Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John 10, For Whom Christ Died

Verses 7-12: "So Jesus again said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'"

Verses 14-15: "'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.'"

Verses 25b-29: "'The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 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 out of the Father's hand.'"

This passage, excerpted above, teaches two of the doctrines commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism: the limited, or particular, atonement and the perseverance of the saints.

Jesus Himself here tells us for whom He was soon to die: His sheep (compare Ephesians 5:25). And then He explicitly tells us that there are some who are not of His sheep, and thus, by implication, not the subjects of His atonement. And He further tells us that these are not a motley gang of random individuals, but rather a specific number given Him by the Father. He had earlier made the same point in 6:37, and would again say, even more explicitly, in 17:2, "since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him." And 17:9, where Jesus says, "I am not praying for the world, but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours." Refer also to Acts 13:48, "...and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." And our author, the Apostle John, reminds us of the exclusion of interlopers from that number in Revelation 20:15, "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

While this doctrine is commonly referred to as "limited atonement," in order to fix it in that acronym TULIP, that terminology can lead to misunderstanding. It can give the mistaken impression that the atonement is partial, which is certainly not the case. Jesus fully atoned for all whom the Father had given Him. Rather it is the Arminian doctrine of atonement which is limited, for it teaches that Jesus didn't actually die for anyone, but rather may hypothetically have died for some. According to Arminianism, it is possible that no one would have believed, so that that the death of Christ would have had no effect whatsoever. Or, on the other hand, that there are people in Hell for whom Christ died, so that His atonement was insufficient. It is thus the Arminian view of the atonement which is actually limited, not the Calvinist.

And regarding the perseverance of the saints, or as I prefer, the preservation of the saints, Jesus promises us that we can never be snatched out of the Father's hand. What blessed assurance to the believer, for what threat, even from Satan or from our own frailty, can be stronger than the preserving hand of our heavenly Father? Even the Arminian, who holds to the native ability to believe or to disbelieve, nevertheless tells us that "once saved, always saved."

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