Monday, February 17, 2014

Our Security in Christ (John 10:27-30)

The other day, I saw this ad online for a new product that someone is developing. They’re these little tiles that you can attach to things – your car keys, your purse, your wallet, your luggage, really anything at all. Then, when you lose those things, you pull up an app on your smart-phone, and it locates the object for you. Brilliant! You could potentially never lose anything again. I am assuming that the developer has already thought about one very obvious design flaw … if the whole thing hinges on your ability to use your smart-phone to find the missing item, what happens if you lose your smart phone?  Seems to me that the whole enterprise is down the tubes at that point. If you lose your smart phone, I suppose you could lose everything and never find any of it again. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something in your life that you knew for certain you could never lose? Well, if you know Jesus, then you do.

You’ve probably wondered it before: “Is there any way that I can lose my salvation?” Is there a sin I could commit that would make me not be a Christian anymore? Is there something I might think, or say, or do, or NOT do, that would make Jesus not love me? What if I wake up in the morning and find that I no longer believe in Him? What if I decide that being a Christian is just not for me? Maybe you never had those thoughts before, because maybe soon after you became a believer in Jesus, someone shared with you that favorite phrase among Baptists, “Once saved, always saved.” Or maybe you’ve been told by some Christians that you can never lose your salvation, while others have told you that you can, and you are just confused about it. Well, there is no need to be confused. The Word of God addresses the matter plainly in many very clear passages throughout the New Testament. But nowhere is it more clearly spelled out than in these verses we have read today.

There are at least four very strong assurances here in this passage that should give us confidence in our security in Christ. We find, as we consider these promises, that our security in Him is not based on anything in us or anything we do or do not do, but rather our security in Him is based entirely on Him. If we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, then there is no way we can ever lose that salvation. We are eternally secure in Jesus, not because of our ability to hold on to Him, but because of His faithfulness, His promise, and His power to hold on to us. According to this passage, for us to be able to lose our salvation, Jesus would have to do four things He simply cannot do. Let’s look at them and see what those things are.

I. Jesus cannot “unknow” what He knows. (v27)

Have you ever “unknown” something? It happens to us. We have good reason to declare with some degree of certainty that we know a thing to be true. But later, we might find new information that leads us to conclude that the thing we knew before is not true, so we don’t say we know it anymore. I suppose our minds are always busy coming to know some things, knowing some other things, and unknowing some others. But that is because our knowledge is imperfect. We “know” to the degree that we “learn” through information that we receive. But God’s knowledge is not like ours. He doesn’t “learn” anything. The old saying is, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to Him?” He knows all things with perfect certainty at all times. He doesn’t have misinformation, because He does not depend on information to know things. He just knows them. The theological term for this is omniscience. As one theologian writes, “God sees all things at a glance, as it were. He does not learn. He was never ignorant, and He can never come to know more. … He does not reason in the sense of taking time to pass from one idea to another. That is to say, there is no succession of ideas in God’s mind. He does not first know one item and then come to know another of which He was previously ignorant. All ideas are always in His mind.”[1] So, unlike us, for God it is impossible that He could ever unknow something. And that is important for us for two reasons here as we look at the question of the security of our salvation.

First, it is important because Jesus says in verse 30, “I and the Father are one.” This is one of the most direct claims to deity that Jesus makes in all the Gospels. Here we see with some measure of clarity the underlying realities of the mystery of the Trinity. Though distinct from one another as Father and Son, there is a oneness of nature and substance between God the Father and God the Son (and indeed God the Holy Spirit, though He is not mentioned here). Thus, we are not “tri-theists” who worship three God, but “Trinitarians” who worship the one and only true God, who exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As one God, these three persons share all the divine attributes equally, so what is true of God (generally) is true of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If God is omniscient, then the Son, Jesus Christ, is omniscient, because He and the Father are one. Jesus cannot unknow something because He always knows all things perfectly.

This is important for us here, because of what it is that He says He knows in verse 27. He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.” He knows those who are truly His sheep. This is the same truth that Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:19: “The Lord knows those who are His.” It is not just that He knows you. Since He is omniscient, He knows everyone. Rather, it is what He knows about you. And He says that He knows that you are His. He cannot unknow that. It is an impossibility. So, if you are His, and He knows that you His, you can never “not be” His, for then there would be a flaw or a fault in the knowledge of God, and that is something that simply cannot be. Perfect knowledge is inherent in His nature. You are secure in Christ on the basis of His perfect knowledge that you belong to Him. He cannot “unknow” something that He knows.

