“John 15:14-19. After giving the analogy of the vine and the branches, Jesus assures his eleven disciples (Judas has already left to betray him), ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear’ lasting fruit (Jn. 15:16). The implication is THAT THE FRUITFUL BRANCHES SPOKEN OF EARLIER IN THIS CHAPTER ARE THOSE WHOM JESUS HAS CHOSEN. They bear fruit because he has chosen and appointed them to that end. Someone will say that Jesus’ choice is a choice of persons to be his disciples and not a choice to eternal life…here Jesus warns the disciples that the world will hate them because it has hated him first…the choice of John 15:16, 19 was a choice of the eleven disciples ‘out of the world’ that results in their belonging no longer to the world, but to Jesus…Jesus chose the eleven out of the world so that they would belong to Him (Jn. 15:19; salvation) and also so that they would bear lasting fruit (Jn. 15:16; service)” (Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” pages 50-51).
I am now in part three of my series of rebuttals on predestination in the Gospel of John. Calvinists Robert Peterson and Michael Williams get themselves caught in a rut this time with John 15.
Contrary to what most believe, I agree with Peterson and Williams on the statement capitalized above: the Lord does speak of election here. However, Calvinists and Arminians, while both affirming election, do not affirm them in the same manner. Peterson and Williams don’t do enough here to let the reader know which side they’re on. As Calvinists, they are gonna say that John 15 refers to the idea of UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION, which states that God chooses some and damns others. Arminians on the other hand, will affirm CONDITIONAL ELECTION, which says that the choosing will be confirmed by the person’s faith in Christ and a lifestyle consistent with faith.
I do believe that the passage is referring to election: but I also believe that the passage is referring to CONDITIONAL ELECTION, or election by faith, and not unconditional election.
The language of John 15 just floods with the concept of conditional election. First, in verse 2 Jesus says, “Every branch IN ME that DOES NOT BEAR FRUIT, He takes away;” (NASB). Here we find that the person must be IN CHRIST, which indicates election; however, if the one IN CHRIST DOES NOT BEAR FRUIT, meaning the person that doesn’t live a life consistent with God’s Word, that person is the branch that is taken away. Being in Christ (election) is not unconditional, neither does it indicate unconditional perseverance. Rather, Christ’s election of a people (the church) unto Himself shows us God’s grace—but it also shows us God’s justice. And God will not keep around “branches” that are unfruitful: “every branch that bears fruit, HE PRUNES IT so that it may bear more fruit” (Jn. 15:2b, NASB).
Verse 6 is the warning to those who do not remain in Christ: “If anyone DOES NOT ABIDE in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” The fact that the Lord talks about those who DO NOT ABIDE, indicates that a person can be in Christ for a time and yet, not REMAIN in Him. For those who remain in Christ for a short time only, the Lord promised that the unfruitful believer would be “thrown away,” “cast into the fire and burned.” Such conditions when it comes to theology!
Verse 8 stomps at the heart of Calvinist doctrine: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and SO PROVE TO BE MY DISCIPLES.” The Calvinist says that God is glorified by UNCONDITIONALLY ELECTING some to salvation (and consequently, others to damnation); but that is not what Christ says here. What Christ says here is that, the way to bring glory to the Father is to live a life consistent with your election. The Father is most glorified in fruit, in abundance of harvest, in a multiplication of growth and progress in the Christian life. By bearing fruit, a person will “so prove to be My disciples,” meaning that your life will testify to the fact that you no longer belong to the world, but to Jesus. Here you have CONDITIONAL ELECTION (election by faith) and CONDITIONAL PERSEVERANCE (perseverance, or endurance, is the responsibility of the believer, not God).
In verse 10, the key to “abiding” in Christ’s love is to keep His commandments. It is then in verse 12, where Christ gives a commandment: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12, NASB).
Verse 16 is where Peterson and Williams take us in John 15. However, they both confirm what I’ve already established here: conditional election and conditional perseverance:
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that YOU WOULD GO AND BEAR FRUIT, AND THAT YOUR FRUIT WOULD REMAIN, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you” (John 15:16, NASB).
Yes, the fact that the Lord says, “I chose you,” indicates an election. However, only context will clarify what kind of an election this is. I agree with Peterson and Williams—John 15:16 refers to service. The words of Christ here are echoed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For we are HIS WORKMANSHIP, created IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED BEFOREHAND so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB).
Look at this verse. First off, notice that the “good works” are that which is “prepared beforehand,” NOT the believers! Secondly, as His [Christ’s] workmanship, or workers, we are created as such IN CHRIST, by virtue of our union with Christ. Last but not least, the good works were prepared “so that we would walk in them.” The standard is to walk in good works because to do so is to follow the words of Jesus in John 15: to PROVE to be Christ’s disciples!
With John 15:19, I would say that, yes, these words refer to an election. I’ll place them here:
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world. But I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19, NASB).
As I said before, this does refer to an election—but, from the context, it seems to be referring to a CONDITIONAL election, an election by grace through faith (what I have been calling “an election by faith”).
If you look back at the beginning of John 15, Jesus says these words:
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3, NASB).
I took a look at the word “clean” in this verse in my NASB text, and it states that the word “clean” here refers to being “PRUNED like a branch.” So when Jesus talks about the branches that are pruned to bear more fruit (end of verse 2), His follow-up words to the disciples in verse 3 tells the reader that these men have bore fruit—and that the Lord has pruned them so that they would have the potential to bear future fruit…and thus, glorify God the Father by proving to be the Lord’s disciples (Jn. 15:8).
It seems as if John 15 was all too easy of a text by which to refute the Calvinist. It was. I applaud Peterson and Williams for tackling this passage; however, just because it signifies “election” doesn’t mean that it automatically refers to unconditional election. I will explore more of John tomorrow.