- Jesus’ sheep enter through Him. (vs. 9)
- Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. (vs. 3)
- Jesus’ sheep follow Him. (vs. 4)
- Jesus’ sheep know His voice. (vs. 4)
- Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice a stranger. (vs. 5)
5: Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice of a stranger.
Jesus says the following about His sheep in John 10:5:
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
In contrast to the sheep recognizing the voice of the Shepherd, here we see that they do not recognize the voice of a stranger. This is one of the greatest evidences of whether or not you are truly born again. Those who recognize the voice of the Shepherd do not recognize the voice of those who contradict the voice of the Shepherd.
But who are the strangers that Jesus has in mind?
Jesus’ words here in John 10 are a continuation of the discussion that He had with the blind man and the Pharisees in John 9. In the first instance, the strangers that Jesus had in mind were the Pharisees. What we see here is the principle of what Jesus was saying: Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice of false teachers.
We could almost say that Jesus’ true sheep have instincts. A Christian, you must understand, is not one who merely accepts a new body of truth. Conversion is not merely a worldview swap. A Christian is one who has been born from above. A Christian is a new creature with a new nature. A Christian is one who is indwelt by the Spirit of God.
With this new nature comes instinctual knowledge. In other words, one who has been born again is often able to identify false teaching without really knowing why it is false. Have you ever had this experience before, where you have found yourself saying, “I knew that what such and such a false prophet said was false but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. I just knew it was wrong. It didn’t smell right—there was something off about it.”
You didn’t know why it was wrong, you just knew it was wrong. Then, years later, you came across a passage in the Bible which clearly condemns what you knew to be wrong at the time. You say, “Now I see why he was wrong. I now know why God gave me a sense that what he was saying is wrong.” This is of what Jesus is speaking here.
Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice of a stranger.
Now, a Christian should not live on this plane forever. One should grow in knowledge of God’s word so that he may recognize false teaching when he hears it, and know why it is false. However, I think Jesus protects His sheep from false teachers. They simply don’t recognize the voice of false teachers. They know something is off—something is wrong; there is an instinct.
Let me also suggest that this doesn’t mean that the Christian will have perfect doctrine. We all have flawed doctrine. However, I do believe that God has given the Christian the ability to sniff out damnable doctrine. In fact, this is why Paul could warn the Christians in Galatians that if they continue in their acceptance of the Judaizer’s false teachings, then they have fallen from grace and that Christ is of no benefit to them.
Galatians 5:2-4; Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Paul wasn’t here suggesting that the Galatian Christians could lose their salvation by embracing false doctrine, as some would suppose. Rather, he was saying that their continued acceptance of false doctrine would evidence the fact that they were not truly born again in the first place.
You see, Jesus’ sheep simply do not recognize the voice of a stranger.
John puts it like this in 1 John 4:4-6:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
The “them” in verse 4 is a reference to the false teachers who had crept into the church. How is it that the Christians to whom John was writing were able to overcome these false teachers? He provides a two-fold answer. First, he tells us to test the spirits in vs. 1. This is most certainly a call to theological discernment. Second, he reminds of the Spirit who lives in us, “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
In other words, these believers were able to overcome (not be deceived by) the false teaching of the false teachers because the Spirit of God within them protected them from it through the written word which He inspired. John then goes on to write, “Whoever knows God listens to us.” The “us” is a reference to the apostles. John was an apostle and Jesus had commissioned and empowered His apostles to authoritatively preach and teach all that Jesus taught them.
What John is saying here is perfectly matched with what Jesus said about His sheep in John 10; namely, that Jesus’ sheep recognize His voice but do not recognize the voice of a stranger–“Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” If you have truly been born again you have been given a nose to sniff out heretical doctrine. If your Bible-saturated, spiritual nose can’t sniff out heretical doctrine, it is not so much an indication of the level of gray matter in your brain as it is an indication of whether or not you are truly born again.
If you are truly one of Jesus’ sheep, you are a new creature with all the instincts of a new creature who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Now, I do not want anyone reading this to think that they can sit back and coast in the Christian life because, “I have the instincts of one of Christ’s sheep, therefore I don’t have to apply myself to the word of God to learn to discern truth from error.” Many Christian’s live miserable Christian lives because of a refusal to apply themselves to grow in their ability to discern (see 1 Corinthians 15:33-34; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; Colossians 2:1-23; Ephesians 4:11-14; Hebrews 5:11-14).
It is also true that Christians can be lured into damnable false teaching. To say that Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice of a stranger is not to say that Christians are immune to false teaching. Paul wouldn’t have had to give the warning that he gave to the Galatians if they were not drawn into the Judaizing heresy to one degree or another.
Nonetheless, there is no greater comfort than being one of Christ’s sheep. There is no greater comfort than knowing that Jesus has given me His word, put His Spirit within me, and has given me the instincts of one of His sheep. There is no greater comfort than knowing that I will never fall into damnable heresy–He won’t let it happen. There is safety for Christ’s sheep. Not only has Jesus laid His life down for me, He has given me a new nature and put His Spirit within me that I might be able to sniff out wolves in sheep clothing.
This confidence should not drive you to become lazy or arrogant. Rather, it should drive you closer and closer to Him, knowing that there is safety wherever He is because He is your Shepherd.
Thus Jesus both warned and assured:
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
There is both a warning and an assurance in this passage. False prophets will arise. Their works and words, like the false teaching of the Judaizers in Galatia, will have great potential to cause the ruin of Christ’s sheep. Is this not a clarion call to all the saints to know the word of God lest we be lured in by the subtle deception of the enemy?
Is there not also assurance in Jesus’ words? “If possible.” What wonderful words. They communicate the idea of impossibility.
Every Christian ought to have a sense of their radical dependence on the protecting grace of Christ. The primary reason any of us persevere in the truth is not first and foremost because of our theological acumen, but because our Good Shepherd protects us from the lies of the enemy. It is as if Jesus intends to say that He will never allow His sheep to be fully and finally deceived by the lies and deception of the enemy.
Do you have the instincts of one of Christ’s sheep? Jesus’ sheep do not recognize the voice of a stranger.
NOTE: This is the fifth and final article of a five-part series exhorting believers to test themselves to assure they are in Christ. We pray it was edifying for you. If you missed the rest of the series, you may find Part 1 here.