The Good Shepherd Protects His Flock (Matthew Sermon 84 of 151)
January 11, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Abiding in Christ, Perseverance, Assurance of Salvation, Election & Predestination
I still remember my favorite car ever. It was a 1970 Ford Custom 500, bought it for $500 from a retired marine. I'll never forget it. I was in need of a car. I'd just come off my first mission trip in Kenya, I needed a car and the Lord knew what I needed and there it was sitting on somebody's front lawn with a piece of cardboard with spray paint on it that said, “For Sale.”
And so I stopped off and there was this straight shooting Marine, and I asked him about the car, he's in the middle of eating dinner, but he didn't mind. I hoped he didn't mind, he had a sign out, so I figured he'd wanna sell the car. At any rate I said, “It looks kinda old, how many miles does it have on?” He said, “142,502.6.” I said, “Alright,” I said, “Why are you selling it?” He pointed to a brand new car in his driveway and he said, “2.9% financing.” So I said, “Does it still run?” He said, “I drove it to work yesterday.” So I said, “Alright, this guy seems pretty honest.” And one thing led to another. I asked how much he wanted to sell it for. He said, “What do you wanna give me?” And so I guessed at $500, and he took it and I drove that car for eight years for $500, I'll never forget it.
But toward the end of its life it started to develop some problems. And one of the problems it developed was a leak in the power steering train, okay? And what that did was effectively give me intermittent power steering. That'll kill you. I don't mean that facetiously, I mean, it'll kill you, it'll drive into a Jersey barrier or into a tree or into something, who knows. You're riding down the road, everything's fine, and suddenly the car jerks left or jerks right, that's not good. Brothers, these things should not be. So I took it to a friend and he said, “It's gonna be too much money, you probably just need to give up on the power steering.” And so, we just drained it and from then on it was just manual power steering. I've never driven anything so stiff in all of my life, very tough to steer.
But that image of intermittent power steering has kind of stuck with me as a metaphor for how I live my Christian life. Can it really be that we are that intermittent in our love for Jesus Christ? That we're really kind of all over the road when it comes to serving Jesus? Is it really that bad, friends? It's worse than that. As the hymn writer put it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” Can you not say amen to that about your own heart?
Doesn't Romans 7 testify to the wandering nature of your heart? Even though there's been a radical transformation between you and sin, and you're a new creation in Christ yet still, you roam after those things the Lord has forbidden. And isn't it good news that Jesus comes looking for you when you do? That the Good Shepherd leaves those 99 on the hills and goes and looks for the one that wanders off. How much do we need that?
I think about what I consider probably the worst night of the apostle Peter's life, it's the night that Jesus was arrested. You remember how that night began? With an argument about which of them was the greatest, and Jesus had the level with them, and especially with Peter, when he said “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you.” That's plural, not just you, Peter, but all of you. “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat. But I've prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail and after you turn back and strengthen your brothers.” “What is this turn back? Lord, I'm ready to go and die with you. Even if all of them fall away, I never will.” “Simon, I tell you the truth, before this very night ends, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” Peter denied it with an oath, promised that he never would deny Jesus.
Well, you know what happened, how the Lord in Matthew 18, by demanding that his arrestors should identify the one that they had come to arrest. “Who are you looking for?” “Jesus of Nazareth.” And he says, “I am,” and remember, they all fell on the ground, and then Jesus asked a second time, “Who are you looking for?” “Jesus of Nazareth.” And he said, “I told you that I am. If you're looking for me, then let these go.” Jesus said this, so that the word he had spoken will be fulfilled: “I have not lost any of all that you have given me.” He was crafting a net of protection, so they could all run away. They weren't ready. And so he was filtering their tests, he was filtering their temptations, so that they wouldn't have to face martyrdom that night. They weren't ready for it.
