In my daily Bible study, I've been working through the book of John, and have come to the point where Jesus makes several references to the sheep of His sheepfold. Today's passage, below, which marks 'citizenship' in Jesus' sheepfold as a prerequisite for belief in Him, made me wonder: "Does the Bible describe the means by which we may become sheep at any point?" Coming from a Calvinist standpoint, my assumption (lacking evidence to the contrary) is that this 'citizenship' in Jesus' sheepfold is a natural outworking of election/predestination. However, my knowledge is limited, and I'd appreciate other perspectives.

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.

Assuming I haven't missed the answer as I read through the book, and the other Gospel accounts, I'd be especially interested in answers from denominations or believers who hold an Arminian view of salvation.

As you answer, please be distinct in differentiating means from markers, i.e. if you believe that, "My sheep hear my voice," is a mark of those who are His sheep, please indicate this (either implicitly or explicitly), and the same for if you believe that people become sheep by hearing Jesus' voice.

Thank you for taking the time to answer and/or comment.

ADDED FOR CLARIFICATION: Thanks for the comments, and the answers, everybody. To address the commenters, the question is indeed regarding one of the parts of the 'order of salvation'. To be saved, we must believe in the sense that Jesus speaks of here (among other things). From my understanding of this passage and this concept, we will not believe if we are not of Jesus' sheepfold, so therefore, being in His sheepfold is necessary for this 'stage' of salvation, so to speak. I would assert that this is because we are elected, and so we don't choose to be in Jesus' sheepfold, and cannot do anything to get into His sheepfold. However, a theological view that opposes the doctrine of election would, I assume, require some means of getting into His sheepfold. What I want to know is whether there is any means described in the Bible by which one may do such a thing?

I've also added emphasis to the parts of the original question that concern this issue to give a little contextual clarification to what I was trying to say. Apologies for the confusion.

  • I'm not really sure what your question is. Can you re-state the question directly?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 8:53
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    How is this different from asking how people become saved in general?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:33
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    @curiousdannii: Well, at least one way it might be different is if you interpret being Jesus' sheep as different than salvation. I'm not clear if that's what the OP is asking about... the question never seems to ask a direct question. It just kinda tip-toes around what might be a question.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:48
  • Not all people of any particular denomination read the Scriptures the same, and it must also be remembered that at that particular time Jesus had not resurrected, which was the proof; as most people are concerned,that Jesus is the messiah. That precludes salvation since Jesus was still in his earthly body. This was in fact Jesus saying even though you do not believe that I am sent from God you should believe that my actions and miracles are of a Godly nature and were actually the works of God.
    – BYE
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:01
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    @curiousdannii It's definitely related to salvation, but many if not most Christian Traditions subdivide 'salvation' into various parts - election, justification, regeneration etc. It's therefore entirely legitimate to ask where does 'becoming a sheep' fit into that. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 16:30

4 Answers 4


Before we start building theology on this statement, we need to make sure we've understood it in its original context first, and that our extrapolations are faithful to that original intent.

Who were Jesus' "sheep"?

In Jesus' original context, He was talking with people who had not yet embraced Him about those who had already (at that time) embraced Him. Modern Christians often assume Jesus was referring to us, or to the "elect", but that is eisogesis, not exegesis.

John's placement of Jesus' statement in his narrative indicates that he intended this discussion to be understood in the context of the story of the blind man (which precedes it.) Thus, the blind man is given to us (among other reasons) as an example of one of Jesus' sheep. Note: This does not suggest that the blind man (for example) had always been one of His sheep, or that he always would be one of Jesus' sheep -- just that a disciple such as this was "presently" (at the time of Jesus' statement) one of His sheep.

What was Jesus trying to convey to His audience?

Jesus was essentially saying to the unbelieving Jews (including the jealous religious leaders): "I told you who I am, but you didn't believe Me because you're not My sheep. My sheep and I know each other and I give them life and they are safe with Me." (Again, don't assume that Jesus is claiming that they had always been His sheep or always would be.)

What was John trying to convey to his audience?

John uses this dialogue (in light of the literary context) to present Jesus as essentially saying to the jealous religious leaders (and other Jews): "You don't like that guys like this are following Me instead of you? Too bad! They are following Me because the sovereign God who you claim to serve has decreed it, and there's nothing you can do about it," and then He really rubs salt in the wound by telling them He's going to give them eternal life -- the very reward the religious leaders promised to people!

What was this meant to teach us about "election"?

Jesus was addressing specific people in a specific situation. He was not trying to give modern Western-minded Americans a proof text about the theological category of "election". If anything, all this text tells us on that topic is that those who don't recognize Jesus for who He is are not part of His group (yet) and if you see a person following Christ, and you don't like it, well... too bad!

