John 10:25-29 - "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."
So, in review, the answer to David Bryan's question is that we don't favor any biblical passage over any other when figuring out a biblical position on Issue X. We look at all the data and derive thence the position. There are some passages that are clearer than others, for which we thank God. There are those that are less clear, for which we also thank God and thank Him for the clearer ones that clarify the less clear ones. The clarity assigns priority, you might say, of chronology for figuring out where to start, then one moves on to the less-clear for harmonisation.
First, the interpretation that one can be at some point in his life in such a state that he would go to Heaven forever if he were to die at that moment, and later in life be in such a state that he would go to Hell forever if he were to die at that later moment demands the question: Can one be sealed, adopted, transformed, and then UNsealed, UNadopted, UNtransformed, and then REsealed, REadopted, REtransformed? How many times? How many times can one be cut off, grafted back in, cut back off, grafted back in?
A hint is that Hebrews 6:4-6 informs us that the answer is Zero; that is, if one can indeed be unsealed, unadopted, etc, then it's impossible to come back.
Of course, all that is based on false premises.
Anyway, I'd like to examine the John 10 passage. Many people end up focusing on the "no one can snatch them out" but there's a more central statement to it. Specifically, Jesus says that His sheep will never perish. Given that the biblical language of death, particularly spiritual death, is usually equivalent to being condemned b/c of sin and spending eternity in Hell, Jesus is saying that, whoever His sheep are, they will not perish, they will not go to Hell, they will be rather with Him, forever (since He says "never").
So, who are His sheep?
V. 24 informs us that Jesus is addressing "The Jews", which usually means some mixture of the Pharisees, teachers of the law, scribes, etc. And these Jews prove their unbelief by asking Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
They do not accept Him as Messiah.
Jesus answers, "I told you, and you do not believe." These are unbelievers, called out for what they are by God Himself.
Next, v. 26-27, "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."
He compares and contrasts the 2 groups - these to whom He is speaking are not His sheep. In this life. Right now, at this moment in time, they are not His sheep. And there is another group in existence, His sheep, who DO follow His voice. Are these sheep people who have died in faith?
1) why say they will never perish?
2) why deny that someone could snatch them?
3) why describe the sheep as not hearing the voice of the stranger in v. 5?
4) why say that the sheep didn't listen to thieves and robbers who came before, in v. 8? Do these thieves and robbers have access to the faithful dead in Paradise?
5) why describe the wolf scattering the sheep in v. 12? Can that happen in heaven?
Etc. No, these sheep must be believers in this life.
The step is fairly simple now, for those who care what Jesus says. The sheep are believers in this life, and they will never perish. Thus, he who is a believer doesn't perish, ever.
Remembering that this is a separate question from assurance, that is, knowing that one is saved, the idea that one can fall out of a saved state, forwarded by David Bryan and his EO-dox brethren, Arminians, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, semi-Pelagians, etc, lies refuted by God's direct statement. This is not unclear. Thus, as we said earlier, it is often an excellent and useful strategy to start here, take the concept as a given from now on, and work to harmonise other 'problem' passages and questions that may arise.
Let me deal here briefly with an easily-answered objection:
If I said that members of the Marlebone football club will never have to pay entrance fee to home games, does that have to mean that one cannot cease to be a member of the club and then have to pay?In that case, would not the sheep perish? What then would be the point of saying what Jesus said?
Let's restate it like Orthodox would have us do:
"My sheep hear my voice except when they don't, and I know them except for the ones I don't know, and they follow me unless they don't follow me. I give the ones who don't unbecome sheep eternal life, and the ones who don't perish will never perish, and the ones that don't snatch themselves out of my hand, no one will snatch out of my hand. My Father, who has given the ones who don't perish to me, is greater than all, and and the ones that don't snatch themselves out of the Father's hand will not be snatched out."
Perhaps Orthodox knows of a textual variant in John 10 that I don't know about. It would be interesting to know.
I hope to address a different common objection in a 3rd post soon.