But Peter, he disagreed, you know, thought he was ready. So he follows Jesus at a distance. You remember what happened. Tries to get in the high priest's house and servant girl at the door catches him. He's ready for the big burly guard, but he's not ready for the servant girl at the door. And so Satan catches him unaware, it's a little question. “You're not one of his disciples, are you?” “No, no, I'm not. I'm not one of his disciples.” There's the first one. Now he's caught in a lie, and it gets worse and worse, pretty soon some people are around him, challenging him, questioning him, he's back-peddling, afraid for his life, he's not ready. Jesus said he wasn't ready. It's why he crafted a safety net for him so he wouldn't have to face this. Oh, you know the story, pretty soon he denies vigorously, not just a little, he calls down curses on himself if he knows Jesus. That's how bad it got. Do you think you're ready for Satan? Just you and Satan, duking it out, just the two of you? You are not ready. It's too powerful, the temptation. And so there he was.
After the third denial, suddenly the rooster crows, you remember what happened, and Peter recalls Jesus' words. And it just so happened at that moment, in the Luke account, Jesus was going by as he went from one phase of his trial to the next, and he had the opportunity to look right at Peter, look right at him. He didn't have to say a word; Peter remembered. “This very night you will disown me three times.” And Peter went away, he needed to do that, and he wept bitterly, and he needed to do that.
And after the resurrection, you know, in John 21, Jesus restores him, asking three times, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” “You know that I love you.” He hurt him in order to heal him. So he works on him. What a picture of our Good Shepherd. Do you not see it, isn't it beautiful? And what a picture of us, our intermittent power steering. “Oh Lord, I love you, I'll always be with you. There's nothing they can do to me,” and that very night disowning him, that's who we are friends. And if you don't know that, you don't know yourself. And part of the gospel is to enable you to know yourself.
Christ the Good Shepherd
Now you know the context here in Matthew 18. The disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest, a constant theme, bickering about it. Jesus has a little child come and stand in their midst as an object lesson, and he tells them that whoever humbles himself like this little child will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, gives them that object lesson. And he then turns to the issue of sin. “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” And then he gives them and all of us a warning about the deadly power of sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble, such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your right hand causes you to sin, then cut it off and throw it away. It's better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
You know what, our ultimate assurance in this dreadful battle that we have against sin is this, it's right here in the middle of the chapter that we have a Good Shepherd, who is going to leave the 99 on the hills and go to look for the one that wanders off. Isn't that sweet news to your soul today? It is to mine. I wander off, I'm prone to wander, it's good news to me that Jesus is gonna come get me, and bring me back. That's what we have here.
Old Testament Picture of God as Good Shepherd
Now, there are many pictures in the Old Testament of God as Good Shepherd. First one to use it was Jacob when he was placing his patriarchal hands on Joseph's children Manasseh and Ephraim. Remember that time in Genesis 45, it says “Jacob blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my father's Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this very day, bless these boys, Manasseh and Ephraim.’” Oh, how sweet is that, he knew what it meant to be a shepherd, he was one. And so he introduces that image, God is my shepherd.
Of course the most famous one is David who himself had been a shepherd before he was a king. Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” That's our Good Shepherd.
Or then Psalm 95:6-7, “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, we are the flock of his hand.” For me, one of the most appealing is Isaiah 40:11, which gives a picture of this omnipotent God, you know, the one that sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth, and its people are like grasshoppers, this mighty powerful God. But it says of him in Isaiah 40:11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young.” How sweet is that?
Perhaps the most extended treatment in the Old Testament of this theme is found in Ezekiel 34, that's what it says there, verse 11-16, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep, and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries and I'll bring them into their own land and I'll pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land and I will tend them in a good pasture. The mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land, there they will lie down in good grazing land and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep, and have them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong, I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
Look at all the things that God says there that he will do for his flock. He says, I will search for them, I will look after them, I will rescue them, I will gather them, I will bring them into their own land, I will pasture them and tend them, I will search for the lost, I will bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured, I will strengthen the weak, I will destroy the sleek and the strong, by that he means the self-reliant who don't need God. I will shepherd with justice, he says. I will judge, I will make a covenant of peace, I will bless them and I will provide for them. That's our Good Shepherd, friends.
