The Perseverance of The Saints

In Audio, Sermons by Geoff Chapman

John 10 helps us to understand God as Trinity.  In particular it tells us about the unity of the Father and the Son, and this is something that makes an enormous difference to our lives.

Last week we saw that the unity of the Son and the Father means:

  • everything that happens perfectly communicates God’s character and love
  • everything that happens moves us closer to the time when God is all in all

This week we look at how the unity of the Son and the Father affects how we should understand our growth in the Christian life (or Sanctification).

The fact that the Son and the Father are one is important because:

  • In this life we are always far from perfect, still full of sin and weakness.

But if the Father and Son are one then:

  • Despite our lack of perfection, we can be sure that God will finish what he has started and that he is pleased with us despite our imperfection

To put it another way, the completion of our salvation is down to God’s strength not ours.   This doctrine is known in Reformed Theology as the Perseverance Of The Saints.

If God had wanted to he could have made it so that the moment a person becomes a Christian they would be perfect.  Instead he has made it that we grow through our relationship with Jesus who leads us into more and more life. If it is God’s plan that we should grow rather than arrive instantly then we should never have cause to despair when we find that we are not all that we will one day be.  Instead we should be confident that God’s methods of sanctification are good for us and glorifying to him, trusting that he loves and delights in us as his children.  No amount of weakness or imperfection in us will make God give up on us.   That is very good news because we are full of weakness and imperfection and become more and more aware of it the more we follow Jesus!

Perhaps the most relevant verse  is Romans 5:10, which reminds us that God saved us while we were his enemies.  Now that we are his children, he isn’t going to treat us with less grace!   God doesn’t love us begrudgingly, he isn’t waiting for us to slip up so that he can snatch eternal life away from us.  Often when Christians become aware of sin in their lives or find they are too weak to obey Jesus fully, believe that God is disappointed with them or angry with them.  But if God has ordained that we should grow in maturity rather than simply arrive, then we shouldn’t be despondent. While it is possible to offend God through deliberate rebellion, the emphasis on Scripture is on the fact that God delights in us as his children who grow up to be like the Son.

The most important thing then, is to know that this promise applies to us.  Jesus says that his sheep cannot be snatched out of his hand.  Who then are his sheep?  Jesus gives us three things to look for:

Firstly, his sheep hear his voice and he knows them(v.27).  Jesus Christ challenges every human being with the message of salvation, we all need to be saved from sin to life.  And this call comes to each person, to repent of living our own way and to submit to Jesus as Lord.  For every person that is alive that presents a challenge, to hear his voice is to hear that challenge, not just once but constantly, to hear how Jesus calls us to change.  Moreover, he says that he knows his sheep, this means that we aren’t just challenged in a roundabout way, but Jesus calls each of us individually in our specific circumstances, challenging us to be saved from particular things in our lives.

Secondly, his sheep follow him (v.27)  To follow Jesus doesn’t mean to immediately rectify everything that is wrong with your life, or to suddenly obey all that Christ commands us to do.  For the Christian to follow Jesus isn’t simply obedience, but is a series of steps that lead us to maturity.  For example, we might one day read Matthew 5:22, “anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment”, and immediately be convicted about our anger towards others.  That is hearing his voice.  Now we must follow.   So, we repent, but then we find that we still get angry. Is God now angry with us for not obeying him fully?  No, he simply asks that we do what we can, take the next step.  We pray to God and ask his forgiveness and for him to change our heart  – that is following Jesus.  If we find that we still get angry then perhaps we read the Bible we read the Scriptures to understand more why he commands us in this way, that is following Jesus.  Then we might pray and ask for wisdom and strength to obey – that is following Jesus.  If it continues we might despair and cry out to God for help, that is following Jesus.  If it continues we might seek the counsel and advice of other Christians, each of these are steps is following Jesus.  So the measure of whether we are following him isn’t perfect conformity, but a heart that desires to obey and does what it can to obey Christ, step by step moving towards the goal.

Thirdly, he gives life to his sheep (v.28) As we follow Christ we are not just stuck in a loop of failure, but we experience his power working in us.  We experience life as we changhe and grow, our minds are transformed, our hearts are changed, we bear fruit and grow, we are rescued from sin, kept from temptation, released into service.  This experience is God’s power at work in us and fills our lives with joy and confidence that God is able to do what he has said.  If we are his sheep then we will see him changing us.  The more we hear him and follow him the more we will see this transformation.

Some quick applications:

Application 1 – Don’t put off becoming a Christian because you think you can’t do it, when you give your life to Jesus it is God that does the hard work, not you.  He wants your will, not your will-power!

Application 2 – Have you personally heard and responded to the call of Jesus in your life?  Have you had a moment when you’ve had to choose between following him and doing things your own way.  If you haven’t then you need to examine why it is that Jesus always seems to agree with you!

Application 3 – Rest in the Father’s love.  He isn’t trying to trip you up or catch you out.   He doesn’t want you going through your life paranoid that you are going to get things wrong and that he’s going to give up on you.  Moreover, when you are reminded of his holiness or the standards he calls us to don’t feel despondent, be filled with joy.  God isn’t threatening you, but reminding you of what he will do in your life.  This is sure defense against the enemy too, when you feel accused or ashamed we can be confident of God’s love.

Application 4 – We must show grace in how we hold each other accountable.  There are things that no Christian should do (see e.g. 1 Cor. 6:9-10), but we must careful to hold othersaccountable to Christ, not to arbitrary standards.  Are they listening to him?  Do they know his life at work in them?  The key thing is not a person’s outward conformity, but their heart.  This is at the heart of being a community of grace.

Application 5 – Remember, the effort in the Christian life shouldn’t go into morality or external observance, but into listening for the voice of Christ and seeking to follow him step by step into fullness of life.  Listen to his voice, read Scripture, listen to the preaching at church or the teaching and be asking yourself, what is God doing in my life at the moment?  What should I do to follow Jesus now?  Are there steps I can take to walk more closely with him.  Think about what Jesus would have  you do, not what you can’t do, and follow him step by step.