The Loving-Kindness of our Keeping King2
In the final analysis, how can we be sure that we will remain safe and spiritually secure in our relationship with Jesus Christ? Knowing myself as I do, if left to my own strength and resolve I’m quite sure I would wander and eventually turn my back on my Savior. So what keeps me in relationship with him? What is the sure and certain ground of my security? I find the answer to that question in the first of four prayers that we find on the lips of Jesus in John 17. In v. 11 of this high priestly prayer of Jesus he asks that the Father would “keep” his disciples in his “name”. Continue reading . . .
In the final analysis, how can we be sure that we will remain safe and spiritually secure in our relationship with Jesus Christ? Knowing myself as I do, if left to my own strength and resolve I’m quite sure I would wander and eventually turn my back on my Savior. So what keeps me in relationship with him? What is the sure and certain ground of my security? I find the answer to that question in the first of four prayers that we find on the lips of Jesus in John 17. In v. 11 of this high priestly prayer of Jesus he asks that the Father would “keep” his disciples in his “name”.
But before we unpack what this means we need to look briefly at some of the defining characteristics of his disciples.
First, they are not “of the world,” for God has given them to Jesus “out of the world” (v. 6). In the final analysis, there are only two groups of people in the world at any particular time in history. And it isn’t white people and black people, or Democrats and Republicans, or the rich and the poor. It is those who are either “of the world” or those whom God has given to the Son “out of the world.”
Second, in vv. 6-8, Jesus describes them as those to whom he has revealed the “words” (v. 8) of the Father. Jesus came to make God known, as he declared clearly to Philip back in John 14:9 – “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The disciples have come to recognize that everything Jesus said to them came first from the Father, through Jesus. They didn’t always immediately understand everything Jesus said, but they had a sufficient grasp of what he said to believe it was from God and to obey it or “keep” it (v. 6).
Some struggle to understand how Jesus could say that “they have kept your word” (v. 6) given the often shallow understanding of his teachings and their personal sinful struggles. But whereas their faith may have on occasion been less than perfect it was still real and sincere. And the “word” that Jesus says they “kept” is the gospel itself, the message that in Jesus God was reconciling sinners unto himself.
Third, Jesus singles them out as those for whom he is praying (John 17:9-10). This does not mean that Jesus had no concern at all for the “world.” Later in John 17:20-21 Jesus says:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
As D. A. Carson has pointed out, “the fact of the matter is that Jesus must have some concern for the world or he would not be found praying for his followers to bear appropriate witness to the world” (187). If Jesus ever did pray for the world, he would have prayed that they cease to be the “world” and become his followers!
My primary concern, however, is with what Jesus asks his Father to do for his followers, for those who have turned to him and trusted him and now treasure him in faith. He says it clearly in v. 11 – “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
Why did Jesus ask this of the Father? For one thing, he is about to depart out of this world. Speaking of the future as if it has already come to pass, he says in v. 11, “I am no longer in the world” and “I am coming to you.” It’s as if he’s saying, “Since I won’t be physically present with them to guard them as I have these three years, I’m asking that you would keep and guard them.”
Another reason why he prays this is because he knows how much the “world has hated them” (v. 14). They are not “of the world” and just as the world hated Jesus it will hate his followers. This hatred takes many forms: verbal abuse, threats, persecution, mockery, imprisonment, even martyrdom.
The underlying theme that makes sense of all this is the love that God has for his children. He loved them, then, and loves you and me today, so very, very much that he will personally take charge over guarding us and keeping us spiritually safe. We are never promised that God will guard us or protect us from pain or persecution or imprisonment or physical death. What God promises is that none of those forces or experiences will ever be able to separate us from his love. Our physical lives may be taken from us but our eternal and spiritual life in Christ is secure. This is what Paul had in mind in Romans 8:31-39.
I wonder if Peter had this prayer of Jesus in mind when he wrote this in 1 Peter 1:3-5 –
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Just think of it. The omnipotent God of heaven and earth is keeping you and guarding you and preserving you by sustaining and upholding you in your faith in Jesus Christ so that you will never fail to finally inherit that glorious salvation that he has laid up for you in heaven! “But Sam, what if my faith fails? What if I stop believing in Jesus?” But look at this verse again. What you fear might fail is the very thing God promises to uphold and preserve in you. He promises to uphold your faith in his Son as the very means by which you stay secure.
Do you actually believe that the limited power of a finite human will is greater than the unlimited power of the infinite divine will? If God wills that you be guarded and kept secure for your eternal salvation, your will has no possibility of canceling out his. Jesus himself said much the same thing in John 6:38-40,
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).
This is but one of the many reasons I’m such a strong proponent of eternal security. This, then, is the primary reason why the salvation of the born-again believer is sure and certain. It is because of the incredible, irresistible loving-kindness of our keeping King!