And so, we have the picture of God caring for us, probably the best example of how he cares for us as our Good Shepherd, and how much he knows about our proneness to wander, we find in that great suffering servant passage in Isaiah 53 where it says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Well, on whom did the Lord lay our wandering and our straying? Well, he laid it on our Good Shepherd.
Christ’s Claim in John 10
John 10, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. My sheep go in and come out, and they find pasture. I'm not like the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep, and they're scattered. I'm not like that. I lay down my life for the sheep.” And so Jesus takes our sins on himself, our Good Shepherd laid down his life for us. He shed his blood.
Maybe you've never known his love, maybe you've never seen yourself to be what you really are, a sheep constantly wandering away from God through rebellion and through sin. You've never come to faith in Christ. Can I just speak to you directly and plainly what it will take for you to go to heaven? You need to recognize your straying and your wandering from God. And you need to hate it and turn away from it and you need to come to Christ and trust in him, the Good Shepherd who shed his blood on the cross for sinners like you and me. You need to trust in him and find salvation in his warm embrace.
Christ the Good Shepherd Here
But what I read in Matthew 18:12-14 is that my Good Shepherd is not done going after me. Have you noticed that? He goes and looks for the one that wanders off. He's talking about his little ones being led into sin, and he goes and, as the Good Shepherd, he goes and gets them. Look at Verse 12. “What do you think?” he says, “If a man owns 100 sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”
He is promising here, he's going to protect every single solitary sheep of his, all of them. He's not playing a numbers game, and 99% is pretty good. Actually, it's an A-plus. Let's be honest. We're not perfectionistic about these things. Well, we're perfectionistic about some things. I've said this before, I'll say it again. Suppose you're on an airplane and the pilot says, “I want you to know, I've safely landed 99% of my flights in the last year.” 99%. How many crashes was that? Is that two, three, how many flights were there? I would be worried. Or the youth pastor that says, “I brought 99% of the kids back safely from the ski trip, only one of them perished.” And you're the parents finding out about his grade report, and you're thinking, “Well, it's not bad, 99%.” No, you're not wondering that, you wanna know whose child died? Is it yours?
Friends there are some things far more important than all of that, far more important than plane crashes and children not making it safely back from a ski trip, we're talking about eternity in heaven or hell. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and he's gonna get them all safely through this world. And there is no power in heaven or earth or under the earth that can deter him in that purpose. And that's what he's saying here, that we constantly wander off and he constantly brings us back. He is our Good Shepherd, he's speaking here of the value and worth of every single sheep in his flock. They're all of infinite worth and value to him, and he'll do what it takes to get them safely through.
The Danger of the Flock
Now, that brings us the question, what kind of danger are we in? What is the danger of the flock? Well, there is a great external danger and there is great internal danger. External to us, we start with Satan who is portrayed as a ravenous lion, or like a wolf.
In 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” Like a 600-pound beast that can rip you limb from limb. Now you may have very high thoughts of yourself, you may think of yourself as a strong believer. I would urge you to not think high thoughts of yourself, because the scripture says, “If any man thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” Think humble thoughts of yourself.
Look what happened to Peter in one night, I say in a few hours, look what the devil did to him. Satan demanded to sift him like wheat and Peter arrogantly stepped out of the safety net that Jesus had provided for him, and he was cannon fodder friends. He was ripped, and if Jesus hadn't rescued him, he would have been lost that night. “I've prayed for you Simon that your faith may not fail and it won't. I'll get you through the night.” But Satan is, he's deadly dangerous.
Ephesians 6, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” You're talking about the devil and all of his organized kingdom. An organized system of malevolent wickedness against you. Paul speaks of the schemes of the devil. We're not unaware of his schemes and the plots, wiles. He is called the god of this world. Martin Luther said if we were armed with our own strength, our striving would be losing. We would lose.
So that's one of the dangers of the flock this wolf, and there is secondly the world that Satan has set up. It's alluring, it's enticing, it's distracting, it's filled with all kinds of idols and gravitational pulls and it's constantly beckoning like the siren call to get away from safety and to dash your ship on the rocks. But it doesn't call like that, “Come over here and dash your ship on the rocks.” That's not how it works. It's promising pleasure, it's promising freedom, it's promising good things, it's the siren call of the world.
