“Jesus 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 set you free.’ “ John 8:31, 32
The vast majority of people who listened to Jesus have gone home to their everyday lives, but a number of them remain because something about His message has stirred their hearts and they now believe in Him. (v. 30) Jesus now turns His attention to these new believers and addresses them directly.
Imagine that you, as a believer, come to church one morning and the pastor begins to preach and it soon becomes clear He doesn’t think much of your supposed discipleship. You turn out to be, according to the preacher, 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 Jesus (v. 59). And to boot he tells you the fact that you and your family have been loyal members of that congregation for generations means nothing. (v. 33, 37)
It is one thing for your local pastor to make such a charge against you but it’s quite another for Jesus to level the charge. So, why does Jesus say these things to those who wish to follow Him? We need to look back to chapter 2: 23 for the answer. When people saw the miracles that He was doing they believed in Him. But Jesus makes it clear they are not following Him because they believe in Him but because they see Him as a miracle worker. (John 2: 24-25) Their faith is fickle and untrustworthy. Their following Jesus isn’t about following Jesus but instead about what they can get out of following Him.
In chapter 6: 60 we see that many of Jesus’ followers turn away from Him because they disagree with His teachings. In chapter 8: 31 Jesus tells the would be followers what the difference is between true faith and fickle, selfish faith. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” The verb translated “continue” in the RSV is memo and means to abide or to remain. Jesus is saying that perseverance is the mark of true faith in a Christian. A true believer remains in Jesus “word” which is His teachings. D. A. Carson writes, “such a person obeys it, seeks to understand it better, and finds it more precious, more controlling, precisely when other forces flatly oppose it. It is the one who continues in the teaching who has both the Father and the Son.” The Gospel According to John, p. 348
Jesus is never interested in numbers or swelling His ranks with half-hearted followers. He is interested in finding those people who have genuine faith in Him and hold tight to His teachings. Jesus makes it clear to would be followers that such faith costs everything and the freedom that is found in such faith presupposes that their previous life was nothing but slavery to sin.
Once again D. A. Carson gives wonderful insight into what is going on in John 8: 31-45. “ The Evangelist includes all of this material not because he is trying to nurture the faith of fledgling 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.” The Gospel According to John, p. 348
In verse 32 Jesus makes it clear that the reward of continuing or abiding in the word of God is that, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” The study of God’s word will lead us to a greater understanding and love for the Gospel and that is where we find freedom. The Jews taught that the study of the Law makes a man free, but the Gospel of John insists that the law simply points to Jesus (John 5: 39, 46) who is Himself the truth (14: 6) and the one who is full of grace and truth (1: 14).
Jesus states quite forcefully what the problem is with the Jews who want to believe in Him but are still proud of their traditions and lineage as descendants of Abraham. He questions, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”
This is the crux of what it means to be a follower of Jesus or to be a fickle follower who has no roots in the word of God. A true disciple of Jesus studies the word of God always seeking a deeper and deeper relationship with God based upon the wonders of God’s saving grace. A fickle believer will turn away whenever something in Scripture contradicts their preconceived ideas of how things should be. For the Jewish converts it was a refusal to understand that just because they were born Jews didn’t give them the right to the kingdom but they, just as the gentiles, must come to an understanding of what saving grace really means. They had to realize that the truth that set them free was not the study of the Law but instead, the surrender of the heart to Jesus.
True freedom from the bondage of sin only comes when we surrender our pretensions, pet beliefs and ideology at the foot of the cross. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” Galatians 5: 1-5
Could Paul be any clearer? If the people who wish to follow Jesus cling to the law as a method of salvation then they have been “severed from God,” and “fallen away from grace.” It is by faith that “we wait for the hope of righteousness.” The reason that the Jewish followers of Jesus in John 8 didn’t make a true commitment to Jesus was because their past beliefs and traditions got in the way. They were not interested in Jesus alone but wanted a mingling of Jesus and Moses. They somehow thought that accepting Jesus and trusting in their heritage and law keeping would be acceptable worship to God. They were wrong.
To be a disciple we must put all our faith in the grace of God and stand firm upon that ground for that is our salvation.