So, what we’re looking at today in John chapter 8 is especially relevant for us, as American Christians. What it really means to be a Christian has become so convoluted and warped in our culture, that many in our circles think they are Christians but, in fact, are not truly born again. To be completely honest with you, I don’t doubt that there are a few of us in this very room who are not born again. Maybe we’re not aware of it—we think Christianity is just about being a good person, or being moral—whatever it is, we must define from God’s Word what it looks like to have genuine faith. What are some marks of genuine faith? How do we recognize genuine faith? That’s the question we’re asking this morning.
We know from two weeks ago and from this whole series so far in the gospel of John, that true faith means believing and trusting in Jesus alone to save us. True faith means knowing that Jesus is our only hope, and therefore trusting what he has done for us in his death and resurrection—believing that he has dealt with our sin on the cross, and has defeated that sin by rising from the dead.
So, Jesus was kind-of hinting at and talking about that two weeks ago, when he said, “Believe in me or die in your sins.” And apparently, if you remember the last verse we read two weeks ago, many of these Jews listening to Jesus believed! Or at least they thought they had believed. But Jesus recognizes some issues with their so-called belief. And that’s when he decides to address these issues and clarify what it actually looks like to have genuine faith. So that’s our context as we read John 8:31-47. Read with me John 8, verses 31 through 47:
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 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’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slaveto sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 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, 40 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. 41 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.” 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.43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.44 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.45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
So right off the bat, we see Jesus concerned with their faith. In verse 30, John tells us that many believe in Jesus as they were listening to him teach. Ok? So we know, apparently, some have believed. Then verse 31, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in 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.” Now, to “abide in his word” means to “continue” in it, or to hold tightly to it. This is where we see the first characteristic of genuine faith. We will see three this morning. The 1st Characteristic is this:
1. Genuine faith holds tightly to the word of Christ.
Now, just a clarification: when I say “word of Christ” here, I mean the entire Bible. We know from the New Testament that Jesus considered the Old Testament the Word of God, but we also know that the New Testament was considered God’s Word insofar as the authors were connected to Jesus in some way. That’s where the New Testament actually got its authority, because it was reflective of the teachings of Jesus, and came from those who actually walked and interacted with Jesus. So, by extension, I’m applying what he says here to the whole Bible.
So, Jesus says, “If you abide, if you continue, hold fast, to my word, then you are truly my disciples.” That’s what genuine faith looks like. That what God has said to us, what God has revealed, right here in the word, is of the utmost value to us. What God has revealed to us and spoken in his word—as Psalm 19:10 puts it, it’s “more precious than gold, than much pure gold; sweeter than honey.” To have genuine faith, to have truly believed in Jesus, means that his word is very important to us, because that’s how we’ve come to faith in him in the first place! Jesus said, “Believe in him.” Those are his words! The problem with these Jews who thought they had believed—according to Jesus in verse 37, he says, “you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.”
His word was not important to these Jews. They did not want to abide in what he was saying. They didn’t want to obey Jesus. And that’s certainly part of the Word being important, right? Holding fast to the Word is not just intellectually—like we love learning what it says for the sake of knowing what it says. But we love learning what it says because we want to conform our lives to it! To abide in his word, to hold fast to it, means that we live in submission to it.
These Jews who thought they had believed—they didn’t actually want to submit to what he was saying. Verse 43: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” They couldn’t hear, as in obey, what Jesus was saying. Ultimately, they were not of God, they didn’t truly believe, which was why they couldn’t obey. Verses 46 and 47: “If I tell you 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.”
This is something worth writing down: True obedience can only come after true belief. These Jews thought they had believed. John even records them as having believed. And yet, it was not genuine faith. They wanted to hold fast to the word when it was convenient, which means they really didn’t trust what Jesus said after all. Don Carson puts it like this: “They believe Jesus only when his teachings do not clash with their prejudices, and they turn murderous when their fundamental religious biases are called into question.” In other words, they hold fast to the Word of Christ as long as it happens to fit their own word, what they’ve determined for themselves to be true and best. They’re still just holding fast to their own truth, however they have defined it.
