EN ES

Sermon: John 8:31-47: True Disciples Abide

Reading of God’s Holy Word

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’ They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.’ They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.’” (John 8:31–47, ESV)

Introduction

So the pattern continues in John’s Gospel: Jesus makes some extraordinary claims concerning himself, or utters some provocative thing, which then gives way to a debate between he and the Jews. First it was his claim to be the source of living waters (7:38); next it was his claim to be the light of the world (8:12); and now it is this claim: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32, ESV)

It can be difficult for us to understand why these words of Jesus would lead to such an fiery exchange. The conflict is difficult to understand for two reasons:

One, we are told that Jesus uttered these words to those who had expressed belief in him – they said they believe that he was the Messiah, the Son of Man, as he had been claiming. Look at 8:30: “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” And in 8:31 we read, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31–32, ESV) The reader is lead to believe that Jesus is among friends now, and that the potential for hostility has passed. How could it be that the most intense conflict of all is just around the corner if Jesus is indeed speaking to those who have believed in him?

Two, the fiery exchange is difficult for us to understand because the words of Jesus seem to us to be rather uncontroversial: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32, ESV) These words sound sweet to our ears. We cherish these words. It is difficult for us to comprehend how these words of Jesus could possibly be offensive, leading to such hostility.

Let me address the first reason for our confusion. We are told that many believed in Jesus – that Jesus began to specifically address those who believed in him – but it seems that it is those who believed in Jesus who are most hostile towards him in this passage. What are we to make of this?

Some have suggested that the group is really a mixed group made up of true believers and false believers. They argue this on grammatical grounds claiming that the believers of verse 30 are true, whereas the believers of verse 31 are false. This view doesn’t seem to hold water.

Others argue that though Jesus is speaking to those who believed in him, it was the non-believing Jews who were listening in from the sidelines who objected to all that he had to say to his followers. This view does not seem to square with the straight forward teaching of the text. We are told that Jesus spoke to the Jews “who had believed in him…”

The proper view is to see that it was in fact those who believed who were offended by Jesus’ words and who proceeded to fight with him.

This should not surprise us. John’s Gospel has already made it plain that people make false professions of faith.

John 2:23-25: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23–25, ESV)

We should also remember all that transpired in chapter 6. A great multitude followed Jesus into the wilderness (they believed in and followed Jesus externally) but by the end of the chapter we read these words: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60, ESV), and “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV)

We ought to come to terms with this truth: There are true believers and false believers. There are true believers and temporary believers. Some believe truly and from the heart, whereas other believe only superficially and externally.

How do we recognize the true believers? They abide. True disciples abide.

Notice that this is the point of what Jesus said to the Jews who claimed to believe in him. He presses this point: true disciples abide. He turned to those who claimed to believe that he was the Messiah, the Son of Man, and warned them, saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…” (John 8:31, ESV). Jesus explains what true discipleship looks like. Jesus explains what true belief looks like. It is an abiding faith – a constant faith. True disciples remain in Christ – they go on believing his word and walking in his ways.

The answer to the question, how could those who are said to believe in Jesus one moment be a war with him the next? is really quite simple. Their belief was not true. Their faith was fickle.

John’s Gospel was written to persuade us to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 20:31, ESV), but he concerned that we believe truly. And true belief in Christ is an abiding, faithful, and consistent thing. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…”, Jesus says.

I will admit, it is a bit surprising how quickly these turn from Jesus. They took a while to profess faith in him as the Messiah, and then it seems as if they were lost almost instantaneously. They were slow to come and quick to leave. They would walk with Jesus only so long as he did not offend them.

It is no different today. Some linger for a long time around the Church. But it is astonishing how quickly they will become enemies of Christ upon hearing something that offends. There are many who are willing to accept parts of Christ’s teaching, but not the whole Christ. They claim to believe in some of what he has said, but they will not have it all. They remain in Christ only for a time, but will not abide to the end. Jesus warns us that it is those who “abide in [his] word… [who] are truly [his] disciples…”

What Was The Offense?

And so the question becomes, what is it that set these people off? What offended them so deeply?

Here are the offensive words: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31–32, ESV)

Jesus spoke of the need for them to be set free. The implication is that they were, at the time that Jesus spoke to them, still in bondage. This further confirms the view that these were not true believers. Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that their profession of faith was false and that their belief in him as the Messiah was based on . These people were still in bondage. They were slaves. The way to freedom was for them to abide, or continue, in Jesus’ teaching.

The implication that they were in bondage to something, and therefore needed to be set free, was to much for them. As they examined themselves they figured that they were already free, and in no need of assistance. Verse 33: “They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’”

A common view is that the Jews misunderstood Jesus as if he were talking about political bondage and political freedom and therefore responded with the words, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone…” This view will not do. The Jews understood that they, as Jews, had been in bondage to many foreign powers throughout their history. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Syrians and the Romans had all held the Jews in political captivity. No, they understood that Jesus was speaking of spiritual, inward bondage. They understood his words here, and they rejected his opinion.

