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What is a True Disciple? | John 8:31-36

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Preface

Thank you, Nick for leading us. If you’re a guest, my name is Ryan and I’m the Lead or Teaching Pastor here, and I’m so glad to be back with you after a great vacation with my family. We started by going to a Family Camp at Maranatha Bible Camp up in Nebraska. Then we went down to Texas to visit Lauryn’s family and then we met up with my family in the CC area and hung out on the beach for a few days.

I love the beach, and apparently Jacob absolutely loves it too; he’s just obsessed with water and wet sand. But I also happen to love swimming every day because that means you don’t have to take a shower every day. I don’t care what any of you say, but swimming in a pool with chlorine, which is basically soap made up of chemicals, negates the need for a shower. That’s all I’m saying. Maybe we can start an intelligent discussion this week on whether or not swimming counts. Ok? I’ll be Team #SwimmingCounts, and my bride, whom I have not asked, but I know she will agree, she will lead Team #SwimmingDoesNotCount. My hashtag is way more catchy by the way.

But we’re so glad to be back. I already got to listen to Jeff’s message last week, which, I just have to ask: do you realize how blessed we are with the elders we have at this church? We are blessed, and I know I am so thankful for each of our elders, and especially for Jeff last week in leading out and doing such a great job! One thing: I leave for a week and half, and the elders allow Pokemon to take over the world, including Raintree. Our church is a Pokestop, so ask Rachel Brattin how many people have been at our church this week during the week. It’s unbelievable. I’m talking literally over a hundred people every day. Anyway, if you’re a first-time guest today, we know the real reason that you’re here. You want the poke stop items. No, I’m kidding; we won’t assume that about you.

 

Introduction

Today we are taking our last week hiatus from the Sermon on the Mount– we will start that right back up next week and continue through some of my favorite passages in the whole Bible, including eventually in chapter 7, the passage that was preached when I got saved myself. But today, having in mind the future of Raintree, what we’re about as a church, what we have in mind going into the Fall getting pumped up for a few new things that will be happening, I want us to take a look at something Jesus said in John chapter 8. Jesus answers the question: What is a true disciple? Today, I don’t want us to unnecessarily question our faith, but I would rather let God’s Word cause us to examine ourselves, yes, even question ourselves, I’d rather have that happen than any of us be flattered straight into hell. 2 Cor. 13:5, in fact, tells us: “Examine yourself to see whether or not you are in the faith; test yourselves.” So let us examine ourselves, and also be reminded of what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

In John 8, the scribes and the Pharisees had just brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery. You may remember this story. They asked Jesus what they should do, and they were trying to trick him, and he ended up saying the famous statement, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Jews didn’t really know how to respond to this, so slowly, but surely, most of them just left. But after this scene, some of the Jews stuck around, and listen to Jesus start teaching. They’re critical, of course, at first, and they ask questions, but eventually, according to vs. 30, many believed in Jesus. This is where we pick up in vs. 31 of John chapter 8:

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?’ ” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

So what is a disciple of Jesus, or what does a disciple look like? At the most basic level, the word disciple means “follower of Christ.” In fact, the word “Christian” means pretty much the exact same thing. To be a Christian, to be a disciple of Christ, is to be a follower of Christ. In Jewish culture, Rabbis, or Jewish teachers, would have these disciples who would, literally, follow them around, learning from them, doing everything they did, but not only did they learn from their rabbis, they also taught the same things, they spread the teaching of their rabbi. That’s the most basic meaning of being a disciple, someone who follows and spreads the teaching of their rabbi. So, what does Jesus have to say, specifically, about being one of His disciples? For the Christ-follower, what is True Discipleship?

So you know where we’re going, we have only two things to focus on in the time we have together: The Gauge of True Discipleship, and The Effect of True Discipleship.

 

The Gauge of True Discipleship

Look at the beginning of vs. 31- “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’ ” If you abide. Some other ways of translating this word: If you continue in my word, hold to my teaching, remain faithful to my teaching. So what is the gauge, or measurement, of true discipleship? What is the way of really telling whether or not someone is a disciple of Christ, or a Christian? One word: obedience. Obedience is the gauge of True Discipleship.

So you hear that; you probably get that. But I have a question for you: Aren’t these Jews disciples of Christ because they believed? Shouldn’t belief be the gauge of True Discipleship? In vs. 30 it makes clear that these are Jews who believed in Jesus. They believe. Isn’t belief the only thing that we need to be saved? To become disciples? Why would Jesus, after they believed, say to them IF you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples?

What’s happening here is that Jesus is addressing something he knows to be true of these Jews: Most of these Jews who have stuck around to listen to Jesus teach have intellectually acknowledged that Jesus came from the Father. Perhaps even understanding that Jesus is claiming to be God, and saying O.K., I believe that.

