I was struck by reading this verse in John the other night:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him

I've heard the term 'predestination', however it is unclear to me how free will is reconciled with it.

In the instance of free will, one has the choice to either listen or to ignore God's tap on the shoulder. This also leads to the question regarding predestination in general where religious doctrine is concerned. What exactly is predestination? Does it necessarily preclude the ability to choose as one wills?

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    What is the Biblical basis for Unconditional Election? would be some good reading to get started on the predestination POV. And What is the Biblical basis for Irresistible Grace? has coverage to some degree on how Calvinists deal with free will.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 18:09
  • Thank you wax eagle and Ryan for the input. This is somewhat of a huge step for me so trying to not make an indavertant faux pas or ruffle too many feathers if you will.
    – IndigoGirl
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 18:17
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    Logically, this verse only suggests that person must first be drawn in order to come to Christ. It does not necessitate that everyone who is drawn will come.
    – Narnian
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 18:23
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    If it helps, typically the terms 'Predestination' and 'Calvinism' are associated, and 'Free-Will' and 'Arminianism' go together. Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 18:39
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    This question doesn't quite pass muster by today's site standards for on-topic questions. It seems to be asking several different questions, and it doesn't specify the group or denomination of Christians whose answer it is interested in. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 16:23

5 Answers 5


Short Answer: No, John 6:44 does not imply that there is no free will when it comes to salvation.

What the text itself implies (theology aside) is that a person can only come to Jesus if the Father draws him. It says nothing about whether free will plays a part in salvation, or (if so) how it does. (In fact, it doesn't even really say anything about predestination.)

To illustrate, here are three possibilities for how free will might be understood with respect to this verse:

  • A) A person must, out of their own free will, desire to be reconciled to God, and then God must subsequently draw them to Jesus to get saved.

  • B) God must draw a person, and as He does so, the person must concurrently allow themselves to be drawn out of their own free will.

  • C) God must draw a person by convicting them of their sin and presenting them with the Gospel, and then the person, out of their own free will, must respond appropriately to the Gospel and be saved.

These are only a few possibilities, chosen to show that the answer is, in fact "no." (Each of these explanations are popular Christian positions.) There are other perspectives on free will and predestination as well, which yield different explanations of this verse. For example, some would say:

  • D) God must draw a person -- and must cause that person to be saved -- before they can have (or exercise) "free will." Note, however, that this perspective uses a different definition of "free will" than the colloquial meaning.


Essentially, all that this verse implies about "free will" is that our free will cannot be understood as the end of the story regarding salvation. It doesn't really imply anything about free will beyond that, and it can easily be reconciled with any major theology on free will, as shown above.


I think this question can be answered without becoming lost in all the differing views of what is ‘exactly’ free will and what is ‘exactly’ predestination. From a high level the church is basically divided on this subject between the thinking of St Augustine (or what protestants think he believed) versus Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Assyrian church views. I am not including modern day Christian sects like LDS because, first, I know nothing about them and second this is a much more modern phenomenon that has occurred in recent history. By modern phenomenon I mean all those various groups that have splintered off from the protestant movement of which all traditional groups consider as cults. Also Arminian protestant views can be treated as a separate subject as they have there own collection of peculiar ideas that simply mean they fall over to the Calvinist side in terms of essential requirements for salvation but retain a mixture of Catholic and Protestant ideas about how we are to live a holy life (which I consider outside the scope of this question).

To make matters more controversial and confusing Protestants sincerely believe they are basically filling out St. Augustine’s views which date back to the ‘true’ traditions of the Apostles, however --- Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Assyrian churches will deny this claim by protestants and will naturally interpret St. Augustine as not contradicting which ever great saints they adhere to in their own history. Basically somebody is terribly wrong here about what St. Augustine really believed and taught.

As a protestant I am answering from a protestant perspective.

