Why Do People Refuse to Come to Jesus?

By Wayne Jackson

Jesus was in Jerusalem attending one of the annual Jewish feasts (probably the Passover). On this occasion, he encountered an disabled man who had been in his affliction some thirty-eight years.

The Lord asked the poor gentleman if he would like to be made whole. After a brief exchange, Christ instructed the man to “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk.”

Immediately the man was made whole. He picked up his bed and walked (John 5:1-9).

Since this remarkable incident occurred on the sabbath day, the Jewish leaders attempted to accuse the Lord of violating the Sabbath. John, who records this matter, informs us that the Jews persecuted Jesus and intensified their efforts to kill him (cf. Jn. 5:10-18).

After an extended discourse during which Jesus affirmed his divine relationship with the Father, Christ charged the Jews:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:39, 40).

There are several important truths in this statement that warrant further reflection.

Spiritual Blindness

In this statement of Christ, there is the shocking truth that one can be a diligent student of the scriptures and yet not know Christ!

Many of the Jewish leaders, particularly the scribes, prided themselves on their rich knowledge of the sacred writings. Why, then, were they unable to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah, since the Old Testament narratives were filled with prophecies that centered in him?

Remember how the Lord had said, “[E]verything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Well, the reason they failed to see the Christ of the Old Testament was, as Paul explains the matter, that “whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts” (2 Cor. 3:15). Their preconceived notions of what the Messiah ought to be like and do blinded them to an objective evaluation of the character, words, and works of the Lord.

When I think of the many religious scholars of today’s religious scene who have spent a lifetime mastering Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; who have studied biblical lands and cultures; who have become experts in exegesis; and yet, who do not know the Son of God in the genuine sense of the term “know,” I am deeply saddened. Knowledge that is not set to action only brings a more severe condemnation.

Salvation is in Christ only

There is the fact affirmed by Christ that there can be no eternal life apart from him.

In this age when the spirit of pseudo-ecumenism has invaded the hearts of many, this truth needs to be vigorously pressed. The Son of God made no apology for his declaration:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

There is simply none other in which salvation is to be found:

“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

If that sounds narrow. so be it! The question is not one of bigotry, but one of truth. Are the claims of Christ true? Will the evidence support such? That is what it all boils down to; and that is why it is our job to bring men to the Savior!

Some Choose to Reject Christ

The Master here teaches that it is possible to exercise that personal will-power by which men make the decision as to whether or not they will be counted with Christ or against him.

Some religions have suggested otherwise. Calvinism asserts that men are so enslaved be inherited depravity that they are completely helpless to respond to the Savior’s message until assisted by some miraculous impulse of the Spirit.

But what does that really mean? It puts all the responsibility for their conversion solely with God, and hence, implicates the Lord in wrong-doing if they are not saved!

Here’s what the Bible teaches. Man is a volitional creature; he is capable of making choices (cf. Gen. 2:16, 17; Josh. 24:15; Isa. 7:15; Jn. 7:17; Rev. 22:17).

Accordingly, when exposed to the gospel call, men assume the responsibility for either accepting or rejecting the divine message. If they are thus lost, God certainly is not to blame.

But there is another thought that engages the attention when contemplating John 5:40. Jesus said to those Jews, “Ye will not come to me that ye may have life.”

Since the message of the gift of Christ is so beautiful; since the facts of his death and resurrection are so dynamic: and, as the blessings offered are so impelling, one wonders how it is that rational people can neglect coming to the Redeemer.

How is such foolishness to be explained? Let’s consider several possibilities.

Some are simply unaware that they are lost.

The Bible teaches that Christ came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10). Unless a person is aware of being lost, he will see no need whatever for Christ as a Savior.

For many decades society has been told, by rationalistic philosophers and humanistic psychologists, that “sin” does not exist in reality. It is alleged to be the mere imaginative concoction of insecure, religious fanatics.

Oh, man may occasionally be involved in “unacceptable societal behavior” (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, etc.) but these are simply impulses hammered out by his “evolutionary, jungleistic past” or his so-called “reptilian brain.” The secular humanist argues that for such slips of conduct, humanity should actually feel no guilt. Such behavior does not really warrant punishment. “Guilt” is really a dirty word in the vocabulary of many.

Until, therefore, the message of sin, rebellion. and, yes, guilt can be burned into the consciences of our contemporaries, many will continue to see absolutely no need for what Jesus Christ has to offer.

Some will not come to Christ because they are not convinced of his uniqueness.

The time was, in days gone by, when most of our neighbors revered the name of Jesus. But that day is rapidly vanishing. We are living in an increasingly unbelieving world.

