I have a lot of experience raising sheep. I know that’s not a normal thing to admit to, but it’s the truth. And maybe I don’t have enough experience to really talk about it, but I did it long enough to know how hard it is. My brother and I did it for 4-H for two years. A great experience, in all honesty. It was hard, dirty, taxing work, and it involved training a super dumb animal how to stand, how to stand still, and how to walk.
But before 4-H and during, my neighbor ran a herd of ewes on my five acres. Sometimes there were twelve. Sometimes there were twenty. But no matter how many there were, the fences would always break. And you’ve never seen anything like a herd of twenty sheep stampeding toward you at the same time. It’s terrifying until you learn how to yell, and then they scatter away from you like they’re afraid you’re going to eat them. The sheep would run crazy all over our property. They’d eat the fruit tree blossoms and leave droppings all over the yard. And it was my job to round them back up again. They were beyond stupid. They were just ridiculous. But I did get a lot of exercise.
So when I read today’s verses, John 10:7, 9-10, I spent a little time recalling my exciting adventures chasing sheep all over my five acres.
So he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
This is a good example of why it’s a good idea to read the whole chapter. This passage seems a little discombobulated, but if you read the entire chapter of John 10, it gets clearer. Jesus is talking about being the Good Shepherd. The whole of John 10 really is fantastic.
But what is really interesting to me is how Jesus clarifies his statement. Notice verse 7 says “he explained it to them.” At the beginning of John 10, Jesus is talking about being a Good Shepherd. And he clarifies not by calling himself a shepherd but by calling himself the Gate.
Christ is the gate. We are the sheep.
But even as much as I noticed that Jesus clarified by identifying himself as the only way to salvation, I thought it was doubly interesting that he expands by saying, “They will come and go freely.”
I think there’s a perception that once you decide to follow Christ you are strapped down to a big book of rules and you aren’t allowed to live or have fun or do anything pleasant with your life ever again. That perception is there, even among believers. That’s why Christians hesitate to give their whole lives to God. They’ll believe that Jesus died for them, but they won’t take that last step and live for Him.
So how do you explain that Jesus is the Gate that allows his sheep to come and go freely?
What I have learned in my brief life as a Christian is that while God tells us what we should do, He also allows us to choose. We already know what He expects from us, how He wants us to live. So sometimes we choose right, but sometimes we choose wrong. But in any case, He gives us the chance to choose. We are free to choose. We are free to come. We are free to go.
Once we’ve entered his fold, we are his sheep. And there is a verse later on that speaks to when a sheep wanders too far away how the Good Shepherd will come out and bring him back (often with some leg breaking involved).
God doesn’t force us to do anything. We always have a choice. We have a choice to drink or abuse drugs. We have choice of what clothing to wear. We have a choice of what person we will date. We have a choice of what friends we make. We have a choice of how to spend our time each day.
God also says in this verse that it’s his purpose to give us a rich and satisfying life. A rich and satisfying life doesn’t come from obeying a bunch of rules. To me, there is nothing richer and more satisfying than knowing I’m free because of Christ’s sacrifice and that even when I’m not perfect, God still loves me.
We should all strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and we should all learn from our mistakes. But we aren’t born perfect. And when we first accept Christ, we aren’t immediately changed into someone who will never make mistakes. We all stumble. Not saying we shouldn’t try to do our best, but we shouldn’t give up either. Because God doesn’t give up on us.
Sometimes we make wise choices. Other times we make easy choices. But no matter what choice we make, we are still free to come back.