Two weeks ago we examined the Lord’s teaching on the Preservation of the Saints in John 10:28, where He teaches that He gives His people eternal life already now, and therefore they shall never perish, and no one shall be able to pluck them out of His hands. The inestimable treasure that is the sweet end of the other doctrines of sovereign and saving grace, that we are held safe in the hands of Father and Son in the power of the Spirit, never having to fear that we will be taken away from Him to perish in hell forever.
Now, in this message, we face a practical question: What about those who fall away? There are people who confess Christ in the church who do end up falling away, people who say they believe and even live as though they believe for a time, but they fall into the world. And sometimes they seem so genuine, so committed. What is the explanation for this? Did the Devil in fact pluck them out of our Father’s hand in the end?
No, the explanation for it is that they never were Christ’s sheep, they never really heard the voice of Christ, they never knew Him—not personally—and were not really following Him. They had other motives. They had other reasons for what they confessed and how they lived. It was not genuine, though it appeared to be genuine. And they were not ever of His sheep. They are instead like Judases in the church, according to the teaching of the Lord Jesus.
The church has, of course, always experienced this, that some who outwardly confess and even live an outwardly decent life, fall away. The Lord Himself faced it in His earthly ministry. And He Himself addressed it, helpfully for us, teaching us what to make of those who professed but then fall away. He did that in John 17:12: “While I was with them in the world [praying His high-priestly prayer], I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me have I kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” The “son of perdition,” of course, is Judas, who was a part of the twelve disciples who had professed faith in Christ. He is lost. As we all know, he betrayed the Lord.
But notice that, though he is lost, the text does not say Jesus is the one who lost him. The Lord does not say in John 17:12, “none of them have I lost except the son of perdition,” but rather, “none of them is lost.” It is not that he was one of God’s sheep and then Jesus lost him, but Judas is lost, he has been lost since the beginning. Because, notice secondly in the verse, Judas has his lost state prophesied before Judas ever existed. Judas is lost, says Jesus in John 17:12, “that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” That Scripture is Psalm 41:9: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” If the Scriptures foretold that Judas is lost, then Judas is predetermined to be lost before he was ever born, for how else could it be foretold about him that he is lost? Judas never was a child of God.
Though he heard the best sermons on the earth from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and though he followed the Lord Christ for a number of years as though he were a disciple, he never knew Christ at all. He had other motives, other reasons for confessing what he confessed, other motives for doing what he did. And the Scriptures, especially the book of John, reveal to us what those motives were. He was looking for an earthly kingdom of power. He was looking for wealth, and he thought he would find that by tying his cloud to the Lord Jesus. But salvation in Christ he never knew and never wanted.
This is the explanation for the painful reality of the falling away, yet today, of those who seem outwardly to be children of God—maybe seem quite genuine, maybe even had a place of leadership in the church. It could even be our own child, God graciously forbid it! If it is so, then it is what John explains in I John 2:19: “They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” These are painful, painful, painful realities. To watch someone who had an important place in our life, to watch a young person grow up in a faithful church and fall away—it is shocking sometimes, it is heartbreaking.
And sometimes it even makes us wonder, if that can happen to him, can it happen to me? Are we all just fooling ourselves here? Will I fall away? How can I really know that I am one of those whom Christ is preserving? In John 10, yes, the sheep never fall away, but how can I know that I am a sheep? In John 10:28 we read: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Well, how do I know that I am a part of the “them,” and the “they,” that I am one of those sheep?
Well, the Lord answers that question too, in the verse just previous to the one where He teaches the preservation of the saints. In John 10:27, He defines these sheep that He preserves, He defines the “them” that never perish, that are never plucked from His Father’s hand, with three things. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Christ’s sheep, first of all, are those who hear Christ’s voice. When I was a child, I would play basketball with a group of my friends at a basketball court that was right behind my house. When it was time for supper, my mother would call out the back door: “Time for supper.” Everyone of those boys heard that call of my mother in their ears, but I heard it as directed to me—a word of my mother to me. So, too, Christ’s voice goes out in the means of grace to all. And all hear with the ears. But the sheep hear, knowing it is Christ’s voice calling them, calling to them, teaching them who they are, what sin is, who God is, what salvation is—calling them to genuine repentance in faith. Those sheep who hear Christ’s voice, therefore, sorrow for their sins, not just because they are embarrassing to them or they produce consequences in their life, although they are sorrowful for that, too. But because they are against my God and they are against my Christ that I have learned of. Christ’s sheep are those who hear His voice calling them in the Word to trust this Christ about whom they have been taught, to trust Him personally for their salvation, and to lean on nothing else but Him. They, therefore, by His grace, do trust in Him and in Him alone for salvation—not just know that that is the right thing to do, but do by His grace. My sheep hear my voice calling to them.
