Calvinism: Who chooses? The Shepherd or the sheep?

Calvinism: Who chooses? The Shepherd or the sheep?

Who chooses? The Shepherd or the sheep? The Giving blog by Cheryl Schatz

Calvinism: Who chooses?

This post is in response to Dr. James White from his August 5, 2014 podcast where he gave several challenges about the answers I posted on my blog post “Why are people not coming to Jesus?” Dr. White’s point was that if one believes that Jesus showed a person belongs to the Father before he belongs to Jesus, then it must mean that the sheep choose the shepherd. Is Dr. White’s statement true? Do the sheep choose the Shepherd if they respond to the Father first? This post will be the first in a series of posts that will answer the challenges of Dr. James White on the issue of Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism.

Dr. James White’s challenge: If people are given to the Son as believers, they are choosing the Shepherd

The biblical truth that is being challenged is Jesus’ teaching that people who fear God, first belong to the Father before they are given to the Son.

Malachi 3:16–18 (NASB) 16Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name17They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

John 6:37 (NASB) “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

In Malachi 3:16-18, those who feared the LORD were heard and a book of remembrance was written. Does this mean that they were the ones who chose the Shepherd? No! God Himself must first do the work that prepares the sheep. God must first teach people to fear Him.

Deuteronomy 31:12 (NASB) “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.

God prepares the sheep by teaching them about Him.

John 6:45 (NASB )“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

The LORD must first give His lovingkindness so that people may hope in Him. After teaching them, His eye and His ear are toward them. We see this in the book of Psalms:

Psalm 33:18 (NASB95) Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,

Psalm 34:15 (NASB95) The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous And His ears are open to their cry.

Those who hear from God and learn from Him will be wise, for the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.

Proverbs 1:5, 7 (NASB) 5A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, 7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It is evident that God has to prepare us by teaching us and revealing Himself so that He is the initiator. No one could have faith in God without the revelation of God coming first.

Does responding to God’s invitation mean that we have chosen the Shepherd? It can’t mean that. In Deuteronomy 30:19 and Joshua 24:15, a decision is put to Israel to choose between life and death. Joshua makes it clear that he has chosen life. God did not say that Joshua was not allowed to choose life because it took away the Sovereignty of God. God initiated the choice in the first place. God had to instruct, teach and reveal His option for life.

Deuteronomy 30:19 (NASB) “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,

Joshua 24:15 (NASB) “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

I would like to ask those who think that making a choice to fear and serve God, how does responding to God’s invitation make us the initiator or the one choosing the Shepherd? Please show me where Scripture proposes such an argument? Jesus rightfully said that He did the choosing, but the Scripture records that those who fear the LORD would belong to Him.

Malachi 3:16–18 (NASB)

16Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.

17They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”

18So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

Who gives the word so that people may fear God? Who prepares His possession? Who spares the people? It is the LORD of hosts, the Shepherd, not the sheep.

My challenge

Where does the Bible give any hint that responding to the LORD’s call takes away God’s Sovereignty and results in the sheep choosing the Shepherd? If you are one who is using this argument, where are you getting this argument? Is it truly a biblical argument, or is it an argument from a presupposition that requires a Calvinistic viewpoint imposed onto the Scriptures?

11 thoughts on “Calvinism: Who chooses? The Shepherd or the sheep?

  1. Hi Cheryl; It doesn’t. I think I gave this illustration before, but it’s like being invited to a wedding . Someone has to send an invite or how can I know there’s a wedding to go to. I can decide to reject or accept the invite. But the power over whether or not that wedding happens is NOT up to my rejection or acceptance.

    If I decide to take a specific college course, (creative writing 101) but then realize that I don’t care for the way the instructor is teaching, I can leave the course, but that doesn’t prevent the course from continuing. The class option was there for me to accept or reject.

    In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He had flocks of people following Him. He was interesting, and people liked the way He taught. But then, things started getting kinda heavy (doctrinally and legally) and little by little, the crowds (once numbering as many as 5000) dwindled away. They had the choice both ways, but that didn’t affect What Christ taught. They chose to start listening because of the DRAW of what Christ was saying. And stopped because they didn’t want to get into legal or religious hot water. Christ was the initiator both times.

    “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing, by the Word of God.” If someone doesn’t want to hear the message, that is their option, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone issued the offer.

