Summary: Eternal life means unending life; this is what Christ offers. Some, however, are convinced that His gift is probationary. The life He offers is meant to encourage us, and not to intimidate us.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The verses of our text have frequently served as a soft pillow for a weary head. Early in my life as a follower of the Master, I struggled with the thought that God could accept me. I had lived a hard life in my early years, gaining the unenviable reputation as a hard-living man. When I came to faith, I was conscious of my past choices and the will of God. Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the grace of God; I was unable to comprehend the mercy that was extended to me. I struggled so much that I questioned whether I had truly believed. Surely, I thought, God could not have accepted me. I reasoned I had made a mistake.
Gradually, the Master’s gracious words of acceptance conquered my doubts and raised my gaze from my sin to His majestic grace. Multiple passages in the Word comforted me and quieted my fears. I read the words which the Master spoke to some who sought to kill Him on one occasion. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” [JOHN 5:24]. I was particularly consoled by the tense of the words. He who hears His word and believes Him who sent Jesus now has eternal life—it is a present reality. Moreover, that one will not be brought into judgement. The reason is that he has already passed from death and into life.
I read the comforting promise, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” [JOHN 3:18]. And I noted that this promise is iterated soon after the first pronouncement when God promises, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” [JOHN 3:36].
Were the words spoken by the Master somehow insufficient to comfort my frightened soul, I also discovered the promise written in the Apostle’s encyclical. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” [EPHESIANS 1:3-14].
I was greatly relieved by the promise Paul penned when writing the Roman Christians. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” [ROMANS 10:9, 10]. You know quite well that he concludes by quoting Joel. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [ROMANS 10:13].
However, time-after-time my mind would return to the words of our text for this day. The Master spoke so powerfully when He was challenged by the religious leadership of the day. You will recall that it was during the Feast of Dedication during the winter of his final year. Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the colonnade of Solomon when the Jews gathered around Him. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,” they challenged. The Master stripped the pretence from their query. “I told you, and you do not believe.” How His words must have stung these pious frauds. Jesus said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” [JOHN 10:24-26].