That is a perplexing title, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it is true. The Lord Jesus Christ himself said so, twice, when he spoke to the Jews in the Synagogue at Capernaum:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.John 6:44 ESV
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”John 6:65 ESV
These are some of the most challenging words in the Bible. Naturally, the Jews were irritated and grumbled against Jesus. They (just like everyone else who has ever lived) wanted to see themselves as free men who are capable of doing almost anything. It is so deeply ingrained within the fallen human heart that we want to contribute towards our own salvation and earn our way into heaven. Sadly, that is impossible. There is no way around the words, “No one can come to me unless…”
The Source of the Problem
Most religions have some notion of sin, but none of them recognize how heinous and fatal it is, except for Biblical Christianity. Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re basically good or that you have a good heart? That is not what the Bible teaches. It declares that God has seen “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Gen. 6:5) and that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” (Gen. 8:21). Moreover, the prophet Jeremiah wrote:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Jeremiah 17:9 ESV
Unlike what modern culture and humanism want you to believe, people are not innocent victims who have been defiled by an immoral society. The problem is not outside of them; it is within them. Sin and evil flow out of their heart, which has been radically corrupted by the fall. The heart in the Bible refers to our innermost self, the center of our personality, or, as we might say today, our soul or spirit. And this, our deepest core, is the source of all the evil in the world (Matt. 15:19; Ecc. 9:3). Jesus himself said:
And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”Mark 7:20–23 ESV
This doesn’t mean that everyone is as evil as they can be. (Clearly, some people are eviler than others). Rather, it means that every part of our being has been corrupted by sin, our body, mind, heart, soul, spirit, everything. Sin has spread everywhere, like a drop of blood that drips into a glass of pure water. Even when it’s only a single drop, the contents of that drop doesn’t just stay in one place; it permeates the entire glass of water, contaminating all of it. And just like the water cannot remove the blood from itself, we cannot remove sin from ourselves, as the prophet Jeremiah also wrote:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.Jeremiah 13:23 ESV
In other words, just like a leopard cannot change the color of its fur, we cannot change to do good and seek God.
How can that be? Don’t people change all the time? Well, yes and no. Some aspects of ourselves can change due to things like maturity, experience, and initiative, while others remain the same throughout our entire life, or are outside of our control. To illustrate, imagine a man who is in an ice cream parlor. He loves chocolate ice cream and hates all the other flavors. Which of the flavors is he going to choose? Chocolate, obviously. Why? Because he loves chocolate. The option to choose strawberry or another flavor was there, but he would never choose strawberry because he doesn’t like strawberry. He has to pick what he likes, not because he is being forced to, but because he wants to.
To put it very simply, he is being himself. He is using his free will to do what he prefers to do, which is exactly what free will is. And people with free will naturally seek after what they love and avoid what they hate.
The same is true with spiritual matters. And the sad truth is, fallen mankind loves the darkness and hate the light (John 3:19–20; 7:7; 15:18–19; Matt. 12:30), so they seek after the darkness and avoid the light, and they do so purposefully. As the Bible says, rather than embracing the truth of God, which is evident to them, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18–21, 32). Therefore, God gives them over to the lusts of their heart, more and more (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Ps. 81:11–12). It is what they want.
The Plight of Mankind
This is the grim situation that man is wallowing in. To explain just how grave it is, Paul the Apostle cited a series of different passages from around the Bible in a row:
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”Romans 3:10–18 ESV
This is the universal plight of mankind. Everyone is born in sin and iniquity (Ps. 51:5). They are by nature a “slave of sin” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:20) and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). It is a bleak picture. Some people laugh it off, while others object, asking, “How can I be saved if I really am dead in sin and incapable of making a single move toward God?”
That is a good objection against manmade religion, which always requires some kind of work on the part of man; hence, the Bible’s teaching about man’s inability comes into direct conflict with all of these systems of religion. Even many churches today refuse to speak honestly about man’s fallen condition as clearly revealed in Scripture, for they too yearn to be the master of their own salvation, the deciding factor that determines their final destination.
On the other hand, because it is not a manmade religion, Biblical Christianity recognizes the truth that the heart is wicked and sick. It embraces the reality that we cannot save ourselves apart from the infinite power of God. Fortunately, we don’t have to. God is the one who saves! And he saves completely! Salvation is a sovereign work of God almighty who takes the dead sinner and makes them alive, as Paul wrote:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.Ephesians 2:1–10 CSB
When a sinner begins to submit to the Lordship of Christ and seek him above all things, something greater is happening within the man than a mere intellectual decision in the mind, something far greater; God himself is giving him new life by taking out his hard, rebellious heart and giving him a living, obedient heart (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). Because of his eternal love and glorious grace, God revives the rebel who is dead in sin, transforming him into a brand new creation. Behold, he is born again. The old has passed away, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
To summarize everything in elementary language: Why does a cat meow? Because it is a cat. Why does a cow moo? Because it is a cow. Why does an unregenerate man blaspheme God and rebel against him? Because he is an unregenerate man. Why does a regenerate man praise God and worship him? Because he is a regenerate man! It is their nature.
