The Lord Jesus spoke the following words to the crowds in the synagogue in 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* ).
A little later He repeated this truth in slightly different terms:
And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).
Many are bothered by these sayings, for they speak of man’s inability. There is no way around the Lord’s words: “No one can come to Me unless…” Men prefer to think of themselves as capable of almost anything. Even in the matter of salvation, men wish to view themselves as partners with God, making the final decisions as to whether they will, or will not, be saved. God’s will is rarely considered. Most of mankind’s religions have some concept of sin. But none recognize the true situation of man outside of the Christian faith. Sadly, so offensive is the truth about man’s fall into sin, that many even of those who call themselves Christians will not own the Bible’s own hard words concerning the topic. Consider some of these passages:
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done (Genesis 8:21).
The problem with man goes to his very heart, his innermost being. The thoughts and intents of his heart are evil continually, and that from his youth. As the wisdom writer said,
Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
The prophet Jeremiah had a keen insight into the heart of man. He recorded the words of the LORD:
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9).
Man’s heart is “desperately sick.” It is able to deceive those who trust in it and the feelings it produces. Jeremiah also recognized that sinful man is not able to change his own situation by his own efforts:
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots! Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Men incapable of doing good? Surely this only applies to the most evil of men! No, the Scriptures lay this charge at the feet of all men:
Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9).
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
While men tend to try to “see the best” in their situation, the Bible is brutally honest:
As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one: There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,” “the poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace have they not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
Are there none who can claim an excuse? None who can avoid God’s charge? The Bible answers these questions:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
These passages are not saying that men always, in every situation, do the worst possible thing that they can do. No one is asserting that every person is an axe-wielding murderer. Instead, the Bible teaches that man is not capable of doing that which is pleasing to God. Even man’s good works, as judged by men, are tainted with sins such as pride and selfishness, so that they are not “good” by God’s standards. Note the words of Isaiah:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6).
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-6).
The Lord Jesus described man’s situation as one of slavery to sin:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).
So serious is man’s plight, that the Bible describes it with the strongest possible term: death. Man is dead in sin.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh…(Colossians 2:13).
Slaves to sin. Dead in trespasses and sin. Incapable of pleasing God. Incapable of saving themselves. Under the wrath of God (John 3:36, Romans 1:18). It is a bleak picture. Most simply laugh it off. Others say it can’t possibly be true. “How can we ever be saved if, in fact, we are dead in sin, incapable of making even the first move toward God?”
Such would be a very good objection against every religion made up by man. Since man’s religions require works on the part of man, of whatever kind, the Bible’s teaching about mans inability would certainly come into direct conflict with those systems of religion. Even many “Christian” churches today refuse to speak plainly of man’s condition as clearly revealed in the Bible, for they, too, have desired to allow man to be the master of his salvation, the final arbiter of his destiny.
But Christianity gladly embraces the fact that men are dead in sin, for it is only when one realizes that man is utterly incapable of saving himself that the glory of the grace of God can be fully seen. God is the only one who can save, and save He does! Above we quoted Ephesians 2:1-3, which speaks of man’s deadness in sin. But look at verses 4 through 9:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
It is God who moves, God who initiates the work of salvation. He raises dead men to spiritual life, and that on the basis of His mercy and grace, not upon the basis of the works of men. This is the good news of Jesus Christ! To those who trust in Him, these words bring life:
And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).
My friend, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior of sinners, but ONLY of sinners. Those who will not confess themselves sinners, lost, incapable of saving themselves, dead and undone, will find Jesus Christ to be their Judge, not their Savior. You cannot add to the work Jesus Christ did on Calvary to bring about the salvation of God’s people. You cannot insist upon “your part” in salvation. Christians are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). They are the creations of God, not of themselves.
Those who are truly broken find peace in the all-powerful Redeemer. Those who really see themselves as sinners in God’s sight find mercy at the Cross. Those who think themselves good enough, or worthy enough, to “merit” something from God have yet to be redeemed. Have you cried out to God for mercy? Have you seen yourself in the grave of spiritual death, incapable of saving yourself? If not, it is my prayer that God will be merciful to you, and grant to you spiritual life, faith, and repentance, so that you may truly understand the words of Paul when he said,
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:30-31).
*All quotations from the New American Standard Bible