Overwhelmed By His Grace: Chapter 6 Preserving Grace
By Brian Anderson
By now we have caught a glimpse of how marvelous the sovereign grace of God is. Nevertheless, there is one last area we need to examine. God's grace would be of no use to us if it could be lost. What would it matter if we were chosen, redeemed, and regenerated by God, if somehow we could lose our salvation in the end? But that is utterly impossible. Romans 8:30 tells us, "and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." If we have been predestined, called and justified, our ultimate glorification in heaven is as good as done. The Bible teaches us that Christ's sheep are infallibly secure in His hands. His grace will be victorious in their lives. They will overcome all the obstacles that will come against them, until they arrive safely home in their Father's mansion in heaven. To see this important truth let us take a look at those familiar words in John 10:27-29.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 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."
In this passage we find several reasons that Christ's sheep are secure. Let us look at each one in turn.
The Love Of Christ
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice and I know them." This phrase "I know them" means more than that Jesus is aware of them. It means that He has an intimate relationship of love with them. It speaks of His affection for His sheep. When the Bible says that Adam knew Eve (Gen. 4:1) it means more than he knew what color of eyes she had! It means he had sexual intercourse (the most intimate of encounters) with her. If Jesus says on Judgment Day, "Depart from Me, I never knew you", He will not mean, "Hey, who are you? Where did you come from? I never knew anything about you!" No, He will mean that He never had an intimate relationship with you.
Jesus says that He knows His sheep. He has an intimate loving relationship with each one of them. This is a great reason for security in our relationship with Him, because He has known us in this way from all eternity. Jeremiah 31:3 states, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." If God decided to have a loving relationship with us from eternity past, even though He knew there was nothing in us to attract His love, how can there ever be anything in us to make Him withdraw that love? In other words, if there was nothing in me to cause Him to love me, there cannot possibly be anything in me to make Him stop loving me.
The Life Of Christ
Jesus explicitly states, "I give eternal life to them." Eternal life, by definition, is everlasting, never-ending life. If a person possesses eternal life, he possesses a life that will never end, and thus can never be lost. To speak of losing eternal life is a contradiction in terms. If a person can lose this life, it was not eternal; it was temporary. The receiving of this eternal life is the same as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is to receive a spiritual, divine, heavenly life -- the very life of God Himself. When a person receives God's life, He is connected to God in the same way that a branch is connected to a vine or a body is connected to a head. In regeneration we are vitally united to Jesus Christ. His life flows into us. Will Christ be dismembered? Will His body arrive in heaven missing a few fingers and toes? When a man stands in a river, as long as he can keep his nose above water he cannot drown. Well, Christ our Head is in heaven. Whatever floods come against His people here on earth cannot cause them to perish as long as He is alive in heaven. Jesus Himself will have to be cast into hell before any of His blood-bought people can perish there.
The Gift Of Christ
Jesus clearly says "I give eternal life to them." If He gives eternal life, then eternal life is not something that we earn. Our good deeds did not purchase it. Now, if I did not earn eternal life by my good works, it is not possible that I can lose eternal life by my bad works. If God gave me my salvation freely as a gift, will He later change His mind and take it back? The Scripture declares, "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29).
The Promise Of Christ
Our text emphatically asserts, "And they shall never perish." At this point someone is bound to object, "Yes, no one can snatch His sheep out of His hand, but they can jump out by their own free will!" Well, if that is true, then Jesus lied. Jesus said that they shall never perish. If we can jump out of His hand we will perish. There are only a handful of things that we are told in the Scriptures that God cannot do, but lying is one of them. "God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Num. 23:19). Christ has promised His sheep that they shall never perish. Listen to His emphatic promise in John 6:38-39, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And 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."
The Possession Of Christ
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice." Why did He call them "His" sheep? For the simple reason that His Father had given them to Him. He says in verse 29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all." When did the Father give these sheep to the Good Shepherd? He gave them to Him in His sovereign decree from before the foundation of the world. These sheep have been His from all eternity. We protect and hold on to valuable gifts that we receive from those we love. Because a woman's wedding ring is important to her, she is very careful to put it in a safe place when she takes it off so that she does not lose it. Likewise, because we are a gift to Jesus from the Father, we can be sure that He will hold onto us to the end.
