Because You Are Not of My Sheepfold
Even though this is a study of the Gospel of John, its context is within the whole of the Christian testament. So when Jesus explained to the religious authorities standing before him that the reason why they did not accept his “open and confident” testimony concerning himself was because they were not of his sheepfold, then we have to figure out how to make sense of that.
What was Jesus saying?
Was he saying they did not believe because they were not among those whom the Father had given to Jesus? That is taking from what Jesus had said previously about those who come to belief.
Not even one is able to come to me if not the Father, the one who sent me, drew that one, and I likewise will raise that one up on the last day.Jesus to the religious authorities and others , John 6:44
The Apostle Paul would echo that teaching in several of his letters, and most notably in his treatise to the churches in Rome, particularly in chapter 9, writing,
Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For [God] says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy . . .
So then [God] has mercy on whomever [God] chooses, and [God] hardens the heart of whomever [God] chooses.Paul, Romans 9:14-16, 18 (NRSV)
In another letter, Paul wrote,
Just as [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. [God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his willPaul, Ephesians 1:4-5 (NRSV)
Luke, the writer of one of the four Gospels, and also of the Acts of the Apostles, wrote,
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.Luke, Acts 13:48 (NRSV)
And the Apostle Peter also spoke of this concept of God’s drawing, writing about this very situation,
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.Peter, 1 Peter 2:8 (NRSV)
This is the context for understanding what Jesus was saying.
So you and I try to make sense of a teaching that seems to say God chose from eternity, before the creation of the world, before anyone had done anything, who would respond in faith. While at the same time, God’s sovereignty in choosing—what the Bible refers to as election—does not negate a person’s responsibility to believe.
God draws all people and works through a person’s choice to believe. People are responsible to make the right moral choices, and are accountable to how they respond to the Lord Jesus. At the same time, it seems God knows those who will respond in faith since God chose them before the creation of the world.
But it is troubling, is it not, to think about God not choosing, or electing, to save everybody?
- Is God’s open invitation to receive salvation through Jesus genuine?
- Or does election somehow make God dishonest?
- Since God knows that no one would respond in faith to the Lord’s invitation without God’s help, how can God honestly invite those God knows God will not help?
For the answer, you and I have to go back to how God describes God.
JUST: God’s character of absolute holiness, impartiality, justice, and goodness guarantees that God’s choices are never arbitrary, but always good.
LOVING: God is love, and God gives no more explanation of God’s choosing than that God loves.
MERCIFUL: God is compassionate. God desires to have mercy, and God takes no pleasure in anyone’s death, not even the wicked.
Instead of seeing these concepts as opposite of each other, God invites you and me, through Jesus’ words, to accept that all are true. In the Bible election and human responsibility are perfectly balanced.
- From the human standpoint, we become Jesus’ sheep by believing,
- from God’s standpoint, we believe because we are Jesus’ sheep.
Returning to the beginning of this chapter,
I AM the gate: whoever comes through me will be saved from peril, injury, and suffering and will be restored to health, and will go in and go out and find pasture.Jesus, John 10:9
Jesus’ invitation is to every person equally. God’s invitation to every person is genuine, and those who believe have been drawn by God.
Jesus then described to the theologians, scholars, and temple leaders arrayed round him, the characteristics and privileges of those who are his own:
My sheep are hearing and listening to my voice, and likewise I know them, and they are following me.Jesus, John 10:27
Safe and Sound
But can someone who has entered into that communion ever lose that special relationship with Jesus?
And likewise I give to them life eternal, and not ever are they lost or destroyed in eternity, and no one will take them out of my hand. What my Father has given to me is greater than everything and not a one is able to take out of the Father’s hand.Jesus, John 10:28-29
God is more powerful than any other person or force in the universe, for God created all that is, and therefore is greater than all that is, after all. When God is the one who is holding on, then there really is no person, and no power, that could take you or me out of God’s hands.
When you and I are not feeling the love, God is still holding on.
When we are feeling rebellious, when we are feeling distant from God, God is still holding on.
When we commit the most horrendous sin we can think of, and not just once, but again and again and again and we are beside ourselves with worry that maybe this is it, maybe God is finally disgusted enough to let go . . . God does not. “No one can take them out of my hand.”
Eternal life is an unconditional gift. We did not earn it by grabbing hold of God, and we do not lose it during those valleys in life when it feels like we have let go.
God is bigger than all that, stronger than all that, just, good, wise, compassionate, loving, merciful, and kind.
God holds on.
And that is the whole point about election. God draws because God has already made a commitment to you, and to me. It is a teaching about reassurance, not about exclusion.
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