Over the last number of weeks, we have been looking at John 6. Just one day after the feeding of the 5000, the crowds became offended at Jesus’ teaching and largely walked away, never to return. They grumbled about Him, argued with Him, and ultimately decided that they knew better than Jesus did. Their final recorded words, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60), stand as a warning to all who would reject Jesus because they’re offended at what He says. While few Christians today are offended by Jesus’ claims to be the “bread of life” (v. 35) or the “bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41), many are offended by another teaching of Jesus in this same passage. The teaching that people find so offensive, today, is the idea that no one trusts in Jesus unless God enables them to do so. Let’s look at the text again and see if that’s what it really says.
Jesus states the same truth four times in this passage, twice positively and twice negatively. Consider the positive sense in John 6:37. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” It seems to be saying that those who come to trust in Jesus do so because the Father has given them to Him. Believers are, in a sense, the Father’s gift to a worthy Saviour. It’s also clear that “all that the Father gives” to Jesus “will come.” So it’s not just that God works in all people’s lives equally and some come to believe in Jesus. Every single person that the Father gives to Jesus, comes to trust in Him. It’s important to notice the context. This verse is given by Jesus in response to the fact that many in the crowd fail to believe. Jesus says as much in the previous verse, “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (v. 36). This is important because it shows that the coming to Him in v. 37 can’t just mean getting near to Jesus, as if all that the Father gives to Jesus come close to get an opportunity to hear and they have to do the rest on their own. Coming to Jesus in v. 37 must mean believing in Jesus because He is explaining why many in the crowd refuse to believe. Simply put, the Father has not given them to Jesus – and the human heart is so stubborn that it refuses to come on its own.
Let’s consider, the second positive statement of this same teaching. In v. 39, Jesus says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Notice the similar phrase, “all that he has given me.” The following verse makes it clear that “all that he has given me” refers to everyone who “believes in him” and so receives eternal life. The promise of this verse is that those who have been given by the Father to Jesus will not turn away as the crowd did, because Jesus has vowed not to lose any of them. Notice again the impact of Jesus’ words in their context. A small group of disciples has remained faithful to Jesus in the face of a mass exodus of the crowd who have been put off by Jesus’ words. Jesus first explains the defection of the crowd by saying that they have, in essence, not been given to Him by the Father. But then He assures the faithful disciples, that He won’t lose any of them. A true disciples’ coming to faith is secured by the Father and his or her remaining in the faith is secured by the Son.
Now let’s consider the two negative statements. The first is in v. 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” This is the same truth from the opposite perspective, here using the word “draw” instead of “give.” Again, coming to Jesus must mean coming to saving faith. That can’t happen, Jesus says, unless the Father draws the person. The word for “draw” here can either mean to drag someone against their will or to inwardly compel them. Obviously, the latter meaning is intended here. Anyone who has ever trusted Jesus has been first inwardly compelled to faith by the Father. The human heart is so stubborn that without God’s help we’d never turn to Him.
The final statement, and the second negative one, comes in v. 65, “And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”” Here Jesus’ words from v. 44 are repeated except that “unless the Father who sent me draws him” is replaced by “unless it is granted him by the Father.” The Father giving or granting people to Jesus is interchangeable with Him drawing people to Jesus. So no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws them, and everyone whom the Father draws, inevitably comes to Jesus.
This is a “hard saying.” It seems to go against our instincts and our natural sense of fairness. It creates problems for us. Why doesn’t the Father draw everyone to Jesus? How do we know whom the Father has given to the Son? lf everyone whom the Father draws, comes to faith in Jesus, what does that mean for our understanding of human free will? Jesus doesn’t answer all of these questions, at least not in this passage. But He has shown us how true disciples respond to hard sayings – instead of walking away like the crowd or assuming that they know better, they trust Jesus not their own instincts because He has “the words of eternal life” (v. 68).
May we have the humility to take Jesus at His word and in so doing recognize that our coming to faith and our remaining in the faith are both secured by God and are part of His gift to us. His grace is greater than our minds can grasp!
In awe of Him,