Daily Archives: July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017: Verse of the day

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Then Jesus uttered some very solemn words: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” emphasizing man’s helplessness and utter inability to respond to Him apart from God’s sovereign call. Unbelievers are unable to come to Jesus on their own initiative (cf. the discussion of verse 37 above). If God did not irresistibly draw sinners to Christ, no one would ever come to Him.

To explain how lost sinners supposedly have the power to accept or reject the gospel of their own free will, some theologians introduce the concept of prevenient grace. Millard J. Erickson explains,

As generally understood, prevenient grace is grace that is given by God to all men indiscriminately. It is seen in God’s sending the sunshine and the rain upon all. It is also the basis of all the goodness found in men everywhere. Beyond that, it is universally given to counteract the effect of sin.… Since God has given this grace to all, everyone is capable of accepting the offer of salvation; consequently, there is no need for any special application of God’s grace to particular individuals. (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], 3:920)

But the Bible indicates that fallen man is unable, of his own volition, to come to Jesus Christ. Unregenerate people are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13), slaves to unrighteousness (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 17, 20), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10; 8:7). They are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4) captives (2 Tim. 2:26) trapped in Satan’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), powerless to change their sinful natures (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 5:6), unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), and incapable of understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14; cf. John 14:17). Although the human will is involved in coming to Christ (since no one is saved apart from believing the gospel—Mark 1:15; Acts 15:7; Rom. 1:16; 10:9–15; Eph. 1:13), sinners cannot come to Him of their own free will. (Moreover, a comparison of verse 44 with verse 37 shows that God’s drawing cannot apply to all unregenerate people, as proponents of prevenient grace argue, because verse 37 limits it to the redeemed whom God has given to Christ.) God irresistibly, efficaciously draws to Christ only those whom He chose for salvation in eternity past (Eph. 1:4–5, 11).

Once again, Jesus repeated the wonderful promise that all whom the Father chooses will be drawn, will come, will be received, and He will raise them on the last day (vv. 39–40, 54). Everyone who comes to Christ will be kept by Him; there is no possibility that even one elect person given to Him by the Father will be lost (see the discussion of v. 39 above).[1]


What did Jesus answer? It is important to notice that Jesus did not answer by defending himself on the personal level, as we might like to do. He could have done it, of course. But instead of this he returned to his teaching and restated it, giving two proofs. This was a challenge to his hearers to investigate his teaching for themselves. Finally, after having restated his teaching and given his proofs, Jesus stated the doctrine again for the final time. The verses that contain this read as follows: “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, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes in me has everlasting life” (vv. 44–47).

We need to take these statements one at a time. First, Jesus repeats what he had said earlier, but here he does so in even sharper language. Before, he had said, “You have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me” (vv. 36–37). This implies that no one can come, apart from a special act of God on his behalf, but it does not say this negatively. Now Christ does. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

This verse is so straightforward in its language that it has always been a battleground between those who are willing to accept the doctrine of election here taught by Christ and those who resist it on rational or humanistic grounds. It was discussed by Augustine and Pelagius, by Calvin and Arminius, by Luther and Erasmus.

The latter case is particularly interesting. Erasmus had been led to attack Martin Luther’s teaching on the total spiritual depravity of man in a volume centering on the nature of the human will and on whether it can function in turning a man or a woman to God. Erasmus said it could. Moreover, he answered the obvious objection based on the argument of Christ in this verse—the objection that no one can come to Christ except the Father draw him—by saying that God draws people in the same way that an owner of a donkey might get it to move by holding a handful of carrots before its nose. The man draws, but obviously the will of the donkey is involved. According to this theory, God originates salvation but man nevertheless cooperates in it.

This may make good sense to the natural human way of thinking. But it is not what Scripture teaches, and Luther said so quite openly. What better drawing could there be, Luther argued, than the drawing of the Lord Jesus Christ himself? He was present among the people. He taught them personally. Still they did not come. In fact, they killed him. Luther concluded, “The ungodly does not ‘come’ even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which he does by shedding abroad his Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself.”

This was a good answer, of course. But we can go even further than this on the basis of Christ’s statement. Luther’s key word in answering Erasmus was “passive.” He said that man was passive spiritually, inert, as inert as a dead man might be, if we may use that image. In John 6:44, however, there is in addition to this truth the thought that man also actually resists the work of God within. That is, he is not only passive; he also is perverse and obstinate.

We see this truth in the word that is chosen to speak of the Father’s work in “drawing” a man or a woman to Christ. This word always implies resistance to the power that draws. William Barclay gives a number of examples of this in his devotional studies on John’s Gospel. He shows that it is the word for drawing a heavily laden net to the shore, a net filled with a great number of fish (John 21:6, 11). It is the word that is used of Paul and Silas being dragged before the civil authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:19). It is used for drawing a sword from the belt or from its scabbard (John 18:10). Always there is the idea of resistance. So here also there is the idea that men and women resist God.

Curiously, however, Barclay adds that “God can and does draw men, but man’s resistance can defeat the pull of God.” The curious thing about this statement, though, is that not one of his examples shows the resistance to be successful. The fish do get to shore. Paul and Silas are dragged before the magistrates. The sword is withdrawn. Indeed, we can go even further than this. As Leon Morris notes in his commentary, “There is not one example in the New Testament of the use of this verb where the resistance is successful. Always the drawing power is triumphant, as here.” People resist. In this their depravity is seen. But the power of God always overcomes the resistance in those whom he has determined before the foundation of the world to give to Jesus.

