If Anyone Thirsts: The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility in Amazing Harmony

July 2, 2019
David Dunlap

Our Lord says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink” (Jn. 7:39). His invitation goes out to all— “if any man”—and He gives all people the choice and power to come— “Let him come.” Here, we see two choices: God’s choice and man’s choice. God made a choice to invite all people to come, and all people have the choice to come to Christ or to reject Him. In these two choices, we discover the paradox between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind. This subject has been the source of many heated and unprofitable debates. We can never answer all the questions that have been posed nor solve its many mysteries. Nevertheless, the examination of God’s choices and man’s choices is the key to understanding something of this great subject. The Bible is filled with God’s choices and His choices are always just, holy, good, and best for His people.

God’s Perfect Choices

What are some of God’s choices? First of all, He chose to create man in His own spiritual image. “God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image’” (Gen. 1:26). This choice equipped man with a free will and the ability to choose to obey or disobey God. God also chose to love the world to the point of giving up His own Son, even though man rebelled against Him- “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16). When man chose to rebel against its Creator in the garden of Eden, God could have done away with the human race and made a fresh start. Instead, He chose to love and to provide for man’s eternal salvation. He is a God without partiality, loving all of humanity equally. God chose not only to love His creation but to desire the salvation of all. God is described as One “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Peter states that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). No one can accuse God of being unloving or uncaring. Further, God made a plan of salvation, choosing to send His Son into the world to suffer and to die for sinners. This was not a limited atonement. The agonizing death of the infinite God-man was sufficient to pay for the sins of all humanity. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). God also chose to save humanity by grace through faith in Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8). There are no special works required for God’s salvation. Faith in Christ is a response of the heart, not a work.

Faith & Choices

But individuals also have choices to make, and God sovereignly has provided them with more than enough resources on which to make the right choice. The Holy Spirit has come, as promised by the Lord Jesus. When the Gospel is preached, the Spirit is present to convict the hearer of sin and to exalt Christ as the only Savior. There is also the witness of creation to the Creator (Rom. 1:20) and the witness of conscience (Rom. 2:14–15). So overwhelming are these reasons to believe that Paul states that man is without excuse if he dies in his sins. In view of God’s provision, it is possible for men to believe. In fact, God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). God would not command men to do what is impossible for them to do! The Gospel goes out to all. It is a valid offer of salvation. Christ’s followers were told that “repentance and the remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Lk. 24:47). Our Lord told a parable about the owner of a vineyard who needed laborers. He went out early in the morning to hire workers. He called to laborers standing in the marketplace to come and work in his vineyard, and he agreed to pay them one denarius. All were invited to work, but many refused to come. The gospel call goes out to all, but not all respond. The Lord said at the end of the parable, “For many are called but few are chosen” (Mt. 20:16). All are invited, but only those who respond are called “chosen.” Those who believe are the chosen ones in God’s sight. Respected Bible commentator William MacDonald explains how a person becomes chosen: “‘Many are called’ is that the gospel invitation goes out to many. But few are chosen. The expression ‘few are chosen’ does not mean that God is arbitrary in selecting only a few for salvation. All who respond to the good news are chosen. The only way a person can tell if he is chosen is by what he does with the Lord Jesus Christ.”1

Amazing Harmony

So, whose choice is it? God’s or humanity’s? The answer is both! There is a blending of choice and will between the Creator and all humanity. It is God who initiated salvation. He chose to save rather than to destroy rebellious man; He chose to send His Son to die for sinners; He set the terms of salvation; and He sends the Holy Spirit to convict individuals of sin and to draw them to the Savior (Jn. 16:8). People must, by faith, receive Christ as their Savior. Their choice is to respond to or reject God’s offer. In the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15), the father chose to have children. Once grown, the prodigal son chose to leave his father and live a rebellious life, wasting what his father had given him. The father then chose to wait for his son with an open and loving heart. The son, on his part, had to repent and return, trusting in his father’s love and acceptance. Reconciliation was dependent on the choices of both.


“If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink” (Jn. 7:39). Who does not thirst? Who does not have mind-thirsts, heart-thirsts, soul-thirsts, or body-thirsts? No matter which we have, or whether we have them all, does Scripture say to “come unto Me and” remain thirsty? Never! It says, “Come unto Me and drink.” Can it be true? Can the dry and thirsty one be refreshed, the parched soil moistened, the arid places cooled? Yes, and more besides. The last invitation of the Bible to sinners is, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). It is a genuine offer to all. So, then, the Lord says to us, “Choose!” • Endnotes 1. William MacDonald, Matthew: Behold Your King, (Kansas City, KS: Walterick, 1974), p. 249.