While the enemy of Jesus Christ—Saul—was living in direct defiance of him, Jesus nevertheless knocked him off his horse. He blinded him and spoke to Saul in an audible voice, telling him what to do. This seems like a very strong-handed intervention by God into the life of an unrepentant sinner to me. Nevertheless, this is precisely the testimony of how the Apostle Paul got saved. My salvation experience 18 years ago was quite similar to his. I was walking in the exact opposite direction from God in defiance of Him, but He, nevertheless, intervened powerfully into my life. I say this because it is true, not to make Him sound ruthless or anything. For when God intervenes in a life it is to rescue.
A lot of people talk about God’s ‘gentle wooing’—that He is the ultimate gentlemen and never forces Himself on anyone. But the passage this concept is based upon has a much stronger meaning than simply ‘to woo’. This is the verse:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
The Scripture would seem to use this word draw with a meaning rather like "drag". The word “draw” here does not mean a gentle tug or prod. It is often translated “to drag” in the New Testament. In his essay on election in the Fourth Gospel, Robert Yarbrough writes,
“Draw” in 6:44 translates the Greek helkuo. Outside of John it appears in the New Testament only in Acts 16:19: “they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace. . . .” John’s Gospel uses the word to speak of being drawn to Christ (12:32), a sword being drawn (18:10), and a net full of fish being hauled or dragged to shore (21:6, 11). The related form helko appears in Acts 21:30 (“they dragged him from the temple”) and James 2:6 (“Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?”). It seems hard to avoid the impression that John 6:44 refers to a “forceful attraction” in bringing sinners to the Son.
- Do you woo a sword from its sheath?
- Do you seize a prisoner by force and then just tug ever so gently for him to follow you freely?
- Do you look at a net full of fish and coax it to be drawn from the water on to shore? Do you not rather exert your own strength to haul the net while the fish flop around trying to get away from you?
- Does your opponent just invite you into the courthouse? Are you not rather compelled to come?
All of the above texts of scripture are obviously about being dragged, forced to do something, and the same word "draw" in those passages is used in John 6:44. The fact that the identical word is used in Acts 16:19 is quite compelling:
“But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities."
What about this passage sounds gentlemanly? Did they really “woo” Paul and Silas into the marketplace, or did they in fact force them to stand before the authorities? The text clearly indictes they were forced—compelled to go. Compare this with the indisputable fact that Jesus is saying “no one is able”; “no one is capable” to come to Him unless the Father “draws” or “drags” him in such a powerful way as described above and the conclusion is obvious. It seems clear to me that John 6:44 can rightly be defined as follows:
"No individual is capable of coming to Christ unless the Father drags him to Christ."
This fits well with my own testimony and that of the Apostle Paul, but not so well with the idea of God approaching people as a gentleman. God intervenes like a conquering soldier into peoples’ lives. He comes where He is unwelcome and where He is uninvited, and He does this in order to save us, for we cannot save ourselves. We are not merely drowning men that He will rescue if we hold out a hand. We are dead men (Eph. 2:1,5). We are spiritual corpses that He must grab a hold of powerfully and resurrect from death. That is grace. According to the Bible, grace is both unmerited favor (Rom. 11:5-6) and a transforming power which according to Ephesians 2:5, raised every follower of Jesus from spiritual death to new life. Grace is a powerful forcefulness that raises us from death and drags us to Christ. The Bible describes the testimony of Christians in such a way, and by so doing, gives Him every spec of the credit and the glory of our salvation.