John 8:31-33 (ESV) - 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’?”
Please read the entire passage of John chapter 8 from verses 31 to 59 to appreciate this reflection better. This passage has divided biblical commentators. What is the problem? Jesus was speaking to those people ‘who had believed Him.’ Yet, no sooner had He clarified with them what real faith in Him means, they turned against Him. They could not agree with Him. Eventually, they picked up stones to kill Him. Some commentators have problems reconciling the fact that the apostle, John, called these people ‘believers’ when their reaction clearly shows that they did not believe. This passage also challenges the flawed assumption that one can be a believer but not yield to Christ’s full authority.
Jesus emphatically told these so-called ‘believers’ that they must abide in His word. Otherwise, they were not truly His disciples. To abide in His word means to obey His word. They must listen, hold fast and carry out the His bidding. Only then would they be set free from their bondage to sin. Mere believing is not going to cut it. If one truly believes in Jesus, he obeys Him. He must come under the Lordship of Christ.
These so-called believers thought that they believed, but Jesus peeled off the layers to expose their unbelief. They argued that they were Abraham’s descendants. In the physical sense, they were, but not spiritually. Abraham’s response to God is always in faith. This is evidenced by His obedience. Even when God demanded the sacrifice of his son, Abraham obeyed though it did not make any sense to him.
But here in this conversation, Jesus charged that His word could find no place in these ‘believers’ (John 8:37) and they were incapable of heeding His word (John 8:43). It does not matter that they were Abraham’s children. It does not matter that God had called and chosen them. They disqualified themselves from His Kingdom because they could not accept and abide in His Word. Abraham’s merits would not cover their demerits. Jesus crushed the commonly held dictum of that day that ‘the circumcised do not go down to the Gehenna (hell).’
Similarly, you cannot appeal to the fact that you come from a Christian family and therefore you are saved. Neither does church attendance nor service rendered to God count. What matters is whether you abide in the word of God. You are a child of Abraham if your faith response is obedience to Christ. Only then are you truly a disciple.
Biblical passages like this one is disturbing to those Christians who baulk at the demand of total surrender and submissive obedience to the lordship of Christ. The gospel call to faith is not an intellectual acknowledgement of Christ but it is a call to discipleship. It is a call to follow Jesus as disciples. The sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him unquestionably.
In the context of this passage, these Jews believed in Him after listening to Him teach. Jesus was a powerful communicator and He spoke profound truths that moved the masses. So, understandably, people were inspired by Him and drawn to follow Him.
The Jews were also attracted to Jesus and believed in Him for another reason. He performed astounding signs and wonders. People are always drawn to the spectacular. It was so then and it is the same now. Again, it is understandable.
But to believe in Christ because of His charisma and eloquence or miracles would not be the right reasons. Saving faith involves the acknowledgement of and repentance from sin. It also involves yielding to the authority of Christ as this passage in John chapter 8 teaches. Obedience is non-negotiable.
That is the reason Jesus often talked about discipleship and the cost of discipleship whenever people tried to follow Him. In John 8, He challenged their flawed premise in believing Him. On another occasion recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus was sceptical when many people believed in Him after witnessing Him performing miracles (John 2:23-25).
It is so important for us to believe and abide in Christ and His word. This is the evidence of true faith.
Pastor Leslie & Adeline