Snapshots of a True Disciple
Scripture: John 8:31–47
Snapshots of a True DiscipleJohn 8:31-47
Sunday, April 6, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith
As we recall last week's text: It started with a radical statement, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (Jn. 8:12). Followed by a radical witness, "I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me" (Jn. 8:18). Followed by a radical message, "You will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (Jn. 8:24). Followed by a radical death, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He" (Jn. 8:28). Concluded with a radical obedience, "I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (Jn. 8:29).
In order to be saved, one must embrace this radical Savior and His radical message. In other words, one must believe the claims that He makes about Himself and His work on the cross to deliver people from their bondage to sin. According to verse 30, it appears that several after hearing the words of Jesus expressed this necessary faith. "As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him."
However, we must affirm that intellectually accepting the Person and work of Christ is necessary, but not sufficient for genuine salvation. There are many today people who "believe" in Jesus apart from a true saving relationship with the Savior. James 2:19 says that even "the demons also believe, and shudder." We all know that there won't be any demons strutting through the pearly gates!
Therefore, true salvation or true conversion or true discipleship, not only believes with the mind, but also surrenders and yields with the affections. True salvation entails abiding in Christ and submission to His lordship. This aspect of salvation is brought forth in verse 31. "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine."
Naturally we would assume those who believed in Jesus in verse 30, would accept His teaching in verse 31. However, by the time we get to verse 44, Jesus is telling these "believers," "You are of your father the devil." Obviously these people expressed intellectual belief, but not the genuine belief, the total reliance on Jesus, necessary for salvation. Just as we witnessed many disciples forsaking Jesus in John 6:66, Jesus exposed these false disciples for the false converts who they were.
Our text is an attack on false discipleship or counterfeit conversions. This morning, I'd like to flip it around and present it from a positive perspective by profiling four snapshots of a true disciple. I trust this abbreviated sermon will be very profitable as we seek to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table set before us.
1. ENDURE IN THE WORD
True disciples endure in the Word. Our Lord made this clear in verse 31, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine."
The key word in this conditional verse is the verb "continue" (Gk- meno), also translated: "hold" or "abide" or "remain." A characteristic of true disciples is that they persevere; they endure, they continue. They continue in what? According to verse 31, Jesus said, they "continue in My word." This is synonymous to the NIV translation, they "hold to My teaching." True disciples continue in the teachings of Christ. But verse 51 makes it clear that continuing in His Word is necessary not only for discipleship but also for salvation. "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death" (Jn. 8:51). We find Jesus making a parallel statement in John 15. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (Jn. 15:6).
In order for salvation or discipleship to be genuine, Jesus Christ must abide in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In order for salvation or discipleship to be genuine, we must abide in Jesus Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We abide in Christ by continuing in His word and when we do this, Jesus then abides in us. John 14:23, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'" 2 John 1:9, "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." The condition for mutual abiding (Christ in us and we in Christ) is marked by a love for Christ that desires above all things to persevere in keeping His Word.
When I coached football, I found great enjoyment in designing plays. A touchdown was the ultimate goal of every play. However, as much as it was intended, a touchdown was not scored every time the ball was snapped. Nevertheless the goal was always kept in focus as the team persevered to the end zone though it often took more than one play to score.
In the same way, our goal is continual abiding in Christ until we reach the end zone of Christlikeness. In this life we are to make it our focus to obey Him in all things. Do we fully succeed? Does every play score a touchdown? Of course not! We blow it! We make worldly decisions! We pursue the flesh! We listen to Satan! But we don't quit! We don't punt! We repent and keep striving for the end zone. A true Christian is far from perfect, but the mark of a true Christian is one that makes it his ambition to abide in Christ and continue in His word as the primary goal on the field of faith.
False disciples, on the other hand, continually resist any submission to the word. Jesus exposed such a mentality in verse 37. "I know that you are Abraham's descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you." A similar comment is made in verse 47. "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
This section goes to show that Jesus is not just looking for intellectual affirmation; rather He is looking for moral commitment. D. A. Carson summarized this well from John's perspective. "The evangelist includes all of this material not because he is trying to nurture the faith of fledging believers, but because he is trying to evangelize Jews and proselytes who must carefully understand what faith in Jesus Christ entails. They, too, must count the cost, and John, like Jesus, must present the gospel in such a way that spurious professions of faith are soon unmasked before they flood the ranks of the messianic community with people who have never been born-again." Therefore the issue here is not only between strong and weak disciples, it's much more serious. The issue is between true and false converts. True converts continually abide in the word. False converts reject the word as did those in this morning's text.
2. EMBRACE THE TRUTH
Verse 31 says that if we continue in His word we will be true disciples and then verse 32 progressively adds that by doing so we will know the truth. The second snapshot of true disciples is that they will both know and embrace the truth.
The word "truth" (Gk- aletheia) is an essential word in John's gospel and specifically in our section as it occurs 7 times in the span of 15 verses. In verse 32 Jesus mentions the word twice to explain the blessings of discipleship. "And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." But in the verses that remain, the word is mentioned to rebuke the false converts. Verse 40, "But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do." Verse 44, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." Verse 45, "But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me." Verse 46, "Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?"
The link between truth and conversion is so strong because the link between Jesus and the truth is so strong. In John 14: 6 Jesus said, "I am the truth" (c.f. 1:14). He is not "a" truth among many truths. Rather He is "the" truth. Therefore, accepting the truth is accepting Him. Denying the truth is denying Him. It's inescapable! The true disciple of Jesus Christ cannot be indifferent toward the truth!
