Wednesday, January 23, 2013

No One Can Come

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. (John 6:44)

This verse clearly implies that God does not draw everyone to Jesus. However, this verse alone does not explain why God declines to draw certain people.

Some assume that God does not draw certain people to Jesus because God, in some ultimate sense, does not desire their salvation. However, there is nothing in John 6.44 to support such an assumption. Furthermore, this assumption conflicts with the message of John 3.16-17:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 

These verses seem to teach that God loves everyone and truly desires everyone to be saved. Nevertheless, some have suggested that the “world” of John 3.16-17 does not encompass every individual person; they argue that this term is only meant to signify humanity in general. However, when John 3.16-17 is compared with John 12.47, it becomes clear that the term the "world” is intended to include everyone, even those individuals who ultimately do not come to Jesus.
If anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 
Why does Jesus not judge the unbeliever? Because he did not come to judge the “world.” This line of reasoning is only valid if unbelievers are understood to be included in the “world.” Therefore, we must conclude that God does indeed love all people and does indeed desire the salvation of all people.

Why then does God not draw every person to Jesus? The answer becomes clear if we keep reading:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6.44-45)
John 6.45 clarifies that to be drawn by God to Jesus involves hearing and learning from the Father. Therefore, if we seek to determine why certain men are not drawn by God to Jesus, we must ask why certain men do not hear and learn from the Father. Is it because the Father has declined to speak to them and teach them, or is it because these men have rejected the word and instruction of the Father?

I believe the context allows us to answer this question with confidence. Jesus has just rebuked his opponents for rejecting the testimony that God had given to them in the OT:

And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5.37-47) 

In rejecting the words of Jesus, these Jews revealed that they had already rejected the words of Moses. Jesus never implies that they were predestined to reject Moses. He is simply explaining that their rejection of his own words stems from a prior rejection of God's revelation in Moses. Because they did not believe Moses, they could not believe Jesus.

We are getting at a concept here which is central to the message of John: those who have rejected God reject Jesus; those who have accepted God accept Jesus. This concept is interwoven with the christology of John. It is precisely because Jesus comes from God and speaks the words of God that a rejection of Jesus reveals a prior rejection of God and of God’s word. This theme can be traced throughout the entire gospel, but consider these few examples:

If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God. (John 8:42)

He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (John 8:47)

He who hates me hates my Father also. (John 15:23) 

In conclusion, John 6.44-45 does not teach that God only desires to save select individuals. Such a notion conflicts with the message of John 3.16-17. John 6.44-45 simply teaches that those who reject Jesus do so because they have not "heard and learned from the Father."


Bradley said...

Hmmm… I agree with you regarding John 6:44; it says nothing about God’s desire for people’s salvation, and I don’t think it means to comment on that topic. And if we make it say something to that effect, I think we’re being disingenuous in our interpretation of Scripture.
However, I consider myself a Calvinist (though I try to be careful in this – I think 1 Corinthians 1 may speak against this kind of division), and I think John 6:44 convinces me even more that I should be. It seems clear that the passage speaks strongly to this: coming to Jesus is primarily an act of God. Not that the believer has no part, but Jesus is clearly saying that no one can come unless God draws him in. That sure sounds like it’s primarily an act of God.
And I’m sorry to say it, but it seems like your interpretation of the next verse is a good example of eisegesis. You say, “…to be drawn by God to Jesus involves hearing and learning from the Father. Therefore, if we seek to determine why certain men are not drawn by God to Jesus, we must ask why certain men do not hear and learn from the Father. Is it because the Father has refused to speak to them and teach them, or is it because these men have rejected the word and instruction of the Father?” But this seems to imply a logical order that I just don’t see in the passage: that hearing and learning leads to being drawn in by God. (And I think this order came from your original assumption that the initiative in coming to Jesus doesn’t lie with God, but with the one who comes or refuses.)
The three sentences in Jesus’ argument all have to be supporting the same idea, even though they don’t seem to at first, because otherwise the flow of His argument doesn’t make any sense (proposition, textual support, restatement of proposition in light of textual support). What this would indicate is that the Father drawing them, God teaching them, and them hearing and learning from the Father are all referring to the same thing. Thus the Father draws people in through teaching them, by them hearing and learning from the Father – teaching them means drawing them in. That’s the only way I can read this passage and have it make any logical sense.
That means if they haven’t been drawn, they haven’t been taught (haven’t heard and learned); if they haven’t been taught (haven’t heard and learned), they haven’t been drawn. This seems to me to indicate that the initiative is on God’s side – either He teaches and draws, or He doesn’t. And I think the initiative being on God’s side in salvation is one of the main points of Calvinism.
So while I think you’re right, that the passage isn’t about what individuals are saved and that rejecting God = rejecting Jesus, I think the point of the passage is that coming to Jesus is an act of God, His initiative. I think that’s how it’s usually used to defend Calvinism.

Murray Vasser said...

Hi Bradley,

Thanks for your comments!

I absolutely agree with you that being drawn by God is the same thing as hearing from God and being taught by God. I certainly did not mean to imply that hearing from God and being taught by God is a first step, and being drawn by God is a second step. My point was that John 6.45 clarifies what it means to be drawn by God: to be drawn by God is to hear and learn from God.

Now you state that "coming to Jesus is an act of God, His initiative." It certainly is. But that does not mean that people cannot resist. As John 5.37-47 teaches, the Pharisees refused to hear from and be taught by God! In other words, they refused to be drawn by God. God had given them his word, which would have pulled them straight to Jesus, but they refused to hear it and be taught by it.

Anonymous said...

When isolated from its context, John 6:44 may seem to be a suitable verse to support a Calvinist’s view of salvation. However, when read in context with verse 45, Jesus made it known that we come to Him through the drawing of a loving Father when we willingly listen to the Father and learn from Him. When we read the entire dialogue Jesus had with those who were following Him in John 6:25-66 we see in the people’s responses, to Jesus, an unwillingness to listen and learn; a response which kept many of these people from continuing to follow Christ. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘”This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” John 6:60, 66 (NIV).
Jesus was teaching the people that the Father’s plan for eternal life was based on Jesus’ work and not by their work: saved by faith not by works (John 6:28-29, 35-36, 40, 47, 51, 57, 64). It was the people’s unbelief, their unwillingness to submit to the Father, which kept the Father from bringing them to the Son. “But there are some of you that believe not… Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” John 6:64-65. Jesus taught that He and the Father are working together to accomplish the same plan; to give eternal life to those who are willing to listen to Him and follow Him: Jesus later referred to such people as His sheep.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” John 10:27-30.

Murray Vasser said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for the input! I believe you are precisely correct.