Word Play

The one thing I could not stand when I as a child was when people corrected my grammar. I can still hear my fifth grade teacher say, “Pay attention to your choice of words and their meaning before you speak.” I could have understood if I was just butchering the English language, but she would draw attention to words that I was using that meant the same thing as the words she said I should have used. And she challenged my choice of words almost every time I asked to do something. She always got me on one word…..the word “can”.

I would ask, “Can I go get some water?”

To which my teacher would reply, “I dont know, CAN you? And yes you MAY!”

To my little mind, without paying attention to the meaning behind those words, they meant the same thing. But my teacher was merely pointing out that there was indeed a big difference between the word ‘can’ and ‘may’. The word may has to do with having permission. “May I have a glass of tea?” “May I leave the table?” And so forth.

The word ‘can’ has to do with ability. “I can run fast.” “I can drive a car.” The words ‘can’ and ‘may’ are often misused, and they do not mean the same thing. This leads me into the third blog in a series I have written this week on the topic of how God saves.

Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

If we truly want to know God, we have to pay attention to the wording he uses, not just blindly skim over the scriptures. Take the word “can” for example. If I say, “No one can run thirty miles an hour,” that means no one has the ability to run thirty miles an hour. If I tell you I can’t fly, that means no one has the ability to fly. So as my fifth grade teacher would say, lets pay attention to the words and the meaning behind them. What is it that Jesus is saying in this verse. Jesus is saying, “No one….has the ability….to come to me.” Now according to Jesus, does man have the ability to come to Jesus whenever he wishes? No. The text says no man has the ability to come to Christ.

But going back to my grade school English class, looking at the verse above, we have an exception clause that closes out the sentence. The word ‘unless’. This word introduces an exception and points towards a necessary condition or prerequisite that must be met before anyone can come to Christ. No man has the ability to come to Christ UNLESS the father draws him.  Another translation reads, “…unless the Father enables him.” In other words, God has to do something to give us the ability to come to Christ.

So if we claim to believe scripture, we can all agree that no one has the ability to come to Jesus Christ unless they are first drawn by the Father. That is exactly what the text says. Now this verse is widely debated when it comes to the topic of predestination. Those who believe in mans free will, or Arminianist, is that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father woo’s or entices, or attracts him. They believe that the drawing that God does is still resistable. In other words, man can choose to deny the drawing of the Father. Therefore, the arminianist believe that those who respond to the drawing of God are redeemed and those who deny are lost.

Those who believe that God is the one who chooses whom will be saved and that man doesnt do the choosing are labeled Calvinist. The Calvinist believe the word DRAW means more than to simply entice or attract. To settle or answer this question, we must look at how this word draw is used elsewhere in the new testament.

James 2:6 says, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?”

The word ‘Draw’ as seen in John 6:44 and the word from the verse you just read in James, ‘drag’, both come from the exact same Greek word    “hel-KU-oh”. We could argue English translations all day long, but this is the original language that the New Testament was written in. In Greek, the word ‘draw’ and ‘drag’ are the same. Now going off of the interpretation that the arminianist would hold that draw means God entices us, lets plug that word entice into James 2:6 in place of the word ‘drag’……

“But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who…’ENTICE’…you into court?”

Lets look at another example.

 “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”Acts 16:19.

Lets replace the word ‘dragged’ in the verse with the word ‘enticed….

When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and….ENTICED….them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”

This text clearly indicates an act of force in dragging Paul and Silas into the market place. Paul and Silas were not enticed. They were being persecuted for preaching the gospel. They were dragged. Under an arrest of sorts to go and stand before the authorities. Liddell’s Lexicon is one of the most respected interpretations used to examine the true meaning of Greek language as it pertains to scripture. Liddell’s defines the word Draw, “To compel by IRRESISTABLE  superiority.” The writers of the Liddell’s Lexicon were very much arminianist, yet they still agree that this was the true meaning of the word. So if this is true, why would English translators use the word ‘draw’ when they use the word ‘drag’elsewhere in the Bible? RC Sproul humorously joked that the reason might have been that English translators were afraid verse like John 6:44 would be offensive to people if they read, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me DRAGS them.”

But if we read it as God drags them, its really not that far from the truth. The Bible clearly points out that we are dead in our sins unless that Father chooses to bring us to life through regeneration. Pastor Mark Driscoll was asked once about what he thought about the concept of a man coming to God on his own free will. He simply responded, “Dead men dont make choices.”