    God makes the offer. Christ is not willing that ANY should perish, so He holds out the lifeline of the Gospel. For whatever reason, many refuse that lifeline, but it’s there to take hold of. Humanity’s refusal to accept the offer doesn’t negate the reality of the offer. We couldn’t tell God to initiate the offer and we can’t tell Him to withhold it. All we can do it accept or reject the offer. How does that put Humanity in the driver’s seat, on this issue, I wish I knew!

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one confused by this insane doctrine! Dave Hunt wrote that he was confused as to why Calvinism was making a come-back. I think I know now. 1 Tim 4:1

  2. Hi gilliansnotebook,

    Your point is well taken. Unfortunately Calvinism has a way of thinking that any response of man becomes a challenge to God’s Sovereignty. But it seems to me that the way that Calvinists themselves think becomes a huge challenge to God’s Sovereignty. For example if you say that Jesus died for all people, they will ask, what about the people who are in hell? Jesus could not have died for them or His blood was wasted. But with this way of thinking, the choices of man have limited God. Whether man rejects God or not cannot stop God from acting. The plan of salvation cannot be thwarted because of the choice of man or God’s will is trumped by man. Jesus died for every man because He is faithful and man’s rejection cannot limited His faithfulness. I cannot imagine thinking that an obstinate person can limit the faithfulness of Jesus. It just isn’t so.

  3. Scratch a little deeper, dear sister, and I think you’ll find yourself “scratching” the Joshua reference from the argument (24:15). Look close and you’ll see that Joshua was saying (pardon my paraphrase, if you see that it fits) something like: “If you don’t want to serve Yahweh, then figure out (or choose) whom you WILL serve—the gods from back in Egypt, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” And quite naturally he alludes to a third choice, HIS choice—“But as for me and my house…”

    Something else you might want to play with, not biblical, nor theological, but conceptual. But because concepts are sometimes hard to convey, sketches can help visual learners like me. So, if you had a sheet of notebook paper, and you drew two large circles, and you labelled one Sovereignty (of God), and you labelled the other Responsibility (of man), you will have before you the juxtaposition of the ages. But what we do is draw these circles on the battlefield, opposing one another. Like any war, one must win and one must lose, right? Well, try this one simple move, and see if the remaining visual concept fits in your theos + logos view of the God of Scripture…leave the label, but erase the sovereignty circle.
    In case you don’t wish to do all that, let me just say that since I have come to see that “Sovereignty” is not at war with “Responsibility,” then the latter must be a part of the former, by definition.

    We’ve had folks in our Bible studies that “get messages” from God, or have a secret “word” for you or me, or get awakened in the night by “the spirit” telling them to get up and read from Second David. (I think that’s found after Second Opinions, or somewhere in there…maybe Galoshians…) They’re babies, but they don’t want you to know it. And you don’t, until they ask, “What is the sovereignty of God?”

    Since you can’t go to a chapter and verse for a definition like you can with Faith (Heb 11.1) we offer the “Sidewalk English” version of the definition of the sovereignty of God: He does WHAT He wants, WHEN He wants, TO WHOEVER He wants, for WHATEVER REASON He wants, in WHATEVER WAY He wants, and frequently does not even ask my opinion…Ha!

    I’d like to suggest that until we understand his sovereignty, we will remain fairly lame in our understanding of His mercy. Such a one likes to gripe about God not being fair. He’s always JUST, but he’s not always FAIR. What’s fair about a youngster being thrown in a pit and sold into slavery, or a God-fearing man that shuns evil, a just and upright man, none like him in all the world, but “YOU [satan] moved Me [God] against him, to destroy him without cause…” The Scripture is full of unfairness. Why? Because life is unfair. Why? Because God is unfair. But He is righteous. You want to scream “unfair?” Oh, so you want what you deserve? That’s justice. I want justice for you, but mercy for me, because I was a son of Adam. Mercy? That’s NOT GETTING what you deserve. And let’s not leave Grace alone at home—getting what you DON’T DESERVE. Again, plug it into your theos + logos. If these definitions don’t suit scripture any better than the backstage papist machinations of Rome, then toss ‘em.

    Keep up the good work.


  4. Joel, welcome to my blog. I will answer your comments in a day or two as I have company this week and little time to think and reason through your comments. Thank you in advance for your patience.

  5. Joel,
    Regarding the Joshua 24:15 choice to serve YHWH, the choice was still valid as Joshua chose to serve the LORD God, but I agree with you that the Israelites appeared to have rejected the LORD as Joshua seems to imply that they had found it disagreeable to serve the LORD. I do think that what Joshua was saying was beyond choice and into commitment. Joshua said that he WILL serve the LORD. His commitment removed any other choice for him. Thanks for those comments. They were good.

