The Impotent Gospel of Calvinism: John 6:27

The first mention of the scope of the saving power of the gospel in John 6 is presented in John 6:27 when Jesus commands the people, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (emphasis added). There, Jesus is speaking to the crowds that followed him after the feeding of the five-thousand (vs. 26). All the pronouns in verses 26-27 are plural. The command “Do not Work” is plural and gives implied imperatival force to “but [work] for the food which endures to eternal life.” Just taking the words as they are, Jesus actually offers salvation to all if they will work for the food “to eternal life,” which they and everyone can do (vs 33, 51). The work they are to do “is to believe in him who whom He [the Father] has sent” (vs. 29). That is the good news of the gospel, and to interpret it as merely a good faith offer is to make the gospel, in and of itself, and impotent gospel.

As is well known, Calvinists understand this chapter to confirm the salvation of only the limited unconditionally elected. They are the ones the Father gives the Son (John 6:37) and the only ones the Father draws (John 6:44), which is known among Calvinists as efficacious or irresistible grace; it is only applied to the unconditionally elected, and they, alone, will be raised up on the last day (John 6:44). Calvinists will often quote verses 37 and 44 but without adequate context.

Christ gives an open call and promise of available salvation to all, beginning in John 6:27. His promise of salvation is to everyone (vs. 45). This gospel of salvation for all is carried through the rest of John 6 and is in concert with John’s purpose in writing his gospel (John 30-31).

In contrast, Calvinism limits the salvific effectiveness of the proclamation of the gospel, along with limiting the drawing of the Father (John 6:44) to some–God’s limited elect. Calvinism contends there are two calls. There is the general call, which is the proclamation of the gospel that goes out to all. All hear the glorious gospel that Christ died for sins,[1] and Calvinists affirm that if anyone believes in him, they will be saved.

The gospel means good news, but in Calvinism, the general, external call alone is not actually good news because it can only be rejected; to wit, no one can believe the general proclamation of the gospel unto salvation without receiving the internal efficacious call, which is limited to the elect. Calvinists may say to the ones who hear the general call of the gospel, “If you believe, you will be saved,” but they know that according to Calvinism, no one gets saved by only hearing the general proclamation of the gospel because salvation by faith alone in that proclamation is impossible without the internal efficacious call given only to the elect.

The true opportunity to be saved comes only when a person receives the internal efficacious call, which is only extended to God’s elect; it always results in salvation. Therefore, if someone does believe the gospel with saving faith, it only proves they are one of the unconditionally elected and have already received the internal efficacious call from God (drawing).

According to Calvinism, the internal call, which is the word draw in John 6:44, is limited to the elect, and it is efficacious in saving everyone who receives it. In defense of the internal call, Calvinists quote Paul, “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23–24).

Concerning verse 24, William Hendrickson says, “Only those people, including Jews and Greeks, who have been effectually called by God are able to believe the message of the cross and accept it without reservations.”[2] Then Hendricksen says, “God calls an individual through the preaching and teaching of the gospel. If that call is effectual through the work of the Holy Spirit, the believer enjoys intimate fellowship with Christ (vv. 2, 9, 24).”[3]

But understand the logical entailment of Calvinism that, in unvarnished Calvinism, the gospel proclamation is merely the delivery system through which God efficaciously calls out his limited elect, but, in and of itself, the gospel alone is as impotent to save a person whether they are non-elect or elect (before they receive the internal call) as saying ten Hail Mary’s in seven languages.

This reality exists when full candor prevails because the saving power does not exist apart from the internally selective, efficacious call for the unconditionally elect. Therefore, when the gospel is preached and heard but does not contain God’s internal call to his elect, no matter how good it sounds, it is an absolutely ineffectual and, therefore, an impotent gospel, which defies its own meaning of being good news.

Accordingly, in Calvinism, the gospel proper, in and of itself, is not really good news; the good news comes through the preaching of the gospel to one of the unconditionally elect as he is selectively and efficaciously drawn (called), having that experience is really the good news.

Calvinism entails that the gospel has only the power of a delivery boy in contrast to the Scripture, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom1:16). Strictly speaking, Calvinism entails that the good news is not the gospel, but it is learning you are one of the unconditionally elected and selectively and irresistibly drawn to the Father.

[1] Only the four-point Calvinists might say to the masses, “Your sin.”

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, vol. 18, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 59.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, vol. 18, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 61.

Ronnie W. Rogers