On Sheep and Goats
Shane and I were talking tonight after work about limited atonement, and in the course of our discussion the topic of sheep came up. Obviously, we were talking about the verse in John where Jesus says he lays his life down for the sheep. We started talking about the verses where there are sheep not of Jesus’ fold, and as we looked at the text together, Shane brought up the sheep and goats metaphor.
Suddenly I was struck with how appropriate a picture of salvation and election that metaphor is. I was also struck at how utterly useless it renders human effort.
Think about this for a minute. What is the default position for humanity? Every human being is a goat at the moment of their conception. That means destined for eternal punishment.
Now, if this is true, think about what works-salvation and other forms of salvation attempt to do. Any other form of salvation that is not wholly God’s work is attempting to do the impossible. That’s right, the impossible. Now, there are certain of you who read this blog who are about ready to string me up as a heretic. But hold on just a second and read the next sentence:
Can a goat become a sheep all by itself?
Well? Can it?
You see, this is the insight that put a massive grin on my face and a few “Amens” come out of my mouth. It is impossible for a goat to become a sheep. It is absolutely, positively not possible to save yourself. And as such, it is just as impossible for a goat to choose to become a sheep. No matter what this foolish, deluded goat does, it will still be a goat. Just like a man who undergoes a sex change is still a man.
Remember what I have just said, it is impossible for a goat to choose to become a sheep. Why? Because a goat is happy just the way he is, for starters. He does not desire to become a sheep. He does not desire to act like a sheep. He does not want to be a sheep. In order for this foolish goat to become a sheep, the impossible must happen. He must be transformed.
Only when the goat is transformed into a sheep does he want to be and act like a sheep. Only then will he desire to follow the shepherd. Only then can he actually follow the shepherd. And it has nothing to do with any action on the part of the goat.
And that, my friends, is exactly what God does in salvation; he transforms us and gives us the desire and ability to follow him by faith. But what about election?
Remember, Jesus spoke of separating sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). While this passage is more accurately about the final judgment, I think it is obvious that the passage shows not every goat will be transformed. When one takes into account the discussion above, it is obvious from this passage that God deliberately chooses to transform some goats while passing over others. There are many other verses of Scripture that support this position.
“But waitaminit,” you object, “doesn’t the Bible say that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but for all to be saved?”
Of course it does, and of course God does. But what does Jesus say in John 10:22-30?
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (emphasis added)
Look at that emphasis. The reason people do not believe is because they do not belong to Jesus’ flock. Why is that? Because they have not been transformed into sheep.
This is so simple and profoundly humbling. I deserved eternal punishment from the moment I was conceived because I was a goat. But God, in his eternal and unfathomable mercy, chose to transform me into one of his sheep. What a comfort to know that out of all the goats in the world, God chose me. And to think I had nothing to do with it!