What does it mean that no one seeks God?

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Question: "What does it mean that no one seeks God?"

Some contemporary churches are billed as “seeker-friendly,” but the Bible says that “no one seeks God.” Psalm 14:2–3 pictures God searching in vain for even one heart that seeks Him: “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” This passage is quoted in Romans 3:10–12, which says, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.’” So, if no one seeks God, who are the “seekers” that some churches strategize to attract? Plus, how are people saved if no one is seeking God?

First we must understand human nature. Because of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:11), sin entered the world and became part of human existence. Because Adam is the common ancestor of every human being, we all inherit that sin nature. We are born with a natural desire for rebellion, self-interest, and disobedience. In Romans 7:18, Paul says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” In ourselves, we cannot seek after God, for the simple reason that seeking God is a good and holy thing. Sinful flesh is incapable of good and holy things (Isaiah 64:6).

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44). In other words, the only way we can seek God is if the Holy Spirit has first stirred our hearts with a desire for God. It is God who draws us to Himself. Ephesians 2:8 underscores this truth: “By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God.” Even the faith to believe for salvation does not originate within our fleshly nature. God enables the fallen human heart to seek Him, when in our own self-centered rebellion we would never do so. Every good thing originates with God (James 1:17). Faith in God is a good thing, and so it also originates with God.

Even our best efforts fall far short of the righteousness required by God (Romans 3:23). That’s why Scripture says that no one seeks God. We seek fulfillment. We seek pleasure. We seek escape from pain. But the pure motivation of seeking after God for Himself is a gift from God. We are not saved because we had the wisdom and insight to exercise our own faith and trust God. No one wakes up one day and, on his own, decides to seek God. That would be a salvation by our own works, and Scripture is clear we are saved only by the grace and mercy of God (Titus 3:5; Romans 11:6). We are saved when God touches our hearts and prompts us to use the faith He gives to receive His gift of salvation. Even with the knowledge of God’s existence everywhere, people naturally choose to “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18–20).

Because no one naturally seeks God, God seeks us. He sought Adam and Eve as they hid in the Garden (Genesis 3:9), and He has been seeking His lost loved ones ever since. Jesus gave this as His mission statement: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Is this a contradiction to those passages that say no one seeks God? We know that God first gives us faith. But we also have a free will. We decide what to do with the faith God gives. We can ignore it, we can misuse it by chasing after false gods, or we can receive it gladly and use it to embrace the gospel. When God says we must seek Him with all our heart, we understand that He has taken the first step toward us. He has done all that is necessary for our salvation; the work is done. It is now up to us to engage our will and follow Him. The faith to seek Him is a gift, but we must accept it and exercise it to have a relationship with Him.

Recommended Resource: The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament by Douglas Moo

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