BY DAVE STEEL
Why do some people choose to follow Jesus while others seem to have no interest in doing so? Is it determined largely by a person’s family of origin? If so, Jesus’ family is a notable exception. His own brothers rejected his message throughout his earthly ministry (John 7:5). Other explanations have been offered—such as, our personality predisposes us to either faith or reason. But this implies that religious faith and empirical reasoning are at odds, an assumption that plenty of scholars have debunked. Some have even tried to reduce this to a matter of a person’s IQ, as if to suggest that following Jesus is clearly the sensible choice, or conversely that intelligent people can’t possibly believe that Jesus is God incarnate. Such disparaging generalizations are neither helpful nor true.
So what does Jesus have to say about why some people follow him while others don’t? He addressed this issue succinctly when he said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In other words, whatever additional factors may be involved, the first condition for someone to want to follow Jesus is that God must draw that person.
But what exactly does Jesus mean when he says that the Father draws us? He doesn’t mean that God coerces us against our will. No, the Father opens our hearts to the truth about Jesus in such a way that we desire of our own will to follow him. Still, the Father can be very convincing, as Jesus points out a few verses earlier where he declares that, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37).
And it’s not just the Father who draws us. The Son draws us too. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). He meant that by his crucifixion he would draw to himself all kinds of people—both Jews and Gentiles. And indeed he has!
Charles Spurgeon, a well-known nineteenth-century pastor, put it this way:
Jesus knows how by irresistible arguments addressed to the understanding, by mighty reasons appealing to the affections, and by the mysterious influence of His Holy Spirit operating upon all the powers and passions of the soul, so to subdue the whole man, that whereas he was once rebellious, he yields cheerfully to His government, subdued by sovereign love.
If true, this revelation upends the notion that those who choose to follow Christ are inherently more sensible or moral than those who don’t. It’s not like that. If you’ve come to Christ for salvation, it’s ultimately because God has drawn you to himself. Coming to Christ is without a doubt the best decision we can ever make, but we can’t take any credit for it.
Whenever I pause to consider how God has drawn me to himself—how I would not even know him if he had not done so—I find myself wanting to pursue him all the more. A. W. Tozer was right: “The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand.”
So let us, as C. S. Lewis urges, “Continue seeking Him with seriousness. Unless he wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.”
See, for example, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994).
Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Daily Readings (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, n. d.), 423.
A. W. Tozer, The Best of A. W. Tozer: 52 Favorite Chapters, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 13.
C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, rev. ed. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1993).