God Keeps His Saints
Shortly before departing this life, Jesus offered this intercessory prayer in behalf of the twelve apostles:
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine . . . . And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (Jn. 17:11-15).
These Scriptures show Jesus' concern for the apostles following his departing from this life.
There were legitimate reasons for Jesus to be concerned for the apostles, and the rest of God's children. The world is a hostile environment; all that live godly will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus was aware that persecution would soon break out against the saints, even as the ungodly world would crucify him the next day.
Too, there are other temptations of the devil which threaten and endanger the souls of men. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life tempt men to sin (1 Jn. 2:15-17). The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches distract men from God's service (Matt. 13:22). The Lord was as concerned for his apostles as a father would be for his child if he were walking through a snake pit.
Jesus was leaving the apostles. His time of earthly sojourning was over. He was to begin a different relationship with the apostles than they had previously known. For these reasons, he was concerned about their future safety.
The Father To Whom He Committed the Saints
Jesus entrusted the saints to the Father's care. He did not entrust them to some uninterested nanny. Even as an earthly father watches over his children, so also does the heavenly Father watch over his children. As our children play, they sometimes are unaware of their father's watchful eye. The father may sit back watching the child trip and fall, knowing that this is the manner in which he learns to walk; but when real danger threatens, the father is there to give the protection the child cannot provide for himself. So also, the heavenly Father watches over his children. (See the Scriptures which emphasize the Lord's watchful care over his children: Psa. 17:8-9; 121; Ezek. 34:11-16; Isa. 27:2-6; Jn. 6:37-40; 10:27-29; 18:9; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 1,24; 2 Thess. 3:3.)
God's keeping does not keep us from suffering physical ailments, persecution, temptations and death. Rather, God keeps us from the evil one (Jn. 17:15).
How God Keeps Us
The Father's keeping of the saints must be understood to be similar to that keeping which Jesus provided for the disciples when he was present with them (Jn. 17:12). Jesus' keeping did not violate the disciples' free will, did not release them from personal responsibility (cf. 1 Jn. 5:18 - they were also responsible for keeping themselves), and did not prevent Judas from apostatizing (17:12; Christians can fall from grace [Gal. 5:4; 2 Pet. 2:20-22]). Nevertheless, Jesus kept the apostles through his teaching, exhortations, and care for them.
Here are some of the things which the Father does to keep his saints.
1. Providence. God acts in his providence to keep us from sin. Jesus taught us to pray that the Father would lead us from temptation (Matt. 6:13); Paul promised that God would be faithful to protect us from temptations we are unable to bear (I Cor, 10: 13). Peter promised, "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Pet. 2:9). He kept Abimelech from sinning through marrying Sarah, the wife of Abraham (Gen. 20:6). The Lord works providentially to keep his saints.
2. Provisions. The Lord has provided these other things which work to keep the saints saved: (a) His word. The word of God was provided to enable men to persevere (Acts 20:32). Through its teachings, we are alerted to the dangers which threaten our souls (cf. Psa. 119:11,105,130,133). (b) The church. The congregation of God's people was provided for saints to provide spiritual encouragement to one another (1 Cor. 12:26). (c) Worship services provoke us to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). (d) Mature Christians provide a good example for us (Heb. 13:7). (e) Elders watch over the souls of saints (Heb. 13:17). Many people are not "kept" because they willfully turn away from what God has provided to keep them.
3. Restoration. Still saints stumble into sin. God's provisions for our souls do not stop when we sin. He commands spiritual men to restore us (Gal. 6:1). He is patient to give us time to repent (2 Pct. 3:9; Rom, 2:4; Rev. 2:21). He graciously forgives us our sins when we confess them (1 Jn. 1:6-9). We see God's working with David when he fell into sin (2 Sam. 12). After David committed adultery and murder, God gave him time to repent, sent Nathan to rebuke him, and graciously forgave him his sins. These provisions are part of God's keeping of his children.
Some Christians feel insecure about their salvation. They ask, "What will happen to me if I am faithful to the Lord for 30 years, stumble into sin, and die immediately?" The very question presupposes a world view different from that described by the Bible. It pictures the Christian living in a world guided and directed only by chance and fate. This world view does not include a concept of God in control of all things, watching over and caring for his children.
Stemming from the incorrect view of the world, men have invented various systems to give a child of God security (such as continuous cleansing). Rather than finding security in the nature of the sins committed (through weakness, ignorance, or inadvertence instead of high-handed rebellion), Christians need to place their hope in the God who is keeping them.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber . . . . The Lord shall preserve thee from evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore (Psa. 121:2-3,7-8).
Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about (Psa. 17:8-9).
God is "able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory" (Jude 24). His children are "preserved in Jesus Christ" (Jude 1). Saints are "kept by the power of God through faith" (1 Pet. 1:5). "The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil" (2 Thess. 3:3).
I find my assurance and confidence in my Heavenly Father who watches over my soul and keeps me. All the while, I recognize my own responsibility to keep my own soul. The same apostles who recorded Jesus' prayer that God would keep the apostles also wrote, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 Jn. 5:18).
Man will never be lost as a consequence of a deficiency of God's grace. God will provide for us what we cannot provide for ourselves.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 4, pp. 98, 119