II. Jesus cannot “ungive” what He gives. (vv28-28)

Almost 20 years ago, I was shopping for a very special Christmas gift for Donia – an engagement ring. The guy at the jewelry shop showed me some very nice rings, and then he gave me a bit of unsolicited advice. He said, “I would caution you against giving her the ring for Christmas, because if she says no to your proposal, or later breaks off the relationship, you are going to want that ring back, and you won’t be able to get it back because it was a Christmas gift. We all know, you can’t take back a gift once you give it.” Well, I didn’t take his advice, and I gave it to her as a Christmas gift anyway. Thankfully, she said yes, and has decided to put up with me for all these years. And I have never wanted to take my gift back.

To take one’s gift back would imply that one made a mistake in so giving it, and now seeks to make that wrong right. But, when it comes to the gifts that God gives, He never makes a mistake and never changes His mind, so there is never a need to “ungive” the gift. Now, there are two ways that this affects our security in salvation. In verse 29, Jesus says that those who belong to Him have been given to Him by His Father. If you have trusted in Christ for salvation, it is not a matter of you giving something (your heart, your faith, your life) to Him. Rather, it is a matter of God the Father giving you to Jesus. Now, there are some people who walk around arrogantly as if they were God’s gift to the earth. No, that is not what we are talking about. You are God’s gift to Jesus. That ought not make you arrogant; it ought to humble you greatly. It was not for any reason in you – nothing that you are, or have done, or can do – but rather for reasons of His own grace and glory, out of the whole of humanity, He chose you to be His gift of love to His Son. We often speak of the Father’s love for you as the reason why He gave His Son for you (John 3:16), but this verse is teaching us that out of His love for the Son, He gave you to Him. He cannot change His mind about that. He did not make a mistake when He did it. So, He will not – He cannot – “ungive” this gift to the Son.

But notice also that Jesus says He has given a gift as well. In verse 28, He says concerning those who are His sheep, “I give eternal life to them.” If you are His, He has given you a gift. That gift is “eternal life” – a life that will go on in His presence forever in heaven. It is the quality of life that Jesus will speak of in the next Chapter when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” It is a life that death itself cannot terminate. You have been given this by Jesus Christ. You have not earned it. You did not deserve it. We are all sinners, deserving only condemnation from a holy God. Romans 6:23 expresses it well: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As we come to know Him as Lord, He gives to us this gift because He has received in Himself the wages that were due for our sin. Our security in Christ is not dependent on what we have given or can give to Him. It is entirely dependent on God’s gift to us. The Father has given us to the Son, the Lord Jesus, and Jesus has given us eternal life. And because He cannot change His mind or make a mistake, He will not – He cannot – “ungive” this gift.

III. Jesus cannot “unpromise” what He promises. (v28b)

In James 5:12, which paraphrases Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:36, we read, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” This is, among other things, a call to a life of honest integrity. People swear, they promise, they vow and make oaths because on the whole, we have developed a distrust of one another. When a person says, “yes,” or “no,” that is not good enough for some of us, because we aren’t sure that they are telling the truth. We’ve been lied to before. So we want some assurance of truthfulness. Swear, promise, vow, make an oath, say something to make me take your yes and your no seriously. Of course, promises get broken all the time. People lie. So, even a promise does not carry much weight to those who have been scorned or who are especially skeptical.

But when God makes a promise, there is no need for skepticism or doubt. In Numbers 23:19 we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie.” He is not like we are. He is unable to speak anything but truth. Therefore, when He makes a promise, it is one that can be believed with assurance. He will keep that promise. And the Lord Jesus, who is one with the Father, says here in verse 28 concerning those who are His, “they will never perish.” That is a promise. In the Greek text, it is emphatically stated in a way that we might translate, “They will never, ever perish.”[2] To perish, biblically speaking, would be to spend eternity separated from Christ under the just judgment and wrath of God in hell. This is what our sins deserve. But Christ endured our condemnation on our behalf as He died on the cross. The most horrific element of that torture was the severing of the eternal fellowship that God the Son had known and enjoyed with God the Father from eternity. He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as be bore our sins and the full measure of their penalty. Because He endured this for our sake, we can be saved. Our sins have been paid for in full by His blood, and by His resurrection from the dead, He has conquered sin and death and hell for us. So, as John 3:16 wonderfully promises, “God so loved the loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Jesus has given us that eternal life, and promised us that we will never, ever perish.

