Written by Scott Christensen
Scripture is full of paradoxes. For example, how can God be one being, yet subsisting in three persons (i.e., the Trinity)? Or how can Christ be fully God, yet at the same time fully man? We are not talking about contradictions here. A paradox In the Biblical sense is a mystery not a contradiction. “A paradox is something we do not see how to put together, whereas a contradiction is something we do see cannot go together.” Thus, there would be a contradiction if we said there is one God, yet three Gods. Monotheism (one God) cannot be Tritheism (three Gods). However, there is no contraction in saying God is one in essence but subsisting as three persons. This is Trinitarianism. There is mystery here, but no contradiction. Matthew 11:25-30 contains another Scriptural paradox (mystery) that may not be readily apparent at first glance. It is the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the matter of salvation. We must not miss either one of these truths.
Jesus’ teaching in this passage can be seen as one continuous thought on the matter of salvation in two movements. Verses 25-27 speak to God’s sovereign control over the whole project of saving sinners from sin, death, and judgment, whereas verses 28-30 speaks to the gracious invitation to sinners to responsibly come to Christ for salvation. Note Jesus affirms two aspects to the work of salvation. God sovereignly calls sinners to himself. This is a matter of the Father’s “gracious will” (vs. 26). He shares this sovereign will with the Son. The Father and Son reveal and conceal the message of salvation to whomever they wish (vs. 27). As Paul says in Romans 9:18, God “has mercy on whom he desires, and He hardens whom he desires.” And of course, this is a hard truth to accept. But that is the nature of sovereign grace. In order for mercy to be merciful and for grace to be gracious it must be the result of God’s sovereign will. Salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:16).
But at this point a hue and cry is lifted up. What about human choice!? Are we merely lifeless, passive marionettes dangling at the end of the Grand Puppeteer’s stings? Does the Bible promote the pagan notion of fatalism? What will be will be and there is nothing you can do about it? As the Apostle Paul would say, “May it never be!” God’s sovereign control over salvation does not by-pass human responsibility. This is why Jesus moves on in Matthew 11:28-30 to graciously invite all hearers to “come to Me” and “take My yoke” and “learn from Me” (vss. 28-29). Note the three imperatives given in short order addressed to the hearers. They are pressed to respond. As pastor Chris pointed out in his messages on this passage, there are no imperatives in verses 25-27, just indicatives. God is sovereign over salvation—period. Yet—there is an obligation to respond to the message that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. You must “come”! You must repent and believe, or you will perish in your sins (Luke 13:3, 5).
The mystery here lies in the fact that God enables sinners to “come” by his sovereign grace (see John 6:44). He opens blind eyes and they begin to see. He calls the dead to life and they miraculously respond by rising from their spiritual graves. It is not God who repents and believes on behalf of sinners. They act themselves freely and responsibly, but only because He first called them from death to life. There is a paradox here, but no contradiction.
 Joshua Rasmussen’s How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 15.
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