June 1, 2014
All people, but especially children, have the basic need of feeling secure and loved. Kids need to grow up in a family where the parents love one another and where the children feel safe and are assured that their parents love them no matter what they do. If the parents threaten to withhold their love as punishment for disobedience, the children will not feel secure and will strive to earn their parents’ love. That’s always tragic!
The same thing is true spiritually. God wants His spiritual children to know that He loves and accepts them through the death of Jesus Christ on their behalf, not because of their performance. He wants us to know that we are eternally secure in our salvation even when we fail and sin. As a loving Father, He will discipline us for our good, so that we may share His holiness (Heb. 12:10). But He will not withdraw His love or cast us off as His children. It’s important for our spiritual growth that we know and feel that our salvation is secure forever.
So it’s sad that many teach that Christians can lose their salvation if they sin. Granted, there are some difficult texts in the New Testament that seem to teach that, such as the warning passages in Hebrews (see my Hebrews sermons). But it’s much easier to explain those texts from the foundation of texts that give solid assurance of eternal security than vice versa. Concerning our text, A. W. Pink (online at monergism.com) says, “No stronger passage in all the Word of God can be found guaranteeing the absolute security of every child of God.” Our text teaches …
Jesus’ sheep are eternally secure because the Father gave them to Jesus, Jesus gives them eternal life, and both the Father and Jesus keep them.
There is a two or three month gap between the discourse in 10:1-21 and that in our text, although the subject matter ties in with the theme of Jesus as the good shepherd of His sheep. The Feast of Tabernacles, which took place in the fall, was the setting for 7:1-10:21, but now it is winter, when the Feast of Dedication took place. This feast was not prescribed in the Old Testament, but rather it began when the temple was rededicated in 165 B.C., after the Maccabean revolt threw off the rule of the evil Antiochus Epiphanes. It is still celebrated today as Hanukkah.
John, who loves symbolism, may want us to see that Jesus fulfills all that this feast stands for. He is the new temple (2:19). Just as God delivered His people under the Maccabeans, so He delivers His people under Jesus. John’s mention that it was winter may also hint that for the Jewish leaders who were rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, it was spiritually winter.
In this context, as Jesus was walking in the temple, the Jewish leaders circled around Jesus and were saying to Him (10:24), “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” From Jesus’ reply we learn the first basis of our security as Jesus’ sheep:
At first you might wonder if the Jews’ request was sincere, but I don’t believe that it was. They were not coming to Jesus with the attitude, “We’re willing to bow before You as our Messiah, but could You just clear up a few questions?” Rather, they were blaming Jesus for their unbelief, saying in effect, “If You would just make Yourself clear, maybe we would believe in You. It’s Your fault that we don’t believe in You.”
Jesus, who knew the hearts of all people (2:24-25), knew that these men were not seeking answers to legitimate questions. So He replied (10:25-26), “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”
When had Jesus told them that He was the Messiah? The only time that He had clearly stated that was to was the Samaritan woman by the well (4:26). Because the Jewish leaders had a political idea of the Messiah as one who would free them from Rome, Jesus had not told them directly that He was the Messiah because they would have misunderstood.
But if they only had ears to hear, they could have recognized who Jesus was through John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God (1:29-34). They could have heard it in Jesus’ astounding words in 5:19-47, where He claimed to have equal honor with the Father and to be able to give life to whomever He wished. He claimed that the Scriptures testified about Him and that if they came to Him, He would give them life (5:39-40). They should have heard it in Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life and in His promise to raise up all whom the Father had given Him on the last day (6:35, 39). They should have heard it in Jesus’ claim to be able to satisfy the thirst of all who believed in Him (7:37-38) and in His claim to be the Light of the world (8:12). They especially should have heard it in His claim (8:58), “Before Abraham was born, I am.”
They not only had Jesus’ words, but also His works that He did in the Father’s name (10:25). The Jewish leaders had seen and heard about many healings, including the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda (5:2-16) and the man born blind (9:1-34). He had miraculously turned the water into wine (2:1-11) and fed the 5,000 (6:1-14). But none of this resulted in their believing. Rather, they were becoming increasingly hardened in their rejection of Jesus to the point that when He raised Lazarus from the dead (11:1-53), they were even more determined to kill Jesus.
So, why, in spite of all this evidence, were the Jewish leaders so adamantly opposed to Jesus as their Messiah? Jesus tells them (10:26), “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” He did not say (as we might have expected), “You are not of My sheep because you do not believe.” Rather, He plainly tells these unbelieving Jews, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” He was emphasizing their inability to believe.
We saw the same thing back in 6:43-44, where speaking to His unbelieving opponents Jesus said, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 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 case they didn’t get it, He repeated (6:65), “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” We saw it again (8:43), “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.” He further explained (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
In each case, Jesus emphasized to unbelievers their inability to believe in Him. Why would He do that? As I explained when we studied 6:44, the main reason that Jesus told these unbelieving Jews that they lacked the ability to come to Him is that skeptics need to be stripped of their proud self-confidence. Skeptics are proud of their knowledge and mental abilities. They even think that they have the ability to believe when they choose: “Just tell us plainly if you’re the Messiah, Jesus, and then we’ll believe!” But if a skeptic were able to come to Christ through his intellect or by deciding to believe of his own free will, he would come in pride, which is opposed to gospel repentance. And so Jesus tells them again (10:26), “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”
You may be thinking, “Well, if unbelievers are not capable of believing and if God has not given them the ability to believe, then He can’t hold them responsible for their unbelief, can He?” Yes, He can! As D. A. Carson puts it (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 393), “That they are not Jesus’ sheep does not excuse them; it indicts them.”
R. C. Sproul (Chosen by God [Tyndale], pp. 97-98) gives a helpful illustration of why God can hold unbelievers accountable for their unbelief, even though they are incapable of believing. He pictures God saying to a man, “I want you to trim these bushes by 3 p.m. But be careful. There’s a large pit at the edge of the garden. If you fall into the pit, you won’t be able to get yourself out. So stay away from the pit.” As soon as God leaves the garden, the man runs over and jumps into the pit. At 3 p.m. God returns and finds the bushes untrimmed. He goes over to the pit and sees the man at the bottom. He can’t get out. God says to the man, “Why haven’t you trimmed the bushes?” The man replies angrily, “How do you expect me to trim these bushes when I’m trapped in this pit? If you hadn’t left this pit here, I wouldn’t be in this predicament!”
Sproul explains that Adam jumped into the pit and in Adam, we all jumped in with him. God imputed Adam’s sin to the entire human race. We’re helplessly incapacitated by our sin, but at the same time God holds us responsible to repent and believe.
Twice in these verses (10:25, 26) Jesus confronts the unbelief of these Jewish religious leaders. But at the same time, He tells them that the reason they don’t believe is that they were not of His sheep. In 10:29, He says that His Father gave the sheep to Him. He said the same thing in 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me….” It’s in 6:39: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” In His high priestly prayer, Jesus repeatedly refers to those whom the Father gave Him (17:2, 6, 9, 24; also, 18:9).
So the point for us is that as Jesus’ sheep, we are secure because the Father gave us to Jesus before the foundation of the world. Our salvation is not our doing. We are not Jesus’ sheep because we decided to believe. We decided to believe because we were Jesus’ sheep. As the apostle Paul wrote (Eph. 1:4-5):
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.
That’s the basis of our security: Our salvation, including our faith, is totally from God. We didn’t help Him out in the process!
Consider two things:
John 10:28a: “And I give eternal life to them ….” First, note that this is a claim to deity. No one but God can give eternal life to anyone else. Also, the fact that it is a gift shows that it was not merited or earned. It’s an undeserved gift, not a wage in payment for good works (Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9). Because of our sins, we deserved His wrath, but He gave us eternal life. So, it’s important to answer the question, “How can we know if we have received this gift of eternal life?”
Ask yourself three questions:
I am inferring this from Jesus’ indictment of these Jewish leaders (10:26), “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” The implication is that His sheep do believe in Him. To believe in Jesus means more than intellectually believing that He is who He claimed to be. The demons believe in Jesus in that sense, but they are not saved. To believe in Jesus means to commit your eternal destiny to what He did for you on the cross. Rather than trusting in your own good works (as these Pharisees were doing), you must see yourself as a guilty sinner and trust that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for your sins that you deserved.
John 10:27: “My sheep hear My voice ….” Jesus was not referring to hearing an audible voice or to a mystical inner “voice.” He meant that the testimony by Him and about Him in the Bible rings true in your heart. When you read what the Word testifies about Jesus, you say, “Yes!” It means hearing in the sense of obeying. You desire to please the shepherd who gave His life to make you His sheep. You don’t just say, “Lord, Lord,” and then keep doing your own thing. You become obedient from the heart to His teaching (Rom. 6:17).
John 10:27: “I know them, and they follow Me.” As God, Jesus knows everyone, of course. But this refers to an intimate knowledge, to a personal relationship (see Matt. 7:23; 2 Tim. 2:19; Ps. 1:6; Exod. 33:12, 17; Amos 3:2). We saw this in 10:3, where Jesus says that the shepherd calls his own sheep by name. He repeated (10:14), “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” Because the sheep are known by the shepherd and they know Him, they trust Him and follow Him wherever He leads.
So, do you have a close personal relationship with Jesus? Does He know you and do you seek to know Him better? Do you obey His Word? You can know that Jesus has given you eternal life if you have received it as a gift through faith in Him and if you obey His voice, have a relationship with Him, and follow Him.
So Jesus’ sheep are eternally secure because the Father gave them to Jesus and He gives them eternal life.
Note four things here:
Eternal life by its very description is not temporary life—it is eternal life. Jesus indicated that there are two and only two eternal destinies (Matt. 25:46): “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” If it is eternal life and if God gave it to us and Jesus says that we will never perish, then it is eternal life. If you could lose it, it wouldn’t be eternal.
John 10:28: “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” If Jesus’ sheep could perish, it would mean that He failed in His mission not to lose any of those the Father gave to Him (6:37-40). Jesus indicates that some thieves and robbers will try to snatch sheep out of His hand. But as the omnipotent Savior, Jesus prevails. To use another biblical analogy, we are members of Christ’s body. No one is able to cut off a member of Christ’s body. Or, He has caused us to be born again. We can’t get unborn!
No doubt all of us know people who seemed to be Jesus’ sheep, but they fell away. In some cases, they now deny the Savior that they once professed to believe in. You may wonder, “Are they saved?” Only God knows their hearts, but we can know this: If they truly possess eternal life, they will be miserable in their sin and unbelief. If they can be comfortable in sin and be indifferent about denying Christ, they do not give evidence of being His sheep. We should not give assurance of salvation to people in that condition. If they’re miserable, then urge them to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The minute they do, they can be assured that they are Christ’s sheep and that He will keep them unto eternity.
John 10:29: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus’ sheep have double protection: Jesus has them in His hand and the Father has His hand around Jesus’ hand. So a thief would have to get through these two omnipotent layers of protection to steal Jesus’ sheep.
Some argue that a believer can remove himself from Jesus’ or the Father’s hand. But that subverts Jesus’ promise here, “They will never perish.” Surely He knew that our greatest enemy is ourselves. If believers could lose their salvation by sinning, then every believer who has ever lived would be lost, because we all have sinned after coming to faith in Christ. That would leave a gaping hole in the promise of salvation. Rather, Jesus’ point here is that if the Father gave us to Jesus before the foundation of the world and Jesus gave eternal life to us as a free gift, apart from anything in us, and if He and the Father promise to keep us from every enemy, then our salvation is secure. It doesn’t depend on our performance, but rather on His promise and on His and the Father’s power.
When Jesus says, “The Father is greater than all,” He means that there is no power in the universe more powerful than the Father, including our stubborn flesh. Satan and his demonic forces are powerful, but they are no match for the Father. Jesus was not denying His own deity by stating that the Father is greater than all. There is a hierarchy in the trinity, where the Father commands, the Son obeys (10:18), and the Holy Spirit carries out the divine plan (16:13-15). But Jesus’ point is that His sheep are secure because both He and the Father keep them.
John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.” Some commentators (including even Calvin!) say that Jesus only means that He and the Father are united in their resolve to keep all the sheep. But that view doesn’t take into account the Jews’ reaction (10:31-33) of trying to stone Jesus because, as they charge (10:33), “You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” They got the point: Jesus was claiming to be one with the Father in His divine essence. As John began (1:1), “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This strengthens the last point, namely, that if both the Father and the Son promise to keep Jesus’ sheep, then our salvation is eternally secure.
So here’s the deal: If your salvation was based on anything in you, then you can undo it. If you sin or lose your faith, you lose your salvation. But if your salvation rests on the fact that the Father gave you to Jesus before the foundation of the world, and that Jesus freely gave you eternal life apart from anything that you can do, and if Jesus and the Father are guarding you and promise that you never will perish, then your salvation is secure forever.
Some say that if we are eternally secure, it will result in Christians living in sin. C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 35:695-696) replies to that charge:
Shall I come … to your house, and tell your children that, if they do wrong, you will cut their heads off; or that, if they disobey you, they will cease to be your children? If I were to propound that doctrine, your children would grow angry at such a slander upon their father. They would say, “No, we know better than that!” Far rather would I say to them, “My dear children, your father loves you; he will love you without end, therefore do not grieve him.” Under such doctrine true children will say, “We love our ever-loving father. We will not disobey him. We will endeavor to walk in his ways.”
Understanding the biblical doctrine of eternal security will lead to a holy life. Stand firm in it!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation