By O. C. Birdwell
Some time back I was asked to discuss the following question: “Does John 10:28, where Jesus says ‘and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand,’ not teach that a child of God can never be lost?”
In dealing with this question, let us notice the context of the verse upon which the question under consideration is asked. The verse quoted above is 28. The one just before it in the passage says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” (v. 27). Then after the verse in question we read, “My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29).
Is the phrase “and they shall never perish,” contained in verse 28, conditional or unconditional? Please read the context again. Notice that Jesus said that they hear His voice and follow Him. The eternal life promised is based on the conditions given. The inference by some is that sheep cannot be led astray or caught. If this be true, why is there need for a shepherd? Paul said, “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29). Will such drawn away disciples be lost? Obviously so, or else Paul would not have been so concerned, Hence, the sheep must continue to hear His voice, and continue to follow Him in order to receive the reward.
Does the statement “No one shall snatch them out of my hand” mean that ‘ man cannot separate himself from the salvation that is in Christ? Jesus does not say this. He says, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” There is a big difference.
Another favorite proof text of those who teach the impossibility of apostasy is Romans 8:35. This passage asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Paul continues and says, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is quite clear, therefore, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. His love, and the love of God (John 3:16), was shown before, and apart from, any response of our own. Hence, His love toward us is not dependent on our action in any sense. But will man be saved solely through the love of God and Christ? If so, there will be universal salvation, because God’s love is for all men. If anyone is lost, he will be one whom God loves, for He loves all the world.
From these passages it is seen that nothing can separate us from the love of God and Christ, and that no one can snatch us from the hand of God. But does this teach unconditional salvation and the impossibility of apostasy? It does not. Read the following scripture: “Behold Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1,2). Now hear the New Testament writer James: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death” (James 1:13,15). Notice the order: (1) drawn away by own lust; (2) lust bringeth forth sin; (3) sin bringeth forth death. Our own sin and iniquity can separate us from God and Christ, and bring forth death.
But one may respond by saying, “I thought we were kept by the mercy and loving-kindness of Jehovah.” Yes, but such is to those who “fear him,” and “such as keep his covenant” and “remember his precepts to do them” (Ps. 103:17, 18). Again, another objection goes something like this: “What about the power of God? Are we not kept by His power?” Surely, but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and the gospel must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8). Also, one may turn from “the gospel” unto a different gospel (Gal. 1:6). When such is done the benefits of the gospel are forfeited.
Many claim that man cannot fall, that there is no danger; but in trying to prove it they always quote passages about the promises of God, every one of which are based upon the condition that one hear the voice of the Shepherd, obey Him, and abide in His teaching. Such is the case with the passage in John 10:28.
Truth Magazine XX: 43, p. 683
October 28, 1976