Studies on Eternal Security (1): How Safe Am I?

How safe am I? How safe is a man standing on top of a slippery cliff? If he is constantly in danger of falling, then it could never be said that he is safe at all. Actually, I am not safe at all spiritually if I can lose my salvation by sinning. In 1 John 1:8 we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Note the present tense “have,” not “have had.” John is not referring “to the past sinful life while unconverted, but to the present state wherein believers have sin even still” (A. R. Fausset). No one reaches a point in this life where he is free from sin. There is no such thing as a believer living in a sinless state, and, accordingly, no possible way for a believer to ever be safe at any time if sin forfeits his salvation.

We will examine this question, “How safe am I?” over the next several issues. We will analyze those texts often used by those who propose salvation can be lost. But we will also consider those texts that positively affirm the believer’s eternal security in Christ. One such positive text is in John 10. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (vv27, 28).

These Sheep Were Given

There are no conditions noted in this text, only statements of absolute fact. The sheep are Christ’s, they hear His voice, He knows them, they follow Him, He gives them eternal life, they will never perish, and no one will pluck them from His hand. He does not say, “If the sheep hear my voice, they are my sheep indeed.” He does not say, “If the sheep follow me, I will give them eternal life.” They do not become His sheep by hearing His voice, and they do not receive eternal life by following Him. A transaction occurred previously that made them His sheep already. The Lord Jesus said in verse 29 that the transaction took place when His Father “gave” (past tense) the sheep to Him.

These Sheep Will Follow

Now that they belong to Christ, it is to be expected that the sheep do what sheep generally do; they recognize their Shepherd’s voice and follow His leading. They will not follow any other voice. He made this clear in verses 4-5 (“the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” ERV). Some conditional security advocates (CSAs) will argue that we can follow the Lord today and follow someone else tomorrow. If so, we must repent and begin following the Lord again. The text argues against this possibility. Christ’s sheep follow Him and Him only. They obey no other voice.

These Sheep Will Wander

Wandering is not dealt with in John 10. Christ’s sheep follow Him. Yet no sheep does so perfectly. By their very nature, sheep wander. But wandering and following someone else’s voice are two different things. What happens when sheep wander? What if they don’t follow His leading at all times? Are they still the property of the Shepherd? Are they still His sheep? Are they still under His care? Yes! When they wander, the Shepherd actually prods them along with His staff to go in the right direction again. Even if they wander far away, He goes after the sheep because they are HIS sheep! But there is no suggestion in this text that we can wander and become lost and in need of salvation once again. That would imply that Christ is incapable of keeping those under His care.

These Sheep Are Known

We might have expected the Lord Jesus to say in verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me.” Instead, He says, “I know them.” Because He is emphasizing the sheep’s security, His knowledge of them is more important than their knowledge of Him. Because Christ knows His sheep, He will keep and protect us.

These Sheep Are Safe

The use of the word “hand” in the Lord’s statement, “neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand,” is not emphasizing so much a physical hand of five fingers which encloses the believer, but rather the fact that the sheep are in his careful custody. The sheep belong to Him. The fact that no one will pluck them out of His hand indicates at least two things. First, there is no one powerful enough to take His sheep away (unlike the hired hand of verses 12-13). This is why He can say, “they shall never perish” (v28). Second, the sheep will never become anyone else’s property, but will always belong to Him. CSAs have generally overlooked the emphasis of this passage on ownership (“My sheep … My Father, which gave them Me”), and thus miss important details. Additionally, they often argue that, although no one else can take us away from Christ’s hand, we can remove ourselves voluntarily. This adds to the text what is not there. Jesus did not say, “no one else shall pluck them out of My hand.” He said, “no one,” including the one in Christ’s hand.

The bringing in of His Father in verse 29 is beautiful, and it provides a double security for the believer. The phrases which conclude both verses 28 and 29 are nearly identical. One difference is that He said no one “shall” pluck us from His hand (v 28). He adds that no one “can” pluck us from His Father’s hand in verse 29. Not one sheep shall be lost because not one sheep can be lost. He is so strong that the sheep never need to fear. We will never perish, we have been given eternal life, we are in divine Hands, because we belong to the Good Shepherd.

How safe am I? Using slightly different imagery, Mildred Leightner Dillon answered this question with a song recorded in her diary dated January 18, 1943:

Safe am I, safe am I, In the hollow of His hand; Sheltered o’er, sheltered o’er With His love forever more. No ill can harm me, no foe alarm me, For He keeps both day and night. Safe am I, safe am I, In the hollow of His hand.