In our study of divine election, we have looked to theologians including Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards as examples of those who affirmed our inability to love God unless the Holy Spirit first changes our hearts. But these great men were only following the instruction of their greatest teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ, when they formulated their teachings on man’s radical fallenness and his need of irresistible, transforming grace to enable him to have faith.
In John 6:65, Jesus establishes certain conditions for salvation and helps us understand our desperate need of grace. “No one,” He says, can come to Him “unless it is granted him by the Father.” Though there is some ambiguity in this verse as to what it means for the Father to “grant” us that which is needed for salvation, Calvinists and Arminians agree that God must act if we are to be saved.
Jesus expects His hearers to know what it means for His Father to grant what is needed for salvation, as He has earlier explored this work more fully. His words in verse 65 refer to verse 44 in which Christ describes the Father’s granting as the Father’s drawing. No one can trust Jesus unless His Father “draws him.”
Again, Calvinists and Arminians concur that God must draw us if we are to be saved. The debate is over whether this drawing is effectual. Arminians say the Almighty “woos” or “entices” us. By means of prevenient grace, which we all receive just by being born, the Spirit overcomes our sinfulness just enough so that we are able to pursue God, but He does not guarantee we will choose Him. We remain able to resist His call to love Him, no matter how persuasive He makes it.
In addition to a lack of evidence for this kind of grace in Scripture, it is also clear that any position that says the Lord only “woos” us cannot be maintained. The same word translated “draw” in John 6:44 is found in Acts 16:19 and James 2:6 where the apostolic authors speak of someone being “dragged” somewhere. Though the elect may try at first to resist God’s drawing, He drags us, against our fallen wills, to Jesus. God overcomes our natural enmity toward Himself and guarantees that His elect people will choose to follow Christ.
“Regeneration precedes faith” summarizes biblical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Having one’s will transformed by the regenerative touch of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, must come before anyone can enter the kingdom (John 3:3, 5). If you trust in Christ, the Spirit has given you the new birth, and He dwells within you to help you overcome the remaining vestiges of your former, sinful nature. Be encouraged that the Lord is on your side in the fight against sin.