The Jews were willing to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of Man – but he went to far in suggesting that they were in bondage, spiritually speaking. They believed that they were inwardly free on this basis: they were children of Abraham. They were under Rome, it is true – they were under Caesars heal – but they believed themselves to be free inwardly and spiritually. Why? Because they were children of Abraham. They were free on the basis of their ethnicity. This was the teaching of the Jewish Rabbis in Jesus’ day.

Now imagine having that view of yourself – spiritually free – spiritually capable – spiritually able on the basis of your Jewishness – free, in and of yourself, because you came from Abrahams loins.

Actually, this may not be all that difficult to for us to imagine. I doubt any in this room have ever reasoned themselves to be free on the basis of their Jewishness, but it is highly likely that many, if not all of us, have agt one time considered ourselves to be free on some other basis.

I am spiritually free, capable of pleasing God, able to stand right before him because I am American.

Or, I am spiritually free, capable of pleasing God, able to come to him because I was born to Christian parents.

Or, I am spiritually free, capable of pleasing God, able to stand before him because I am a relatively good, morally upright, and A generally loving person.

Actually, I would imagine that many today assume that because they are human they are free to pursue God and to lay ahold of him. Freedom, especially for those of us living in the U.S., is a most sacred thing. We equate being human with being free. Freedom is indeed important when it comes comes to our civil liberties. But is a grave error to assume that human beings are spiritually free, able to come to God on their own apart from the help of the Savior. We are not free. Jesus says we are enslaved apart from him.

This false belief that we are free having never been enslaved to anyone is not a Jewish problem, it is a human problem. We, when we reflect upon our spiritual condition, tend to assume that we have within ourselves the capacity, the freedom, the ability to please God and to live before him.

When Christ offered freedom to the Jews who were listening to him he was saying in no uncertain terms that they were in fact in bondage – that they were constrained, limited, unable, in and of themselves, to please God, or to live before him according to the spirit.

This was to much for them. This was the thing that set them off. And this is the teaching that drives many away from Christ even to this very day. Many are willing to believe in Christ so long as he is willing to respect their independence. Many will receive Jesus as the Christ so long as he is willing to validate them and approve of them as they are, saying yes, you are essentially good, inherently capable, and free.

This is the spirit of our age. Man is not perfect – all will acknowledge that – but he is thought to be essentially good, and certainly free, capable of reaching to the stars, if you will. Man is thought to be free, in and of himself – able to reach up to God to lay ahold of him by his own merits and in his own strength.

The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking thought this way. They, in their minds, were free (capable) because they were Abraham’s descendants. Jesus was of a different opinion. Even the Jews – though they were unique and privileged given their place as God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant – even they needed someone to save them from their bondage.

To What Or Whom Are We Enslaved?

The question becomes, to what, or to whom are we enslaved?

Verse 34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”

Sin is thing that enslaves us.

Listen to the word’s of D.A. Carson: “Jesus makes plain the kind of slavery (and, implicitly, the kind of freedom) he has in mind: everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Not only does the practice of sin… prove that one is a slave to sin, but the practice of sin actively enslaves. For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who has made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

We are in bondage to sin – that is what Jesus teaches. Sin is love misdirected. Sin is love turned inward. Sin is failure to give glory to the God who made us – the only Being worthy of glory, honor and praise. We love the wrong things, and therefore we do the wrong things. We transgress God’s holy law.

But notice carefully, and do not miss this point – our deepest problem as humans in not that we have done bad in the past and need to do better in the future. It is that we have sinned and stand guilty. of that sin More than that, we are enslaved to sin – doomed to sin again and again. Our sin holds us captive. Our sin blinds us to the truth of God. Our sin makes us deaf to the words of God. We are enslaved and are unable to make ourselves free. Just as a slave according to the flesh cannot decide to make himself free, neither can we decide to make ourselves free according to the spirit. Someone must set us free.

Who Can Set Us Free?

The truth communicated here is that only the Son can set us free.

In verse 35 we read, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35–36, ESV)

The Jews considered themselves to be son’s of Abraham. Jesus says they are in fact slaves to sin. This ought to have changed their entire outlook. Instead of expecting a permeant place in God’s house, and an automatic inheritance as a son would, they should view themselves in the way that a slave would, seeing that their only hope for a permeant place in the Fathers house – their only hope for an inheritance – is found in the graciousness of the Son. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, ESV)

Our Works Testify to Our Bondage

Notice that Jesus proves that his listeners were we still in bondage to sin by pointing to their works. Their unbelief and evil works were evidence that they were still in bondage to sin. He says in verse 37: “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” In other words, it is true that you have Abraham as your ancestor, but that does not guarantee that you are free. Your deeds prove that you are in fact in spiritual bondage. Look! You are hellbent on killing the Messiah promised to Abraham long ago, and you are rejecting the words of the eternal Son of God.

