How do you imagine the lost sheep responding when the shepherd arrives to find it? Perhaps you see it there, hearing it’s master’s voice and running, or hobbling to get close. Maybe, you picture it docile as the shepherd speaks gently and picks it up into his arms. Both are possible depending on the sheep’s state and situation at the time. Jesus does not go into details in the story.
However, animals are not always docile and compliant when rescued. I remember our cat when we were growing up would get itself into all kinds of scrapes. On one occasion, it found its way upstairs in our neighbour’s house and got itself well and truly stuck in the top window opening. My dad clambered up a ladder to rescue him. The cat promptly sank its claws into dad. Animals may actually be still making a bolt for it, may get caught in something but once set free run off again. They may wrestle and struggle with their rescue, spit, cry, wriggle and kick.
It is helpful to recognise this possibility as we consider Christ’s pursuit of us. Jesus did not wait for us to be willing and ready. Grace is not held back and conditional. Rather, God acted first “while we were still sinners.” And yes, for some of us, our story is that there was an immediate recognition of, love for and acceptance of the saviour. For others of us, we might say that we were dragged kicking and screaming in. There’s hope there too for those of us praying for loved ones whose relationship with the Gospel continues to be, to say the least “complex.”
This is something that the Reformed, or Calvinist tradition gets and emphasises well. Reformed doctrine emphasises God’s sovereignty, both generally over all things and specifically in the work of redemption. So it insists that salvation is a work of God from the first to the last. That’s the basis for assurance and security or the idea of “perseverance of the saints.” Jesus promised that he would hold secure in his hand all the Father gave to him (even if they wriggle and struggle). We cannot walk away/fall away because it was God’s work of saving, so it’s his work of keeping.
So, Calvinists emphasise that God chose/elected/predestined us from before the foundation of the world – in other words, in eternity. This teaching found in Romans and Ephesians particularly is not intended for philosophical debate or to cause arguments but rather to encourage us. This is how much God loves us. He chose to love us before we had a chance to earn his love and even though he knew we never would.
We also talk in terms of irresistible grace. The point being that no matter how much that sheep struggles, wriggles and complains, it cannot prevent the shepherd from rescuing it. You see, it’s not in the sheep’s interests to be able to resist. Indeed, it would not be loving for the shepherd to wait until the sheep was ready and willing to come with him. Nothing can thwart God’s grace and mercy, nothing can separate me from God’s love … not even me.