Walking Among the TULIPs: Reformed Theology in the Gospel of John (Part One)

By Colton Corter


Charles Spurgeon said that Calvinism was just a nickname for the gospel. I am inclined to think he was right. I am not saying that a believer who does not stand in the Reformed tradition is not in Christ. That would not be true. It is true, however, that a failure to understand what the Bible says about salvation will almost always lead to a failure to preserve the wonderful truth of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Standing on the plain reading of Scripture, this series has been taken from a much larger paper about Reformed Theology in the gospel of John. It explores the reality of man apart from the sovereign grace of God and the freedom of God to save whomever He wants from just one book of the Bible, the book of John. It is my hope that God would cause your heart to rejoice at the God who loved us first. Soli deo Gloria!

Total Depravity (1)

Let’s begin in John 3. Nicodemus has come to Jesus by night, a rhetorical device John uses, and is asking him questions concerning His person and work. The following discourse deals with the nature of seeing the Kingdom of God. This section of the passage will be considered more in the Limited Atonement section. John 3 is most famous for verse 16, the universal call of the gospel. It is this passage many point to as a foil to Reformed theology. But this ignores the next few verses. True enough, Jesus did not come into the world to condemn (3:17). But for what reason did he not come to judge the world but to save it? The answer is given in verses 18-20. Jesus came to save because all who do not believe are condemned already (3:18). Christ did not have to come to condemn because the unbelief of all who do not believe are under the just wrath of God already (3:36). This judgment comes because light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead (3:19). Belief is impossible then because the light of Christ, of the gospel, is not appealing to them. It is foolishness indeed. See here the inability for humans to perceive spiritual things. The light has come into the world, saving people from sin and the wrath to come. And yet, man is unable to come. But not only is a man unable to come, but he is also unwilling. The problem is not that men are victims of darkness. Darkness is what they love. Here the will is bound, driven by whatever it loves; in this case and in the case of all natural men this is sin. Men love darkness by nature. The larger context of this passage is huge. As mentioned, this passage comes while Jesus is explaining the inability for one to see the Kingdom of Heaven save the sovereign new birth. This new birth is necessary because man cannot and will not come otherwise.

Total Depravity (2)

John 5:39-40 details Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees’ reading of the Scriptures. Their problem is not their desire to read. But to what end are they reading? Jesus says they search the Scriptures because the think in them they have life. The Pharisees were reading the Bible as end in itself, thinking it contained things to show them how to be righteous. Jesus tells them that they are unable to see the Scriptures rightly because, if they did, they would see Him as their apex. The problem was not the clarity of Scripture but the unbelief of human beings. They were seeing but never seeing, hearing but never hearing. Verse 40 finishes the passage by saying, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The Pharisees were bent inwardly and would not come to Christ for salvation. Justification would come by righteousness, but it would be their own wherewithal that the Father would accept. How evil the human heart is! This self-deception and enmity with the glory of God in Christ is stark. This is the reality of all apart from the grace of God.

John 6 is one of the clearest passages relating to the doctrine of depravity. Those around Christ are mumbling about his hard teachings. These otherworldly doctrines of the gospel were not fine sounding to their natural perceptions. Jesus says to them in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The nature of the “drawing” will be considered later and so, here, the focus will be on the inability for anyone to come apart from this drawing. This passage does not have a high view of the human will. If God does not allow it then no one will come. Biblically, there is no self-determination. These hard teachings only become life-giving when the blindness is lifted. The drawing is the difference between those who come and those who do not, between those who are raised up on the last day and those who are not (v.44b).



Colton Corter is a graduate student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at @coltonMcorter.

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