Question: "What does it mean that God draws us to salvation?"
Answer: The clearest verse on God’s drawing to salvation is John 6:44 where Jesus declares that “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Greek word translated “draw” is helkuo which means “to drag” (literally or figuratively). Clearly, this drawing is a one-sided affair. God does the drawing to salvation; we who are drawn have a passive role in the process. There is no doubt that we respond to His drawing us, but the drawing itself is all on His part.
Helkuo is used in John 21:6 to refer to a heavy net full of fish being dragged to the shore. In John 18:10, we see Peter drawing his sword and in Acts 16:19, helkuo is used to describe Paul and Silas being dragged into the marketplace before the rulers. Clearly the net had no part in its being drawn to the shore, Peter’s sword had no part in being drawn, and Paul and Silas did not drag themselves to the marketplace. The same can be said of God’s drawing of some to salvation. Some come willingly and some are dragged unwillingly, but all eventually come although we have no part in the drawing.
Why does God need to draw us to salvation? Simply put, if He didn’t, we would never come. Jesus explains that no man can come unless the Father draws him (John 6:65). The natural man has no ability to come to God, nor does he even have the desire to come. Because his heart is hard and his mind is darkened, the unregenerate person not only doesn’t desire God, but is actually an enemy of God (Romans 5:10). When Jesus says that no man can come without God’s drawing him, He is making a statement about the total depravity of the sinner and the universality of that condition. So darkened is the unsaved person that he doesn’t even realize it: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, it is only by the drawing of God through His mercy and grace that we are saved. In the conversion of the sinner, God enlightens the mind (Ephesians 1:18), He inclines the will toward Himself, and He influences the soul, without which influence the soul remains darkened and rebellious against God. All of this is involved in the drawing process.
There is a sense in which God draws all men. This is known as the “general call” and is distinguished from the “effectual call” of God’s elect. Passages such as Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 attest to the fact that God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen” and “understood” from what has been made, and that there is no excuse for denying these facts. But men still do deny God, and those who acknowledge His existence still do not come to a saving knowledge of Him outside of His drawing them. Only those who have been drawn through special revelation—by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God—will come to Christ.
There are tangible ways in which those who are being drawn to salvation experience that drawing. First, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sinful state and our need for a Savior (John 16:8). Second, He awakens in us a previously unknown interest in spiritual things and creates a desire for them that was never there before. Suddenly our ears are open, our hearts are inclined toward Him, and His Word begins to hold a fascination for us that is new and exciting. Our spirits begin to discern spiritual truth that never made sense to us before because we were in a natural state: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Finally, we begin to discern new desires which He has created within us. He places within us a new heart that inclines toward Him, a heart that desires to know Him, to obey Him and to walk in the “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) which He has promised.