We are also the possession of Christ because He bought and paid for us. He laid down His life as the price required to purchase us for Himself. Is it conceivable then, that He will neglect us and allow us to perish in the end? If I paid ten dollars in advance so that the mail order clerk at the Gottschalks in Santa Cruz would order a particular shirt for me, I might not bother to pick it up when it arrived. I might reason to myself that fighting the traffic and then driving the hour to get to the store would be more of a sacrifice than forfeiting my ten dollars. However, if I had paid a thousand dollars for an expensive diamond ring I ordered from the store, you can be sure that I would make whatever effort was necessary to pick it up! Likewise, if Christ went through such great sacrifice and pain to purchase us, surely He will go to whatever lengths are necessary to make sure we remain safe and secure in His hands.
The Power Of Christ
Jesus goes on to say in our text, "No one shall snatch them out of My hand." The hand is the place of power. Imagine yourself in the hands of Christ like someone inside the hands of the giant in Gulliver's Travels. Or, to change the metaphor, think of yourself as one of those sheep hoisted up over the shoulders of the shepherd as he brings it home to his pasture. In the Old Testament the high priest of Israel had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon his shoulders and over his heart as he went into the holy of holies to intercede for the people. Likewise, Christ our High Priest, has every one of our names engraved upon the place of omnipotence (His shoulders) as He intercedes for us in heaven. In Isaiah 49:15-16 this truth is strongly asserted, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me." Augustus Toplady must have had this in mind when he wrote these lyrics,
My name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase
Impressed on His heart it remains in marks of indelible grace
Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given
More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven
(The Works of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle, p.910.)
When Jesus says that no one will snatch His sheep out of His hand, it implies that His sheep will have many enemies that will try to do just that. We as His sheep face the enemies of our sins, temptations, false teachers, persecutors, adversities and afflictions. But in spite of the attacks of all these, the hands that laid the foundations of the heavens and the earth and hold all things together hold us. Really, it is not our hold on Christ that ultimately matters, but His hold on us. This is the truth that the apostle Paul celebrates in Romans 8:35-39 when he triumphantly declares, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long, we are 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, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Thomas Brooks, an English Puritan of the 17th century writes along these lines, "Men and devils are as able, and shall as soon, make a world, dethrone God, pluck the sun out of the firmament, and Christ out of the bosom of the Father, as they shall pluck a believer out of the everlasting arms of Christ, or rob Him of one of His precious jewels." (The Works of Thomas Brooks, Banner of Truth, 2:330.)
The Power Of God
Please note that there are two sets of hands grasping us. Not only are we in the hands of our Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, but we are also in the hands of God the Father. Jesus tells us in verse 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." The Father is omnipotent in power. No one can rival Him. Think of it - our Lord wraps His omnipotent hands around us, and the Father wraps His almighty hands around Christ's. We are encircled in Christ in God as Paul states in Colossians 3:3 "Your life is hid with Christ in God." If God Himself has pledged to protect us, and there is no greater power in all the universe, then we are absolutely secure. Listen to this great truth stated by Peter in 1 Peter 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
The Intercession Of Christ
In addition to the wonderful reasons for our security described in John 10:27-29, the Bible lists some others. One of these reasons is the intercession of our Savior at the right hand of God. This is seen very clearly in Christ's high priestly prayer recorded in John 17.
John 17:9-15: "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine; and all things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." In this passage Christ is addressing His Father, not on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom His Father had given Him (vs.9). Jesus expressly asks His Father to keep these chosen ones in His name, and from the evil one. Is the Father going to answer this prayer of Christ? Christ Himself said that His Father heard Him always (John 11:42). Furthermore, 1 John 5:14-15 reveals to us that God will hear and answer prayer that is according to His will. Surely, this prayer of Christ's for the Father to keep His chosen ones is according to the Father's will. Therefore, we ought to have no doubt that this prayer that the Father would keep and preserve His people unto the end will be answered.
Hebrews 7:25: "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." Here the intercession of Christ is given as a reason for His ability to save forever those who draw near to God. The previous context indicates that the Levitical priests were prevented from continuing in their priesthood by death. Christ, however, holds His priesthood permanently because He abides forever in the heavens. Thus, He is able to save His people forever. If Christ could cease to function in His high priestly role at God's right hand, His saints could cease to enjoy their salvation. The truth is, however, that because Christ ever lives to make intercession for them, their salvation is secure. This salvation of Christ is not temporary; rather our text declares that it is "forever." Because he has a Savior in the heavens interceding that all of the blessings acquired by His death and resurrection be granted His people, the saint is assured that his salvation is secure.