But here’s the catch: Some of them want what Jesus offers but can’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of idea of Jesus as their Lord. They want this salvation He offers, but they don’t want to submit to Him. They want him as Savior; they don’t want him as Lord. That’s why he says IF you continue in my word, in other words, if you obey me, that reveals that you are truly my disciples, because that means you understand that I’m not just your Savior, I’m your Lord, and you treat me as such.

This incomplete response to the Gospel, which says, “Yes please save me!” but doesn’t submit to Jesus as Lord, that might be one of the biggest plagues in Christianity today, at least in the US. Legalism in mainstream Christian culture seems to be very well addressed, which is a very good thing, particularly with the Pharisees and Sadducees being such prominent characters in the NT, and also just because legalism always needs to be addressed, but it always rears its ugly head in our lives, in one manifestation or another: No matter how much we see in the Scriptures about God’s sovereign unmerited grace, we still think and act like we are entitled to God’s favor because of our actions or something. So legalism must always be clearly refuted in Christian churches.

But, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I think there’s a more prevalent problem within Christian culture, and it’s the exact opposite of legalism. You may remember me introducing this word to you a few months ago, called antinomianism. Antinomianiam, which you don’t necessarily need to remember, but this is the view that there really isn’t any law or conduct or rules to follow at all! We’re saved if we believe, or acknowledge Christ, “accept him” as our Savior. Let him save us, of course! Who would object to that? But then that’s the end of the story.

In fact, if you focus too much on doing what God wants you to do, or commands in the Bible, or rules, or guidelines, ugh., That’s legalism! Let me be very clear: That’s not legalism. Trusting in the Law to save us is legalism. But we’re commanded in the Scriptures, specifically 1 Timothy 6:11- to “Pursue righteousness, godliness.” The law, conduct, how we live, is not a bad thing, but in fact a major part of what it means to be born again!

The second Sunday we came to visit Raintree back in September, we looked at Psalm 1. Listen to these words of the psalmist in Psalm 1- “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” His delight is in the law. So the law isn’t bad. No! We’re to love it! We don’t delight in it because it can save us, in fact it points out our inability to fully obey it or even get close; we delight in it because God has saved us. We obey it as people that have been transformed by the Gospel.

The Pharisees were legalists because they thought that following the law, the majority of which they made up themselves, and being physically in the line of Abraham, but definitely not spiritually, they thought because of that they were entitled to God’s favor. That’s legalism. Following God’s law is not legalism; Guess what, it’s called being a disciple, a true disciple, one who abides and continues in the word of Christ. If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples.

Belief and repentance brings about True Discipleship, but obedience is the gauge or the measure of whether or not that belief and repentance is real. If it’s real, you will be living in obedience. In verse 34, Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” If you openly and unashamedly are living in sin, you must know something: that does not fit the life of a true disciple. A born again Christian cannot openly live in sin, practicing sin, just openly do it, without conviction and repentance at some point! How can you be a follower of Christ if you aren’t following Him?! If you love him, if you’re following him, you will live in obedience to Him. Let me allow God to prove this to you even more. A few other verses, you don’t have to turn there, but you are welcome to write down these references.

  • John 14:15- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
  • John 14:21- “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me.” It seems like everyone claims to love God, but the real test for whether or not we love Him, according to his own words, is whether or not we obey him. The test for whether or not we are true disciples is whether or not we continue in his word. Do we love God in such a way that we obey Him? Because there is no separation between true love FOR God and true obedience TO Another one:
  • 1 John 2:4-6- “Whoever says, ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

 

True discipleship means obedience.

This bears so heavily on how we understand and share the Gospel. We look around and see a lot of people claiming Christ and yet not living in obedience. I was one of those people for nearly a decade. How do we have such a disconnect between claiming Christ and living in obedience to Him, even in the church? I’m convinced it’s because, as one of you put it this week on Gacebook, the Gospel has become about Jesus the Benefactor instead of Jesus the Judge and Savior. We’ve changed the Gospel, the heart of the message of the Bible. Jesus’s purpose is primarily to help make life better instead of to save us from our sin. That’s why, now, more than ever, we need clarity, which is why every few months, I bring up this exact outline of the specifics of the Gospel, so that over time, we will learn it by heart as a Body. So some of you have heard this, and yet, it’s been a few months, so here it is again.

  1. God is our Creator, and we are accountable to Him.
  2. Man rebelled against God, therefore, we deserve eternal death. We can do nothing on our own to reverse this.
  3. God sent his son Jesus to live the life we couldn’t live, die on the cross bearing our sin, and rise again defeating death. He is our substitute.
  4. If we repent, or turn from sin and to Christ, placing our faith in his sacrifice, we are saved from the penalty and the power of sin.