Is It Unfair?
Now you might object, “If God is the only one who can save yet he doesn’t save everyone, that’s unfair! How can a loving God only save some and let the rest perish?”
That is the wrong question; the right question is, why does God save anyone at all? Think about it. The Bible teaches us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Since everyone has transgressed the perfect Law of God, we are all guilty. And because God is the holy judge of heaven and earth who loves righteousness and hates injustice, he must punish our transgressions (Ex. 34:7; Prov. 17:15), each and every sin storing up more divine wrath for the day judgment day (Rom. 2:5). If this were the end, everyone would be doomed.
Fortunately, it is not the end. God finds a way to show mercy on undeserving sinners. Because of God’s infinite love and majestic grace, he sent Jesus Christ to save his people from their own sins. To satisfy his perfect justice, God unleashed his holy wrath against sin on the Son when he was on the cross (1 John 4:10; 1 Pet. 2:24, Is. 53:4–6). The righteous one suffered for the sins of the unrighteous ones (1 Pet. 3:18). He took upon himself our sin debt, as Paul wrote:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.Colossians 2:13–14 ESV
Jesus Christ was punished and died on our behalf so that we could live. Then he arose on the third day, conquering death. That is the Gospel, the Good News. It is a free gift of grace. When you accuse God of being unfair for only saving some, you presuppose that God is obligated to intervene to save the entire fallen world. Why is a holy God obligated to save wicked sinners who curse his name and drink down iniquity like it was water?
He isn’t! He could have destroyed the entire world and been entirely justified in doing so, as he did with the world before the flood (Gen. 6–9). Nobody deserves salvation, not you, not me, not anyone. The miracle isn’t that God only saves some and lets others perish; the miracle is that God saves anyone at all.
Some offenders receive justice; others receive grace; nobody receives injustice. Every single transgression will be justly punished, either on the cross or in hell.
God’s Kingly Freedom
My friend, don’t trust your own heart. Don’t let your deceitful heart beguile you into believing that you can contribute towards your salvation somehow, either with your good works or with your good faith. It is the sovereign King of all the universe sitting on his holy throne in heaven who has to show mercy and save you. Your salvation depends on the sovereign Grace of God, not on your own fallen will. God decides, not you, as Paul writes:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.Romans 9:14–23 ESV
Thus, Scripture proclaims that salvation is off the Lord! (Ps. 3:8; 37:39; Rev. 7:10; 19:1). It is evident in the Bible, especially in Paul and John’s writing. Later you find these same truths echoing throughout Christian history. For instance, the previous quote (and others in this article) came from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, who later wrote another letter to the church at Corinth, which included several references to the “elect” and the “chosen,” and quotes like this,
And we also, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, or by our own wisdom or understanding or piety or the works we have done in holiness of heart, but by the faith, through which the Almighty God has justified all men from the beginning; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.First Epistle of Clement (ca. AD 96)
Later Christians wrote extensively on the subject, like Martin Luther with his book “The Bondage of the Will,” where he argued against Erasmus and his notion that fallen men can choose God using their free will.
A man cannot be thoroughly humbled until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavors, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God only.Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (AD 1525)
Go to the Savior
Unless the spirit of God dwells within you, you can’t do anything that pleases him (Rom. 8:7–9). Unless God raises you up to spiritual life, you will remain dead in your sins. In the Synagogue, after Jesus had told the Jews about the difficult truth about their own inability, they answered him by saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Then they left him. I pray that this doesn’t describe you.
Do you remember the title of this article, “You Are Incapable Of Coming To Jesus?” That is true, yet everyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ and calls upon him will be saved (Rom. 10:9–13). How can both of those statements be true? Well, do you want to call upon Jesus?
If you recognize your dire need for a savior, then he is standing right there with his arms open. Therefore, repent of your sins and turn to him. Run to him! When you do, you will be united with the savior, your savior, who has been waiting there for you. It might seem like you were the one who sought after him, but he has been waiting for you all along. He knew that you would come when the time was right. You won’t arrive too early nor too late. It’ll be just perfect. Everything, absolutely everything, works together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28–30; Prov. 16:33; 19:21; Is. 46:9–11).
When you finally go to Jesus, you will learn that, even before the foundation of the earth, you were predestined for adoption, love, holiness, and glory, all according to the will of the triune God who works everything together for good, all to the praise of his glorious grace.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.Ephesians 1:3–14 ESV
- Romans 8:28–9:29
- Romans 1:18-32
- John 6
- John 10