Luke 22:31: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Satan had asked and received permission to subject Peter to a great strain. His objective was to separate Peter from his faith and loyalty to Christ. "In the expression "that your faith may not fail," the verb rendered "fail" is eklipe, from ekleipo, which means "to come to an end," or "to give out." The English word eclipse, in fact, is derived from this verb. Kenneth Wuest, therefore, has caught the flavor of this word when he translates, 'that your faith should not be totally eclipsed.' "Jesus prayed that Peter's faith might not utterly disappear, might not be wiped out without a trace." (Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace, Eerdmans, p.237.) Though Peter did go on to deny the Lord three times, his repentance (weeping bitterly with tears) demonstrates that Jesus' intercession was effective. In Peter we have an example of a believer who sinned grievously against the Lord, but did not utterly forsake Christ because of Jesus' intercession.
Romans 8:33-34: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." The apostle Paul tells his readers in no uncertain terms that it is impossible for any of God's believing people to ever be condemned. This security is not based on their perfect performance, but on Christ's perfect work. This work includes not only His substitionary death, but His ongoing intercession at God's right hand. Because Christ continually intercedes, His people can never be condemned. Notice further, that the people who are secure are described as "God's elect." If God the Father has chosen His people to everlasting salvation, then it is simply not possible that they will fail to inherit that salvation. Jesus Christ, by His death, resurrection, and intercession makes sure of that.
Surely those who were chosen to salvation by the decree of God in eternity past can never end up in hell. Those who have had all their sins wiped away by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, shall never pay for those same sins in the lake of fire. Those who have experienced a spiritual resurrection in their soul surely will never lose their salvation. No, if the Father has sovereignly decreed our salvation, if the Son has sovereignly secured our salvation, and if the Spirit has sovereignly applied our salvation, then that salvation will stand forever.
The Will Of God
Jesus Christ, in John 6:38-39 declared, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And 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 bold, clear language Jesus informs us that it is God's will that every one of those whom He has given to His Son be raised up and glorified on the last day. In fact, Jesus emphatically asserts that it is His Father's will that He should lose nothing. Can the will of God be thwarted? Can His purposes come to naught? Indeed, the Scripture declares that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). Moreover, the Bible asserts, "He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?'" (Daniel 4:35). No, if it is the will of God that none of those He has given to Christ in electing grace ever be lost, then we can be sure that none ever will. The will of God shall prevail!
The Attributes Of God
We can be sure that God will preserve His elect safely to their heavenly kingdom, because of His holy character. Consider the security to be found in God's attributes.
The Faithfulness Of God: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Thess. 5:23-24). Notice in this text that both our initial calling and our final preservation when we shall be presented blameless before Him are ascribed to the faithfulness of God.
The Immutability Of God: "For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6). The reason God's people are not consumed in His wrath is because He does not change. They surely would be consumed if it were not for His unchanging character. However, once God has purposed to save His people, He will never change His mind.
The Justice Of God: At the cross of Christ, God's justice was satisfied against the sins of His people. All of them were paid for in full. Thus, it would be unjust for God to require that they pay for those same sins in hell. If God should cast them away so that they are lost after Christ has paid for their sins, God's impeccable justice would be destroyed.
The Grace Of God: The Bible from one end to the other proclaims that our salvation is of His grace. That is to say, it is of God's free and undeserved favor. If we did not receive our salvation because we earned it or became worthy of it, how can it possibly be that we can do anything to lose it? His grace assures that we are eternally secure.
The Love Of God: ". . .having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:2). God's love was set upon His chosen people from everlasting (Jer. 31:3) and shall never be withdrawn. Indeed All God's people are beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1). Those whom God loves He keeps for His Son.
The Sovereignty Of God: The sovereignty of God is His absolute rule over His creation. As a potter has the absolute right over the clay to do with it what he will, so God has the absolute right to decide what He will do with His creatures. Once He has decided to make an individual into a vessel of mercy, nothing in all the heavens can thwart His sovereign purposes (Rom. 9:22-24).
Indeed, note how the authors of the Canons of Dort described the security of the saints in 1619:
Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they [the elect] do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel can not be changed, nor His promise fail, neither can the call according to His purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated. (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Baker, 3:594.)
If we are Christians, we are blessed indeed. Though we were born into this world dead in our sins and under the wrath of God, we were chosen to salvation by God the Father before the foundation of the world, redeemed by the atoning death of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross, regenerated by the omnipotent Spirit of God, and are being kept for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last times. Can anything in all the world be more wonderful than that? Oh, how breathtaking is God's sovereign grace!
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