    As far as Sovereignty and Responsibility as being part of the same definition, are you saying that God’s responsibility and His Sovereignty are part of the same definition and man’s responsibility is not part of the equation?

    As far as the “Sidewalk English” version of the Sovereignty of God, I have more to add to it. You said “He does WHAT He wants” but what has God already told us in the Scripture that He wants? It isn’t a mystery what He wants, but it is revealed. He does WHEN He wants to, because His wisdom is beyond ours and His timing is perfect. Regarding the WHOEVER and the WHATEVER REASON, He does GOOD to those who will listen to Him and for those who are stiff necked and turn away from Him, He turns them over to their sin and the consequences of their sin as the Scriptures tells us.

    I also think that there is things that we miss in the Sovereignty of God that doesn’t allow us to consider God’s humility. I wrote an article quite a while back on the humility of God here I believe that although it seems that God is unfair on this side of eternity, when we know as we are known, I believe that we will see that God has been more than fair to us and given us more than we deserve. I also believe that when God pulls back the curtains of time, we will see all that He has done for us that we were not aware. God’s nature is goodness. He has anger but He IS NOT anger. He IS good.

    Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate the tone in which you offered your thoughts.

  6. Hi, Cheryl–Shalom, spirit, soul, & body–hope all is well.

    Don’t fail me here, in understanding what Joshua was saying (and again, my Sidewalk English): “Look here, lug nuts, CHOOSE which pagan gods you want to serve–Egyptian, or your current Amorite fad…but as for me and mine, it’s YHWH [a totally THIRD choice].” It was NOT the “…choose life or death…” of Moses’ declaration. So to me, the validity of Joshua’s “choose ye” thing is non sequitur for us today. He was talking to God’s people anyway, not a room full of reprobates (one of which I was at one time.)

    Also, don’t allow me to confuse you with terms here–I’m comparing/contrasting the “Sovereignty of GOD” with the “Responsibility of MAN.” God’s ‘responsibility’ is not in question here…MAN’S is. So from my “drawing,” then, God’s Sovereignty would have no bounds, and man’s responsibility is encompassed within a circle, and the circle is WELL WITHIN the area called the “Sovereignty of God.” Again, two circles, label both, then ERASE THE CIRCLE around the “Sovereignty of God,” because by definition, it has no limits…

    That’s why we have verses like Php 2.12-b & 13: “Work out your own salvation…{I’d like to stop there and make sure YOUR hiney is in gear and hustling to ‘stay saved’ while I enjoy the ‘rest’ of the Lord, but the context won’t let me…} because v. 13 tells us that even though we think we’re doing the work, it’s actually GOD who’s working in us, both TO DO and TO WILL of HIS [not my] good pleasure…”

    Can you see why I’m leery of those who come along saying,”You need to be doing more [whatever]…”? Yes, you need to pray more, read your Bible more, go to church more, and ALL these things are good and they’re TRUE, but they’re not THE TRUTH. THE TRUTH is I can’t and I won’t until He gives me the desire and the ability to do those things. That’s grace. Grace is NOT some magic dripping off your beard because you made your bi-annual confession to some cloistered pederast. It is rather, the DESIRE and the ABILITY to do the will of God.

    I know many have trouble with this–they think dead men should make better or smarter choices. I’m not sure what part of DEAD we don’t get…so when we were sick or wounded, or unconscious, or in a coma in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1, Col 2.13) we unfortunately did the only thing we knew to do…be dead. Did He holler, “Lazarus, be it unto you according to your faith!”? Maybe, “If thou wouldst only believe!”? Maybe more like, “Hey, four days and stinky! I’m speaking Life into you at a sub-molecular level, kinda like I spoke the Creation into existence, so when you hear me say,’Come Forth,’ you will…We forget Adam’s fall, and Who went looking for whom…

    I agree that He has given us more than we deserve. I disagree that that is to be called “fair.” It certainly is not. Is government welfare “FAIR?” Hardly. That is another major aspect of GRACE, getting something you DON’T deserve.

    I will visit your article on God’s humility, and get back.
    Rest in Him.


  7. Hi Joel,

    You wrote:

    It was NOT the “…choose life or death…” of Moses’ declaration.

    I would like to differ with you if I may. In Mose’s command to choose life or death, there was only two choices. In Joshua’s statement it was conditional “if” and there were only two real choices. Both gods of the nations were false gods and both led to death not life. Only one God. Only one life. The best thing is to pay attention to the conditional entrance to the statement. One cannot disregard this point.

