Chosen to Bear Fruit (Phil Johnson)

John 15:16   |   Sunday, February 24, 2013   |   Code: 2013-02-24-PJ

     If you did a study of election, you would discover that many of the key biblical statements dealing with the doctrine of election come from the lips of Christ. He constantly emphasized the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. This was a running theme in throughout or Lord's earthly ministry—and the gospel of John is packed with important texts that are essential to a right understanding of the doctrines of divine election and the sovereignty of God in salvation.

     The doctrine of election is taught by virtually every New Testament author. Paul had a lot to say about it. So did Peter, Luke, and the apostle John. But I think the Person who had the most to say about divine election, irresistible grace, and predestination was Christ Himself. The theme of God's sovereignty permeates His teaching, and he brought it up in every conceivable context. That is one reason I make no apology for emphasizing these doctrines so often myself.

     John 15 is part of a long discourse that Jesus gave to comfort His disciples in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed. The discourse runs from chapter 13 through chapter 16 of John's gospel, and it contains some of the most wonderful promises and comforting words in all of Scripture.

     John 15 may be broken down roughly like this: Verses 1-8 unfold the familiar imagery of the vine and the branches, and Christ talks about the importance of fruit-bearing. Verses 9-17 talk about the most enduring fruit of all: love. And in this section Christ reassures the disciples of His love for them. He calls them His friends, and He urges them to love one another. The verse we will be looking at this morning is verse 16, and it comes in this section that deals with Christ's love for His disciples. Then the closing section of John 16 (verses 18-25), is a warning about the persecution these disciples would face. It contrasts Christ's wonderful love with the world's irrational hatred of Christ and all who belong to Him.

     That's a very broad outline of the flow of the passage, and now I want to draw your attention to verse 16, which is set in the context of that middle section—Where Christ is speaking about His love for the disciples, whom He calls friends. In verse 16, he says this: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."

     There we have one of several very significant statements from Jesus that contribute to our understanding of the doctrine of election.  The gospel of John is full of statements by Christ that pertain to the doctrine of election. I'll refer to several of them as we probe the subject this morning. But it is significant that Christ gave so much weight to the truth of God's sovereignty in salvation. If you wanted to summarize all that Jesus had to say about the divine role and the human role in salvation, it is all summed up in this statement: "You did not choose me, but I chose you."

     The principle spelled out in this verse applies to all Christians of all time. Even though these words were spoken in private to the disciples, the truth contained here applies to all of us who know the Lord. Notice that the apostle John reiterates this very same idea in 1 John 4:19: "We love [Him] because he first loved us." The initiative in salvation is always God's, and Scripture repeatedly says so. "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

     It is also interesting to note that Christ highlighted the doctrine of election not only when he was in private with the disciples, but also when He was teaching the multitudes in public. I once knew a guy who told me, "Look, Phil. I believe in the doctrine of election, too. But it is like a family secret, meant for Christians only. I don't believe we should teach such doctrines if unbelievers might be listening."—as if this were a doctrine we should be ashamed of.

     Jesus did certainly did not treat divine election as a family secret for Christians only. It is true that here in John 15 he was speaking to the disciples in the privacy of the Upper Room. But in John 6, He stood before multitudes of unbelieving people and said, "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (v. 37). In John 6:44, he told them, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  Verses 65 and 66 of John 6 indicate that these truths were so hard to receive that many who had formerly identified themselves as His disciples turned away and followed Him no more. But repeatedly, and in every kind of context, Christ emphasized this truth that the initiator of salvation is God.

     Now, before we plunge further into the meaning of this verse, let me point out that no doctrine in all the Christian faith is more hated than the doctrine of election. A tremendous amount of misunderstand­ing exists with regard to this doctrine, and I am convinced that one reason so many people have a wrong understanding of election is that they simply cannot stomach the implications of admitting what this doctrine means, and so they try to dilute or sweeten the truth so that it is more palatable to their personal tastes.

     I personally was guilty of this approach to the doctrine of election for several years. As a new Christian I encountered verses that talked about election, and I concluded early on that these verses could not mean that God sovereignly chose who would be saved. I was convinced that a person's own salvation must hinge on that person's own choice, or else it seemed to me that God was not being fair to the people whom He did not choose.

     But the more I studied, the more I came face to face with the truth, taught throughout Scripture, that God himself chooses and ordains people unto salvation, as a sheer act of free and loving grace, not because the people he chooses deserve His favor in any way. Not because the saved are people who have somehow made a superior choice for themselves. But rather they themselves are chosen by God.