Well, those are the external dangers, what about the internal danger? Well, it's called the flesh, or sin nature. That's why I began with that illustration of intermittent power steering. You're all over the road, friends, and if you don't think you are then see yourself in the light of heaven and perfection and the angels who always do God's will. Look at the pledges that you make to God, the vows that you make and then break so easily. The intentions you have toward holiness to make progress and how easy it is to be deterred from that, to be distracted from it.
Paul put it very plainly in Romans 7:18-20, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Oh, don't let anyone tell you that this is Paul in his pre-conversion status. The words “no longer” would mean nothing if that were the case. “It is no longer I who do it,” now that what? Now that I'm a non-Christian struggling with sin? No. He's talking as a Christian who has been made a new creation and still struggles with indwelling sin. It's no longer I who do it, but I do it. It's sin living in me. There's your danger.
The world, the flesh, and the devil. It's been the same. And so what happens? Well, we start to drift, we start to drift little by little by little, we start to drift from Christ. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
John Bunyan in his classic, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and Faithful are having a discussion back and forth about apostasy, how it happens. How does somebody drift away from Jesus, what are the steps? These are the kind of things those folks talked about as they walked along the road. What do you talk about? I'm always convicted by the conversations they have in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Boy, they make the most of every opportunity, don't they? There's nothing wrong with talking about the weather and the ball game and all that, but let's make that short and let's get to some significant things. And so what they talk about is: What are the steps by which somebody gradually aposticizes?
Alright, this is what the answer was. First they stop thinking about God, death, and the judgment to come. They don't think about that anymore. Little by little, secondly, they throw off private duty, such as private prayer and curbing their lusts and watching and sorrow for sin and the like. Thirdly, they avoid the company of lively and warm Christians. Don't wanna be around them. Fourthly, after that, they grow cold to public duty, such as listening to sermons, reading, and Christian fellowship, public worship and the like. Fifthly, they begin to pick holes in the coats of some of the godly, to find faults with the believers. Sixthly, they begin to adhere to and associate themselves with fleshly, loose, and openly sinful men. Hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Seventh, then they give way to sinful habits in secret, and they're glad if they can see such sinful habits in any that are counted honest, that they may more boldly do it through their bad example.
Eighth, after this, they begin to play with little sins more openly and more boldly. And then ninth, being hardened, they show themselves finally as they truly are, thus being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own self-deceit. Those are nine steps of apostasy, of drifting away from Christ.
This actually does in fact happen to gospel hypocrites. Those are people who make a claim of being Christians, but they really aren't. And so it says in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us but they did not really belong to us, for if they had belonged to us they would have remained with us. But their going out showed that none of them belonged to us.”
Without Christ’s Vigilance We Would Be Lost
And I tell you, without Christ's vigilance as our Good Shepherd, that would happen to every last one of us. And if you don't think so you don't know faith and you don't know Jesus and you don't know salvation as you should. Do not trust in yourself, but trust in Christ. He is our Good Shepherd.
The Eternal Security of the Believer
And now, I wanna speak a word of encouragement to you who are genuinely Christ's sheep. To you who are the elect of God, known of God before the foundation of the world, that that can never happen to you.
Note the Actions of the Good Shepherd
Note the actions of the Good Shepherd. He leaves the 99 on the hills and he goes and searches for the one sheep until he finds it.
Note the Joy of the Good Shepherd
And note the joy of the Good Shepherd. In verse 13, “And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that wandered off.” Now the Greek implies it's possible he might not find it. Well, it is possible he might not find the sheep he's looking for, but is it possible that Jesus won't find the sheep he's looking for? I tell you it's impossible. He's just using an analogy, he's talking about a human shepherd and how diligently he searches for one sheep, and how much more then the Good Shepherd will search for you. He shed his blood for you, he's not gonna let you go. And he brings him back.
