Before You Believed, You Belonged – John Piper
When it comes to weighty matters in the Bible, let’s be like Mary. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). First, she took note of important things and put them in a safe place — her heart. Second, her thoughts “conferred” about them. That’s what “ponder” means, and what the Greek word for “ponder” implies.
But oh, how few people do this when they read the Gospel of John and find stupendous statements about God’s sovereignty in our salvation! May I draw your attention to a few of these, and weave them together for you to ponder? They are no less important than the message of the angels when Jesus was born.
Yours They Were
Let’s start with Jesus’s prayer in John 17.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me. . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:6, 9)
Here are two stupendous statements. One is that God gave the disciples to Jesus. The other is that before he gave them to Jesus, they were already his. Store that in a safe place for a moment.
“Being willing to come to Jesus was not something God saw in you, but something God worked in you.”
There are at least three other ways that Jesus talks about people belonging to the Father before the Father gives them to him.
“You do not believe because you are not of my sheep”(John 10:26).
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).
“Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
Each of these three phrases — “of my sheep,” “of God,” and “of the truth” — describes people before the Father gives them to Jesus.
People are “of my sheep” or not, before they believe, because Jesus says that not being “of his sheep” is why they “do not believe” (John 10:26).
People are “of God” before they truly “hear the words of God,” because Jesus says that not being “of God” is why people do not hear (John 8:47).
And people are “of the truth” before they “listen to my voice,” because Jesus says that being “of the truth” is why they listen (John 18:37).
So, these are three ways of describing the disciples’ belonging to the Father (or not) before he gives them to Jesus (John 17:6).
Jesus Was Praying for Every Believer
Let’s ponder this for a moment. In John 17:8, Jesus was praying for those who believed on him, and for those “who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). In other words, he was praying for all of us who have become Christians.
Therefore, what he says about those who belong to him, he says about us. Let this be personal. How is it that you came to belong to Jesus? In verses 6 and 9, Jesus says it is because God the Father “gave” you to Jesus. And how is it that the Father could give you to his Son? Jesus answers in verse 9: because you already belonged to the Father. You, Father, have given them to me, “for they are yours.”
Did All Belong to the Father?
What does it mean to belong to the Father before you are given to Jesus? Does it mean simply that God possesses all humans, including you? You belonged to the Father because everybody belongs to the Father? Probably not. Because those who belong to the Father would be those who are “of God,” and Jesus says in John 8:47 that there are those who are “not of God.” Being “of God” can’t include all humans. So, belonging to God before being given to Jesus does not include everyone.
Who then does it include? Or a more personal way to ask the question is: Why does it include you? Why are you among those who belonged to the Father before he gave you to the Son? Was it because you had some quality, and God saw this and chose you to be in the group that he would give to Jesus? Did he see that you were willing to come to Jesus or willing to believe on Jesus, and for that reason counted you to be part of those who were his?
No. Because in John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In other words, being willing to come to Jesus was not something God saw in you, but something God worked in you. No one is willing to come to Jesus on his own. Only those who are drawn by the Father can come.
Did the Father Draw Everyone to Jesus?
But what about the possibility that all humans are drawn by the Father, and only some prove willing to come? After all, doesn’t Jesus say in John 12:32 that he draws all people to himself? Well, actually no, it doesn’t. It says more literally, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (John 12:32). Which could mean all people who are “my sheep” (John 10:16, 27) or all people who are “the children of God” (John 11:52) or all people who belong to the Father (John 17:6).
Actually, we know Jesus did not mean that the Father’s drawing applies to every person when he said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The reason we know this is that later in the chapter, Jesus explicitly explains his meaning. He says,
“There are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:64–65)
“Before we listened to the truth, before we were drawn to the Son, before we believed, we belonged to the Father.”
That’s an explanation of verse 44. He gives Judas as an example of someone who would not believe. Then he explains Judas’s unbelief with the words, “This is why (back in verse 44) I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” In other words, Judas did not believe because “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” — implying that Judas was not granted this. Or to use the words of John 6:44, which Jesus is referring back to, the Father did not draw Judas.
Which means, all humans are not drawn by the Father to Jesus. Judas wasn’t. And so being willing to come is not something God finds in a group of humans, but something he puts in a group of humans. Which means that God did not choose a group of humans as his own because he saw in them a willingness to come to Jesus. Whatever willingness humans have to come to Jesus is not the basis, but the result of belonging to the Father beforehand.
In Spite of Disqualification
So, I ask again to all who belong to Jesus: Why were you among those who first belonged to God before he gave you to Jesus? It was not because you were willing to believe. It was simply because God was willing to “grant” you to believe — to draw you to Jesus.
In other words, God chose you freely to belong to him. By an act of free grace. You did not qualify for God’s choice. Nor did I! It was in spite of disqualification. We were unwilling to come. We loved darkness and hated light and would not come to the light (John 3:19–20). In spite of knowing this about us, God chose some darkness-lovers to be his. And then, to save us from our rebellion and guilt, he gave us to Jesus. “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).
What Does Belonging to the Father Secure?
What, then, may we hope for — we who have been given to Jesus by the Father? Jesus tells us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The Father’s giving us to Jesus secures our coming. All he gives come. And when we come, Jesus receives us — forever. He will never cast us out. Instead of casting us out, he dies for us that we may live. “I know my own and my own know me . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15). None of us will be lost. We will all be raised from the dead. “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).
“The Father’s giving us to Jesus secures our coming. And when we come, Jesus receives us — forever. He will never cast us out.”
All this is sure because before we belonged to Jesus, we belonged to the Father. Before we listened to the truth, we belonged to the Father. Before we believed, we belonged to the Father. Before we were drawn to the Son, we belonged to the Father. And before we were willing to believe, we belonged to the Father.
And that has made all the difference! Because we belonged to the Father, we listened to the truth; and because we belonged to the Father, we believed; and because we belonged to the Father, we were drawn by him to Jesus; and because we belonged to the Father, we were willing to believe.
May I encourage you to put these truths inside the treasure chest of your heart and let your thoughts confer about them? Turn the prayer of Jesus into your own very personal prayer. Jesus prayed, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6). You may pray, “Father, I was yours, and you gave me to Jesus. How did I come to be yours? Grace. All grace. Absolutely free, unconditional grace. May all the Scriptures help me ponder this inexhaustible reality — forever.”
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary