Jeremiah 32:36-41; John 10:28-30 (text); Romans 8:30-39
February 7, 2016 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Beloved congregation of Christ: About twenty years ago, I taught a high school Bible class at a school for missionary children in the Philippines. Sometime after teaching the doctrines of grace to the class, including the perseverance of the saints, one of my students told me what another missionary taught them in a Bible study for youth. He asked the teacher about this doctrine from John 10:29, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” And the teacher answered telling him that even if no one is able to snatch believers out of God’s hands, they can jump out of his hands! This is an astonishing way to twist Scriptures.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also often called the preservation of the saints. True Christians persevere in the faith only because God preserves them. Today is our last study on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. We started with verse 26, “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” Related to this verse is John 8:34, where he also says, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” All unbelievers are unable and unwilling to come to faith in God. Second, we looked at verse 14, “I know my own and my own know me.” Here, Jesus teaches that he knew his sheep because they were given to him by his Father before the world was created. In the third sermon, we studied verse 11, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus willingly went to his death on the cross to pay for the sins of his sheep alone, not for any other people. And last Sunday, we meditated on verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Here, Jesus teaches that those whom the Father has chosen to save will definitely be transformed by the Holy Spirit so they will hear his voice and follow his commandments.
All of these teachings of our Lord give us comfort and assurance. Today’s fifth and last study on John Chapter 10 is no different in that it is comforting with four promises. So our theme is, “The Christian’s Four Assurances,”under four headings: first, “The Sheep Will Never Perish”; second, “My Father is Greater Than All”; third, “No One Will Snatch Them Out of My Hand”; and fourth, “I and the Father are One.”
“The Sheep Will Never Perish”
Verse 28 starts with the promise, “I give them eternal life,” the same promise Jesus gave in John 3:16, and in 1 John 5:11, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” This is the same promise as, “the sheep will never perish.” Back in John 6:39, he tells us, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Since God had chosen an exact number of people whom he would save, not one sheep will be lost. Jesus the Good Shepherd will search and find the lost sheep even if they stray again and again, so they will never be lost forever.
This means that Charles Finney’s doctrine of “entire sanctification,” telling Christians that they can attain sinlessness in this life, is absolutely unbiblical. John commands us to not continue in sin, but then he adds, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1-2). He is even more emphatic in saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). According to Canons of Dort V:1, this means that although Christ frees us from slavery under sin (John 8:34; Rom 6:17), we are not completely free of it. Like Paul, we struggle against our sinful nature (Rom 7:21-24).
But do we lose eternal life, that benefit of his sacrifice on the cross that Jesus has given us when we believe? The moment we place our faith and trust in him, God grants us eternal life, now and forever. If we can lose our salvation when we sin, what kind of eternal life is it that is broken into periods of salvation and damnation?
What about those passages that seem to say that a true Christian may lose his salvation, such as Hebrews 6:4-6? The writer says that it is impossible for those who “have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance.” These are people who “have once been enlightened” by the Word and Spirit. They have “shared in the Holy Spirit” with their presence in a true church, where the Spirit is present. They have “tasted the goodness of the word of God,” having heard the gospel preached. By being in the church, they have tasted also “the powers of the age to come,” signs and miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed. In the church, they also share in the benefits of the inbreaking power of God in the lives of those whom the Spirit has regenerated and is transforming daily into the image of Christ.
We know of many people who were in the church for a time, even for many years, but later stayed away and even rejected their former faith. These are those whom Hebrews 6:4-6 describes. This is why John says in his first epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). These people leave the church and reject Christ because in the first place, they were not true believers. They are like the soil full of thorns and weeds that the seed of the Gospel was sown. The seed sprouted and the plants grew, but the thorns, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word,” and the sprouts died (Matt 13:22). Scripture is full of these kinds of warnings to us to persevere in the faith through the ministry of the Word and Spirit.
Having been given eternal life, our Lord says, “the sheep will never perish.” The verb “perish” can mean both physical or spiritual death. In John 3:16 for example, Jesus says that those who believe in him will not “perish” but have “eternal life.” Paul contrasts physical death to spiritual death in 1 Corinthians 15:18 when he says that if there is no resurrection, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” The Bible often refers to physical death as “sleep,” and spiritual death as “perishing.” So Peter says that God is “patient toward you, not wishing that any [of you] should perish” (2 Pet 3:9). Again, in John 6:39, Jesus uses the same word translated as “lose” when he says that he will “lose” none of the sheep whom the Father has given him.
This is because he says in John 10:29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all.”
“My Father is Greater Than All”
God the Father is the creator of the universe, creating all things out of nothing. He upholds and nourishes his whole creation by his Almighty power. He has sovereign control over all nature: the wind, rain and snow, the mountains, valleys, seas and rivers. He is able to send even drought, pestilence, disease and war. He has sovereign control over all creatures, including angels, holy and fallen like Satan. Nothing happens in the universe, except what he had ordained to happen.
But why would Jesus say in John 14:28, “the Father is greater than I”? This does not mean that Jesus is inferior in his being and substance to the Father. We recite this doctrine in the Nicene Creed, where we say that Christ is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” But the Father is “greater” than our Lord in his role as the Creator and the one who decreed everything that shall happen. The role of Christ is to fulfill the mission that the Father has given him: to save all the elect by descending from heaven, assuming human flesh and blood, and dying for their sins.
