“Give your heart to the Lord!”
If you flip through the channels on a Sunday morning, you will hear many TV preachers using these words trying to encourage their viewers to “accept Jesus” and “be saved.” Most of Protestant Christianity, especially the evangelical movement, is based on the premise that Christians need to expose as many as possible to the name of Jesus Christ in order to save them from hell.
The thinking goes like this: Since the Bible is dogmatic about the need for each person to accept Jesus Christ as Savior (Acts 4:12), it is essential for Christianity to spread the name of Jesus Christ far and wide. Christians must get as many as possible to verbally accept Jesus as Savior now so they can supposedly go to heaven when they die and be “saved” from eternal torment or separation from God.
How this is carried out varies—from altar calls at evangelistic meetings, to short prayers television preachers give people to read, to one-on-one meetings to persuade people to take this step.
The underlying belief is that God is trying to save the entire world today. In other words, God is in a titanic battle to save as many people as possible because this lifetime is when each person will make the decision that will affect him or her for eternity.
While we don’t question the zeal and sincerity of those behind these efforts, when we look into the Bible, we see that there is much more to becoming a Christian than this. And we see that God’s plan is not just limited to today. To learn more about how God works with people at different times, see From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.
Jesus’ surprising statement
John 6 records an interesting encounter Jesus had with a group of people who followed Him. Jesus discerned that these people followed Him for the free meals He occasionally provided; but they did not really understand who He was or the significance of His message (John 6:26, 41-42).
In this context Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (verse 44).
Read it again. Think about it.
Jesus Christ taught that one must be specifically drawn to Jesus Christ by the Father. The word “draws” is from a Greek word that essentially means to drag, lead or impel (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Jesus repeated this truth three other times in this discourse:
- “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (verse 37).
- “This is the will of the Father, … that of all He has given Me …” (verse 39).
- “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (verse 65).
Jesus was saying that a person cannot just intellectually or emotionally decide to “accept Jesus” and become a Christian. Those people who followed Him around for food could not grasp the significance of His words because they weren’t being drawn (or called) by the Father at that time.
Jesus’ statements show the futility of efforts to get as many people as possible to just say they “accept Jesus.” If we believe what Christ said, then the Father must initiate the process through a calling.
The bigger picture
In order to fully understand what Christ meant, we must step back and look at the bigger picture. If God has to work in the mind of an individual to draw him or her, we have to understand what the Bible teaches about the spiritual state of humanity.
Many are familiar with the Genesis account of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).
After Adam and Eve rejected God’s direction by obeying the serpent (Satan) and eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, God “drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (verse 24).
The “tree of life” symbolized access to God through His Spirit, ultimately leading to eternal life. Instead of leaving access open to all of Adam and Eve’s offspring, God cut mankind off from the tree of life. The remainder of the Bible and secular history records that, generally speaking, mankind has pursued a course of life disconnected from God’s guidance and direction in almost every way. Humanity has formed its own religions, governments, customs, ideologies and lifestyles. See “World Religions: Why Are There So Many?” for how this came about.
Since the Garden of Eden, God has allowed Satan to continue to deceive “the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Throughout the Bible, we are told that the majority of people who have lived are in a state of blindness to spiritual truth (2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4).
Just as it is impossible for someone who is blind to see, it is impossible for someone who is spiritually blind to understand spiritual truth (Romans 8:7).
These scriptures help us see the error of thinking God is in a titanic battle with Satan to save as many as possible now by just getting them to accept the name of Jesus. No human effort can convert a mind that has been blinded—spiritual sight and understanding is impossible without God’s intervention (John 12:40). (But God does have a plan to save those He hasn’t yet called in this age! Read “Are Most People Eternally Lost?”)
This is the crucial context for understanding Christ’s statement in John 6:44. Without God’s direct intervention, the human mind will remain blinded.
Are you being called?
So, how does the calling revealed in John 6:44 work? In other words, how can a person go from a state of spiritual blindness to a state of spiritual sight and understanding?
Jesus elaborated on this in Luke 10: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes” (verse 21, emphasis added). This revelation opens the eyes and mind to see and understand spiritual truth that was not possible before. “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it” (verses 23-24).
So the Christian calling begins in the mind! Christ was clear that if you do not have this calling, it doesn’t matter how much you study or who you are, you will not have the ability to understand most spiritual truth.
So how do you know if you are being called by God?
The first indication is that you are beginning to gain knowledge and understanding of God’s Word that you never had before. The Bible likens this to going from darkness to light: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6). You will begin to understand who God is, what His plan and purpose are and how He expects you to live.
A second indication is that you will begin to feel guilt for your personal sins and will seek to begin the process of repentance and conversion (Acts 2:37-38). Conversion is a big topic; but in simple terms, it is coming to a realization of God’s truth, accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior, asking for forgiveness of your sins, being baptized and living life in subjection to God’s law through the Holy Spirit.
After the first two steps, you must respond. God wants you to dedicate yourself to overcoming sin, building godly character and growing in your understanding of His Word for the rest of your life (Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Peter 3:18).
For further details and scriptures on the Christian calling, see the infographic “7 Steps of the Christian Calling” and the article “God Calling!”