To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Remember that verse 30 says, “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” Now verse 31 picks up, “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said…” The following conversation then is spoken to those who had put their faith in him. He begins to challenge their beliefs right from the start; and oh, what a challenge it is!
This is a significant development. I remember one time, just after I baptized someone, saying to them, ‘Well, now the tough part begins.’ He was shocked and looked at me and just said, ‘what?’ It wasn’t too long after that that he stopped worshiping altogether. Immediately, Mark tells us, after Jesus was baptized the Spirit drove him out into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. I believe the point here is that life does not automatically become a bed of rose petals after we become a Christian or after we have some sort of faith or belief in Jesus. I think that faith is going to be challenged right from the start.
Trouble is, that’s not how it works in the church of today. I think we have tended to do things quite the wrong way in the church because we are afraid that if people face trials right away then they might run away. I’m not suggesting that the church need bother set up any such ‘trials’ or ‘troubles’. Each day has enough trouble of its own. What I am suggesting is that the church ought not be afraid of the truth that people will face difficulties in this world, in Christ, and they need to cling tightly to Jesus. Jesus makes it clear: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Does he mean that only those who persevere through all the muck will be truly considered his disciples? Is he saying that there is something more than a one time placing of faith? Bruce wrote, “The power of what he said had already moved some of his hearers to believe in him, but discipleship is something continuous; it is a way of life.” (196)
Is there something to be said about what we believe? Is there something to be said about what we believe about Jesus? “If you hold to my teaching…” It is necessary, thus, to find ourselves persevering in the Word of Jesus—His teaching. Does this exclude all other teachers? Well, no. But, it does mean that all teaching must fall into direct compliance with the teaching of Jesus. I refer to professor Bruce again,
A true disciple has an affinity for his teacher’s instruction and accepts it, not blindly, but intelligently. The teacher’s instruction becomes the disciple’s rule of faith and practice. What Jesus taught was the truth; his disciples, by paying heed to him, received the truth. False belief holds the minds of men and women in bondage; truth liberates them. Truth by its very nature cannot be imposed by external compulsion, nor can it be validated by anything other than itself. One either sees the truth for what it is, or one does not. When we bear in mind the meaning of ‘truth’ in this Gospel, where the concept finds its embodiment in Jesus himself, it follows that for his disciples to know the truth ‘they must not only hear his words: they must in some sort of way be united with him who is the truth’ (FF Bruce, The Gospel of John, 196-197; at the end Bruce quotes CH Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 178).
Their response to Jesus’ statement is a bit strange. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say we shall be set free?” Well, they might well have forgotten Egypt and Babylon, but we’ll forgive that much because Jesus goes on to point out to them that regardless of where they live or who they serve they are still slaves in need of freedom. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Jesus was specifically working to free them from what they were truly enslaved to: the flesh; themselves. And he goes on to point out to them that they will never truly be free by merely being Abraham’s descendants: That’s not enough. Your ancestry is not enough to break those shackles that hold you in place.
They were so incensed at this notion that they were ready to kill him and they had been trying at nearly every chance they could get. His time was not yet come yet. Furthermore, Jesus points out, this message is not from him. He did not ‘invent’ it, so to speak. It was from the Father. The eternal God of the universe, the One who called Abraham, this is His decree. Jesus keeps saying in these verses: ‘hold to my teaching,’ ‘you have no room for my word,’ ‘I’m telling you what I heard in the Father’s presence,’ and ‘…a man who told you the truth I heard from God.’ He keeps on telling them over and over and over again: Listen to what I’m saying. Now my question is this: how can people truly be set free if we do not, in fact, say the same things? And who will listen if we do? There are scores upon scores of prophets in this world and there are multitudes upon multitudes who listen to them. But who will preach Christ Jesus’ Words? Who will preach Christ Jesus?
No one will be set free apart from Jesus: If the Son Sets you Free, you will be free indeed. But he also said, “The truth will set you free.” I understand there to be more than a mere congruance between Jesus and truth: They are One and the Same. Those who wish to be set free will hear and listen and obey the Word of Christ. Those who do not will continue listening to everyone but Jesus. Jesus indicates that it is an either or proposition: His Word or not; freedom or slavery; truth or lies; children of Abraham or children of the devil (v 41, 44); true sons or illegitimate children. There is no middle ground. And it is time for those preachers in the church who advocate a middle ground to repent and preach the truth.
So what are we to do? The current fun way of doing things involves a slackening of obedience to the Word of Christ. Don’t get me wrong: Many people are saying many things about Jesus and they are using a lot of Scripture to back it up. But there is an incongruence between what they are saying, how they are using Scripture, and what the Bible actually says about Jesus, Sin, Grace, and judgment. In other words, their preaching is far more practical than it is theological. This is a problem. Our ambition is to be in line with the Biblical Christ. So again we arrive at this position: There is no other way to the Father except the way the Father revealed. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth; Jesus is the Revelation of God.
Jesus couldn’t get this into their heads though. So offended were they by Jesus’ words that they were ready to kill him to do away with his words. In our subtle culture of middle-grounders many preachers have done the same exact thing. But where these unbelievers in John succeeded in killing Jesus physically, many in our world have killed Jesus theologically or at least reduced or minimized his necessity, supremacy, and authority. There is no need for a Savior when there is no sin; there is no need for freedom when don’t recognize that we are slaves. If those in the church are content with a mere historical connection (such as these were with Abraham) then they will not be set free. Jesus was saying that more than a historical connection is needed: we need a theological connection. God has built the theological bridge in Christ Jesus. And it is sad to say, but there are many preachers who are profoundly missing this point in their efforts to be practical and relevant.
In the end, He says they are illegitmate children. They protest: “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus point out, however, that they were quite wrong. Do you see here that Jesus has the right to make such a judgment? Do you see that it is Jesus who determines the legitimacy of our claims of sonship? It will be Jesus who makes the announcement of who we belong to. We are really his disciples if we follow him (v 12), believe in him (v 24), hold to his teaching (v 31), do the things of Abraham (v 39), and love him (v 42). The only other option is to kill him. But death will not change Jesus’ point; in fact, he says that His death will only prove it all the more (v 27-29).
Soli Deo Gloria!