Is this discouraging? Not at all. Actually, the fact that God does draw men and women to Christ in spite of themselves is our ho[2]


43–44 Jesus doesn’t bother to answer the issues they raise. To allow them to set the tone and control the discussion would lead nowhere. So Jesus tells them to “stop grumbling.” Their premises are wrong and their conjectures are leading them in the wrong direction. The people who “come to Jesus” are those who are drawn by the Father (v. 44). The Greek word for “draw” (helkyō, GK 1816) when used literally means “to draw” or “to tug” (TDNT 2:503; in Ac 16:19 Paul and Silas are “dragged” before the authorities). When taken figuratively (as here in Jn 6:44) it means “to compel.” Barclay, 1:220, notes that “it almost always implies some kind of resistance.” Morris, 371 n. 110, adds, “God brings men to Himself although by nature they prefer sin.” Most commentators hold that John is speaking here of a drawing that goes far beyond moral influence; it is a drawing akin to divine election. No one is able to come to the Father unless the Father draws him or her. In connection with the restoration of Israel, God through the prophet Jeremiah says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jer 31:3). Interestingly, in John 12:32 Jesus says that when he is lifted up, he “will draw all men” to himself. The apparent contradiction is eased when we understand that in ch. 12 Jesus speaks of “all men without distinction” rather than “all men without exception” (Carson, 293). In his sacrificial death, Jesus will draw to himself people of every cultural, social, and ethnic background (12:32), but unless a specific person is drawn, that person cannot come to Christ (6:44). The drawing here is not the persuasive power of God’s concern for all, but the irresistible attraction of his grace for the elect. The CEV translates, “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me makes them want to come.” And those who do come will be raised to life “at the last day”—another indication that “realized eschatology” is only part of the whole story. The Father initiates the work of grace in the human heart, and the Son brings it to completion.[3]


6:43–45. Even though there was no formal question, John tells us that Jesus answered. Verse 44 is the opposite of the first part of verse 37. All will come, but no one can come unless he or she is drawn, and the automatic result is resurrection. But what is the significance of the citation of Isaiah 54:13 in the middle of verse 45? This is important if we are to maintain balance in this passage. The original Old Testament text describes the new Jerusalem in which “all your sons will be taught by the Lord” (Isa. 54:13).

The context here seems to require the learning of the gospel and a spiritual awareness that creates a desire for truth. Borchert warns, “Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God. To choose one or the other will ultimately end in unbalanced, unbiblical theology … Rather than resolving the tension, the best resolution is learning to live with the tension and accepting those whose theological commitments differ from ours” (Borchert, pp. 268–69).[4]


43, 44. In view of the testimonies that had been given (see on 5:30–47) there was no excuse for this scornful attitude on the part of the Jews. If everything was not immediately clear, they could have asked questions in a polite and humble manner. The questions which they actually asked were wrong both in content and in spirit. Hence, Jesus does not enter into them. He realizes that this would have been useless. In a passage (verse 43, taken in its entirety) which again places side by side human responsibility and divine predestination, Jesus answered and said to them, Stop murmuring among yourselves. Here human responsibility is stressed. Then, taking up again one of his own main points (see 6:37), Jesus continues, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. Here the emphasis is on the divine decree of predestination carried out in history. When Jesus refers to the divine drawing activity, he employs a term which clearly indicates that more than moral influence is indicated. The Father does not merely beckon or advise, he draws! The same verb (ἕλκω, ἑλκύω) occurs also in 12:32, where the drawing activity is ascribed to the Son; and further, in 18:10; 21:6, 11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; and Jas. 2:6. The drawing of which these passages speak indicates a very powerful—we may even say, an irresistible—activity. To be sure, man resists, but his resistance is ineffective. It is in that sense that we speak of God’s grace as being irresistible. The net full of big fishes is actually drawn or dragged ashore (21:6, 11). Paul and Silas are dragged into the forum (Acts 16:19). Paul is dragged out of the temple (Acts 21:30). The rich drag the poor before the judgment-seats (Jas. 2:6). Returning now to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus will draw all men to himself (12:32) and Simon drew his sword, striking the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (18:10). To be sure, there is a difference between the drawing of a net or a sword, on the one hand, and of a sinner, on the other. With the latter God deals as with a responsible being. He powerfully influences the mind, will, heart, the entire personality. These, too, begin to function in their own right, so that Christ is accepted by a living faith. But both at the beginning and throughout the entire process of being saved, the power is ever from above; it is very real, strong, and effective; and it is wielded by God himself!

The question may be asked: Why is it that in the teaching of Jesus (12:32) this drawing activity is ascribed to the Father (6:44) and to the Son (12:32) but not to the Holy Spirit? We answer: a. As long as the Holy Spirit has not been poured out, we cannot expect detailed teaching with reference to him; b. nevertheless, in the night of the betrayal Jesus did refer to the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, though the words used are different (14:26; 15:26; 16:13, 14; see esp. the thirteenth verse of that chapter); and c. the work of regeneration which is specifically ascribed to the Spirit (3:3, 5) is certainly included in this process of drawing a sinner from death to life!—In connection with the work of the triune God in drawing sinners to himself see also Jer. 31:3; Rom. 8:14; and Col. 1:13.

The one drawn, actually gets there: he whom the Father draws is raised to life by the Son. Moreover, the powerful operation affects both soul and body. Jesus says, “And I will raise him up at the last day.” The last day is again the judgment day. On Jesus as the One sent by the Father see 3:34; cf. 1:6.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 252–253). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 513–514). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 447). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Gangel, K. O. (2000). John (Vol. 4, p. 126). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 1, pp. 238–239). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.