April 21, 2013
Sermon, Third Sunday after Easter
Perseverance and Preservation
Third Sunday after Easter
April 21, 2013
By now you know about the connection our annual cycle of worship and prayer gives to the Scripture readings and sermons. We don't just wander through the Bible in our daily readings, and we aren't dependent on what ever strikes the minister's interest on Sundays. We follow a plan that takes us through the Bible in an orderly and sensible way every year. The result of this plan is that there is a connection between the daily Bible readings and the Sunday Bible readings. And there is a connection between the sermons, Sunday to Sunday, throughout the year. Last Sunday's sermon was about conversion. The main point of the sermon was to say that conversion means to be turned from a lifestyle of going astray from God, to a lifestyle of following God. As Jesus Himself said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27). So we have become followers of Christ. I know we do not follow perfectly, we do stray sometimes. We still sin. But we repent and return to Christ because we have a lifestyle of following our Shepherd.
Converted people naturally have a question at this point; "how can I know I will continue the lifestyle of following?" This is an important question, and the heart of it is this, how do I know I will not become unconverted? How do I know I will actually make it to Heaven? Can a person who is saved ever become unsaved?
This is not a silly question. We who love Christ and trust Him as our Saviour are very much aware of the weakness of our faith and the strength of the temptations and enticements of the world the flesh and the devil. We know that the will to sin still lives in us, and we wonder if it will ever cause us to completely and finally stray away from Christ and back into eternal damnation. Therefore, today, looking at the words of Christ in John 10:27-30, I intend to talk about the eternal security of those who are in Christ.
Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me." From this I want to say, you know you are one of Christ's sheep if you hear His voice and follow Him. I am not talking about hearing an audible voice. I am not even talking about hearing a voice in your head. I am not talking about receiving signs or seeing visions or having miracles. I know of a TV preacher who thinks that, while he is praying, God tells him, someone is being healed of disease, someone in financial distress is going to receive money, or someone's marriage is being healed, or some other miracle is happening. I doubt it. I don't think God is telling him these things, I think he is imagining God telling him these things. So, how do we hear the voice of God? We hear the voice of God when we read the Bible. That's where you should go if you want to know what God is saying to you. And Christ's sheep read the Bible.
So what does the Bible say to those who are truly followers of Christ? It says, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish." Eternal life means to live in fellowship and peace with God now and forever. We have looked at this often in the past, so I will not take the time to discuss it today. Today I only want to look at the origin of eternal life. Where does it come from? How do we obtain it? It comes to us from God. It is given to us as His gift. Jesus said, "I give unto them eternal life." Romans 6:23 confirms this, as though to make sure there is no confusion about it; "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." So you didn't earn it. You didn't make yourself so good you earned Heaven. God gives eternal life to His sheep. And notice the tense of that word "give." It is present tense and it describes continuing action in the present. So Christ is saying, "I give, and forever keep on giving, unto them eternal life." I stress the continuing action because if Christ keeps on giving eternal life to us, we possess it, and we keep on possessing it. He doesn't give us eternal life for a day or a millennium or a million trillion zillion millennia, He gives it forever and we possess it forever. Thanks be to God.
Therefore, as Jesus says, "they shall never perish." To perish means to die unforgiven, and suffer for your sins forever. "The wages of sin is death" says Romans 6:23. Revelation 21:8 describes that death as the lake of fire and brimstone, "which is the second death." But I want to emphasise what Jesus says of those who are His sheep, those who are truly converted, "they shall never perish." They will never see the lake of fire, never see the second death, never be separated from the love and salvation given to them by God. He will never take that gift back.
Next, Jesus says nothing is able to pluck us out of God's hand. He is intentionally using a word picture here. He gives the image of God holding us, firmly and gently in His almighty hand. The world, the flesh and the devil are trying to pluck us out, but God is too strong for them. They can't pluck us out of His hand. Even we sometimes kick and squirm and try to break out, but again, God's hand is too strong for us, and we remain in His grasp. He keeps on giving the gift of eternal life.
Two words are often used in discussions about eternal security. The first is perseverance. Bishop J. C. Ryle gave a good definition of the theological meaning of this word in his book, Old Paths. I heartily recommend this book as an essential read for every Christian. He wrote;
"the Bible teaches that true believers, real genuine Christians, shall persevere in their religion to the end of their lives. They shall never perish. They shall never be lost. They shall never be cast away. Once in Christ they shall always be in Christ. Once made children of God by adoption and grace, they shall never cease to be His children and become children of the devil. Once endued with the grace of the Spirit, that grace shall never be taken from them. Once pardoned and forgiven, they shall never be deprived of their pardon. Once joined to Christ by living faith, their union shall never be broken off. Once called by God into the narrow way that leads to life, they shall never be allowed to fall into hell. In a word, every man, woman, and child on earth that receives saving grace, shall sooner or later receive eternal glory. Every soul that is once justified and washed in Christ's blood, shall at length be found safe at Christ's right hand in the day of judgement."
I do not say you will not sin, or doubt, or fear, or experience times when it feels like you are falling away from God. But you will never fall away completely. If you have truly been converted you will stay converted until you finally reach your home in Heaven. You will persevere in the faith.
The second word, and I actually like it better than the word perseverance, is "preservation." I like it better because some people make perseverance seem like it all depends on us, but preservation shows that it actually all depends on God. I return to John 10 to recall to your mind the continuing act of God in giving eternal life. He gives it now and continues to give it for all eternity. I recall again to your mind Christ's words in John 10 29, "no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." Christ is saying that our continuance in the faith and safe arrival in Heaven does not depend on our ability, to hang on to God; it depends on God's ability and willingness to hang on to us. In other words, we will continue in the faith and make it to Heaven because God preserves us. He holds us in His hand, and nothing can pluck us out of it.
Some people think God saves us something like this, He looks at the mass of lost sinners, and reaches His hand down to us, and says, "Come to My hand grab a finger and hold on, and if you can hold on until I bring My hand back to Heaven, you will be saved. That is not the Biblical teaching. According to the Bible, God looks upon the mass of sinful people, and reaches out His hand, and picks us up and holds us in His hand until He carries us safely to Heaven. We can only persevere because God preserves.
Merciful Father, preserve us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.