It’s God the Father who made it happen!
[The following is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Banner of Truth magazine for January 2019]
It’s God the Father who made it happen!
They are surely among the saddest words that fell from our Saviour’s lips: ‘You refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:40). And in every generation since the folly and sin have repeated themselves. You can put faces and names to them, as I can: men and women, young people, children offered life in Christ. New life. Fullness of life. Eternal life. If they will only come to Christ for it – humbly, penitently, believingly – it will be theirs. And they will not.
This article addresses a question of no small importance: Why is the refusal not universal? Over the centuries the offer of life in Christ has been accepted by countless millions and these from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. Why is that? We know why people say ‘no’. Sin has such a terrible grip of them. But why doesn’t everyone say ‘no’? Why do some say ‘yes’? For our answer we turn to the Lord Jesus himself who taught explicitly on the matter. Here is what we learn from him. There is a single explanation; one ultimate reason why sinners come to him for life: God the Father. If you are a believer in Jesus it is because God the Father made it happen.
Four remarkable statements, all recorded by John in Ch.6 of his Gospel, bring this home to us
He has enabled you
In John 6:65 Jesus tells his hearers that no one can come to him ‘unless it is granted him by the Father’. There must be an enabling work of the Father in people’s hearts. Paul teaches us something similar in Philippians Ch.1 where he writes, ‘For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake’ (v.29). Suffering for Christ is to be viewed as a privilege granted. So also to believe in him. It is an unusual way of putting it: it has been ‘given’ to us to come to Christ. But we understand what is being said. Though coming to Christ is unquestionably the sinner’s own act it is one for which he or she can take no credit. It only happens because of a granting or enabling on the part of God the Father.
He has drawn you
‘No one can come to me’, says Jesus, ‘unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6.44). If then we have accepted the gospel invitation it is because this drawing of the Father has taken place. What can we say about it?
We begin with an admission. The underlying Greek word is used elsewhere of dragging people. In Acts 16.19, for example, Luke speaks of Paul and Silas being seized and dragged into the marketplace before the rulers. Later on in Acts we read of Paul being dragged out of the temple (Ch.21:30). You can picture it so easily: the grabbing, the arm pulling, the tugging. It’s all about the use of force.
There is nothing of that in the Father’s drawing of sinners to Christ. When C.S. Lewis described himself as the most reluctant convert in England it was not because God had compelled him against his will. The marvel of it is that in drawing us to Christ God so works in our hearts that we come to Christ freely. By our own unconstrained choice.
He has taught you
After quoting some words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘And they will all be taught by God’, Jesus adds, ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me’ (John 6:45). Our coming to Christ is an indication that God has taught us. We have heard and learned from him.
There is certainly an ‘outward’ aspect to this. ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom.10:17). There is no coming to Christ for salvation without instruction in the basics of the gospel. The teaching and learning of John 6:45, however, go beyond this. This is fundamentally something ‘inward’; a divine inner working that not only enlightens but changes us.
Take the following as an illustration: ‘Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another’ (1 Thess.4:9). Paul had instructed them in the duty of brotherly love. But the grace of God had taken things further, so powerfully working in their hearts that they were actually able to love. So with coming to Christ for salvation. God so illumines our minds, so persuades us of the truth, so enables us to believe it that Christ and life become ours.
He has given you to Christ
The fourth of Christ’s statements is actually the first from his lips: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me’ (John 6.37). Lying back of our coming to Christ there is a divine giving on the part of the Father. In a fine sermon on this text, John Murray mentions unlikely converts like Saul of Tarsus and asks, ‘Why have such people become the partakers of saving grace? Why have they become the called of Jesus Christ? The text gives us the answer. God the Father has drawn them and donated them to his Son. Think of it. When a sinner comes to Christ in the commitment of faith, when the rebellious will is renewed and tears of penitence begin to flow, it is because a mysterious transaction has been taking place between the persons of the Godhead. The Father has been making a presentation, a donation to his own Son’ (The Father’s Donation, Collected Writings Vol.3, p.206).
We’ve been thinking about the Father giving something to us: granting us the privilege of believing in Christ; granting us grace to come to him (v.65). But that is not the only giving that takes place. There is also a giving on the part of the Father to Jesus. We who are the recipients of a gift are at one and the same time ourselves a gift. And the gift is never refused: ‘whoever come to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37).
We devote the remainder of our space to some of the things this enabling, this drawing, this teaching, this giving of the Father tells us.
One of the reasons why people so dislike the gospel is because it refuses point-blank to flatter. It tells us, for example, that we are so utterly unable to save ourselves that it was necessary for God to provide a Saviour. But that is not the end of it. The gospel humbles us yet further. If this Saviour is ever to be ours we need God to enable us to come to him. That’s the measure of our helplessness! And that’s why if salvation is ours it is because the Father in matchless love would not take ‘no’ for an answer but drew us irresistibly to Jesus.
About God the Father
There is only so much that we who are believers can do for people. We can tell them about Jesus – and must. We cannot open their eyes, however, renew their wills, or create the faith that saves. But God can! He is the perfect answer to our inability to turn sinners to the Saviour; the perfect answer to their stubbornness, enmity, and love of sin. And that in turn is why prayer makes such perfect sense. We are not petitioning a God who is as weak as we are, but one who can so draw sinners that they do eventually come.
About our salvation
Jesus’s words are exceptionally strong: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (v.44); ‘no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ (v.65). No one! Which means that if we have come our salvation is wholly and altogether of God. The glory is entirely his. As Paul puts it at the close of his magnificent doxology, ‘For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen’ (Rom.11:36).
If people are powerless of themselves to accept the invitations of the gospel evangelism can seem like labour lost. But it isn’t. When Christ said to a paralysed man, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home’ (Mark 2:11) there went forth with his word such healing power that he ‘rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all’ (Mark 2:11-12). So with the gospel. The Father is able to so clothe our words in the power of the Spirit that sinners are enabled to what before they were utterly unable to do.
We started with Jesus’ sad words about people refusing to come to him for life (John 5:40). God is absolutely determined that that refusal will not be universal. The people whom God has predestined to be Christ’s (Rom.8:29) are hopelessly sunk in sin. But in each of them God’s grace will prove irresistible. Calvary will not be in vain. Until all of Christ’s specially-loved ones
are united to him by faith God will go on giving them to him. And not all the unbelief of men or power of Satan will stop him.