The Sovereign Shepherd and the Chosen Sheep

There are 5 statements in John 10 that deserve careful attention:

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3b)

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them…” (John 10:4a)

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also” (John 10:16a-b)

“…but you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (10:26)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (10:27)

John 10 is the famous “Good Shepherd” discourse that constantly speaks of people who are God’s “sheep.”  While most readers may assume that “sheep” in John 10 refers to “Christians”/”believers,” there are several statements that should give us pause here.  Above, in John 10:3b, the sheep are called “his own” before he ever leads them out, and he calls to those who are “his own” before they ever follow him.  Jesus brings out “his own” in 10:4a.  This means that before these “sheep” become believers in the Lord and followers of the Shepherd, they are already in some sense “his.”  And while there may be many other sheep in that particular sheep pen, Jesus came only to call “his own” sheep.

Jesus said earlier, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37), and, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44a).

Who are the sheep in John 10?  The sheep are the chosen people, the elect of God, those whom the Father gave to the Son before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).  Before he even calls to them, Jesus describes the sheep whom he will call as “his own” because they were chosen.

Understanding the “sheep” of John 10 as those who are mercifully chosen by God for salvation makes the best sense of other verses, like John 10:26: “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”  Jesus was talking to the Jewish opposition, who were clearly unbelievers.  Notice Jesus does not say, “You are not yet my sheep because you do not believe,” as if it was believing in Jesus that resulted in becoming a sheep of Jesus.  Rather, the reverse is true!  According to Jesus, it is being a sheep of the Lord that leads to believing in the Lord!

Think also about John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice…and they follow me.”  One does not listen to Jesus’ voice and then (upon proper response) become a sheep of the Lord.  Instead, the only ones who will listen to Jesus’ voice are Jesus’ sheep, the chosen ones.  Jesus’ sheep listen to his sovereign call.  “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3b).  There are others who are not Jesus’ sheep, and Jesus does not sovereignly call them and lead them out.

Finally, consider “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (10:16a).  Since Jesus’ primary audience in John 10 is composed of Pharisees and other Jews, “this sheep pen” is probably the sheep pen of Judaism.  This means that the “other sheep” who are “not of this sheep pen” are the Gentiles who will believe.  What is Jesus teaching us in John 10?

(1) God has chosen a people for himself, and they are the “sheep”
(2) Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls to his sheep and leads them to salvation
(3) Jesus’ sheep come from the sheep pens of the Jews and the Gentiles, and he forms one people of God (10:16c)
(4) Being a sheep of Jesus will result in believing in Jesus, not vice versa (10:26)
(5) Jesus will bring all of his sheep to salvation; they will follow (10:16b-c)

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6 thoughts on “The Sovereign Shepherd and the Chosen Sheep

  1. This is excellent work! Keep this posted. :)

    Also, I do have a question for you… Scripturally speaking, faith is the evidence of having been saved (cf. 1 Jn 5:1). We both agree on that. However, do you believe that regeneration precedes faith? Or, do you believe, as Gordon Fee, that the Spirit enables faith and is then received through that faith?

    Let me know! Thank you.

    • I do believe that regeneration precedes faith. This is not an easy position to hold, since there seem to be valid arguments made for faith preceding regeneration.

      But John Piper’s book “Finally Alive” was helpful for me. I would recommend you reading it when you have the chance, since it’s a book on the “new birth” and deals with the question you posed.

      I believe faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-9) that He gives to all whom he regenerates. John 1:13 denies that man’s will results in the new birth, and I would include in “man’s will” the act of belief in Christ. We are born again by the will of God, not the will of man (John 3:8).

      It’s difficult to conceive the relationship between regeneration and faith because we often conceive of them in temporal terms (as in, “Here are the three steps: First, God regenerates me. Then, I believe in him. My faith is reckoned as righteous, and so I’m then justified.”

      But we shouldn’t think of it temporally like that. We should think of it logically. In fact, Piper argues that we cannot temporally separate “regeneration” and “faith” in “real-time.” Regeneration is God enabling the sinner to respond with the gift of faith.

      Some are troubled by the idea that regeneration precedes faith, wondering “What happens if God enables the sinner and then the sinner doesn’t come?” But I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility.

      In John 6, there is no indication that those whom Jesus is drawing could decide to derail and resist his regenerating work. In fact Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (Jn 6:37). “Will” come, not “maybe” or “possibly” come. Jesus’ regenerating work in a sinner will absolutely result in the sinner desiring Him and coming to Him in faith.

      More could certainly be said about all this. The above are just some thoughts in the attempt to answer your question. Hope this helps.

  2. Thank you for replying!

    Regarding v. 16, I would offer one qualifier… You had interpreted it: “this means that before these ‘sheep’ become believers in the Lord and followers of the Shepherd, they are already in some sense ‘his.'” You were correct in saying “in some sense”. However, if I may share my observations with you… The sheep could not have been regenerate then, for they would then need to do what Jesus’ sheep do, as it says in v. 27. Just for the record, I do believe perseverance of the saints. Only, I interpret v. 16 as Jesus saying that the sheep mentioned (Gentiles) are those who will be saved. This is to be consistent with both Jesus’ sheep listening to His voice, being known by Him, and following Him (v. 27), and also being joined to the people of God (“and there will be one flock”, cf. v. 16). Therefore, they have yet to belong to Jesus in the sense that we think (Rom. 8:9), yet were as good as His.

    Therefore, while the Bible may teach regeneration prior to faith, it doesn’t seem present in Jn. 10:1-30. This leads me to believe that faith and reception of the Spirit occur simultaneously. I think of the Spirit and faith as part and parcel, if you will. :)

    What are your thoughts, strictly speaking?

    • I agree with your view of v. 16. When I say that the sheep are in some sense already “His,” I don’t mean that the sheep are regenerate at that point. I should probably make that clear in my post. I believe that the sheep are “His” in the sense that they are elect, and they will believe when they hear His voice.

      Regarding “faith” and the “reception of the Spirit,” I am unsure whether you are seeing “reception” of the Spirit to be the same as “regeneration.” If you are, then thinking of “receiving the Spirit” and “faith” as simultaneous occurrences is probably wise. Piper pretty much argues the same thing in “Finally Alive.” But, again, trying to divide the work of the Spirit and the belief of the sinner into temporal categories may be forcing too much on the text. Logically, regeneration precedes faith. Experientially, however, we experience both occurring simultaneously.

      Regarding causation, however, I think that John 1:13 denies that any decision we make could cause new birth (regeneration). Rather, God’s Spirit causes new birth, experienced simultaneously in the heart of the sinner as a faith-response.

  3. That’s good! I do believe that regeneration and receiving the Spirit are the same. Also, just to be sure, it seems that faith and reception of the Spirit occur simultaneously (cf. Eph. 1:13).

  4. By the way, regarding v. 16, a parallel that might shed some light is that which is said of God: “who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do”. The concept of creating/covenant. :)

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