And the Almighty Father, who is greater than all, preserves in his care all the sheep that he has given to Christ. How? When God gives eternal life to dead sinners, he sends his Holy Spirit to indwell them. The Spirit convicts us of sin, gives us the grace to confess and repent of our sins, and empowers us to live according to God’s will. He emboldens us to come to God’s throne of grace in our time of need. He comforts us in our trials and sufferings. He assures us that when we remain in God’s Word and in the church, we are still in his covenant sheepfold.
When we say that we “persevere” in the faith, we often forget that it is God who “preserves” us. Paul calls us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is our perseverance. But he also reminds us that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). This is God’s preservation. We are not left on our own to fight our war against temptation, sin and sufferings.
We have assurance that God preserves us. We find many of these comforting words in the Psalms that we often sing. “Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful” (31:23). “For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever” (37:28). “My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him” (89:28). Our Call to Worship reminds us, “He preserves the live of his saints” (Psa 97:10). He promises, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life” (Psa 121:7). And in Psalm 145:20, “The Lord preserves all who love him.”
In our reading in Jeremiah 32, God promised Israel that he will do everything to preserve them: transform their hearts so “that they may fear me forever”; make an “everlasting covenant” with them; he “will not turn away from doing good to them”; he “will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jer 32:39-40).
In the Gospel of John, we read the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that the Father will preserve, keep and guard his chosen sheep. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (8:51). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23). In his high-priestly prayer, Jesus said in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction” (referring to Judas).
Regarding temptations, Paul assures us that we will persevere and endure in the faith because God is faithful, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Therefore, since God is greater than all, he is able to preserve us to the end of our lives, even when temptations, sins and Satan attack us.
“No One Will Snatch Them Out of My Hand”
The third assurance in our text is Jesus saying in verse 28, “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” What does this mean? The word “snatch” has an element of taking something by force. John uses this in verse 12 where a hired shepherd flees and leaves the sheep when he sees a wolf coming, “and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” John also uses this when he says that Jesus withdrew himself from the crowd when he saw that “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king” (John 6:15; see also Acts 23:10).
Jesus also uses this same word in his Parable of the Soils. The path where the seed falls is like a person who “hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it.” Immediately, “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matt 13:19).
So when Jesus says that no one is able to snatch his own sheep out of his hand, he means that he, like his Father, is greater and mightier than any creature in the universe. The Lord always reminded his people Israel that it was by his “mighty hand” that he saved them from Egypt (Deu 5:15; Ezk 20:34). He saves his people “with the saving might of his right hand” (Psa 20:6). Jesus himself is assured that his Father’s mighty hand will deliver him from death, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psa 31:5).
Jesus is mightier than the devil who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a lion prowling around to devour God’s chosen sheep (1 Pet 5:8). Our Lord gives us “the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph 6:16).
He is able to keep his sheep from being snatched away from his hand by the evil one because he is Almighty just as the Father is Almighty; because he and the Father are One.
“I and the Father are One”
This is the basis of our Lord’s assurances. He gives us eternal life, and we will never perish. No one, even the evil one, is able to snatch us from his mighty hand. Since the Father is greater than all, and he and the Father are One, our Lord is able to preserve us through all temptations, sins, trials and sufferings.
When he says, “I and the Father are one,” he is teaching us that he is of the same substance as the Father (John 1:14; 14: 7, 9). But he is also teaching here that they are united in purpose. And this purpose is to save the chosen sheep from sin, Satan and eternal condemnation. We see this in verses 28 and 29. In verse 28, he says, “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” But in verse 29, he says, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Both our Lord and the Father are able to keep the sheep in their hands, even against the attacks of the evil one.
Dear brothers and sisters, in our lives as Christians, we often experience doubt. When we sin, our conscience is wounded and we feel the guilt of our sin. We even lose the sense of God’s grace (CD V:5).
What then do we do? Canons of Dort V:4 says that prayer is the answer. We “must continually watch and pray, that we not be led into temptation.” If we neglect prayer, we are too easily “ carried away by the flesh, the world, and the devil, into grievous and heinous sins.” As our Lord has taught us, we are to pray that God will “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
The teachings of our Lord in John 10 should give us pause and humility. Before God called us to follow him, we too were all hopeless and helpless sinners, unable and unwilling to come to him in faith. We will never understand the providence of God, in that he counted us as one of those sheep for whom Jesus would die on the cross. We will never understand that he gave us faith and repentance in our hearts through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we are not to be proud and presumptuous of our election as his own sheep. Instead, we are to humble ourselves, as Christ humbled himself. We are to be obedient sheep, as Christ obeyed his Father all the way to his death. We are to be dependent on the Spirit to transform our lives more and more into the image of Christ, because God assures us that he will preserve us. The reward is our persevering in the faith through temptation, sin and suffering to the end. Peter’s exhortation is assuring, that “by God’s power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). And again, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Pet 5:6).
May the Apostle John’s words encourage us to endure, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 3:10). No one is able to snatch you out of the mighty hands of the Father and the Good Shepherd.