Before Pontius Pilate Jesus said, "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (Jn. 18:38). "Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?'" (Jn. 18:39). Pilate's response is similar to that of today. "Truth is relative. We are unable to discern an absolute truth. To claim that your way is right naturally implies that other ways are wrong or inferior. Such attitudes are unacceptable and the epitome of intolerance. Truth depends on the perspective and feelings of the beholder rather than on objective facts. What may be true for you might not be true for me. And what may be true for me today might not be true for me tomorrow. Everybody is entitled to his own definition of truth, even if his truth contradicts with another's truth."
On the contrary, Jesus Christ is "the truth" (Jn. 14:6). In John 17:17 He prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." He taught us "true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:23). He sends the Holy "Spirit of truth" (Jn. 16:13), who said, "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:19).
Because of their relationship with the triune God, true disciples affirm, recognize, understand, defend and proclaim the truth. As they continue in the word, they grow in learning the truth (Jn. 8:31). The word becomes their ultimate and uncompromising standard. They see everything through the eyes of Christ and sift everything through His grid of truth.
3. EXERCISE THE FREEDOM
The progression continues as we identify another snapshot of the true disciple. Beginning in verse 31, "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn. 8:31-32). The third snapshot of true discipleship is freedom.
Now a good question at this point is to ask, "Free from what?" Or put the other way around, "If Jesus Christ grants me freedom, what was I enslaved to in the past?"
It didn't take the false converts long to figure this one out. They knew Jesus was implying that apart from Him they were in spiritual bondage. Immediately after this comment, these so-called "believers" took offense to Christ's instruction. Verse 33, "They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free?'" No doubt, the Jews would confess to centuries of political bondage, but the one thing they believed they always had was their spiritual freedom. After all they were "God's people" and "children of the kingdom." They had a rich lineage that traced back to Abraham and cherished the promises given to him to be "the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4, 5)!
Beginning with verse 34, "Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed'" (Jn. 8:34-36). These self-sufficient and self-centered and self-righteous Jews failed to understand that spiritual freedom is not achieved by belonging to the right religion or being born under the right bloodline, since all people apart from Christ are in bondage to sin. They are "slaves to sin" as Paul refers to it in Romans 6. They are engaged in unrighteousness and rebellion toward God. This slavery to sin is a trap ensnaring (not just the Jews, but) every human being from the moment of conception (Psm. 51:5) only to be released by God when He makes them a new creation. Only when the scales fall from their eyes and their hearts are renewed and their desires are changed and their minds are transformed are they able, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to break from sin's bondage and enjoy the freedom offered in Christ.
Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, freedom in Christ is not a license to sin (Gal. 5:1, 13)! The prodigal son gloated in his freedom to sin and reaped devastating consequences. On the contrary, the Christian's freedom is now a desire and ability to overcome sin and obey from the heart for the first time. We are freed from the bondage of sin and guilt and pride and fear and liberated to do what pleases God, which now in a miraculous turn of events, also pleases us!
Imagine being the parents of a son who lost his life in the recent war. After the conflict ends and the country has been liberated, you pay a visit to Iraq. As soon as you arrive, you notice people wearing chemical suits, people worshipping resurrected statues of Saddam and people in fear of the evil regime that has been removed. How would you feel? You'd probably say, "Our son gave his life and shed his blood for this? He gave the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom and you are still living in bondage!" How does God feel after His Son paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom but we are still in bondage to and in love with our sin? How does God feel when we are more consumed with esteeming ourselves than esteeming Him? How does God feel when we have more fear of man than a reverential fear for Him? How does God feel when we are living in guilt because we forget His infinite forgiveness?
The cry of every true disciple is: "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last!" or as Jesus said in verse 35, true disciples are "free indeed!" By the power of God, the true disciple has been delivered from the bondage to sin and has now become a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Cor. 7:22; 1 Pet. 2:16).
4. EMULATE THE FATHER
In verse 37 Jesus concedes that the Jews are "Abraham's (physical) descendants," but then goes on in the verses that follow to explain that their spiritual father (unlike Abraham) is not God (c.f. Rom 2:28-29). Paternity in the spiritual realm is not established by the right ethnic connections (God has no grandchildren!), but rather the right belief demonstrated by the right conduct. Therefore, since these Jews had neither, their spiritual father was not God. And if one's spiritual father is not God, his spiritual father is - Satan.
Beginning in verse 38, "'I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.' They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.' They said to Him, 'We were not born of fornication (possibly a cheap-shot based on their misinterpretation of Christ's virgin birth); we have one Father: God.' Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:38-44)
Why do so many pursue evil? Because their father is the prince of darkness. Why do so many fail to hear the words of Jesus? Because their father is the master of deception. Why do so many want to kill Jesus and His followers? Because their father is a murderer. Why do so many oppose the truth? Because their father is the father of lies. All of humankind belongs to one of two spiritual fathers. Their paternity is determined by the one whom they hear, and the one whom they obey, and the one whom they imitate, and the one whom they desire to please. Like Father like son and daughter!
On the other hand, true disciples have been born-again into the family of God. Other Christians become their spiritual brothers and sisters and God becomes their spiritual Father. They are no longer "children of the devil" (Jn. 8:44) or "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3) or "sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6). Rather, they are now adopted into the arms of a good and loving Father who gives them around the clock access (Psm. 55:22), all things for contentment (1 Tim. 6:8), a peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:7) and a promise to work all things together for their good (Rom. 8:28).
In Romans 8:15 Paul wrote, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" Who are the ones who have this spiritual Father? According to verses 30 and 31, it's those who have believed in Jesus and continue in His word. According to Ephesians 5:1, it's those who seek to "be imitators of God, as beloved children."
Though they were presented very briefly, I trust you are able to identify with these 4 snapshots of a true disciple, which (I realized in studying this material) are also biblical snapshots of a true convert. May you continue to endure in the word, embrace the truth, exercise the freedom and emulate the Father.