John 6:44 is a popular Calvinistic verse for numerous reasons. While John 6:44 is often used to defend Total Depravity, this verse (and the surround passage) is also used to defend three of the other points of TULIP. It says this:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).
John 6:44 and TULIP Calvinism
When Jesus says “no one can come to me” Calvinists see the idea of Total Depravity (and specifically, total inability).
When Jesus speaks about the drawing of the Father, Calvinists see this is as evidence of Unconditional Election.
Calvinists infer Limited Atonement from the contexts of these verses.
And when Jesus says that no one can come to Him unless it was granted to him by the Father, this is seen as proof for Irresistible Grace.
So although this verse could be discussed under any of those other sections, it will be discussed here because Total Depravity forms the foundation for those other doctrines. Besides, Calvinists tend to primarily use these verses to defend Total Depravity.
John 6:44 and Total Depravity
Here, for example, is what R. C. Sproul writes:
This statement is a universal negative proposition. It states a universal inability. The word can does not describe permission, but power or ability. To say no one can do something is to say they are unable to do it. The stark truth expressed by Jesus is that no person has the ability to come Christ on his or her own. For a person to be able to come to Christ, it must first be granted or “given” to that person to come to Christ. God must do something for us to overcome our moral inability to come to Christ. We cannot embrace Christ in the flesh. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit, we cannot come to Christ (Sproul, Grace Unknown, 136).
Refuting the Calvinistic Understanding of John 6:44
Several things can be said against the Calvinistic understanding of John 6:44.
First of all, what Jesus says is absolutely true: no one can come to the Father unless the Father draws him. However, later in the Gospel of John, Jesus states that the Father draws all people (John 12:32; 16:8).
The work of God drawing people to Jesus Christ through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Nobody denies that. On our own, without this drawing work of God, no person would ever seek God or turn to Him.
But saying that God draws all people is not to say that God regenerates all people, or even that, as a result of God’s drawing, people are unable to believe in Jesus for eternal life. As a result of God’s drawing work, any person can believe in Jesus for eternal life, as Jesus Himself states (John 6:40, 47).
Does Drawing Mean Dragging? NO!
One will occasionally also run into Calvinists who try to say that the word Jesus uses for “drawing” (Gk., elkō) means “dragging.”
Based on this, they may argue that sinners are dragged to Christ against their sinful will.
Of course, this sort or argument is rarely used by Calvinists because it contradicts their teaching that once a person has been regenerated by God, their will has been irresistibly changes so that they come willingly to faith in Jesus Christ.
Regardless, this sort of idea is not backed by the Greek either. While it is true that elkō can be used to drag someone against their will (cf. Acts 16:19; 21:30; Jas 2:6), when elkō is translated as “drag” it is always with malicious intent. When used in this way, it carries the connotation of mistreating someone or dragging them away for punishment (BAGD, 251).
Clearly, Jesus is not referring to any sort of punishment or mistreatment by God in John 6:44, and so it cannot mean “drag.” Furthermore, this sort of dragging away for punishment is only when the word is used of a literal action.
When elkō is used figuratively, as it is John 6:44, it refers to “the pull on man’s inner life” (BAGD, 251). So the word “draw” in John 6:44 refers to God’s pull or persuasive influence upon the heart and mind of the unregenerate.
To Draw Means to Attract or Woo
Support for this understanding is found right in John 6:45 as well where Jesus says that all will be taught by God. This is another way of explaining the work of God to draw people to Himself.
This teaching from God is carried out through conscience, creation, the convicting and convincing work of the Holy Spirit, and through special revelation such as that found in Scripture. Of course, not all who are drawn or taught by God respond positively to God.
Those who hear what God teaches, and learn from it, will respond by coming to Jesus in faith. This idea is supported by both Peter (1 Pet 1:23) and James (James 1:18), both of whom write that hearing and responding to Scripture is part of the process which leads up to the new birth.
In response to this, Calvinists will sometimes argue that if all are drawn by God, then all will receive eternal life from God. But to say that all who are drawn by God are also regenerated by God is to confuse offer of eternal life with the actual reception of it.
Just because God draws, calls, woos, or invites all people to believe in Jesus for eternal life, this does not mean that God universally and irresistibly regenerates all people. Though all are drawn, eternal life is given only to those who believe.
Does All Mean “All Children of God”?
Furthermore, some argue that the “all” of John 6:45 refers only to “all children of God” (Piper, Five Points, 27-30). They often go on to say that Jesus can only be referring to the children of God since Jesus says in John 6:46 that no one sees God except him who is from God.
Of course, this is reveals a terrible misunderstanding of this text as well. Jesus is not referring to the children of God in John 6:46, but to Himself! It is He who has come down from God, just like the manna in the wilderness (John 6:41, 48), and therefore, His words can be trusted, and in His words are life.
John 6:44 then, far from being verses about exclusion and inability, are staggering statements from Jesus that in Him, all are accepted, all are invited, and all are welcome.
Jesus has come down from heaven, not to start another religious club for a secret set of special chosen ones, but to throw open the door to God for all people.
Jesus has come to reveal Him Whom no man has ever seen, so that through Jesus, God might draw all men to Himself.
God desires that all people have life, and so God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world, so that in Jesus we might see God, and might believe in Jesus for everlasting life.If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.