    Your drawing of circles appears to show that there is nothing outside of the Sovereignty of God. In effect there really is no responsibility of man, just the Sovereignty of God. But if this was so, the Bible would make no sense and there would be no need for the warning passages of Scripture.

    Philippians 2:12, 13 show both the responsibility of man to act upon what God has given him, and the initiating of God who alone has done the work of salvation. We work out what He has done. We do not work for salvation as that is not possible. This is not a heavy work, the working out of our salvation, but it is a necessary stepping out in faith as burying the gift is an act of disobedience and an act of unbelief.

    You wrote:

    THE TRUTH is I can’t and I won’t until He gives me the desire and the ability to do those things.

    The desire and the ability has already been given to one who have been saved by grace through faith. If one has no desire to do God’s work and says God has not given them any ability, it would appear that they have not yet entered in by faith.

    You wrote:

    I’m not sure what part of DEAD we don’t get…so when we were sick or wounded, or unconscious, or in a coma in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1, Col 2.13) we unfortunately did the only thing we knew to do…be dead.

    “Spiritually dead” people can do lots of things. They can make choices and they can sin.

    You wrote:

    Did He holler, “Lazarus, be it unto you according to your faith!”? Maybe, “If thou wouldst only believe!”?

    Lazarus was not spiritually dead. Lazarus was a believer.

    You wrote:

    I will visit your article on God’s humility, and get back.

    Thanks! I appreciate you looking over the article I wrote and I appreciate any feedback that you can give.

    In God’s amazing freely given grace for all,

  8. Jesus has sheep. They are His sheep. They were chosen by Him and He paid for them. He calls out to them when it is time to start the trek home and they hear, recognize, and answer Him from their wanderings away stupidly (as sheep are want to do) into the stolen pasture of a very different “herder”. Turning back, they walk toward Him to return to Him along the good way Home.

    There are those who are not His. They are called goats. They are not His because He didn’t choose them or pay for them to be His, and doesn’t call them His. The goats belong to their father, the Devil. Though they can try to act like sheep, and wander amongst the Good Shepherd’s sheep for a time, they will not listen to the Shepherd’s voice to follow Him to His home because they don’t recognize His voice. If they try to sneak in to the sheepfold, the Good Shepherd will recognize them as not one of His Sheep and cast the goat out. They also cannot become sheep, for that is not their nature. As well, sheep can act like goats and displease their Shepherd with their wanderings for a time, but they cannot become goats, for that is not their nature.

    The Lord’s sheep do not ‘choose’ their shepherd. They ARE His. Already. They were chosen and paid for before they were ever created (before or from the foundation of the created order). The Shepherd calls them to return from wanderings away and THEN and only then do they recognize His voice and turn towards Him to follow after Him, for they have gone astray and been led astray by strange shepherds.

    Do His sheep stray into the pasture of briars and thorns and goats? Oh yes they do. Do they hear their Good Shepherd’s voice when the Shepherd finally calls them to follow Him home? Oh yes they do! When their Great Shepherd calls, they WILL recognize His voice and head toward Him. And though the other herder keeps calling, and the goats bleat after them, and the sheep may stumble on the way back to the good path, the Shepherd keeps calling and seeking out and carrying His Sheep until ALL the Sheep he paid a great price for have at last come home to rest in His Father’s pasture, for He IS the Good Shepherd and He LOVES His sheep.

    He then closes the door of the sheepgate (which is only for the sheep) separating the goats and the goat herder and the goatherder’s other herdsmen from Him and His beloved sheep forever.

  9. Hi Eric. Welcome to my blog.

    I appreciate that you tried to answer the question of the post, but there is a problem. You said that Jesus didn’t die for the goats, but you didn’t give a Bible reference to show your claim. Was Judas a goat? I think we could agree that he was. But Jesus said that He died for Judas. See my post here

    Can you give me a single verse in the Scripture that clearly says Jesus did not die for wicked people?

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. when sheep pick a shepard, are they really sheep. Sheep are animals that have always been led. they are not capable of decision making. they run at the slightest fright. so if they are picking what or how do they pick. the talk of a church picking is silly. the body if they have the ability to pick a shepard then they are not sheep but wolves in sheep clothing. Look at the churches with the silly selection process dead dead dead, why you ask, if you are a woods type person. you would know. all animals when hunted aggressively move on to safer places. as it is with true sheep the flee the killing fields, and if they don’t then they are a wolf. No sensible animal or human will stay for long where death is eminent.

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