And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. ~ John 10:28-29
These verses are often used by those who teach once saved, always saved (OSAS), as the promise of unconditional eternal security.
I want you to notice the beginning of verse 28, “And I give unto them eternal life…”. Who is “them” a reference to in this text? The answer is found in the previous verse. If the pronoun, them, was a reference to all who have had a conversion experience, then yes, there would be justification to cite these verses as a promise of unconditional eternal security.
However, the pronoun, them, is not a reference to all who have had a conversion to Christ. Consider verse 27:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. ~ v. 27
The Lord’s sheep are those who hear his voice and follow him. In Hebrews 3, the author of Hebrews writes the following:
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end… ~ Hebrews 3:7-14
The Israelites failed in the wilderness because they did not follow God’s voice, but hardened their hearts. Though they were God’s people, many of them never enter the promised land because of the hardness of their hearts. According to the author of Hebrews, the Israelites in the wilderness serve as and example to us not to err in our hearts, but to remain faithful to the Lord.
Jude also addresses this when he writes the following:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. ~ Jude 1:3-5
If a person truly converts and years later begins to drift away from Christ, and eventually hardens their heart to the point of becoming an adulterer, they are no longer following Jesus, though they may have at one time.
The eternal life promised by Jesus in John 10:27-29 is said within the context of the Shepherd and the sheep. A sheep that follows the shepherd will be safe. A sheep who wanders away from the shepherd will not. Israel was the sheep of God’s pasture (Ezekiel 34:30-13), and yet many of them failed in the wilderness because they did not remain faithful to the Lord, and to follow his voice.
The apostle John warns his audience against being deceived by seducers who are antichrists. Within that context John reminds them that the promise He has promised us is eternal life; thus he reminds his audience to abide in Christ and follow the truth so that they will not be ashamed at the coming of the Lord.
Those who follow Jesus (that’s the key word – follow) have the promise of eternal life, and they are the ones who are securely held in his hand and in his Father’s hand. Those who turn away from Jesus do not have the promise of being securely kept in his hand.
Jesus is the good Shepherd and he will keep us in his care if we follow him. If we do not follow him, there is no promise of eternal security.
Consider the following from John 8:
As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. ~ John 8:30-32
One does not have the promise of eternal life because he once had a conversion experience if he/she does not continue in the faith and follow Jesus. The promise of eternal life and eternal security applies only to those who follow Jesus.
He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. ~ Matthew 10:38