“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’ ” John 8:31, 32 What is disturbing about these verses isn’t what they say, but what follows. These people who profess to want to be followers of Jesus turn out to be “slaves to sin,” (v. 34), indifferent to Jesus word (v. 37), children of the devil (v.44), liars (v. 55) and guilty of wanting to murder Him (v. 59)
So, what separates the people who would be true disciples of Jesus from the rest of the professed followers of Christ? Jesus makes it clear in verse 31, “if you continue in my word,” then you will be disciples. Today we receive the word of God through study and reading of the Scriptures under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Bible that we understand who Jesus is and what He did for us through His life, death, resurrection and High Priestly ministry. To study the Bible is to learn about Jesus and for anyone who wishes to know about Jesus they must read the Bible.
Notice, Jesus tells the “would be” disciples that they must continue in His word and if they do they will know truth and that truth will set you free. True freedom for a Christian comes through the study of God’s word and the result is we will know freedom. That raises two questions; freedom from what? And who gives that freedom? “They answered Him, ‘we are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘you will be made free.’ ” John 8:33
Jesus answer to their assertion is one of the great statements of Scripture. “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever; the Son continues forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36
Carson, points out, “Judaism taught that study of the law makes a man free, the Fourth Gospel insists that the law points to Jesus (5:39, 46), Himself the truth (14:6) and the one who is full of grace and truth (1:14), if true freedom is to be enjoyed. The Gospel of John p. 349
The Jews who wanted to follow Jesus didn’t want to hear that they were not special because of their lineage being descendants of Abraham. They also didn’t want to hear that they were as sinful as any Gentile and just as much in need of salvation. They prided themselves upon being good law keepers and following all the instructions of their religion. Jesus makes it quite clear that they are slaves to sin and cannot earn their way into the Kingdom of Heaven but only enter in through the Son who gives freedom.
It is not an easy thing for people who have committed their entire life to striving and working to earn merit with God to be told that they are wrong. But, it is only through the gift of salvation that we receive true freedom and come to understand the truth of which Jesus spoke. This was the truth that the Jewish followers would have to understand if they would be His true disciples, and that truth is only revealed through continuing in the Word.
The Jews once again retreated into their pride and arrogance of self-assurance because of their heritage. They answered Him “Abraham is our father.” (v. 39) With this statement the followers of Jesus turned back to their legalism and comfort zone of belief. It is in these few words that they rejected Jesus the Son of God for their tradition and heritage. Jesus spoke to their assertion by stating the obvious, “If you were Abraham’s children you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did.” (v. 39-41) And Genesis 15:6 makes it clear what Abraham did that Jesus contemporaries were unwilling to do. “And he (Abraham) believed the Lord and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness.” By faith Abraham believed the promises of God and if these self-professing Jews would do as Abraham they also would believe.
In verse 37 Jesus makes it clear that He is not disputing their heritage as literal Jews descended from Abraham, but He is speaking of their spiritual nature that comes only through knowing God and not through lineage. “I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you.” Quite literally Jesus was saying, my word does not operate in you, or has no place in you. We either accept Jesus and His grace as revealed through the Word of God as truth and put our trust and faith in it, or we become like the Jewish followers who, when confronted with truth, rejected it for tradition and the arrogance of believing that they had salvation through their association with their religious organization. When these Jews discovered that their being descendants of Abraham didn’t give them special privileges and status they turned on Jesus.
Jesus is telling the people this because it is vitally important to their salvation. If they reject Jesus the “way, and the truth and the life” (14:6), they cannot love Him. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me.’ ” This is what this whole section from verse 31 through verse 37 is all about. If we love Jesus we will hear His voice, listen and follow. If we don’t love Jesus we will follow our traditions and comfort zones.
Jesus ends this section of John by asking a pointed question that is every bit as applicable to us as it was to the people He addressed in the 1st Century. “If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me?” He then goes on to answer His own question, “He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” John 8:46b, 47
That is a great question Jesus asked. If He is the truth then why didn’t they believe Him? The answer is that they didn’t want to hear Him. They chose not to accept the truth of what Jesus taught and the result was they were not considered to be of God. Is it possible that today our churches are filled with people who believe that because they belong to one particular church or denomination, or believe a certain unique doctrine that they are God’s elite and special people, but really are not of God? Is it possible that they put so much faith in their tradition that they missed the freedom that is found in the Son? Is it possible that, though they seem positive of their belief system, they have really not heard the word of God speaking to them?
If we desire to be disciples of Jesus then we must become students of His word and we receive that word through the Scriptures. It is there we discover that we are free from the bondage of sin through the sacrifice of the Son. The result is we give all that we are back in return. We find ourselves loving and trusting in Him to guide and shape our lives. True disciples are those who hear His voice and follow regardless of our own comforts and desires.
And what about those who reject Jesus’ free grace because it gets in the way of their preconceived ideas of who Jesus is and how a person is saved? Jesus said, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” John 8:33