A: For you and for me: does the Word have a place in our hearts and minds? Because to abide in the word means that it so fills our hearts and minds that we can’t even keep it in. It means that the word controls us. It governs us. It means we’re taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, to use the language of 2 Corinthians 10:5. Even when faced with something we don’t like, we obey! Why? Because we trust Jesus’ word over or own. Not that we always do this, but this is our general thinking and trajectory. He is Lord; we are not! Therefore we value his word over our own.
I: It’s just like a young child deciding on his own to play with a lit candle, even though he knows his father has told him not to. He knows it’s apparently dangerous. But he thinks he can handle it anyway. We, like children, trust and abide in Jesus’ word, because he knows better, because he loves us, and knows what is best for us, even when we think we know what’s best for us.
A: And this abiding is not temporary. It literally means to continue. It goes on and on. We are in this obedience-to-Jesus-thing for the long haul. We don’t obey for a day, to see how it goes, then change our minds if it doesn’t go as planned! Right? No, we continue, we live here. We hold fast to the word of Christ, knowing that it’s not just about instantaneous results, but about the eternal.
Just as an example, at Walmart, let’s say you see an elderly woman with her three young grandkids in line behind you. You don’t let her cut you in line (so she can get home sooner) because it’s convenient for you, right? That’s not why you do it. You don’t do that because you just love being at Walmart and you want to expand your time there. You do that because you love and cherish the word of Christ, which commands us to consider others more important than ourselves. We treat other people as more important than ourselves, not because it’s better for us. You pursue integrity and holiness with your job, not because it will bring you a promotion, because it may not, right?! It could keep you from a promotion, depending on the situation. We abide and continue in the word of Christ, because we cherish it. Because it’s about the eternal, and not the instantaneous.
Again, genuine faith hold fasts to the word of Christ. We cherish obeying Christ even over convenience, or comfort, or even safety. Do you hold fast to the word? Or do you hold fast to something else? Do you evaluate every decision in light of the Word? What you believe? How you live? Do you hold fast to the Word in order to know God? Because that’s how we know who God is and who we’re supposedly worshipping, through His Word! Do you trust God to determine the truth?
Jesus repeatedly calls his word “the truth.” Did you catch that? Verses 32, 40, 44, 45, and 46. 5 times. What does that imply? It implies that to reject the Word is to reject the truth. Similarly, it implies that to ignore the Word is to ignore the Truth. Because even if we are genuine Christians with genuine faith, we can get into the habit of ignoring the Truth. Let me ask you this: when was the last time you read the Word on your own? I don’t mean for this to be a guilt trip, but a reminder: God’s Word is more precious than gold! You and I, like so many others, can be led astray! The only way to avoid being led astray is by holding fast to the Word. Read it! Treasure it! Obey it. The 2nd characteristic of genuine faith:
2. Genuine faith frees us from slavery to sin.
E: Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In verse 33, however, the Jews apparently did not like what Jesus was implying. So they thought they’d clear that up: “Um, excuse me: We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Now when they say this, they don’t mean that they’ve never been enslaved physically, because there had been almost no major power that hadn’t enslaved the Jewish people at some point in their history. That’s not what they’re talking about. What they mean is that they’ve never been spiritual slaves.
If they’re offspring of Abraham, then they’re heirs of the promises of God! In other words, in their thinking, they are entitled to God’s favor. They, of all people, are not enslaved. They’re God’s chosen people. But Jesus makes it very clear, doesn’t he? He says, “No, no no, I tell you the truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Obviously, what he’s implying is that everyone practices sin, and therefore everyone is a slave to sin. We’re all in the same boat here!
And then he says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever. But the son remains forever.” In other words, you’re not the son! You don’t have rights to the home just because of your physical lineage. You are actually a slave, just like every other person in the world! However, the son remains forever. He is entitled to God’s favor. And we know he’s referring to himself here, because the word in the Greek he uses for “son” there, when used in the gospel of John, it always refers to Jesus. So he’s saying, “Slaves don’t remain forever, but the son does, and I am the son!” And then he brings up what they need. They need him, Jesus, to set them free! Because if the Son, who has the keys to the home, who belongs in the home forever, who has the favor of the Father no matter what—if the Son, sets you free, you will be free indeed! That is where true freedom is found. It is only faith in the true Son of God, Jesus, that can set us free from slavery to sin.
So many false conversions come from not realizing our natural state. The reason there are so many people who think they’re saved, it’s because they’ve never truly realized their natural state. Their state without Christ. Or at least I think that’s one of the biggest reasons. Don’t be deceived like these Jews. This is how they thought of themselves: free in verse 33, sons of Abraham in verse 39, and then even children of God in verse 41! They said, “We have one Father, and he is God!” That’s how they thought of themselves! They thought they were hot stuff! But they were deceived! Here’s the reality of it: they were enslaved according to verse 34, intolerant of the truth according to verses 40 and 45, and children of Satan, according to verses 44-45. They weren’t just a little off here, were they? They thought the exact opposite of what was true!
A: Listen: do not deceive yourself. Do not think you have believed in Jesus, when in fact, maybe you don’t have genuine faith. You cannot have genuine faith until you have come to understand that you are a slave to sin. We are, like verse 44 makes clear, children of the Devil. Not in the sense that we literally are his children, but that we do not stand in the truth without Jesus. We are slaves to sin, unless we have genuinely trusted in Jesus alone. There is a moment, a point in your life, when you truly trust in Jesus. You may not be able to remember the date, but there is a time when that happens.
Genuine faith isn’t just something you add to your life, like, “You know, I just kind-of wanted more Christian influence. Or I wanted to be a bit better of a person. I wanted my children to have that Christian influence.” Listen, those are good things, but that’s not genuine faith, church. When we believe in Jesus, when we fall back and know he is our only hope, then and only then, we are FREED from slavery to sin. Doesn’t it seem unlikely that someone in chains will ever be freed from their chains if they never realize they’re in chains?
There’s two sides to this freedom we find in Christ. We are positionally free from sin, meaning, Christ has taken our sin upon himself. He alone has dealt with the power and the penalty of sin, and only with genuine faith do we become holy saints of God. Truly! That’s our positional reality. That’s who we are. And yet, there’s also a practical side to it. Because we are free in Christ, and our sin has been dealt with, we no longer have to walk in sin! Day-to-day, we can live holy lives, that is the truth! Not that we’ll ever be perfectly holy in this life, but that is our trajectory! We are able to live increasingly holy and Godly lives. But this only comes through genuine faith in Jesus. And genuine faith only comes in realizing our own slavery. We have to know that we do not bring anything to the table, like the Jews did here: “Abraham is our Father.”
So here’s a question we have to ask ourselves: What’s our version of “Abraham is our Father”? That’s the reason these Jews give for thinking they are right with God, that God looks upon them with favor. So what reason do we give? If you’re asked the question, “Why does God favor you?” Or even more directly, “Why do you think you have eternal life?” What is your answer?
- Is it, “Well, I’ve always been a Christian. It’s how I was raised, and I’m following in that path now.” Listen: no one has always been a Christian. You were a slave to sin at some point. That’s what Jesus says here. “Anyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
- Or maybe your answer is “I try to be a good person. I’m not a murderer, or anything else really bad. I’m not perfect, but I’m better than most, or at least some.” Again, “Anyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” It doesn’t matter how good you may be trying to live your life, because you still practice sin. Therefore you are a slave! You’re stuck in your sin. You’re stuck under the power of sin, and you’re stuck with the penalty of sin, which is death! Physical and spiritual death!
- Or maybe your answer is, “Well, I believe in God. I’m not an atheist.” Listen, there will be plenty of “theists” who die in their sin. We can acknowledge that God exists, we can even acknowledge that Jesus is God and that he died for the sins of the world, and yet not have genuine faith. We can still think we come to God with something worth offering.
Can I tell you what genuine faith in Jesus looks like? When we’re asked this question, “Why does God favor you?” Or “Why do you think you have eternal life.” Or, “Why should I let you into heaven?” Genuine faith answers like this: “It’s only because of Christ! I have nothing to offer, in and of myself. It’s only because of Jesus taking my place, bearing my sin and shame and guilt, and rising from the dead! I’m not, on my own, entitled to your favor. I bring nothing to the table. But the ONE who does have your favor, the only true Son of God, has set me free, and I am free indeed!”
Genuine faith says, “it’s only because of Jesus.” The Son has set me free. His death and resurrection is the only claim I have. I boast of nothing except the cross. Because of the Cross, and only because of the Cross, I can become a son of the King. This brings us to the third characteristic of genuine faith. Number 3:
3. Genuine faith bears the marks of true Sonship.
This is our claim, church. This is our answer. Not me, me, me, me, me. But Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. In him alone, we too become children of God. We are sons and daughters, children of God. So, Jesus brings up two ways that these Jews, especially, are clearly not children of God. And these two marks of Sonship are the results of genuine faith. Two main marks of Sonship. The first:
a. Obedience to the Father:
Over and over we see Jesus hint at what it looks like to truly have God as our Father. Verse 38, he says, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” And when they respond with, “Abraham is our father,” Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” Then, in verse 44, he reveals who their real father is, in the sense of he’s the one they act more like. Verse 44: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning [which is why they were wanting to murder Jesus], and he 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.”
Jesus is saying that these Jews are falling right in line with their spiritual father, the devil! If they were true sons and daughters of God, true children of God, then they would instead be living in obedience to the Father! Because obedience is a mark of true Sonship. Obedience is part of what it means to be a child of God. So we have obedience, and then the second main mark of Sonship is this:
b. Love for Jesus.
This must be pointed out. Notice something he said in 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.” True Sonship is marked by a love for Jesus. Not only listening and obeying, but LOVING Jesus. Why would they love Jesus if God was their Father? Because God their Father sent Him! God the Father sent Jesus to save the world, and only true children of the Father see this and so love Jesus.
Think about it: How can we not have a love for Jesus? If we’ve truly understood the weight of what God has done in sending Jesus. That he is our sure and certain hope! If we don’t love Jesus, we certainly do not know God. If we don’t love Jesus, then we don’t get it, what God has done for us in Jesus. I remember the first time it truly clicked for me. It was the night I came to know Jesus, the night I got saved.
I’d heard the story of Jesus over and over and over and over and over. I’d heard the gospel, truly, probably 100 times. I’d heard the facts of the gospel, and yet it just didn’t click, as to why it was such a big deal. But I remember that night. I remember just thinking, “Lord, wait a minute. You did what? What did you do? What is this?” I know we talk about this every week, but we’ve got to slow down every single week and ponder, and be silent.
Laurel, our Children’s Director, shared this on Facebook yesterday. It seems fitting for this morning. It’s a Charles Spurgeon little excerpt. I think this will challenge us and remind us of why we love Jesus. I want you to ponder this along with Spurgeon. He writes this:
This morning let’s hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I myself will help you.” “It is a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already. What! Not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood. What! Not help you? I have died for you; and if I have done the greater, won’t I do the less? Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave up My life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now. In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you needed a thousand times as much help, I would give it to you; you require little compared with what I am ready to give. It is much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to give. ‘Help you?” Don’t be afraid. If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. ‘I myself will help you.’
That’s Jesus speaking to us, in Spurgeon’s words. Do we not love him? Spurgeon then comments on this little discourse he’s just given us: “O my soul, isn’t this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring your empty pitcher here! Surely this well will fill it.”
If thinking about Jesus like this doesn’t stir your affections, I don’t know that you know Jesus truly. Maybe it’s an older hymn and rather repetitive, but I love it nonetheless. I’ll sing the verses, if you’ll join with me on the chorus:
There is a name I love to hear
I love to sing its worth
It sounds like music in my ear
The sweetest name on earth
Oh, how I love Jesus
Oh, how I love Jesus
Oh, how I love Jesus
Because He first loved me
It tells me of a Savior’s love
Who died and set me free
It tells me of His precious blood
The sinner’s perfect plea
It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe
Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below
Do you have genuine faith in Jesus? A faith that holds fast to everything he says, because it’s the only real truth we have? A faith in JESUS ALONE as the only one who can free us from slavery to sin? Are you free? Jesus says, “Believe in me.” Then, live there. Don’t forget Jesus. Don’t forget that He is what it’s all about. Believe, obey, continue, hold fast, live as children of God, love Jesus.