     That is the very truth our Lord was teaching His disciples in the verse we have before us, and I want to break it down into three sections and look at them individually.


1. You did not choose me

     "You did not choose me." At first the connection between this verse and its context seems elusive. Christ has been talking about love and friendship. In verse 12 he gave them this commandment: "Love one another, as I have loved you." He speaks of friendship and obedience, and he in verse 15, he tells them that from now on they are not to be regarded as mere slaves, but as His privileged friends.

     Then in verse 16, the verse we are looking at, he says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Now we have to take this in its context, and in this context, it seems clear that Christ was making a point about the nature of His love for the disciples. Having told them to love one another just as He had loved them, He proceeded to expound on the nature of His love for them. He loved them with a sacrificial love (v. 13)—and He expected them to do the same for one another. He loved them the way we love our friends, not the way a slave-owner loves His slaves. That is, He gave them the privileges and favors of dear friends.

     And in our verse, verse 16, He reminded them that His love for them was the kind of love that takes the initiative. He did not wait for them to make the first move, but rather he sought them and chose them, and ordained them. If they loved Him at all, it was only because He first loved them.

     Now think about this phrase: "You did not choose me, but I chose you." The disciples might have protested, "But, Lord, we did choose you." Remember Peter's words in Mark 10:28? "See, we have left everything and followed you." They had made a conscious, deliberate choice to abandon their former lives, their loved ones, and all they had, in order to follow Christ. In a very real sense, they did choose Jesus.

     But the point Christ was making was that He chose them first. His choice was the decisive one. They would never have chosen him at all if he had not first chosen them.

     A lot of people are confused on this point. They think the doctrine of election nullifies human choice. It does not. There is a choice to be made. Believing in Christ involves an act of the will. The gospel confronts every person with that choice. And the good news of the gospel is that all who do believe are saved.

     But the bad news of the gospel is that sin has corrupted the human heart so that not one sinner would ever choose to follow Christ apart from a gracious work of God to enable that sinner to believe. Sin has such a grip on the sinner's heart that not one of us ever would or could turn to God on our own initiative. Scripture is very clear about this:

Romans 3:10-11: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

Romans 8:7-8: the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Scripture everywhere portrays the unregenerate sinner as steadfastly unwilling to seek God, obey Him, or love Him. And Scripture also teaches that the sinner is utterly incapable of doing anything to change himself or please God in any way. Jeremiah 13:23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil." If the bondage of sin is that tyrannical how could anyone who is dead in trespasses and sins ever choose to follow Christ? If the enmity in the heart of an unbeliever is that determined, how could any sinner ever choose to love God?

     The answer is that it could never happen, apart from God's own gracious intervention. We love Him because He first loved us. We choose Him because He chose us first.

     If you are a believer in Christ, praise God. Give Him the glory. It is because of His work in you that you believed. We are not to take credit for having chosen Christ. We did not choose Him first; He chose us. We are no better than the unbelieving people who still hate and reject Him. The only reason we believe while they remain in their sins is that God's grace has worked a miracle in our hearts. "For who makes you differ from another? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Do not think for a moment that you can take credit for having chosen Christ. If you chose Him at all, it is because He first chose you.

     And here, in essence, Christ reminds the disciples of that truth. They are His followers not because they chose Him, but because He chose them.

     Now let's turn our attention to the second phrase of this verse:


2. but I chose you and appointed you

     Why God chooses any of us at all is a great mystery. But Scripture is clear that all who are redeemed are the chosen of God, elect, and precious in His sight—not because of anything worthy in them, but simply because God in His great love chose them to be recipients of His saving grace.

     From the beginning to the end of Scripture this truth is stressed. God's relationship with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament depended entirely on His sovereign choice. That's why we call them God's chosen people. He sovereignly chose Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. In every generation, God chose whom he would bless. He chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and so on. He sovereignly chose Moses, and then providentially orchestrated Moses' life to put Moses in exactly the right place to challenge Pharaoh. God's sovereign election is evident throughout redemptive history.

     Over and over again, Scripture refers to redeemed people as "the elect." Many crucial passages of Scripture feature the truth of God's sovereign election prominently, such as John 6; Romans 8; Romans 9; Ephesians 1 and 2; 1 Peter 1, and dozens of others.

     You have your Bibles open to John 15. Look at verse 19: "You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world." Again and again, Scripture teaches us that the redeemed are chosen by God unto salvation.