And he says he's happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that never wandered off. Now, what does that mean? He loves them more? “He loves the straying ones more,” well that's not it. It's got to do with his concern.
Think of a mother who spends her whole night looking after a sick child, a child feverish, very high temperature. And what will she do for that child? She may have four other children, they're all sleeping in their bed, she's not thinking about them. She's thinking about this one child, she's giving that child a bath, she's trying to reduce that child's temperature, giving it medication. She may be in contact with a doctor, a nurse, whatever it takes. And if after a day or so of struggle, finally the child's fever breaks and eventually the temperature returns to 98.6, she's happier about that one child's 98.6 than about the other four who didn't need to return to that health. That's all. That's all.
I remember back in 1987, I was reading about this, about little baby Jessica McClure who fell 22 feet down into a water pipe. I don't know if you remember that, this was years ago. And I remember praying for that little 18-month-old, 22 feet down, wedged in there, and for 58 and a half hours they labored to get that baby out, and they got it out, safe and sound. I remember being happy, just, I didn't even know this baby. I didn't even know who baby Jessica was, I was just happy.
That didn't mean that those workers and all those people that were laboring so hard on that baby Jessica for 58 and a half hours cared more about baby Jessica than any other baby on the face of the earth, that's not it. It's gotta do with the peril that she was in. And once relieved from that peril, what joy there is at the baby's health and strength. That's all.
And so he rejoices; he's glad to have you back. When you've been wandering he's glad to have you back. Like the father of the prodigal son, glad to have the son back. And what does Satan tell you when he's induced the wandering? “God will never want you back, you've been defiled, you can't come back.” Well, that's a lie from the pit of hell, friends. He's glad to have you back. He puts you up on his shoulders and he carries you back. That's how you got back.
Note the Decree of God the Father
And so, note the decree of the Father in verse 14. I'll take it as a decree, is that alright? ESV gives us this, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish,” I take that as the will of decree, friends. He has decreed that you will not perish. This is the doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” you can't lose your salvation, and all that. This is a doctrine that's spoken against and attacked by some.
Attacks on this Doctrine
Let's take John Wesley for example, he thought that believing that you could never lose your salvation, no matter how much you sinned, that Jesus would go get you and bring you back, will lead to a lifetime of immorality and wickedness, and God would be dishonored. And so this is what Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, said. “The sum of all is this,” this is a quote now, from Wesley, please understand, I'm quoting Wesley. And not favorably. Do you guys get that? Do you have a sense that I'm not quoting this favorably? There's a lot to honor about John Wesley, but this is not one of the things that I honor about John Wesley, but I just wanna read the quote, now listen. Just parenthetically, as I prejudice you against the quote, parenthetically, imagine how dreary your Christian life would be if this were true.
Okay, I'm done poisoning you against the quote, just listen: “The sum of all is this. If the scriptures are true, those who are holy or righteous in the judgment of God Himself, those who are endued with the faith that purifies the heart, that produces a good conscience, those who are grafted into the good olive tree, the spiritual invisible church, those who are branches of the true vine of whom Christ says, ‘I am the vine and ye are the branches,’ those who so effectually know Christ as by that knowledge to have escaped the pollutions of the world, those who see the light of the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost of the witness and of the fruits of the Spirit, those who live by faith in the Son of God, those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, may nevertheless so fall from God as to perish everlastingly.” Oh my goodness, I tell you, no.
Many Testimonies to this Truth
And I tell you, scripture says, no. Romans chapter 8 verses 28-30 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called and those he called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified.” That's up in heaven, friends. Everyone who begins, finishes. Everyone who is justified is, in the end, glorified.
Or this one, John 6:38-40, “I have come down,” says Jesus, our Good Shepherd, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” That's not 99%, friends. That's none. “I will lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day, for my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
1 Peter 1:5 says, “We are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that's ready to be revealed in the last time.” Jude 24 and 25 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you before his presence blameless with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority.”
