Draw or Drag (John 6:44; Acts 16:19)

Acts 16:19 – But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

In my reading of Acts today, I came to a verse that interests me, not for its own meaning, but for the meaning of a particular Greek word. The Greek word translated “dragged” in the verse above is the verb helkuo. The reason that it interests me is that it is also used by Jesus to speak of how God saves us.

John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In John 6, the word is translated “draws,” and this translation can lead to some confusion as to how our souls are saved. When we, in English, think of the word “draw,” it can mean one of several things. Of course, we are not here thinking of drawing a picture. But there is some debate as to whether or not the word means draw in the sense of entice, woo, tempt, allure. Such a drawing would describe a man who is drawn to a woman by her beauty, or to the kitchen by the sound and smell of sizzling bacon. It would describe a person being brought somewhere by a desire that is resistible.

If we look, however, at all the occurrences of the word helkuo in the New Testament, including the Acts verse above, we will see that it does not ever clearly mean a wooing or enticing sort of drawing. It is used eight times in the New Testament. In John 6:44 and in John 12:32, the word has something to do with people being “drawn” to Jesus; but that does not help us to know what the word means. All six other uses of the word helkuo in the New Testament make it clear what the word means. In John 18:10, it refers to Peter drawing his sword. In John 21: 6 and 11, it refers to men pulling in or drawing a fishing net. In Acts 16:19 and 21:30, the word is twice used to refer to people who were seized, dragged off, and beaten. In James 2:6, helkuo refers to the rich personally dragging Christians into court.

Looking at the evidence, it is clear what meaning is behind the word in John 6:44. It is not to enable or empower somebody. No one would say that Peter enabled his sword or empowered the fishing net. No one would argue that the crowd wooed Paul away from the temple and beat him in Acts 21. No one believes that James meant that the rich were persuading Christians to desire to go to court. In every instance, this word means to take hold of something, and to move it somewhere by your power.

So, in John 6:44, the Son of God tells us that no one can come to him, unless the Father who sent him takes hold of them and moves them there by his power. This is not a wooing, encouraging, or enabling. It is a forcible moving. It is God taking hold of those whom he has chosen to give to the Son as we read in verse 37, and bringing them to him; and without this act of the Father’s, no one will come to the Son.

Yes, there are a million implications of this doctrine, and a million questions that it raises. I can not answer them all, because God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and his ways are higher than mine. He knows how this all works out, and why he chose to do things in this way. But make no mistake, if you or anyone you know is a Christian, it is because, and only because, the Father chose them as a gift for his Son and then brought them as a gift to his son. And let me be clear about this, all who are chosen by the Father will come to the Son. They can not resist that drawing, that moving of the Father any more than Peter’s sword could have resisted his drawing it or water can resist being drawn out of a well in a bucket.

Lord, I worship you this morning, because I again see you in your sovereignty. I do not understand exactly how all of this doctrine impacts all of my life. I do not fully grasp what is the level of human freedom and what is not a free choice. What I know for sure is that all who are saved are saved because you drew them to yourself. I know that you took me, someone who would have not chosen to come to you, and you pulled me, dragged me, drew me to yourself so that I might see and believe in Jesus. I can take no credit for my faith, because it was something you gave me without me seeking it. It is all of you and your doing. My salvation is to your glory from start to finish.