Many of our fellows no longer even believe in the existence of God. They have been taught from elementary school onward and via the modern media outlets that the universe is eternal and self-sustaining.

Again, we are taught that man evolved from an animalistic ancestry. They say the Bible is not the Word of God, but is merely a collection of ancient fables.

And Jesus Christ, though he may have been a remarkable teacher and a benevolent influence of antiquity, nonetheless, is not the unique Son of God and the Savior of the world.

My friend, without an accurate knowledge of who Christ is, you just are not going to be drawn to him. The study of “Christian evidences” is one of the crying needs of our time.

“Is the Bible true? Is Jesus the Son of God?” These are questions which Christians answer affirmatively, but which precious few are prepared to deal with when confronting those who have not been raised in the environment of Christian influence.

Some do not come to the Lord because, due to false teaching, they have concluded that they are already associated with him.

In Acts 19:13ff, you can read of certain “strolling Jews” who feigned the ability to cast out evil spirits. Part of their exorcism routine was to invoke the name of Christ. But their fakery was dramatically exposed.

There is something we can learn from this case: not everyone who claims connection with Jesus Christ actually enjoys such a union.

I think this is a biblical truth that some of us need to be reminded of. Correct teaching and an accurate understanding of the message must precede obedience to the gospel.

Under the Mosaic system, a person was physically born into a covenant relationship with Jehovah. As a result, they had to be taught to know the Lord after their birth into that covenant relationship.

But under the New Testament economy, it is different. This is one of the very points of emphasis in the great prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31ff. The prophet declares: “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD” (vs. 34).

In this age, we are taught before we enter the new covenant relationship with Christ.

Christianity is a taught religion. Jesus announced:

“And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn. 6:45).

One does not learn error and, at the same time, obey the truth. Denominational clergymen have taught a perverted gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-8), and many have sincerely, though erroneously, been led to believe that a false doctrine is genuine Christianity.

It is the sacred responsibility of every child of God to show the distinction between truth and error, to draw the line between primitive Christianity and modern sectarianism, and to call others back to the Bible.

And some of our preachers have ceased to proclaim this distinctive message and are assuming postures that will lead our people into destructive apostasy.

Some will not come to Jesus because they are unwilling to pay the price he requires.

If you would follow Christ, you must be willing to forsake all that is in conflict with Heaven’s requirements. A person must be willing to deny himself, take up the cross daily, and follow his Lord (Lk. 9:23).

The Savior urged men to count the cost before assuming the role of discipleship, and he who is not willing to renounce any obstacle to the faith cannot be a follower of Christ (cf. Lk. 14:25-35).

A tragic example is that of the rich, young ruler. He was consumed with materialism. When, therefore, the Lord demanded that he sell his possessions and then follow him, the young man sorrowfully departed from Christ (Matt. 19:16-22). He was unwilling to pay the price!

For some. forsaking worldliness is too great of a demand (cf. 2 Tim. 4:10) for discipleship. Others cannot afford the time. And so they trade the few moments of time for eternity.

The excuses are many; the result is the same. Other priorities crowd out the Christ.

Some will not come to the Lord because they fear failure.

We have heard the excuse many times: “I would become a Christian. But I know I just couldn’t hold out.”

Do you not realize that when you turn to Christ, God that you are but a babe in the faith? Don’t we understand that Heaven is sympathetic of human frailty? Hasn’t Jesus promised to be with us “all the days” (Matt. 28:20 ASVfn)?

Yes, we will make mistakes, and frequently. But we will repent of those things and learn to grow in spite of our blunders.

What if one reasoned: “I will not marry because so many marriages end in divorce”? Surely that would be unsound thinking. What if the farmer argued: “I will not plant, for there was a crop failure in ’42”? He would go hungry!

Don’t fear failure. Do your best to serve your God. And promise yourself to be progressively learning and responding to the truth.

Some do not come to the Christ because of what they see in professed Christians.

Listen, no one will be excused for his own disobedience in the day of judgment because he was influenced by someone else’s sorry example. Each person is responsible for his own activity (2 Cor. 5:10).

Be that as it may, it is a fact that cannot be denied — some of the Lord’s own people are his worst enemies. By their coarse and wretched lives, they drive away many from the truth even before they have opportunity to know the gospel.

In some places, the morals of members of the church are far inferior to those of false religionists. And in most areas, corrective discipline in the church is a totally unknown practice. Surely Jehovah will not hold us unaccountable for such deliberate neglect.

Yes, there are many “excuses” why men reject Christ; there are no reasons!

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.