that they "shall believe on me." Their faith then cannot be the cause of that love. Rather the eternal love of God is the true cause of their faith.

The people God loved eternally were given to Christ, as Jesus said, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am," (John 17:24). As the Shepherd of the sheep belonging to Him, He goes to the cross, redeeming them with His own blood, as He said, "...I lay down my life for the sheep," (John 10:14). This is necessary. As sinners, believers are not lovable in themselves but worthy of condemnation. Jesus came to "save his people from their sins," (Matt. 1:21) including also the sin of unbelief in which we were born. Nor may we find in ourselves any cause for which God loved us. His love is first, Who gave us to Christ. Thus Jesus can say, "all that the Father giveth me shall come to me," (John 6:37) and "This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day," (John 6:39). As His property Jesus seeks His sheep, not only while He was on earth, but He continues to seek them by His Word and Spirit through the gospel. He came to "seek and to save that which was lost," (Luke 19:10) His property. To them, according to the will of God, He gives eternal life, "that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him," (John 17:2). Born again of God's grace, they hear with the hearing of faith and believe.

According to that love of God, He knows His people by name and they, knowing and hearing His voice, believe and are saved. They can never perish. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). Others abide in their willful sin and unbelief because they are not the objects of God's love. It follows that they are not given to believe, as Jesus said, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you," (John 10:26). The language of Jesus is very pointed. He was addressing especially the false teachers of His people of that day. They did not believe, "because" they were not His sheep. God did not give them to believe. They were born in unbelief as fallen sinners and continued in unbelief under the judgment of God. They belonged to that other world, the world that perishes, not the world that God loved. Jesus said of them, "why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do," (John 8:43, 44). The spiritual offspring of the devil, they were not "of God." As Jesus continues in His explanation, "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye hear them not, because ye are not of God," (John 8:47). God's love, by the power of His grace in Christ and by His Holy Spirit, begets spiritual children, born of God. To them God gives saving faith.

By His words Jesus teaches that God's love is a sovereign eternal love for specific persons, a particular love. God gave these specific persons to Christ as His sheep and for them alone He died. He calls them infallibly unto faith in Him and gives them eternal life. Jesus says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out," (John 6:37). God's love is a sovereign almighty love which sends the gospel to those whom He loved from eternity. He saves them by it. It cannot fail. It is unchangeable. Ask yourself this question: Do you believe in this Jesus, the authentic Christ of the Scriptures, Who teaches an all-powerful love of God? Beware of a false christ who teaches a powerless love of God, powerless to send the gospel and powerless to irresistibly work faith in the hearts of those whom he loves. That false christ is not the Christ of the Scriptures.

By Rev. Thomas Miersma, Missionary Pastor

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