Why is it that some respond positively to the voice of the Good Shepherd while others do not? The explanation that Jesus himself gives in John chapter 10 is that at the end of the day, his sheep are the ones who hear his voice, and that those who persist in unbelief are not among his sheep. What are the implications of this message on grace and free will? Are these new ideas or are they rooted in concepts taught throughout the Old Testament? Shane Rosenthal discusses these questions and more with Justin Holcomb, author of On the Grace of God.
Justin Holcomb: “… In the realm of Hollywood and unfortunately, in too many churches where you have freedom of the will, and “I can do this”—”I need Jesus as an example, not as a rescuer, or Savior, and reviving me from death”—and that the problem is not diagnosed as spiritually dead or needing rescue. Well, then, you just need some advice, not good news of a war that’s been conquered on your behalf.”
Term to Learn
From the Latin verb concurrere, ‘to run together,’ the idea of concursus, or concurrence, in theology refers to the simultaneity of divine and human agency in specific actions and events. Sometimes God acts immediately and directly, but ordinarily he works through natural means. Aquinas employed the Aristotelian category of primary and secondary causes to make this point.
The concurrence that is necessary for a biblical doctrine of providence is not merely a general oversight but a direction of all events to their appointed ends. We can have confidence that God works all things together for our good only because all things are decreed by his wise counsels. It is only when we recognize God’s hand in everyday providence, through means, that we are able to attribute everything ultimately for his glory. If it were not for his providence and use of ordinary means, we would have no ground for praising God when good things are received through free human agents and natural means. This doctrine of concursus is likewise true in relation to the means of grace and prayer. God has ordained the use of preaching, as well as prayer, for more marvelous ends then we ourselves could cause, things pertaining to salvation. Prayer, therefore, is more than a therapeutic catharsis—venting our fears and frustrations or expressing our hopes and dreams to one who cares but is incapable of overruling in the affairs of free creatures. Prayer presupposes that God is sovereign over every contingency of nature and history.
This doctrine of concursus allows us to say that God works all things together for the salvation of his elect—even their material circumstances. Ordinary daily occurrences —trials, disasters, tragedies, personal encounters, formative events—become occasions for God’s saving hand to reach into our lives, whether we recognize it or not. This doctrine is vividly seen in the life of Joseph in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp. 356–58).