Verse 38: “They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.” (John 8:39–40, ESV)

Now this interesting. Jesus, in verse 37, admitted that these Jews were indeed offspring of Abraham. But here in verse 39 he insists that they are not Abraham’s children. Does Jesus contradict himself? Is he having a hard time making up his mind? Are they children of Abraham, or are they not?

The answer is this: the Jews are indeed children of Abraham according to the flesh (they share his DNA), but the true children of Abraham are those who do what Abraham did. This is true of the Jew and of the gentile. It is possible for a Jew to be a child of Abraham according to the flesh, and yet not a child of Abraham according to the spirit. And it is also possible for a gentile to be a child of Abraham, never according to the flesh of course, but according to the spirit, having been grafted into him by faith.

Listen to what Paul says concerning all of this in Galatians 3:5:

“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:5–9, ESV)

Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” And what were the works of Abraham? He walked by faith. He believe in the promises of God. He heard God voice and obeyed. As flawed as that man was one thing we can say about him is that he believed God to the end.

Jesus said to the Jews, yes, it is true that you come from Abrahams loins, and it is true that you share a family resemblance according to the flesh, but I do not see the family resemblance according to the spirit.

Abraham heard God’s word – you do not hear it.

Abraham believed God word – you disbelieve.

Abraham obeyed God’s word – you disobey.

Abraham trusted in God alone – you trust in yourselves.

Physical decent from Abraham? Yes! Spiritual decent? No! Abraham is not you Father. You do not resemble him.

In verse 41 Jesus simply says, “You are doing the works your father did…”

The question becomes, who is your father? Put another way, who is your spiritual source? Who is the one who has given birth to you? Who do you resemble according to the spirit?

Who Is Your Father?

Jesus has made it clear that Abraham is not their true father. They respond: “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” (John 8:41, ESV)

There is a double meaning here. On the one hand the Jews are insisting that they are spiritually pure. On the other hand they are insinuating something about Jesus’ impure origins. Jesus was born of a virgin, as we know. The rumor was that he was born of sexual immorality. In saying, “We were not born of sexual immorality”, they are insinuating that Jesus was.

Jesus ignored the jab. He presses further demonstrating that they we not born of God, as they claimed. They could not claim to have God as Father, and their works proved it. Verse 42: “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:42–43, ESV)

To love the Father is to love the Son. To believe in the word of God is to receive the Word from God.

And then we have Jesus’ most piercing statement: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:44–45, ESV)

Jesus had insisted that Abraham was not their father, and that God was not their father. Here he states most plainly who their father is: “You are of your father the devil.”

The devil is a murderer – they desired to put the Son of God to death.

The devil hates the truth – they would not receive the truth of God from above.

The devil is the father of lies – his children prefer to swim in his lies, rather than submit to the truth of God.

They resembled, not Abraham and not God, but the devil.

Conclusion

This was, of course, a difficult thing for the Jews to hear. It is difficult thing for anyone to hear. We all assume that we are basically free, able, by our own efforts and according to our own good deeds, to be in a right relationship with God. We assume that God is our Father.

Jesus says, no. And he say no, not because he is mean, but so that we might know the truth, and in knowing the truth, be set free.

The path to freedom starts with acknowledging that we are in bondage.

The way to have God as Father begins with the realization that he is not our Father, and that we need to be adopted through the Son.

We, in our natural state apart from Christ, are enslaved to sin. We do not have God as Father. Our works prove it. Our sinful deeds show that we resemble, not God ,not Abraham, but Evil One himself.

Our human situation is most bleak. We need the Son to set us free. Will you cry out to him for mercy and trust in him alone for the forgiveness of and freedom from your sins?

And tell me Christian – you who are children of God, adopted into the family of God through faith in the Son – do you resemble your heavenly Father? Of course we are not speaking in terms of physical resemblance – God is a most pure spirit – but do you resemble him according to the spirit. Do your works testify to your being a child of God, or do they condemn you as a fraud?

I do hope that you have assurance in the Christian life as a child of God. I hope that you would lay ahold of that assurance and know that you are indeed a child of God, and never doubt it. To have assurance of salvation in Christ is a most wonderful thing, and it is be desired and pursued.

But how do we lay ahold of it? We grow certain of our salvation in Christ as we walk in the ways of God. Our good works, our obedience, our faith, our love for God and for the brethren, testifies to our own hearts that we are indeed children of God. But if we are polluted by sin we cannot have assurance. The sin itself testifies to another reality, that perhaps God is not our father.

We are not saved by our good works. We are saved by the grace of God through faith alone. But we are assured of the salvation that we have in Christ by our good works, our obedience, and our love for God and the brethren.

Their are some who have a sense of assurance who should not. The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking are an example of this. They professed faith, but their faith was not true. Their works proved it. They were confident that God was their Father when they should not have been.

But their are others who lack assurance though they should have it. These fixate so intensely upon this error and that that they loose sight of the fact that their repentance really is true – their faith alive – their hatred of sin strong – and their love for God and the brethren vibrant.

I want for you to have assurance. And the way to have it is by abiding in Christ. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Comments are closed.


"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church