Pre-Chosen People? Is God's Call Irresistible?

(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)

John 6:37:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
This one confused me for awhile.  It sounded like Jesus is saying that all the people that God has pre-chosen to be believers are destined to come to faith in Him.  And that only those who are chosen by God will come to faith.
But I’m not sure if that’s what this is really saying. 

Whom does God “choose”?
First of all, this verse doesn’t explain whom God gives to Jesus or how He decides whom to give to Jesus.  And there is nothing in this passage that says that God pre-picks people to give to Jesus, that He overrides mankind’s will to “force” some people to be believers.
So how does God decide who to give to Jesus?
I think we can get a sense of whom God “chooses” when we look at Romans 11:4-5.  In this passage, as we already saw in another post, God reserves for Himself seven thousand people who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  God chooses those who did not choose Baal.  And He says that “so, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”

Yes, this is speaking specifically of a “Jewish remnant” (the faithful Jews), but it is representative of how God chooses people (and the Gentiles have been adopted into Israel, as God’s children).  It’s not an arbitrary “choosing” or “predestination based on God’s whims.”  It is based on what man chose first. 

Could this not also explain how God decides which people to give to Jesus?  That God doesn’t “force” people to be believers, but that He gives to Jesus those who willingly choose Him over any other god? 
And could it be that “will come to me” doesn’t even mean that “pre-chosen people are destined to come to faith in Jesus” but that those who choose to believe in Him are guaranteed to “come into His presence” in the end?  That the true believers will not be left behind?  That they will never be driven away from the Lord but will definitely meet Him on the day that we are resurrected to live with Him forever? 
Maybe this isn’t a passage about predestination.  Maybe it’s a promise to believers that their faith is not in vain, that they will definitely meet their Savior in the end.

In context
I think this passage (as all passages are) is best explained when you look at it in context.  And I think the context shows these two things: that salvation is found only in Jesus and that true believers are given the promise that they will eventually be with Him in heaven, eternally.
Those whom God gives to Jesus – those who choose to put their faith in Him – found salvation in Jesus alone.  True salvation is found in no one else but Jesus. 
“Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me”  (John 6:45)

If you listen to the truth that God puts into the hearts of mankind, you will find faith in Jesus.  You will know that Jesus is the only way to God and to salvation, that no other god will save you.  If you are really listening to God and learning from Him, you will “come to Jesus,” not to anything else.  And so if you are led to anything else, it’s not God who was leading you there.  God’s truth only leads to Jesus.
And those who choose Jesus are assured that they will obtain salvation, they will not be left behind, and they will be permanently with Him in heaven in the end.

Look at John 6:38-40:  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
God gives to Jesus all those who have chosen Jesus over any other god.  And Jesus promises to raise up His people on the last day, to take them with Him. 
I think the repetition of “I will raise him up on the last day” shows that this passage is not about God “forcing” pre-chosen people to “come to Jesus,” but it’s about the promise that all true believers will be raised up with Jesus on the last day to be with Him forever.  No true believer will be left out.     
And it also specifies that the responsibility to believe is on man, that those who look to the Son and believe in Him – those who “listen to the Father” - will have eternal life.  There is nothing here to indicate that God makes that decision for us.  We make that decision.  We choose to listen to God or to ignore God, to look to Jesus or to some other god.  And those who truly believe in Jesus are assured that we will not be left behind.  (Update: Click here for a post from Soteriology 101 about how John 6 doesn't even refer to modern-day Christians, but to the disciples.) 

[Note: "Believes" in this verse, according to the concordance, is not a passive thing, as in "God causes you to believe."  It's active.  It's "to let yourself be persuaded by something and, consequently, to put your trust in it, to commit to it and rely upon it" (paraphrase).  

It's God's Will that everyone who looks to the Son (active, "we look and consider") and chooses to believe in Him (active, "we choose to put our confidence in Him") will have eternal life, and we will be raised with Him on the last day.  

We - the ones who look to Him and believe - are those who are given to the Son, who come to Him, who will not be turned away but will be raised with Him on the last day.]     

