John 10

I have been spending some time in the Gospel of John lately. It is amazing how reading familiar words can have a new impact on you when you are reading them again.

Just look for a minute at some phrases from John 10.

here are verses 3-5:

3. To him [the shepherd] the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

emphasis added.

Isn’t that comforting? Amazing? the Shepherd calls “his own sheep” by their own name and he leads them. The sheep “know his voice”. What a great and comforting word from God. Jesus calls his sheep by their name and he leads them. Just think about how fantastic that is for a bit.

go on down to verses 9-16:

9. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15. just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

emphasis added
Jesus came to give the sheep that enter by his name abundant life. He is good and proof that he is a good shepherd is that he put his own life on the line for his sheep. Just think about that for a bit. Contrast that with man made gods like Zeus or Money or Fame. Which of these man made idols ever proved their love for us by laying down their own life for their flock?

Jesus knows his own and they know him. They know his goodness. They know of his sacrifice for them. They know him just like he and God the Father know each other. They are part of the God’s family. There are even more sheep out there who belong to Jesus the great Shepherd and they will listen to Jesus’ voice. Why will they listen? Because verse 3-5 above says that he calls them by name and is not a stranger.

then check out verses 24-27:

24. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25. Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26. but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

emphasis added

Very interesting indeed. The Jews gathered around and asked Jesus straight up “Are you the Messiah or not?” Jesus answered by saying that he had told them plainly and had done works (miracles) in God’s name as evidence to prove what he had said with his mouth. Then Jesus says something that should capture much more attention in pulpits than it does. He says “you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”

Now think a minute. Doesn’t Jesus have that backwards? Shouldn’t he have said “you are not part of my flock because you do not believe”? Wouldn’t the latter be more consistent with the way most of us are taught about salvation?

But he didn’t say it the way we would expect. And when you think about it very much, you can see why. Making our status inside or outside the sheepfold of God dependent on our choosing to believe elevates us. It makes anyone who “believes” smarter/wiser/better than someone who doesn’t “believe.” But Ephesians 1 and 2 make it clear that there is no such possibility. We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to the praise of His glorious grace. We were part of His flock before we were born and before the Earth was created. We were part of His flock before time began. Names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world. We are saved by grace through faith and all of it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9

But you say, We must follow the shepherd. We must believe. We must exercise faith. And I agree. Scripture makes this requirement clear such that there is no doubt about it. Indeed we must make a choice (Romans 10:9-10), but the thing to realize is that apart from God’s hand, we are dead and unable to make such a choice. By the providence of God and the love of the Great Shepherd, we were made alive and by grace we are given the faith as a gift that we use to choose to follow the Shepherd who laid down his life for us. Salvation is God’s work from first to last. Salvation is God’s work so that his glorious grace might be seen and praised for the magnificent thing that it truly is.

Jesus says that his sheep are called by their own name. Jesus says that his sheep know his voice and follow him because they know him. Jesus says that he has other sheep in other pastures who also know his voice and will follow him when they hear his voice. Jesus says that other sheep do not believe in Him because they are not part of his flock.

Now my question to you after you read John 10 and think about it and pray about it is: Do you agree with what Jesus plainly says? Or do you find yourself saying some version of “yes, but….”

hat tip to John Samson for the John 10:26 rephrase

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6 Responses

  1. Now think a minute. Doesn’t Jesus have that backwards? Shouldn’t he have said “you are not part of my flock because you do not believe”? Wouldn’t the latter be more consistent with the way most of us are taught about salvation?

    Indeed, it would because other passages plainly say this. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, [1] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    I think you are looking at the doctrine of election here, and sure the Calvinist approach does work, but there are also arguments to be made in the other direction. It is a biblical paradox, and both truths need to be embraced. Yes, Christ has his flock, but he has also provided a way to join the flock, not by works but by faith. I find myself pushing back ever so slightly from the tulip approach (don’t get me wrong, I like tulip), because the Bible does not always line up neatly behind it.

    I know you love to think these things through, so what do you think?

  2. Hey Frank. Love to hear your thoughts on this. I don’t see any conflict between anything in John 10 and John 3:16. John 3:16 says that whosoever believes will be saved and that is a true statement. John 10 says that Jesus has called his sheep by name and they know his voice and follow him and that is a true statement. No inconsistency. Especially when you throw in Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul makes it clear that the very faith we use to accept Christ is a gift from God.

    But definitely there is a component of will. In Bible study Tuesday, we were talking about exalting God to His proper place and how to do that. One of the guys said it was like standing on a cliff with the water far below. Once you volitionally decide to make the leap, then you no longer have control of the outcome. That moment of standing on the precipice is very real and very biblical.

    That is why Charles Spurgeon says that a Bible student who wants to have a right understanding of the Gospel has to be able to see two lines at once. see here and here

    The bottom line is that according to the scripture Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Salvation is of God from first to last. At the same time, we are fully responsible for every decision we make to honor God or not.

    Ain’t it great?

    Keith

  3. I didn’t mean to imply a conflict between John 3 and 10. I did intend to imply a conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism. I am also familiar with the Spurgeon passages and I think he has the right attitude. I struggle with election and limited atonement sometimes and I think it helps to embrace the paradox, and see two lines at once.

  4. The thing for me is that less of the Bible has to be explained away in Calvinism than Arminianism. In other words, my objections to Calvinism generally are logical man centered versions of “God just can’t be like that”. But at the same time, I read the Bible and it shows God in charge of the whole program from beginning to end. God made Adam and Eve. God made a tree. God ejected them from the Garden. God picked Noah to build an ark. God gave directions for the ark. God saved Noah and his family. God confounded the languages and scattered the people. God called Abram. God chose the nation of Israel to show the other nations his glory. God chose Saul. God chose David. God ordained that Rehoboam (I Kings 12:15) would listen to the foolish counsel instead of the wise counsel. and so on and so on.

    the whole Bible shows a God who is sovereign over everything. The whole structure of scripture magnifies the power and glory of God.

    At the same time the Bible shows God passionately pursuing people. God is emotional when He is rejected by the nation of Israel. He likens it to a husband writing a certificate of divorce from his wife. He pours out his emotions in the very difficult to read verses of Ezekiel 16 and elsewhere. God desires intimate fellowship with humans.

    Here is how Tozer put it in The Pursuit of God:

    “In our desire after God, let us always keep in mind that God also has desire, and His desire is toward the sons of men, and more particularly toward those sons of men who will make the once-for-all decision to exalt Him over all. Such as these are precious to God above all treasures of earth and sea. In them God finds a theater where He can display His exceeding kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. With them God can walk unhindered; toward them He can act like the God He is.” pp.100-101 of my copy.

    My purpose is for me to learn to accept God as He reveals himself in Scripture and for me to quit trying to rationalize away what the Word plainly says. That is why John is so fresh to me this time.

  5. I agree, and also Calvinism does not place limits on God as some of the others do, either overtly or implied.

    To digress for a moment, if I had come up to you 10 years ago and said that in 10 years you will be blogging about theology on the internet, would you have believed me? 🙂

  6. Never in a million years. Moreover, at that point if I had been blogging about theology, it would have been as a confirmed Arminian. 🙂

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