A listener named Kevin writes in to ask, “Pastor John, what does Jesus mean when he says in John 16:1, ‘I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away’?”
Jesus said, just like Kevin pointed out, in John 16:1, “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.” In the next verses he says that suffering is coming — and really perplexing suffering. John 16:2: “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
Bound by His Promises
Now, in those kinds of situations, we can easily feel like saying, “God, where are you? Have you forsaken me?” Jesus has already said in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” What Jesus is saying is that his words, his warnings, his promises are his means of preserving our faith in these painful situations. For example, in John 15:13–15, just before John 16 starts, he said,
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
“We are as secure as the promises of God.”
So, when we enter persecution, we are supposed to remember his words: “I loved you. I gave myself for you. This is the greatest love I could possibly show for you, that I died for you. You are my friend. You are not a slave. I have taken you into the inner counsel of the Godhead.” When are we persecuted, we are supposed to remember these things, and in remembering these things, he keeps us from falling away.
It will not be easy to believe in the midst of persecution that God loves us, when we are being tortured for his name. It won’t be easy to feel loved when you languish in prison. It won’t be easy to feel loved when you are abandoned by friends. But Jesus says, “I have spoken to you to help you keep your faith, so may my words sustain you. May my words be the ropes by which I bind you to myself.”
Take Up His Word
Here is where Kevin may be stumbling. He may have the idea that eternal security means we don’t need to fight the fight of faith, or he may think that eternal security may mean that Jesus has made us secure and doesn’t need to do anything more to keep us secure.
Now, I think both of those ideas are mistaken. We are eternally secure as his children, but the way we are eternally secure is that Jesus has promised to keep us secure. His present and future keepings are as important as any past purchase of us, and the way he keeps us is by bringing his words to mind and by helping us to see them as true and beautiful and trustworthy and sufficient for all our needs.
Eternal security, then, is not like a vaccination that we received when we were six and don’t have anything to do with now. No, it is like an ongoing therapy regimen, and our doctor, Jesus, promises never, never, never to leave us — but always to help us and to keep us. Thus, our therapy, our ongoing daily therapy, is the means by which we are preserved and kept, and his words are an essential part of that.
So, our part is to trust him every day, believing that he knows what he is doing in this sometimes very painful therapy. He has spoken to us so that we have promises to trust and warnings to heed. Kevin, we are secure. We are as secure as the promises of God. As sure as they are true, and as sure as they are secure, and as sure as Jesus is faithful to us today and forever, that is what our security lies in — the ongoing keeping of Jesus, applying his words to our life and holding on to us with them.