Second, Christ says the sheep are those whom I know and who know Me, that is, who have a personal, intimate knowledge of Me through the truths revealed in My Word and who know My Word and know Me through that Word. They are those who have a knowledge of Him in His Word that is more than head knowledge. It is heartfelt love for Him that comes through that knowledge, that leads them to walk with Him, to pray to Him, to look forward to learning more and more truths about Him and more and more deeply.
And, finally, the Lord says: My sheep are those who follow Me, who walk with Me, who serve Me from the heart. They live different from this world, as they are a part of My sheepfold with the rest of My sheep, following their shepherd. Not sinlessly, as we saw in our last message, but who want to obey My commands and fight for it, to honor from the heart their King and Savior.
You can know that that is you, child of God, you can know that that is you. You can know if it is not you, too. If it is not, the Canons of Dordt exhort, attend to the means of grace in a faithful church. Keep attending to the means of grace in a faithful church where alone it can be otherwise. But you can know that that is you. You can see that in you as different from hypocrisy. Rest in it. Believe it. Keep attending to the means of grace, too, in a faithful church where He preserves that life. But breathe, child of God, breathe out in peace and the quiet repose of the rest in His love for you. You do not look for some special event or revelation to happen to you in your life to be finally fully assured that you are His child. Listen to the Canons of Dordt: “We reject the errors of those who teach that without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life. For… the Holy Scriptures constantly deduce this assurance, not from a special and extraordinary revelation, but from the marks proper to the children of God and from the constant promises of God.” If you are a sheep, as Jesus defines it in verse 27, weak though you may be, wandering though you may be, three out of four limbs broken, no devil, no demon, no host of wickedness, and no sin remaining in you will be able to peel His hands away from holding on to you forever and ever and ever. All hell could empty itself, thousands, millions of demons, to attack solely you, and they would fall off you like water off a rock.
Your salvation does not depend upon you but upon Him. You are not holding Him ultimately, He is holding you. Take something into your hand right now, something small. As I am speaking, if you are on the road, do not stop watching the road in your car, but if something is there, take a pen, or a paperclip, anything. Clench your fist over it. If you have nothing, just clench your fist and understand that, wherever you are, and whatever situation you are in right now, and whatever trouble or difficulty overwhelms your soul, child of God, this is where you are. You are in the grip of Almighty God. And no matter what tomorrow has in store or the next day after that, you will never be anywhere else but there. He holds you. He will keep you.
And there can be no doubt that one day He will take you to see the glory of His own Son face to face.
The Lord Jesus, in John 17, gives the end, the goal of this preservation of the saints. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). The Lord Jesus holds the elect in His sovereign, powerful hand. The Father holds the elect in His sovereign powerful hands. And both hold the elect in their sovereign powerful hand in the power of the Holy Spirit working upon them for this purpose, so that one day we might see our Bridegroom in all of His glory. What husband does not want his wife to see him at the height of his power and glory?
What husband does not want his wife to see him at work, running his business, or to see him carrying out his calling faithfully as a father? So, too, the Lord Christ wants His bride to see Him, not just as the Lamb that He was upon the earth, but finally in all of His glory, in all of His majesty and wonder and exaltation. She has seen Him humble and meek. He wants her to see Him arrayed in splendor like the sun, sovereign over the universe, victorious, full of the glory of the divinity to which He is united but which was hid under the veil of His flesh.
He is preserving us unto Himself. He is going to marry this bride whom He has redeemed. And, therefore, He will preserve every single one of His people who make up that bride until the day when she can see Him face to face and walk with Him in that glory as the bride of the King, the Lamb’s wife in full communion and fellowship with Him forever.
The sovereign God chooses unconditionally in election. The sovereign Son made flesh redeems efficaciously in the atonement. The sovereign Spirit draws irresistibly in workings of grace in our life and will insure this end for the glory of His Name. Live in the hope and joy of it, children of God. The Lord hath redeemed His servant Jacob, and nothing will pluck us out of His hand.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, how grateful we are that in this whole series we may examine the truths of salvation and see how it all points to the glory of Thy Name and the comfort of Thy people. To Thee be glory, Father—for salvation, beginning, middle, and end, Thy work. We are thankful for the comfort that we derive from it to know that we are Thy children and cannot ever be otherwise. Preserve us, keep us, bring us to that end face to face with Thy Son in glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.