Now, you may say, or a Wesleyan or Arminian may say to me, “Yes, but that's from external dangers, right? Never says anything about us wandering away.” Friends, that was always the problem, wasn't that always the problem? That we wandered away? It's not like our Savior said, “I never realized it was this bad, I never knew that you would have such a heart prone to wander. I didn't really know you.” It's like a married couple, “I didn't realize... “
Oh, he knows. He knows, he has searched us, he knows us, he knows our proneness to wonder. That was the whole problem. He's not saving the world and he's not saving Satan, he's saving us in the world from the flesh and from Satan, you see it? He knows.
How God Guarantees our Final Salvation
So how does God guarantee our final salvation? Well, he acts constantly on our behalf, that's the whole thing. It's not like, “Stamped. Once saved, always saved. I have the stamp. I'm getting in, see my stamp, I'm in.” Alright? That's not it. It's that he actively constantly shepherds you. He stands at the right hand of God and pleads his own blood on your behalf, he filters your temptations, he mobilizes brothers and sisters around you. And you may dislike them for a time, but he's using them, you know what I'm saying?
He mobilizes pastors to preach sermons, he brings books into your life, he filters your temptations every day, no temptation sees you except what is common to man, but God is faithful and he won't let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. And with the temptation he's gonna provide a way of escape. If you don't take the way of escape he'll come and get you.
The Role of the Church
And what is the role of the church in all that? Well, we're gonna get to that. In a couple of weeks I'm gonna preach the next passage in Matthew, on church discipline. Sometimes he takes two or three others and they confront you in sin. And you repent, readily. Lest you go to the next level, but that's what Jesus has set up, a structure whereby the wandering can be brought back, brought to repentance, renewed and refreshed. And then at the end of Matthew 18 there's the parable of the 10,000 talents and how we should stand ready to forgive, at any moment, anybody who asks forgiveness of us. Because we've been forgiven so much by God. So he has set up all of the system to restore the sinning Christian.
Trust in Christ Alone
So what are our responsibilities? Well, first trust in Christ alone. I've already said this. Don't trust in yourself. Don't be like Peter was that night, “Even if all fall away, I never will. There's no temptation that can get me. I could never do such and such.” Don't say those things. Tremble. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, realize the power of sin is deadly. You're in a battle for your lives. Fight sin. That's why Jesus uses language of “cut off your hand, throw it away.” Trust in Christ alone. Trust in Him.
Rest Securely in Christ… but don’t use it for sin
Rest securely in Christ, believe in these doctrines of “once saved, always saved,” but don't trade it in for sin, that's not what it's meant for. Sin is always deadly, it hurts, don't you know? You know that, don't you? It hurts. It hurts marriages, it hurts families, it hurts churches, it hurts individuals, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. And yes he brings you back but, oh, it hurts. And it's ruinous. Don't do it. You don't trade in assurance so that you can have some sin.
Guard Your Heart
Thirdly, guard your heart, protect your own heart. Wander less in 2009 than you ever did before. Okay? “Guard your heart, for from it flow the well-springs of life,” Proverbs 4:23.
Fourthly, repent quickly. Quickly. When the Spirit confronts you with sin, repent quickly. When a brother or sister comes and confronts you, don't dig in your heels. Repent quickly, get back quickly on the path.
Watch Over One Another with Brotherly Love
Fifthly, it says, watch over one another in brotherly love. That's what our church covenant says. Let's pray for each other. James says, “Whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his ways will cover over a multitude of sins and save him from death.” James chapter 5, the last verse in the book of James. Let's do that for each other, friends. Let's love each other.
And pray for the elders, because this is one of the number one ministries of the elders, is to shepherd souls, to go through the list of members and pray for them and say, “How are they doing, are they doing well?”
And so if an elder calls you or interacts with you and just asks how you're doing spiritually, it's because they're carrying out their God-ordained office, that's what they're doing. Pray for us to be faithful in doing it.
Always Be Ready to Forgive and Restore
And finally, always be ready to restore and forgive. Any time a brother or sister asks you for forgiveness, the Good Shepherd brings them back and welcomes them, so also should we. Let's close in prayer.