Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The last phrase in the verse isn’t the perplexing part. After all, the future resurrection of believers at the coming of Christ is fully embraced by orthodox Christians (see 6:39, 40; 1 Cor 15:22-23).
But the first part of the verse needs reflection. Many Christians, in recalling their conversion experience, think to themselves, “I came to Christ.” And, yes, they did. But why did they come? (By the way, “coming to Christ” is equivalent to “believing in Christ” in John 6:35). Did one day the gospel truth just happened to dawn on them? Were they in the right place at the right time, with the right evangelist speaking, sitting on the right pew beside the right people? Are there days when an unregenerate sinner thinks to himself, “I think coming to Christ would be a good idea today…”? How does it happen?
Jesus teaches that no one can come to him unless the Father draws the person. This means that salvation is entirely–from beginning to end, that is–the work of God’s grace. Jesus speaks of divine initiative in 6:44. The words “no one” mean…well, no one. Everyone is unable to come to Christ, no exceptions. Let’s think of it this way: being from a Christian family, having Christian friends, going to a Bible-preaching church, listening to Christian music, wearing Christian t-shirts, or watching Christian movies–none of these things increases the odds of someone coming to know Christ.
In fact, it isn’t about the “odds” at all. Being from a Christian family, for instance, is circumstantial. And if circumstances increased the chances of someone coming to Christ, then we could help people come to Christ by creating the right environment, introducing unbelievers to the right people, or inviting them to the right places. But God hasn’t left his salvation-plan to “odds” and “chance.” If you look at some contemporary evangelism strategies, however, it appears many people believe that lost people coming to Christ is increased by engineering circumstances…But that is another blog for another time.
Jesus explains what he means by the Father’s “drawing” work: “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” (6:45). The Father draws unbelievers to Christ by opening spiritually deaf ears. God instructs the heart of a person to come to him. And everyone the Father teaches come to Christ. This means that, since everyone does not come to Christ, not everyone receives the Father’s heart-instruction.
“But,” you might object, “can’t someone come to Christ on their own, whenever they want?” No, not unless the Father draws (6:44). Apart from Christ, there is a moral and spiritual inability that exists within all mankind. Jesus says that “no one can come,” unless the Father does a drawing work.
Now, here’s another question: if the Father draws an unbeliever by opening his/her spiritual ears and instructing his/her heart, does that unbeliever have to come, or can the unbeliever ultimately resist God’s drawing work? Well, Jesus said, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (6:45). So, no, an unbeliever who is being drawn by God cannot ultimately resist God’s drawing work. God overcomes the resistance of the will (6:65).
Finally, I think John 6:44-45 has an important connection with John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Those that are given by the Father to the Son are God’s elect, sinners chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation and for the glory of God (Eph 1:4-6). Whenever God’s chosen people come to Christ, it is because the Father draws them by opening their spiritually-deaf ears to listen to him and to come to Christ.
Think of it this way: All those that are given to the Son will be drawn to the Son, and they will come to the Son with spiritually-open ears. God’s saving work of grace is irresistible when God draws a person. Until that moment of irresistible drawing grace, the sinner resists God’s grace vehemently. The sinner’s will is opposed to God, and the sinner rejects Christ. Christ is boring, the cross is ugly, and the gospel is ridiculous. But! When God speaks to the unbeliever’s heart (6:45), the drawing work has begun (6:44), and God’s draw is ultimately irresistible (“All that the Father gives me will come to me,” 6:37). God has never failed at saving anyone.
If you are a Christian, how did you “come” to Christ or “believe” in him? You came because, before the foundation of the world, the Father gave you to the Son, drew you through inward instruction at an appointed time in your life, and you saw what you had never seen before: the wonder and majesty and glory of the Lord Jesus. Nothing was ever left to chance, and the “odds” never mattered at all. No one will ever come to Christ unless the Father does a sovereign drawing work.