What was this meant to teach us about "salvation"?

Many Christians claim that Jesus' promise to give "eternal life" to His sheep is an indication that by "sheep" Jesus means "the 'saved'" and that once you are "saved" you will never depart from Him and will invariably end up in heaven when you die. But is that what Jesus was talking about? No. (1) Jesus was not talking about the "elect" but rather, those who were counted as "sheep" at that time. This group both grew and shrunk over time, while the group of "elect" does not. (2) "Eternal life" does not mean "necessarily never-ending life"; it refers to a quality of life experienced by those in relationship with God by the Spirit.

"Eternal life" is a spiritual quality of life, which God gives to every believer through Jesus his Son (cf. John 3:16; 17:2-3). It is not to be thought of as life prolonged to infinity, but as a sharing of living fellowship with the Father, in which "the category of time recedes before that of moral quality" (Law, Tests, 189.) In the words of Maurice (27-28; cf. 159-60), if eternal life is "that which was manifested in Christ, in His words and acts, it is a life of gentleness, justice, truth"; and you "cannot measure these by the clocks." In Johannine terms, "eternal life" is a synonym for "salvation." -Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary: 1, 2, 3 John, p. 10

  • Thanks for the great answer. I'm stuck on the last point, however: (2) "Eternal life" does not mean "necessarily never-ending life"; it refers to a quality of life experienced by those in relationship with God by the Spirit The quote from Smalley doesn't seem to make any real sense to me; it doesn't seem to appeal to anything more than 'here's a quote or two from others who made the same point'. If the spiritual quality of life is a result of living fellowship with the Father, and salvation is the only means by which this can be brought about...
    – omannay
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 11:09
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    ...how can one make an assertion that 'eternal life' means anything other than what it says? It seems more like such an assertion is an exercise in applying 'eternal life' to the effect of eternal life, rather than the thing itself, which is the cause. I don't see any reason here to apply the meaning of 'eternal life' to one of its blessings (especially since I could make a very similar argument to say that the term actually means 'pardon for sin'), but I'm not closed minded on the matter; I could yet change my mind. Thanks again for the answer.
    – omannay
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 11:16
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    @omannay It would take some time to explain. I would suggest posting a separate question about that over on hermeneutics.SE. ("What does John/Jesus mean by 'eternal life'?")
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 19:38

As an Evangelical (with Wesleyan soteriology - a particular form of Arminianism), my perspective is that we actually 'become' sheep at the point of Regeneration. Though our election to 'sheephood' was done in God's foreknowledge before the foundation of the world and the basis for our entrance to that state was purchased by Christ Jesus at the cross, the scriptures teach us that before we are born again, our nature is no different to that of 'the goats':

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. - Ephesians 2:3 NIV

Critical to this process of course, is hearing the voice of the Lord, but it is the response in (repentance and) faith (by and in God's grace) that is the true test of whether we are actually 'listening' ie. not just hearers of the word only but those who put in to practice what it says (cf. James 1:22, Matthew 7:13-26). This is not saying we can do anything of ourselves to please our Good Shepherd - we can't. In order to hear and obey, we must receive the promised new heart of Ezekiel 36:26 by the work of the subsequently indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3).

Can a sheep become a goat again and keep changing back and forth? I don't believe so - the Bible gives us overwhelming promises that our Good Shepherd will never leave us nor forsake us (cf. Matthew 28:20) and that "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). So there is no indication that such a thing as 'losing your sheepiness' (and becoming a goat again) is possible, however we are solemnly warned against 'making shipwreck of our faith' (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19) and that:

it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. - Hebrews 6:4-6 NKJV

So, apostasy is actually possible, but it's not like becoming a goat again, it's as if the sheep has died - there is no longer an option for regeneration. Practically, defining an exact and easily observable difference between true apostasy and 'mere' backsliding ('acting the goat') may be impossible for human discernment, but the scriptures doesn't hold out assurance of salvation to sinners, only to saints in union with Christ - the only safe remedy for a backslider is to confess their sin, repent and receive God's grace to live in communion with the Good Shepherd (cf. 1 John):

Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” - 2 Timothy 2:19 NKJV

  • This is a great perspective and one that I agree with, though the OP is asking for the Arminian perspective...
    – LCIII
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:21
  • @LCIII Firstly, he says he is 'especially' interested in that perspective - which doesn't actually exclude other viewpoints; but secondly it is actually an Arminian perspective - check the first link. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:24
  • @bruisedreed is indeed correct in this case. Teaching in a non-denominational international church, I'm exposed to all manner of beliefs, and am trying to build a certain degree of wise humility through experientially mortifying my tendency to assume others hold the same view as me, or reside within a narrow band of possible belief systems. Thanks for the answer, and thanks to both of you for your interest.
    – omannay
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 9:39

In these "What would an Arminian say about..." questions, it's important to first denote what kind of Arminian you're talking about. There are 5 points of Arminianism:

  • Human Free Will - This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God. His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
  • Conditional Election--God chose people for salvation based on his foreknowledge where God looks into the future to see who would respond to the gospel message.
  • Universal Atonement--The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
  • Resistable Grace--The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally beaten so as to reject salvation in Christ.
  • Fall from Grace--The Teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.

Not everyone that calls themselves an Arminian agrees with all 5 points--that's why we hear people call themselves "3-point" Arminians, "2-point" Calvinists, and so on.

Within the context of the passage in John 10, the 5-point Arminian perspective would say that hearing and following Jesus are what makes someone a sheep, and that the sheep can essentially "leave" the flock at any time by ceasing to hear and follow.

John 10:25-28 ESV Jesus answered them, “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 among my sheep. 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.

The Arminian would furthermore cite the subsequent verses as evidence to their claim: Jesus is adjuring the same Jews to believe in the works, that you may know, and essentially become sheep.

John 10:37,38 ESV If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

  • 1
    The way you've listed those 5 points, it seems that it's a Calvinist perspective of what the five points of Remonstrance actually mean. If you actually look at the third point of Remonstrance, you will actually see an explicit contradiction of your point on 'Human free will' - speaking as an Arminian, I would have to consider your list as a mischaracterisation of an Arminian viewpoint. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 15:25
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    In fact the only two points that do reasonably represent 'Classical Arminianism' (ie the points of the Remonstrance) are those on Conditional Election and Universal Atonement (although even this one is not sufficiently clarified) - where did you actually get that list from? Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 15:35
  • @bruisedreed I got my 5 points from here: carm.org/dictionary-five-points-arminianism. If you have a more official source then I'm all for looking at it.
    – LCIII
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 15:53
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    Well this is a good place to start: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Articles_of_Remonstrance. I stopped using CARM quite a while ago when I realised that Matt Slick is not really interested in accurately characterising what other people really believe just in proving that his view is right and everybody else is wrong. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 16:13
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    It might be helpful to realise that the classical TULIP was a reaction to the 5 points of Remonstrance, not the other way round. Also reading up on the life of Arminius, the Synod of Dort and the political situation in Holland at the time provide fascinating background on where TULIP comes from. I'm actually really curious at how Calvin would have felt that his name would be applied to a system that could be summed up in those points. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 16:22

How do people become the sheep that Jesus speaks of in John 10?
My understanding is that people do not become the sheep. My understanding is that the sheep are truths.

The sheep, gate, and shepherd - Decoded

Truly I say to you whoever does not enter into the heart by the word but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters by the word is ruler over the speaker. To the ruler, the doors of the heart will open, the ears will hear the words of the ruler, the ruler calls to words by name and leads them out. And when the ruler brings out these words the ruler will stand before them, and those words follow for they know the voice of the speaker. Yet the words will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers but they have not heard of these truths. If anyone enters by the word, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his own life for the words being spoken to me. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the words, sees the wolf coming and leaves the conversation and flees; and the wolf catches the words and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about what is being said. I am the good shepherd; and I know my truth, and am known by my own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the truth. And other truths I have which are not of the speaker; them also I must bring, and they will hear my voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

“Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my own thoughts that I may take my thoughts again. No one takes my thoughts from me, but I lay my thoughts down by myself. I have power to lay them down, and I have power to take them again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:1-18 Decoded Version 1.0 - #JN10.1 The sheep, gate, and shepherd)

You say it as "marking 'citizenship' in Jesus' sheepfold as a prerequisite for belief in Him" because it is stated:

But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. (John 10:26 NKJV)

The meaning that I take from this statement is that "Because you do not know the truths that I know, you do not believe."

The Explicit Explanation I believe "My sheep hear my voice," is a way of saying "My truths hear my voice." I believe that the truth(sheep) come to my memory(sheepfold) by hearing the words spoken by a man(Jesus)

Therefore being Born of the Breath one can recieve the truth(sheep). To understand what I mean by being born of the Breath.