     Why is this truth so difficult for so many people to accept and affirm? Well, for one thing, many people think it is unfair. Why should God choose some and not choose everyone?

     I confess to you that I do not know why God doesn't save everyone. Scripture does not explain the answer to that question for us. God merely assures us that His ways are right and all His purposes are good—and beyond that, He commands us to trust Him.

     But think about this for a moment: God is obligated to save no one. He could have treated the human race as He did the angels who sinned: the moment the angels fell they were condemned forever. There was no opportunity for redemption. No savior was sent to atone for the fallen angels. They were summarily judged and received the due penalty of their sin. If God did the same thing with the entire human race, no one could charge Him with injustice.

     So it may seem hard to understand why God does not elect every sinner. But the far more difficult question is why He saves any at all! The fact that He shows grace to sinners at all is what should invoke our astonishment and wonder!

     To those inclined to think of election as unfair, Charles Spurgeon said this:

     there are some who say, "It is hard for God to choose some and leave others." Now, I will ask you one question. Is there any of you here this morning who wishes to be holy, who wishes to be regenerate, to leave off sin and walk in holiness? "Yes, there is," says some one, "I do." Then God has elected you. But another says, "No; I don't want to be holy; I don't want to give up my lusts and my vices." Why should you grumble, then, that God has not elected you to it? For if you were elected you would not like it, according to your own confession. If God this morning had chosen you to holiness, you say you would not care for it. Do you not acknowledge that you prefer drunkenness to sobriety, dishonesty to honesty? You love this world's pleasures better than religion; then why should you grumble that God has not chosen you to religion? If you love religion, he has chosen you to it. If you desire it, he has chosen you to it. If you do not, what right have you to say that God ought to have given you what you do not wish for? Supposing I had in my hand something which you do not value, and I said I shall give it to such-and-such a person, you would have no right to grumble that I did not give to you. You could not be so foolish as to grumble that the other has got what you do not care about. According to your own confession, many of you do not want religion, do not want a new heart and a right spirit, do not want the forgiveness of sins, do not want sanctification; you do not want to be elected to these things: then why should you grumble? You count these things but as husks, and why should you complain of God who has given them to those whom he has chosen? If you believe them to be good and desire them, they are there for thee. God gives liberally to all those who desire; and first of all, he makes them desire, otherwise they never would. If you love these things, he has elected you to them, and you may have them; but if you do not, who are you that you should find fault with God, when it is your own desperate will that keeps you from loving these things—your own simple self that makes you hate them? Suppose a man in the street should say, "What a shame it is I cannot have a seat in the chapel to hear what this man has to say." And suppose he says, "I hate the preacher; I can't bear his doctrine; but still it's a shame I have not a seat." Would you expect a man to say so? No: you would at once say, "That man does not care for it. Why should he trouble himself about other people having what they value and he despises?" You do not like holiness, you do not like righteousness; if God has elected me to these things, has he hurt you by it?

Those who scream the loudest that election is unfair do not really want what is fair. Because if they got what was fair, they would have been sent to eternal damnation the minute they were tainted with guilt. God is gracious, and it is His privilege to be gracious to whomever He chooses.

     Romans 9:14-16: "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

     Christ said to the disciples, "I chose you and appointed you." If they truly understood the depth of their own sinfulness, they would have been utterly in awe and amazement at the grace of God that was shown to them through Christ. In fact, they all ultimately grew into that realization. The apostle John, for example, was amazed by Christ's love—amazed that someone as pure as Christ could ever love someone like him. So enthralled was he with Christ's love for him in particular that instead of referring to himself by name, he called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved." And in 1 John 3:1, he wrote, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!"

     And Peter must have also been astonished by the knowledge that Christ chose him. He makes reference to the doctrine of election in the first verse of his first epistle. He writes "To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." And he goes on for a dozen verses extolling the benefits of election.

     Think about it and you'll see that all the disciples were specifically chosen and ordained by Christ—even though none of them fit the personality type you might expect for the chief apostles, and none of them were on a career path for becoming bishops in the church. They were a rag-tag group of fishermen, a former tax collector, and an odd assortment of nobodies. Yet Christ chose them and ordained them to apostleship—not because they were worthy of such an honor, but in spite of their UNworthiness—simply because God is gracious.

     If you are counted among the elect, sheer amazement at the wonderful mercies of God ought to be your response as well. In the end, we find the doctrine of election a rich source of security and encouragement. And that brings me to the final section of this verse:


3. that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

     Now I want to move into the realm of the practical. It is too easy to treat the doctrine of election in a sterile academic fashion. Some people view this doctrine as a sort of intellectual puzzle, something to entertain the mind. And if we are not careful, it is all too easy to miss the practical application of this truth.

     The doctrine of election, like all doctrine, has intense practical implications. And if we stop short of understanding its practical impact, we miss the very heart of the truth. If we treat this doctrine as merely an intellectual curiosity—if we never really absorb it into our hearts so that it affects the way we think and live—then we will have missed the whole point of the truth.

     Here is where the rubber meets the road, as with all doctrine. And I want you to see that the practical implications of this doctrine are really quite profound.

     Bear in mind the context of the verse we are considering. Jesus said all these things on the night He was betrayed. As far as the disciples were concerned, their world appeared to be unravelling. Jesus' words to them that night contained many ominous overtones. He spoke of going away, leaving them. He predicted that one of them would betray him. At the end of chapter 15, just after the verse we are looking at, He warned them that the world would hate them. All of this must have been very troubling to the disciples. Jesus Himself was troubled that night, and later, in the garden, his holy dread of the cross would reach the point where His sweat became like drops of blood, and Christ even stated that his soul was troubled, even unto death.

     So all of this was said in an emotionally tense atmosphere. The disciples' hearts were heavy. They must have been weighing Jesus' words with deep concern, wondering what would become of them when He was gone, fearful that somehow one of them might be the one who would betray their Lord, troubled by the prospect of persecution. Surely they were keenly aware of their own weaknesses, and fearful that they would fail.

     Jesus made the doctrine of election an anchor for their hope and confidence. "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." Notice the tremendous promises that He attached to the truth of election: Since they were chosen by Him in order to bear fruit, they would indeed be fruitful, and their fruit would remain. Furthermore, anything they asked for in His name, the Father would supply.  All of these promises hinged on the fact that they were sovereignly chosen by God.

     Think about this: if God chooses us and ordains us to be fruitful, He is not going to allow His purposes to be frustrated.

     Let's consider these words through Peter's eyes. Remember the state of mind Peter was in that night. Matthew records an exchange that took place there in the Upper Room. Matthew would have been present to witness this firsthand, and he records for us that Jesus said (Matthew 26:31-35):

Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'

32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."

33 Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."

34 Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."

35 Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.

Peter's pride and self-sufficiency were showing. Of course, we know what happened.

     Everything Jesus warned Peter about soon came to pass. He denied Christ that very night. He denied Him with cursing in front of multiple witnesses. By the end of the next day Christ  had been crucified, and Peter was utterly devastated. All his hope was grounded in Christ, and now it all seemed for nought.

     In the wake of that, he was disgraced, humiliated, and totally disheartened. Satan was sifting Him like wheat. If it had been up to Peter, he would have no doubt thrown in the towel.

     But it was not ultimately up to Peter. Christ had chosen him and ordained him to bear fruit. To borrow words from Peter himself, he was being kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation that was not yet revealed.

     The trial of his faith was much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire.

     Yes, he denied Christ out of craven fear. Satan sifted him like wheat. But his faith never failed. He was chosen to bear fruit that lasts for eternity.

     And this may be the most encouraging aspect of the doctrine of election: it guarantees the ultimate triumph of our faith. My faith is not a mere act of my own free will. My will is fragile and fickle. It changes. It's unpredictable and unreliable. It is weak and too easily susceptible to temptation. I'm remarkably strong-willed at times (ask my wife if you don't believe me). But other times I am pathetically weak-willed, vacillating, unpredictable.

     Not God. He never changes. He never wavers. What He hath determined, that He will do. Whatever he has decreed, He will bring it to pass.

     And think about this: The doctrine of election means my salvation is rooted in God's unchanging will, not my own unreliable will. If things were up to me in any ultimate sense, I have no doubt that I would fail and fall away. My only security therefore rests in the fact that God is keeping me. There is no security whatsoever if I ultimately must keep myself.

     So I rejoice that Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." This is God's sovereign plan. My failures are temporary. Like Peter's denial of Christ, they are trials to strengthen and refine me, lessons from which I can learn, and constant reminders of my weakness, lest I become puffed up with a false self-confidence.

     In the end, the fruit that I bear will remain, and the failures will not.

     That's why I like the doctrine of election. There is no doctrine in all the Bible that affords more hope and confidence. Not self-confidence, because the doctrine of election reminds me of my own insufficiency. But confidence in Christ, as the One who chose us and ordained us to bear fruit that would remain.