“And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:65-66).
The sixth chapter of John contains an in-depth teaching of the Lord regarding the way he saves men. It is a long discourse between himself and many Jews after the miracle of feeding the five thousand. It also contains our Lord’s first great ‘I Am’ declaration— “I am the bread of life” (6:35), and there are seven such declarations in John’s Gospel. This first one and the discourse that follows declare Jesus of Nazareth is the only sustenance that can truly satisfy human beings (“he who comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”).
It also contains the clearest teaching on the topic of divine election contained in God’s word. When the Jews grumbled about his claim to be the “bread that came down from heaven”, Jesus responded by teaching the reason some could receive this statement while others could not is not do their own ability but God’s sovereign selection (6:44). Let us pause for a minute and examine this teaching carefully.
Jesus begins this statement by declaring the full extent to which this applies (“No one”). There is absolutely no one to whom this doesn’t apply but is universal in its scope. The next statement defines what is universally true of all men and women; no one has the ability to do what he is about to explain (“No one can”). Notice the use of the word can in the passage. It is a word dealing with ability not choice. Remember when you were in elementary school and asked the teacher, “Can I go to the restroom?” Many times, the teacher would correct you and say, “Don’t you mean, may I?” You had the ability but needed permission. In this teaching, Jesus purposely uses the word can, stating that no one has the ability to do what he is about to explain.
What ability do they lack? They cannot come to Jesus unless something happens. What must happen? The Father must draw them to the Son. It is not within human choice or ability that people can respond to Jesus, but the fact the Father is drawing them. This is the non-tangible that allows people to respond to the Son. The Father is drawing them.
Teach this truth of God’s word today and you are apt to get the same reaction Jesus got from the Jews who heard it. Repeating it in verse 65, John tells us many of the disciples of Jesus no longer walked with him and left. They were no doubt offended by the teaching that they were unable to respond to without the aid of the Father drawing them. They were religious Jews who had been taught in Judaism that they must keep the Law and observe the commandments and they therefore believed they had the ability to do so in themselves. This teaching that they, along with all of humanity, were unable to respond of their own accord was deeply offensive and they were no longer willing to follow.
The same thing often happens today when this doctrine is taught; people take offense with such teaching, having been raised in the belief they can respond to God anytime they want to due to their own sovereign power. But behind this teaching of election is the clear biblical emphasis that sinners are helpless in themselves, unable to respond by their own ability without the Father’s drawing.
Does the Father draw everyone? That is a topic that has been hotly debated for centuries. But one thing is clear from our Lord’s teaching: sinful man is unable in himself to respond to God unless God Himself draws them to Him through the work of the Son. Is this a hard saying? It undoubtedly is but don’t let it offend you. Instead, rejoice that you have been drawn by the Father.