The real Christian meaning to the word Spirit – Concept Building Block
The concept of the Spirit being a ghost is is true from one perspective and false from another. The point of this post is to rightly divide the Word, so that the true meaning is revealed. How is it false? First we must understand the meaning to the word Spirit. It is translated from the Greek word “Πνεῦμα” pronounced “Pneuma” meaning "wind" -or- “breath”. So it is false because the breath is not a ghost. Sometime during the last 2000 years the concept of “spirit” was given to the word “breath”. I want to show you how the “breath” could have been also conceptualized into the word “attitudes”. And how ones attitudes are a display of their spirit.

What does the bible say about the “Holy Breath”? Here the breath is used to make groanings.

“Likewise the breath also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Breath Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the breath is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Here we can see the difficulty breathing.

“And behold, a breath seizes him, and he suddenly cries; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him. ” (Luke 9:39 NKJV)

Here we can see the last breath. “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My breath Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)

The giving of the Holy Breath.

And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Breath”. (John 20:22)

Now I say to you the Holy Attitudes, because the Holy Breath resists certain attitudes.

For the flesh lusts against the breath, and the breath against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17)

So to understand what attitudes allow for the breath, we can learn by what attitudes are contrary to the breath.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV)

Now from this list I will attempt to group representations to the contrary attitude.

  • Representations in the Group of Anger (Hatred, Outbursts of Wrath, Lewdness, and Murders).

  • Representations in the Group of Idolatry (Idolatry, Jealousies, Envy).

  • Representations in the Group of Power Hunger (Dissensions, Contentions, and Revelries.)

  • Representations in the Group of Frowned Upon Physical Pleasure (Adultery, Fornication, Uncleanliness, Sorcery[Drug Use], Drunkenness)

Therefore we can discern that the attitude of Love is opposite the attitude of Anger, Idolatry, Power Hunger, and Frowned Upon Physical Pleasure. Yet the attitude of Love gives us the Holy Breath.

God is Breath - Concept Building Block

"God is wind, and his worshipers must worship in the Breath and in truth." (John 4:24)

God's name has been given many titles: The Lord of Hosts, The Breath/Spirit/Attitude of God, The Word/Flesh. For the word is the son of the breath. We are all taught by God (John 6:45), all have been given the ability for the breath of truth. God breathed the life into us (Genesis 2:7), and when we die the breath leaves us. Here are some more known Bible Verses correctly edited from NKJV.

"And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My Breath.’” Having said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46).

"And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Breath." (John 20:22).

"For the flesh lusts against the Breath.." (Gal 5:17).

"Likewise the Breath also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Breath Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Romans 8:26).

"In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?" (Job 12:10).

"Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute breath." (Mar 9:17)

"And behold, a breath seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him." (Luk 9:39)

"Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a breath does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." (Luk 24:39).

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Breath." (Jhn 3:8).

"Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the breath and was troubled." (Jhn 11:33).

"And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the breath by which he spoke." (Act 6:10)

"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the breath." (Rom 8:1).

"But you are not in the flesh but in the breath, if indeed the Breath of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Breath of Christ, he is not His." (Rom 8:9).

"But if the Breath of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Breath who dwells in you." (Rom 8:11)

"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Breath of God dwells in you?" (1Co 3:16).

"We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the breath of truth and the breath of error." (1 John 4:6)

Now the true meaning to being Born Again can be explained

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV)

Unless you are born into the breath you cannot see the kingdom of God.

How do people become disciples of the word that is speaking to them?
You listen.

so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’”(Mark 4:12 NKJV)

Wait you think Jesus isn't a man speaking!

The sower soweth the word. (Mark 4:14 KJV)

Note that this does not reference the "word of God" but the "word". Son of Man is a title assumed to be Jesus as the Man. The Son of Man however is the words spoken by a man.

  • thanks for the unique perspective. I will say that I don't agree with you (not that such is necessary for productive discussion here), but that I'm interested to see the translation that you quoted. What is the Decoded Version? Do you know anything about its history, authorship, accountability? Thanks!
    – omannay
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:06
  • The Decoded Version is an underground decryption effort. For example: "The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one." (Matthew 13:38 NKJV) It takes this verse, and determines that Field = World. Then uses substitutions to other places that use the word "Field", and replaces it with the word "World".
    – Decrypted
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 13:24
  • If you knew the problem created from the Discernment of Function and Dysfunction, because of the Law "Everything has an Opposite and Equal Reaction". You would know what faith means, for those that decide that it does not work, will be shown how it can, and those that decide that it works just fine, will be shown how there is a problem. The woman presents the problem, But if man fruits the way of function. It will be disagreed, and love will fade. The spirit changes when a person receives the knowledge of error if they do not have faith. Also of function for this breeds pride.
    – Decrypted
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 13:38

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