So the real question (to me) is what is the very basics about St. Augustine that has created a ‘predestination culture' primarily upheld by reformed Protestants and how does it relate to your question? I think it is this. Basic Catholic faith and even high Anglicans and possibly some other very traditional protestants, along with Orthodox and Assyrian churches -- all believe that a person can be saved through some external ritual like water baptism, celebrating a Eucharist of some sort, etc. They (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) also believe that all people have some kind of freedom of will under a universal cooperation with grace, offered to all to take this salvation freely. They all generally also believe by being a true member of ‘their’ church, they are more or less saved and those not in 'their' church are at best on shaky ground. St. Augustine did not believe this at (all as proposed by Protestant historical view.) St. Augustine reconciled the wickedness and unbelief of many Catholic peers (who externally may have done everything they are supposed to) and the necessity of conscience that they must really go to hell (for being so evil and unbelieving) --- all resolved under the idea that ‘not all that are called are chosen’. In other words, only the elect will be finally saved whom God foreknew and that before creation. This solves the problem about all the fake Christians who are nevertheless members of 'our church'. The many Judas among us if you will. Not only so, but those that are elect can actually never perish but all persevere and those that are not elect can never be saved no matter what.

Here are some examples that illustrate this view according to St. Augustine:

None of the Elect and Predestinated Can Perish (St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings)

Those Who are Called According to the Purpose Alone are Predestinated (St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings)

The Number of the Predestinated is Certain and Defined (St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings)

Now to answer the specific question how this fits into “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. It has to do with the assumed inability to do good as a result of original sin and God needs to provide an ability (free the will / free-will) in order for a man to come to him and this according to ‘God’s choice’ of drawing ‘only’ the elect. Now this is the subtle part, all who call themselves Christians (that I know of) actually will agree that ‘without God’s grace a man can’t come to him, but Christians during the reformation (argued with St. Augustine’s support) that this wide supposed confession of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, etc. is just empty lip service because what they really mean is that ‘as God provides a gracious provision to all men’ all men effectively do all have free will to draw near to God --- by grace. The grace is sprinkled on top of pelagic self righteousness to magically make it seem true (according to a reformed perspective). With a slight change of words, 'God’s election' is now really nothing. Catholics will say 'not at all, you speak not truly', and Protestants will say, 'yes, yes, yes' – and so the two that have parted will never join again. The difference is just that fundamental.

In a nutshell, Luther and Calvin would take it that ‘of course’ we do not have a will that can come to God and ‘in addition’ it does not happen without his ‘special’ calling since God does ‘not’ draw everyone, only his elect. This view, according to Luther and Calvin and all those reformed Christians until today was also St. Augustine’s view, which was the Apostle’s view. Of course no need to mention it was therefore the prophets view and even Adam’s view and simply put, God’s view. Just one little verse shows such great divisions within Christianity.

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    It is important to point out to readers that your statements do not reflect the majority of Christian teachers, nor any in Apostolic churches (RC, Anglican, ACC, Orthodox etc.) St. Augustine was a Roman Catholic who accepted the Dogma of The Church. I have written an answer below that quotes St. Augustine.
    – Waeshael
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 12:26
  • @Waeshael - Your comment is rather viewed as a typical argument from a Catholic perspective. I would say it differently: The majority of those who claim to be Christian are not Protestants...so 'big deal' is that not obvious?. Also your list of suspects goes to far in error with boasting. I am an Anglican and this view does not conflict with our church at all. We have many different kinds of churches under the Anglican umbrella, quite a few of us are still protestants with strong Calvinist influences. Protestants find St. Augustine to be someone moving in the direction of ourselves.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 23:12
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    I also am an Anglican (C of E, Episcopal, Anglican Catholic) and taught theology for many years to both clergy and lay. Your comments about St. Augustine's understanding of God, does not agree with the translations of his works that I read. I see you have given no references to any of his works. That would be helpful to understand your POV.
    – Waeshael
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 10:28

I am glad to see St. Augustine being pulled into the discussion. It is important to understand what he thought in his heart. If we look at ST. Augustine's theology on salvation we find this: Wace and Piercy "A dictionary of Christian Biography"

In St. Augustine's letter to Deogratius (Ep. 102):

At all times, he writes, since the world began, the same faith has been revealed to men, at one time more obscurely, at another more plainly, as the circumstances altered; but what we now call the Christian religion is but the clearest revelation of a religion as old as the world. Never has its offer of salvation been withheld from those who were worthy of it even though they might not be mentioned in the sacred record. Such men who followed His commands (however unconsciously), were implicit believers in Christ. The changing (and therefore semi-real) form represents the one constant reality, the saving grace of God, revealed through the passion and resurrection of Christ (Ep 189 )

Now, here is the passage and below that an example of being drawn taken from the New Testament, and following that is St. Augustine's heartfelt understanding.

John 6:44: No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

People are drawn to God through revelation. Here's an example:

Matthew 16:13-18 KJV: “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

According to St. Augustine (source: Tractates on the Gospel of John Tractate 26), emphasis mine:

4: Thence also He says here, if thou turn thy attention to it, “No man cometh to me except he whom the Father shall draw.” Do not think that thou art drawn against thy will. The mind is drawn also by love. Nor ought we to be afraid, lest perchance we be censured in regard to this evangelic word of the Holy Scriptures by men who weigh words, but are far removed from things, most of all from divine things; and lest it be said to us, “How can I believe with the will if I am drawn?” I say it is not enough to be drawn by the will; thou art drawn even by delight. What is it to be drawn by delight? “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart.” Ps. xxxvii. 4. There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet. Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,”—not necessity, but pleasure; not obligation, but delight,—how much more boldly ought we to say that a man is drawn to Christ when he delights in the truth, when he delights in blessedness, delights in righteousness, delights in everlasting life, all which Christ is? Or is it the case that, while the senses of the body have their pleasures, the mind is left without pleasures of its own? If the mind has no pleasures of its own, how is it said, “The sons of men shall trust under the cover of Thy wings: they shall be well satisfied with the fullness of Thy house; and Thou shalt give them drink from the river of Thy pleasure. For with Thee is the fountain of life; and in Thy light shall we see light”? Ps. xxxvi. 8. Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say. Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is traveling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such, and he knows what I say. But if I speak to the cold and indifferent, he knows not what I say. Such were those who murmured among themselves. “He whom the Father shall draw,” saith He, “cometh unto me.”

5: But what is this, “Whom the Father shall draw,” when Christ Himself draws? Why did He say, “Whom the Father shall draw”? If we must be drawn, let us be drawn by Him to whom one who loves says, “We will run after the odor of Thine ointment.” Cant. (Song of Songs) i. 3. But let us, brethren, turn our minds to, and, as far as we can, apprehend how He would have us understand it. The Father draws to the Son those who believe on the Son, because they consider that God is His Father. For God begat the Son equal to Himself, so that he who ponders, and in his faith feels and muses that He on whom he has believed is equal to the Father, this same is drawn of the Father to the Son. . . . One whom the Father has drawn says: “Thou art Christ, Son of the living God.” Not as a prophet, not as John, not as some great and just man, but as the only, the equal, “Thou art Christ, Son of the living God.” See that he was drawn, and drawn by the Father. “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” Matt. xvi. 16, 17. This revealing is itself the drawing.


At the risk of oversimplifying the debate of free will and etc., why not just consider how the Father "draws" the person? He does so through the preaching of the Gospel, as it states in Romans 10:14-17:

  • Rom 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
  • Rom 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
  • Rom 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
  • Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

No one is going to come to Christ on his or her own. The invitation must be given and believed. This is not predestination. We may believe or not believe, but through the preaching the Father draws people to the Son.

In contrast, people are not drawn to Him, but to the food He gave (John 6:26); they were drawn to Him by their bellies, so they only saw Him as the source for more food of bread and fish. Only the Father can draw them to the Son into a relationship with Him, and that requires the preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of the heart through faith and repentance.

Let's not complicate this issue with free will and predestination.


In Acts 17:30 God calls all men everywhere to repent, and in 2 Peter 3:9 God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

John 6:44 implies that God initiates the process by drawing people to Christ.

John 12:32 says "I will draw all men unto me."

So all men are drawn, and we are judged based on our response to that drawing and calling of God.

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