When Jesus was debating with the Pharisees about the doctrine of election, He said unto them that “no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65).
That is an extraordinary statement and negates the Pelagian, and semi-Pelagian view, that a person, by their own will, can come to Christ.
The phrase “no man” is a universal negative. “All men” would be a universal affirmative, but “no man” is a universal negative.
The word for can (Gk. dunamai [doo’-nam-ahee]) means to be able or possible. Jesus is saying that no person is able to come to Him except power was given to them.
While it is true that every child of Adam may come to Christ, only those to whom grace, repentance, and faith are given, have the ability to come to Christ. The word “may”, speaks of permission. The word “can”, speaks of power and ability.
In John 6:65 Jesus was not talking about someone seeking permission to come to Him, nor of the possibility of someone coming to Him. Jesus was talking about the power of someone to come to Him in and of themselves. That, Jesus said, no one can do.
It is Jesus who put a universal limitation on human ability. Jesus said there was something that no one can do unless a necessary precondition was met. The precondition for coming to Christ, is that power must be given by the Father.
Does God command all people everywhere to listen to Jesus? He does. “And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:35).
Does man have a moral obligation to come to Jesus? He does. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
However, no person, in and of themselves, without any help from God, has the power, or the ability, to come to Christ for salvation. God must give something to those who will be saved. What Augustine prayed, every son of Adam can pray even in a sinful state. “Grant what thou hast commanded; command what thou will.” The command of God can never be obeyed, honored, or satisfied unless God, in His grace, does something.
It is the insistence on man’s inability to please God that makes the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian despair. So, they set out to make man’s inability their strongest objection to elected by appealing to God’s justice.
The Pelagian and semi-Pelagian insist that God would not be just if humans were not natively empowered to make at least the first step toward salvation. “If salvation depended initially and unilaterally only on God’s free election of the saved, those not chosen could complain that they were doomed by the mere fact of being born” (Allen Webster).
The Pelagian and semi-Pelagian position is challenged by the apostle Paul who wrote that man by nature is doomed by the mere fact of being born, which is why every person needs to be born again.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8).
Those to whom the Father gives the power to come to Christ are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23).
Those who are born of God loves Christ, loves others, and overcome the world. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:1-4).
It does no good to rail against the way God has ordered the universe and all who are in it. It does no good to protest that the fallen sons of Adam are doomed by birth. Paul wrote that by man, by nature is a child of wrath, and those that are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). God wants the Natural Man, the Fleshly Man, the Carnal Man to realize they cannot come to Him except He sovereignly gives them power. What God wants is for a person to agree “they that are in the flesh cannot please Him (Rom. 8:8).
In Romans 8:8, the two words for “cannot” (Gk. ou [oo]; the absolute negative; dunamai [doo’nam-ahee], to be able or possible), speaks of the absolute impossibility of pleasing God.
It does no good to say that is not fair. The question is not fairness but truth. Is it true that a person is doomed by birth because of the inherited sin nature? Is it true that those who are in the flesh cannot please God? Is it true that the only hope for salvation is for a person to inquire if they have been given to the Son? Is it true that the Father will give power to become a son of God? Is it true that Jesus cares about sickness, sorrow, and the soul’s need to be saved? Oh yes, it is true! Jesus does care for you!
“Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?
Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief I find no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?
Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks—
Is it aught to Him? does He see?
O yes, He cares- I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.”
~ Frank E. Graeff
To concede that no one in the flesh can please God need not destroy hope. Hope is restored when it is realized that Christ receiveth sinful men.
“Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
Sing it o’er and o’er again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.
Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Glory I shall enter in.”
Do not presume you are not among those whom God has elected to give his power to come to Christ. Here is the promise of God. If you will call upon the name of the Lord, you will be saved. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). If you will believe in Jesus, you will never perish. “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:15-17).
Do you believe this? “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:26).
The doctrine of election does not damn any soul to hell, willful unbelief does. Suppressing the truth leads to eternal destruction. Failure to call upon the Lord invokes His wrath. Election is a person’s only hope of salvation. Realize this and ask God for the power to come to Christ. That is something even an atheist can do.