Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus tells us in this verse that he knows who his sheep are; he knows who belongs to him. But how about you? Do you know if you are one of those sheep? Do you know if you belong to Jesus? How can you know? Well, it’s easy, says Jesus, “My sheep HEAR my voice.”
There is both a promise and a command in this little verse. The wonderful promise is that all we need to do is listen and hear Jesus, and we are his! This is a great comfort. We are saved by faith, says Romans 10:8-9, and faith comes by hearing, says Romans 10:17, by hearing the words of Jesus. We are not saved by our perfect obedience, nor by an act of our own will to create the necessary faith in our hearts, but simply by hearing. We just need to hear Jesus calling us. We need to hear his Word.
But we do need to do that, says Jesus, we do need to hear him, we do need to listen for his voice in those places he has provided for us to hear it. That is the command in this verse. We must not turn away from Jesus and avoid him. We must not refuse to listen to him. Then we would not be his sheep because we would not be hearing his voice.
So how do we hear and listen to Jesus? In the ways and means he has given to us to hear; worship, prayer, his Word, and the sacraments. We hear his voice in all those times and places, and by hearing his voice we follow him and he knows us, and we can know that we are his. But not if we refuse to hear him. “My sheep hear my voice,” said Jesus, “and I know them and they follow me.” What a comfort it is to belong to Jesus. And all you need to do is listen to him, and then you are known by him and you are his.
This is much greater comfort than to just say that we are saved by faith. The Bible does indeed say we are saved by faith, but to depend on our own feelings of faith for salvation is as uncertain as depending on our good works. How do we know how strong our faith has to be? How much faith is enough? Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by doubt, and feel like we do not have much faith at all. If you are depending on the strength of your own personal faith, and a time of doubt and despair comes over you, then what? How much doubt is allowed? And if you don’t have enough faith, what can you do to get more faith so that you do have enough? This can get very complicated, and it is quite impossible to define and measure. We can never know for sure where we are at, and how is there any comfort in that? Faith, when it is left up to us, can be a very slippery thing; hard to get if you don’t have it, and hard to hang on to if you do.
So how do you ‘get faith?’ Paul asks a similar question in Romans 10:14 when he asks, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in?” His answer comes in verse 17 where he writes, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Faith comes by hearing. It is as simple as that. It is just like Jesus said. In both places, the command and promise come in the same verse. The command is, hear the word, and the promise is that then you will have faith. Just hear the word, and leave the rest in God’s hands. He will take care of everything. Keep yourself within hearing distance of where that word is proclaimed and taught, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest, creating and sustaining saving faith in your heart. In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed he wrote these words about how to get faith: “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls me through the gospel, enlightens me with his gifts and sanctifies and preserves me in the one true faith.” The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the reading, speaking, and hearing of God’s Word. There is nothing fancy, tricky, or complicated about that. It is simple, says Jesus, Paul, and Luther. Just hear the Word and the rest will be taken care of– you will have faith and you will be saved.
That is why the habits of faith are so important. We simply decide in advance to be in certain places at certain times to do certain things, things like weekly worship and daily devotions. This is easy. It is easy to get up and get our bodies and our ears into church, into the place where the Holy Spirit can work in us. This is much easy than trying to muster up a powerful faith on our own when we are overcome by doubts, or, trying to create hope in our hearts when all we feel is despair and sadness. It is much easier to get our bodies to do what we want them to do than it is to get our feelings to obey on command. If you have ever been in a deep depression, you know that it does little good for someone to say to you, “Well, just cheer up!” A person in despair will not become cheerful just because he is told to do so. Our feelings, and our faith, are not so readily controlled by our will. To say, “Oh, I’m saved by faith, not works,” does not mean it is easy. It is not only not easy, says Luther, it is impossible without God’s Word. But “faith comes by hearing,” said Paul; and Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and I know them and they follow me.” So keep listening and keep hearing, and you will be all right.
John 10:27 — (Jesus said), “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Romans 10:17 — …Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Ezekiel 3:10 — And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you.
Grant us, O God, to hear thy voice; and in hearing thy voice, to love thy Word; and in loving thy Word, to do thy will. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. –Paul Sherer, Love is a Spendthrift