Driscoll went on to give an example to mirror the biblical image of how God saves. He said his three year old daughter took off running towards the highway of on coming traffic. Driscoll had told her to stay beside him, but she rebelled. Pastor Driscoll ran after her, screaming repentance at her as he put it. “Stop Ashley!” “Come Back!!”

But the little three year old kept running in rebellion to her father. Literally Pastor Mark said she stepped out onto the highway of on coming traffic with a huge semi truck headed right towards his little girl. At the last minute he caught up to her, grabbed her by the collar, and dragged her out of the way of oncoming traffic into his arms.

As Pastor Mark went on to conclude…”Thats predestination.” We run from God. We are dead to sin so we CANNOT seek or listen to God. We cant turn from our rebellion on our own. We need a savior to save us from ourselves. So in love, God the Father comes and literally drags his elect out of the path of destruction that they were headed for. And if you look closely at the language of the scriptures, thats exactly how salvation works.

RC Sproul had a great example. He was involved in a debate at an Arminianist college. RC was debating in favor of the Calvinistic view of predestination and the College professor was debating in favor of the Arminanist view. Sproul had asked the professor why he thought it was appropriate given the greek translation to use the word draw instead of its true Greek meaning which is to compel by force or drag. The college professor argued that there was an instance that the Greeks used the word hel-KU-ohord when the drew water out of a well. The professor went on to say with a smile, “You see Dr. Sproul, no one drags water out of a well…they draw water. ” RC responded, “Well how do you get water out of a well? Do you entice it to come up to you? Do you call it to come up? Do you woo water out of the well? Or must you do something to compel that water to come up?”

Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

If you go back to the original text of Greek that the New Testament was written, there is no argument that the word draw doesnt mean enticed, but rather means divine compulsion. Jesus himself said no man can come, unless that Father himself compels him to come.  Lets look at another passage.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”John 3:3.

Do you see the word “unless”? Think it through. Now what has to happen according to Jesus before they can see the Kingdom of God? He must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God. So regeneration of the heart must precede seeing the kingdom of God. The Arminian view of salvation is that people receive Jesus Christ before they are regenerated. The Arminian view is people says people can see Christ and choose him before they actually become born again. But according to this verse, thats not possible.

Regeneration precedes faith.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:4-9.

We didnt decide to get it right first. While we were still in sin. While we were spiritually dead, Christ had chosen his elect from the foundation of the world, made us alive in Him. Regeneration, God compelling us begins before faith takes root. And it is by his grace that we are saved, not by our own doing. It is a undeserved gift from God that we could not give ourselves. Faith is the gift of God that is the result of the regeneration process within us. God supplies the necessary condition to come to Jesus.  Thats why it is Sola Gratia….by grace alone we are saved.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.”John 3:6-7.

In other words, Jesus was telling Nicodemus, “You’re a theologian! You shouldnt be surprised at this. The flesh is just flesh! The flesh cannot choose to make itself spirit without the supernatural word of the Father!

” It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”John 6:63.

“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.” Romans 3:11.

Our flesh is spiritually worthless without God regenerating us. We cannot claim that we choose God or we seek God. And the reason we cant claim that is because no one would ever seek God on their own. This brings us back to John 6:44. No one can come to Christ without the regenerating work of the Father in them.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. “Romans 8: 5-7.

Again, the flesh cannot submit to God. Unless what….John 6:44…unless the Father chooses to draw him. So man in his fallen state is hostile to God. And he doesnt obey Gods law, neither CAN HE. So fallen man cannot obey the law of God. Unless God chooses to regenerate us. And regeneration is supernatural.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:9.

So if you are regenerate you are not in the flesh. If you are in the flesh you are not regenerate. So when he speaks of in the flesh, he speaks of unregenerate people. The crucial prerequisite is a work of the Holy Spirit for faith to be present. Thats why the first step of justification is the gracious work of God and is never the fruit of choosing of the flesh. How can fallen, sinful, flesh, that according to scripture would never seek God, choose him. Something supernatural has to happen. We have to be brought from death to life in the spirit. The Father chooses to regenerate and irrisistably compel us. How gracious and loving is the sovereignty of our God!

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