There is a peculiar paradox to growth in grace. By God’s grace, you will get stronger. Certain sins will lose their grip. We are able to become more humble, more obedient, more loving. The Word becomes sweeter and sweeter. All that said, this strengthening comes with an acute awareness of our fragility, of our inherent weakness. The closer to Christ you come, the more clearly you see yourself. The holiest of men know themselves to be considerably lacking. In the light of God’s glory, our lesser glory becomes painfully apparent (Isa. 6:1-5). In is plain fact that we cannot even fathom how sinful we are. Our hearts are still quite fickle, even the heart being renewed daily by the surpassing worth of Christ. We are alive. But this life yields us more sensitive to our remaining corruptions. John Owen wrote in his “The Mortification of Sin” about the need to meditate on our own sinfulness. This seems counterproductive on upon first glance. Yet, we are never in danger of thinking ourselves too bad. My greatest temptation is that of self-sufficiency. I’d like to think myself past the weakness that plagues others. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver us from this body of death? (Romans 7:24).
This temptation is not new to man. Turn to the end of John 13. Jesus is addressing his disciples, on the brink of explaining the ministry of the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus is going away. Peter, the dear brother, asks just where it is that Christ is going. Matter of factly, Jesus tells Peter that he cannot go where He is going. Peter is more like us that we might wish. That may see odd to say about the apostle Peter. I mean, he wrote two books of the New Testament. But we see Peter as a bold man, often speaking checks that he cannot cash. He responds, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Self-sufficiency rears its ugly head. The disciples had not quite grasped the fullness of Christ’s intention: to earn an obedience for His people and to atone for their disobedience to the glory of God the Father. Peter is sure that wherever Jesus is going, he is more than able to follow. But Peter had overestimated himself. Do we not often do the same? We are astoundingly confident in our ability to keep ourselves. But John MacArthur brings us back to reality with his pithy statement, “If you could lose your salvation, you would.”
Have you ever noticed how similar backsliding and apostasy look? There is a parallel between Judas and Peter. Both denied Christ. However, we know that Peter was restored (John 21:15-19); becoming one of the greatest gospel preachers in the history of the universe (Acts 3). Judas did not. So I ask you, what was the difference between these two men? I would posit to you that it was no inherent wherewithal found in Peter. Mercifully, John continues on to chapter 14.
Christ begins his discourse by saying “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The disciples have every reason to be troubled. Peter was arguably the strongest, most zealous of the bunch. And yet Jesus has just told Him that even He will deny Christ before His crucifixion. So they have every right in the flesh to be worried. But Christ says let not your hearts by troubled. He goes on to give several reasons as to why they may be confident that they will not be lost forever.
He exhorts them in verse 1 to “Believe in God.” It is trust in God, not in our own efforts that gives great joy in the midst of heart trouble. Peter had every reason to doubt himself. He did not doubt his own heart enough. But there is no reason to doubt God. He says “believe also in me.” This is not to say that Jesus is not God. I think Christ is telling them to trust the gracious providence of the Father and to trust the work that He as the eternal Son of God is about to complete on their behalf. The rest of the first supports this conclusion. He tells them there are many rooms in the house of God. In other words, God has prepared a place for them. Let’s make this clear: there should be no houses at all. We all like sheep have gone astray. We have all sinned against the infinite worth of the One for whom all things were created by and for whom all things were created for. But here we see the marvelous grace of God in that He has provided rooms for them. The focus in not on physical “rooms” but on a dwelling place in the presence of the unbridled glory of God. You will notice that there are many rooms. They are there now. God, from eternity past, has chosen a people for Himself (Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:29; etc.). Christ bids the disciples to be confident, not because of their ability, but in the sovereignty of God’s salvation. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).
But the way to these rooms has not yet been made. The rooms are there but Jesus tells them that he is going to “prepare a place” for them. Christ is referring to his upcoming work of the cross. It is here that the way for sinful men to dwell with a holy God will be made. God’s justice is such that it is impossible for those who are unrighteous to be there in peace. The rooms are there. But for us to go there our sin must be taken away, the grounds for our alienation must be removed. God’s wrath towards our sin must be poured out on someone. Not only that, but we must be righteous. Forgiveness will not do in the sight of God. His character demands much more. But God provides all that He requires. Part of Christ’s preparation is the earning of a righteousness for us that is credited to us by faith. Again and again, Christ points Peter and the rest of the gang outside of themselves. They are to not let their hearts be troubled because of God’s grace in Christ.
Christ promises to take them (and us) to where He is. Christ accomplishes the redemption and brings us to Himself (v.3). It is the essence of salvation to see and savor the glory of God in Christ. He is purchasing their eternal joy and satisfaction in Him. Christ then becomes, not the means for their peace, but their peace Himself.
May we do the same, looking outward to God for our keeping. This way prepared for us in the grounds of our assurance. We cannot ultimately run away from God. If we do run away, never to return, it proves that we were always sons of our father, the Devil. Christ’s making a way for us was effectual so that all whom the Father had given Him will never be cast out (John 6:37). The nature of the New Covenant is the basis for this effective redemption. Jesus’ blood is that of the New Covenant found in texts like Jeremiah 32. The prophet tell of the covenant blessings that will be purchased for us in Christ. He says that we will be given a new heart and that he “will put the fear of me (God) in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” In other words, Christ paid for every sin that might keep us from turning away from Him back towards eternal ruin. The reason we stay, the reason Peter stayed in because of the shed blood of Christ. He has purchased our perseverance.
It is true that we are responsible to keep ourselves. Jude tells his audience “keep yourselves in the love of God” in verse 21. It is important though to keep the biblical emphasis on doctrines such as these. It is our duty to persevere and yet the Bible speaks more heavily of God’s keeping of us. Jude actually begins his letter with God’s keeping (v.1-2) and ends the very same way (v.24-25). This is all to praise of God’s grace because it if were up to us to keep ourselves we would fall away. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but only because it is God who works in us for His own good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). It is God who works the perseverance in us that we are to work out (Heb. 13:21).
Why will you wake up a Christian tomorrow? Answer this question with trembling my dear brothers. It is God who keeps you, sustaining your faith moment by moment. You are weaker than you know. But God is more good that you ever imagine. It is no mistake that the rest of John 14 and into the next two chapters deals with the work of the Spirit. It is this Spirit that comforts us. He does so mainly but bringing Christ before our spiritual eyes, to be fed on by faith (John 16:14). Take heart. Not because you can do it, but because Christ has already done it and will complete what He started (Phil. 1:6, Heb. 12:2).