What does “draw” mean?

And then there is John 6:44-45:  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Calvinists (predestination-believers) will say that this verse shows that God draws pre-chosen people to Him and that they cannot resist that call.  And they say that those who are not pre-chosen cannot come to God because He doesn’t draw them. 
In the concordance, this word “draw” denotes an attraction to something which comes from the inside, a spiritual pull to God that comes from inside of us.  I don’t think this means that God forcibly drags people to Jesus, that His call is irresistible, that He has pre-chosen who will be believers and who won’t, and that there is nothing you can do about it.  I think it means that we do not create the desire to know God but that He plants it in our hearts. 
John 12:32, “and I [Jesus], when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  This verse uses the same Greek word for “draw” that’s in John 6:44.  So if “draw” meant “forcibly and irresistibly drawn to Jesus,” then “all men” would come to Him.  But “all men” are obviously not believers.  I think the use of “draw” in this verse shows that “draw” doesn’t mean “forced to have faith," but it means that God puts on all hearts the knowledge that He is real and that we can find faith in Jesus.  Anyone can find salvation in Jesus because Jesus draws all men.  No one is blocked from the possibility of finding Him.  But it’s up to us to respond to the call that God places on our hearts.  

[I think that - time and time again – the Bible shows us that people have to choose to believe or not believe in Him and that they are responsible for the consequences.  If they reject God, it’s because they chose to, not because God caused them to be unbelievers.
“ . . . They were broken off because of unbelief . . . And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in . . . ”  (Romans 11:20,23)
“. . . They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  (2 Thess. 2:10) 
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself . . .”  (Romans 2:5)
“For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.”  (Romans 8:13)      

“ ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ ”  (Matthew 23:37, italics are mine)

And I could go on.  But back to the point of the post.]

I think this word “draw” in John 6:44 ultimately refers to the fact that the desire to know God comes from outside of us, from God.  It does not originate from within us.  We do not create a desire to know God, but we respond to the desire that He has planted in mankind’s heart.  Basically, we are not forced to choose Him or prevented from doing so, but we could not come to Him unless He made it possible, unless He drew us by putting into mankind’s heart the desire to seek and find Him.

Likewise, Galatians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” 

I don’t think this means that we are forced to have faith or prevented from doing so, just that faith is only possible because God made it possible.  We could not create faith in ourselves because faith is a gift from God, a gift that can be accepted or rejected.  But we would never have been able to accept the gift of faith unless God offered it.  And it is offered to all.  It is just up to us if we will accept it or not.  (Update: After further study, I now believe that faith isn't the gift spoken of in this verse.  Salvation as a whole is the gift that God gives.  And a gift - even if it was faith - is offered, not forced.  And it has to be accepted or rejected by the person it's offered to.)   

In a nutshell

It’s not that God only draws specific, pre-chosen individuals or that His call is irresistible (that if He calls to you, you will be “forced” to have faith in Him).  It’s that He draws all of mankind to Him by planting the knowledge of Him and the desire for Him in our hearts, for us to respond to or to resist.  But no one is able to get to God on their own, apart from God making it possible.  Salvation was His plan, not ours.  And He made the way, not us. 

Left to ourselves - without God initiating a desire in our hearts and calling to us and making Himself known and making it possible to find Him - we would never have known to desire Him or desired to know Him.  Left to ourselves, we would be completely ignorant that there even was a God.  But God wants to be found and He makes it possible for us to find Him.  We have an ache in our hearts, a desire to find Him, because He wants us to find Him.  He wants us to seek!

“I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20)  Notice that Jesus knocks.  He doesn’t force the door open.  He knocks and waits for our response.  And we have to decide if we will respond to the knock and open the door or if we will ignore the knocking.

And those who open the door – who choose to put their faith in Jesus - will be rewarded with meeting Him in the end, to be with Him forever.

But no one will be able to say that God never gave them a chance or that He never called to them or knocked on their hearts.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20)


Previous post in series:  The Holy Spirit and "Dead People"

Next post in series:  Some Problems With Predestination (And What I Think The Bible Really Says)


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