Perseverance of the Saints & Free Will
“I give eternal life to them and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
We have seen the warning, “No Diving Allowed” most often in public swimming areas, when the pool or lake water is too shallow to dive into without risk of serious injury. Some have not heeded the warning (or were in a place where no warning was given) and ended up paralyzed or dead.
Many of us know of a person who has had this experience and a few of us personally know or knew such people. Imagine what you would have done if you were present, had known the danger and foreknown the consequences, and were able to prevent the ruinous dive. I can say with full confidence everyone reading this article would have kept not only a loved one but a total stranger, even an enemy, from going headfirst into destruction. If we were present, possessed the knowledge of the outcome, and had the power to prevent it, we most certainly would. Love demands such action. Nobody, I dare assert, would claim love requires standing idly by so as not to interfere with the “free will” of the person about to plunge into misery.
What does all this have to do with our text? Plenty, I believe.
Does the Perseverance of the Saints Depend On Us?
Many of us read this passage as if our Savior is telling us that no man or group of men, even Satan and all the minions of hell, are capable of ripping us from the grip of our Triune God, yet we ourselves can do so. We approach this text in a similar manner to Romans 8:28-39 when we interpret Paul as if he is saying that while nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (v. 39); we can do the job ourselves. That is, none can reach us who are in the Father’s hand, but we may jump headfirst from it to our own perdition. Many think, wrongly, that while the Almighty Lord gives the warning, “no diving allowed,” He stands idly by and watches as multitudes of those He has cherished with a love eternal and incorruptible take a flying leap. Such reading of both pericopes is to do disservice to each and the entirety of God’s Holy Word. Both passages and all of Scripture comfort us by clearly revealing that all who are truly in Christ will always remain so. We persevere because He preserves. Jehovah is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, and His love for us demands keeping us from such destruction. Love gives and God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
The Perseverance of the Saints is a Gift from God
In our text we see gift-giving from the Father to the Son, “My Father, which gave them to Me,” and from the Great Shepherd to His sheep, “and I give unto them eternal life.” The Father never reneges on a gift to His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, and the Good Shepherd never loses a single sheep — He gives us eternal life and we shall never perish. Such glorious truths have moved Dr. John MacArthur to write, “No stronger passage in the Old Testament or New Testament exists for the absolute, eternal security of every true Christian.” This is a great claim, but one firmly grounded in the words of our Shepherd-Savior.
In its context of John chapter ten, our passage is assuring us that He who is the door for the sheep, lays down His life for the sheep, gives them life abundantly, intimately knows and is known by them, and calls each by name, has given a gift that can never be returned, revoked, lost, or stolen — eternal life. It is important for us to understand that fundamentally eternal life is not some thing, but some One. Jesus Christ is eternal life:
And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9).
The word, source (“author” in KJV) doesn’t mean Jesus is simply the well that supplies the water of eternal life; rather He is eternal life itself. When we have the Good Shepherd we can rest in Him knowing He has us safely and immutably in His hand. He will never leave us or forsake us, none (this is a universal negative) are able to snatch us away, and, because we have been engulfed in the perfect bond of love and friendship of the Triune God, we will not and cannot dive to our death.
Consider also these passages:
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 (1 Peter 1:3-5)
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)
“He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54-55).
There it is, straight from Peter, Paul and Mary, which in this case is direct from the mouth of God.
The Doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints is a Comfort
Though I believe I have quoted this often in past columns, I never tire of my favorite catechism question and answer which is most appropriate now:
Question 1: What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
Praise God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, that we are eternally safe in His grip.
This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine, 2008.