Tim Keller

May 1, 2023

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

John 6:44

What is Jesus saying?

In John 15:16 Jesus says, “You did not choose me—but I chose you…” Here in 6:44 he explains why. He is saying that left to yourself you would never seek me or choose me. You are incapable of that on your own. God must choose you and open your mind and heart to the beauty and truth that, without his help, you would repress and resist.

So Jesus is saying—you aren’t chosen because you believe—you believe because you are chosen (cf. Acts 13:48; 16:14).

Why we find this ‘hard’

Most people in western societies respond quite negatively to this statement. “What?” they often exclaim, “Is this saying I don’t have free will?”  That’s insulting!

Actually, that is not exactly what Jesus is saying here. Imagine you had on your right hand a great, savory plate of fried chicken, and on your left a plate of raw, sliced monkey brains. Now imagine you asked—which will you eat? And imagine you were given this choice 100 times—how often would you choose the monkey brains. Probably never. Why? Not because you lacked the freedom to choose the brains—but because you lacked any desire for them at all.

It is the same with God. Every human being has the freedom to choose to live for God rather than for something else—but no human being has the desire. We are profoundly bent toward self-rule, self-aggrandizement, self-interest, self-determination. Sin makes us think our deepest desires for love and beauty will be fulfilled in various created things—money, power, achievement, sex, family—but unless God shatters that illusion and opens our minds and hearts to true Love and Beauty—we will never find it. 

So there is a sense in which this is insulting to us. Our sinful hearts resonate to the words William Ernest Henley’s Invictus –“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” No you are not, says Jesus. I am.

How we can find this infinitely sweet.

Years ago when as a college student I was struggling with the idea of election (I didn’t like it!) I heard a teacher (who believed in election) ask a Christian girl a question: “Why are you a Christian and others are not?”

She answered  “Because I believed.” He says, “Right. Why do you believe and so many others do not? ” She said, “I guess because I repented.” He said, “Good. Why did you repent and so many other people haven’t?” She said, “Well, because I admitted I was a sinner.” He said, “Right. Why did you admit and others did not?” And it dawned on me. If I’m chosen because I believe, that means I’m a Christian because I’m a little better, I’m a little wiser, I’m a little humbler. There’s something in me that’s better. What that means is there is something in me that brought the grace of God into my life that if I lose that, I lose it. But if I believe because I’m chosen, that means the love of Christ has come into my life unconditionally. Unconditionally! It means there’s no way I can lose it. There’s security. It also means there is absolutely nothing about me that makes me any better than anyone else. There’s humility. God is a God, therefore, of absolute and complete and sheer grace.

Notice it doesn’t say that the Father drives us but draws us—showing us the beauty of Jesus’ sacrificial love. The doctrine of election by grace is therefore, a bit like hard candy—at first, on the outside—it seems hard, but inside is infinite sweetness.

Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.