 

That’s the clear, biblical gospel. The reason there are so many who claim Christ and yet are not living in obedience is because they do not know the true power of the Gospel. They’ve been told a pseudo-Gospel, that Jesus is just this really awesome dude that, man, if you just start going to church and love Jesus is some merely emotionally way, you’re good to go! That’s not the gospel. Our desire to fulfill the Great Commission as a church, and as born again Christians, it hinges on the clear articulated truth of the Gospel. Why? Because the enemy works in subtleties. He’s not dumb. He wants to make things just confusing enough so that the Gospel is not clear.

I’m convinced that the modern church will live or will die with the question of clarity. That’s why we need to know the Bible, that’s why theology matters, understanding what the Bible itself actually says, not what people say it says, but what it actually says, reading it and learning it for ourselves. Churches that don’t take this seriously are missing out on the power of the Gospel, or at least have people in their midst who don’t know the true, clear, biblical, power of the Gospel.

The part that might be most often left out is repentance. Repentance heart and mind changing from living life for yourself to living life in obedience to our Master, as a disciple of Christ, placing your faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Cultural Christianity has changed repentance and faith into “acknowledging that God exists”, or maybe “believing that Jesus is God,” or has changed the meaning of faith from trusting in Jesus our Substitute to just being a hopeful person because of Jesus. Do you see the subtle, but damaging change there?

You can’t separate Jesus being Savior from Jesus being Lord. That Jesus doesn’t exist. The Jesus of reality is both Savior and KING, which is why repentance (which means living a life of obedience, the gauge of True Discipleship), must be a part of our understanding and our sharing of the Gospel. Please hear me: faith without repentance isn’t saving faith. For these Jews that Jesus is talking with, and for us as well, faith without repentance and obedience is not saving faith. Jesus is the Savior of the world, yes, but is also LORD, master, KING!

  1. 32-33

The part of the Gospel that these Jews were rejecting was not only the part where Jesus is Lord, but the Jews also did not consider themselves slaves to sin. This is pretty obvious when Jesus finishes his statement. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, (vs. 32) and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They hear Jesus say this, and they think, “free?” We’re not slaves! Verse 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’?” They had no idea what Jesus was talking about. From their point of view, they already had the truth. They were descendants of Abraham. They were heirs of the blessings of the covenant. God had chosen them long ago. “We’re not slaves.” They considered themselves free and possessing the truth simply because of their physical heritage. There was no spiritual reality here at all.

  1. 34-36

That’s when Jesus goes on to explain it to them in vs. 34 and following- ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, but the son remains forever. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed.’

Catch what he says to them: “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Everyone who practices sin. That means continues in sin. It doesn’t say anyone who sins even one time is a slave to sin. It says if you practice sin, are in unrepentant continued sin, you are a slave to sin and not a true disciple. The gauge of true discipleship, the “tell” for whether or not you’re a true disciple, is not PERFECT obedience. It’s obedience. None of us, since we’ve become Christians, have been perfect. Ok? You mess up once, that doesn’t mean suddenly you’re not a Christian. But if you’re in ongoing sin, practicing sin, you are a slave to sin. A true disciple is unable to just continue in sin. Why? Because you have been FREED from the chains of sin.

 

The Effect of True Discipleship

We come now to the Effect of True Discipleship. We’ve looked at the gauge of True Discipleship, the “tell”, which is obedience. What is the effect of True Discipleship? Freedom. You may think so far since we’ve talked so much about obedience, that, man, this is such a restricting message. I just feel weighted down, we’re supposed to obey, brute obedience. Let me encourage you, obedience is not ultimately a restricting idea, it’s not a negative thing, at least in this context. Submission to God through obedience, paradoxically, is the most freeing experience a human can have.

Vs. 34 and following one more time- “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed.” What is he getting at here?

We are born as slaves to sin. Because every man and woman is a slave to sin, they have no right nor ability to free anyone else. Muhammad was a slave to sin, so he can’t free anyone. Buddha was a slave, he can’t free anyone. Confucius: slave. Joseph Smith: slave. L. Ron Hubbard: slave. Richard Dawkins: slave. Joel Osteen: slave. Dr. Phil: slave.

No slave has any right or authority to free anyone! The slave does not remain in the house forever. In other words, the slave does not belong to the family! But who does?! Who has the right and authority and strength and holiness and purity and divinity to free someone? The Son!! The Son remains in the house, he belongs to the family, forever! He has the authority, the right, to set you free! And if the son sets you free, you are free indeed!