He is not a man that He should lie. In fact, in John 14:6, Jesus says of Himself, “I am … the truth.”  Paul speaks of eternal life as something “which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2). In Hebrews, the writer says that because God desired to show us the “unchangeableness of His purpose,” He guaranteed His promise “with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things (His promise and His oath) in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” (Heb 6:17-20). So, if a person who has trusted in Christ could eventually and ultimately perish, it would mean that Christ has lied to us in saying we can never perish, and He cannot lie. Otherwise, it would mean that He has “unpromised” His promise, and that He will not do. Our security in Christ is not based on our promise to always believe in Him. Our security is rooted in His promise that we shall never, ever perish.

IV. Jesus cannot “unhold” what He holds. (vv28-29)

Charles Swindoll tells the story about a few friends that had gone mountain climbing. After they climbed a while, one of the friends fell a good ways down and landed far below on a ledge. The friends yelled down to him, “Are you OK?” In a considerable amount of pain, he grunted back in agony, “I’m alive, but I think I broke both arms.” They said, “Do you think you can hold a rope if we try to pull you up?” He said, “I will try.” So they lowered the rope, felt a tug on the end, and started pulling their friend up to them. After they had raised him about half way, one of them remembered that their friend said he had broken both arms. So he yelled down, “Hey, if both your arms are broken, how are you holding on?” The line went slack as the answer came back, “With my teeeeeeeeeeeth.”[3]

Maybe you have had times in your life when you felt like you were doing all you could to hang on, even if by the skin of your teeth. Well, the best news we could ever hear is that when it comes to our relationship with God, it does not depend on our ability to hold onto Him, but rather His ability to hold onto us. And we are held with a double grip that can never be broken. Jesus says in verse 28 that no one will snatch the one who belongs to Him out of His hand. Then He says that we are also firmly held by the hand of the Father, who “is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v29).

To “snatch” in this sense is to sieze by force. Jesus is saying that there is no way that anyone or anything is strong enough or powerful to forcibly remove you from His strong hand or the omnipotent hand of the Father. Now, He doesn’t say that they won’t try. The spiritual enemy of our souls, the devil, is like a roaring lion prowling about seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He will see to it that we are persistently tempted to sin at every turn, and often he will succeed. He will inspire hatred against the Lord and His people, and it will be carried out in acts of intimidation and violence. And then, there is the reality that life in this fallen world is never easy. Hardships arise because of the effects of sin on the world. We will face suffering, loss, tragedy, and grief in this life. But the good news is that none of this is able to sever us from the hand of God in Christ. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying to us in Romans 8 with these marvelous words:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (NASB)

When he says “angels,” that includes the devil himself, who is a fallen angel. He cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. When he says “principalities,” it could include the entire demonic host, or it could mean hostile governing authorities. They cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. They may threaten or afflict us with persecution or sword. These cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We will face tribulation and distress in this fallen world, but it cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rather, the Word of God promises us that “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” It is not our own strength that gives us victory. It is the eternally strong bond of the love of God in Christ Jesus, and there is no created thing that can separate you from Him if you are one of His own. He is holding you firmly in His grasp. You are held by the Father and the Son. Your security in Christ is not found in your ability to hold onto Him. It would be a sad state of affairs if it were. But rather, your security in Christ is found in His faithfulness to hold onto you, and He has promised that He will, and He will never let you go. He cannot “unhold” what He has promised to hold.

So, we have this fourfold assurance here in this text. Jesus cannot “unknow” what He knows. He knows if you are His sheep. He cannot “ungive” what He has given. He has given you eternal life, and the Father has given you to Christ. He cannot “unpromise” what He has promised, and He has promised that you will never perish. He cannot “unhold” what He holds, and He has promised that nothing can take you out of His hand or the hand of His Father. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are secure in Christ, and nothing will ever change that. All of this is true for the one whom Jesus calls “My sheep.” These are they who have heard His voice calling them to faith in Him, and have followed Him by faith. If that is not true of you, it can be today. If you have come to Him and followed Him as your Lord and Savior, you can rest in Him. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), and you are held secure in Him for all eternity.

[1] Gordon H. Clark, “Knowledge.” Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology (ed. E. F. Harrison, G. W. Bromiley, C. F. Henry; Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2000), 315.
[2] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 311.
[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Standing Out (Portland: Multnomah, 1979), 50. 

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