What’s the effect of True Discipleship, TRULY having decided to follow Christ, not just acknowledging, but FOLLOWing him, what’s happens? The SON sets you FREE! You are no longer a slave to sin! You are FREE! The Son has the authority to liberate those who are in bondage to sin. He’s the only one. You will know the truth, what truth? That Jesus is the truth, he is Savior and LORD and King and Master and the God of the universe. That truth about who He is, and submitting to Him as He truly is, sets us free.

Freedom is such a huge discussion in our culture, and in most cultures. But how do we usually define freedom? Usually true freedom means that I can do whatever I want to do. I can do whatever I want to do. This type of more political freedom has its merits, of course.

But true, biblical freedom is not the option of doing whatever you might want to do, but the privilege of doing what we were MADE to do. Jesus is the Son who opens the door to real freedom. Vs. 32: the “truth” will set you free. Vs. 36: the Son sets you free. You catch that? The Son IS that truth which releases the sinner from the bondage of sin. He not only speaks the truth; he is the truth.

So many see Christianity as merely a list of do’s and don’ts, and again, guess what, that’ part of it. But it’s also way more than that. Christianity is not a straightjacket of rules. It’s Freedom through the Son to live with the purpose for which you were created to live! It all goes back to God’s glory: There is no greater purpose, there is no greater virtue, there is no greater life than being FREED by the Son to no longer be slaves to sin, but instead now be free to live for God’s glory. THIS freedom no one can take away, because God is the one who established it. This freedom is protected and upheld by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. My question today: are you living in freedom? Or are you a free man or woman pretending to be enslaved? God has granted us the greatest freedom there is. Bask in that freedom. Don’t put chains back on. If you’re in some sin today, be freed, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Conclusion

Many people, perhaps some of us in this room, believe in a Jesus that doesn’t exist. I myself, at one point in my life, believed in a Jesus that didn’t exist. Do you believe in a Jesus that you made up? Or do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible. The historical Jesus demands faith and repentance, and then is the very One who gives faith and repentance to us as a gift. He grants us freedom. Jesus is not just Savior or benefactor. He is KING. Let’s treat Him as such.

A follower cannot be a follower if he doesn’t follow. A disciple can’t be a disciple if he’s not a disciple. In Matthew 4, Jesus didn’t tell Simon and Andrew, as they were fishing in the sea, “Hey Simon, Andrew, acknowledge me! Believe that I exist!” They’d probably be like, “Yup, well, we see you, so we know you exist.” What did he say? “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We as a church, want to make disciples, we want to do anything we can to help you become true disciples, and then become disciples who spread their Rabbi’s teaching to others. If you are not a true disciple today, Jesus calls you in His Word to repent and believe. Please, talk with me, or someone around you. If you are a true disciple, be spurred on; continue in our Lord’s teaching, obeying Him, living in freedom.

 

The Future of Raintree

This is our main goal at Raintree. Especially for those of you who are new to Raintree, have been coming for a few months, or even just a week or two—it will be good for you to know our primary goal at Raintree. Our goal is not to just come and make each other comfortable and happy and gain friends, though those things might happen. Our goal is to see to it that we as a Body are challenging each other to represent Christ on earth. We are to spur each other on in following Christ more and more, pursuing Godliness. We are to be a beacon for truth and purity in the midst of a world where there seems to be no clear truth or purity.

I’ve said this a few times, but I want to say it again, as your pastor: the times are too urgent to sit around and cruise our way into heaven. The times have always been too urgent for that. I don’t want us to get too comfortable, because we’re not supposed to be all that comfortable. This isn’t our home, and we need to stop living like it is our home. Here, amongst the body, the elders leading us, we will help each other become more like Christ and reach the people around us with the Gospel. A major part of that is having true discipleship as our primary directive.

Many churches in our culture have a come-and-see mentality, and desire to get as many people in as they can so as to “reach” them, or what they call “reaching” them (they truly have good intentions), but with that as their main goal, the teaching and preaching and the accountability that we see in the early church has softened to accommodate more and more people. Eventually, when that continues to happen, what might you start losing? The power of the clear, biblical gospel. I don’t want us to become too focused on our own strategy for what we try & call “reaching” people.

My desire, our desire, is to use God’s strategy for reaching people. We desire to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Instead of being a come-and-see church, we want to be a come-pursue Godliness-be equipped-then GO church! We desire for our philosophy of ministry, how we do things, to reflect Ephesians 4. Eph. 4:12-13, THIS is our philosophy of ministry: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

That’s our goal at Raintree, and let me say, for me personally, everything else is dispensable. Our egos are dispensable. Our preferences: dispensable. Our ambitions: dispensable. God’s command for the church to pursue being true disciples and making other true disciples: That’s indispensable. True discipleship: indispensable. Truly following Christ and holding each other accountable to that: indispensable. That’s what our goal is, and I hope that that’s your motivation for being here. If not, let’s pray right now for God to change it. Let’s pray.