Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
It appears, taking these words at face value, that there are only two options available to people. On the one hand, some clearly belong to God. On the other hand, some clearly belong to the devil. Within those two ownerships are people content to carry out the will of their respective father. On the one hand, if God is our Father, then we love Jesus. On the other hand, if the devil is our father, then we are hell-bent on murder. Within those two fatherhoods, there are two languages. On the one hand, if God is your Father, you can understand Jesus—the truth. On the other hand, if the devil is your father, you understand his language—which is lies. If you belong to God, you are able to hear what God says, it makes sense, and it is your life. If you don’t belong to God, you cannot hear what Jesus is saying, it makes no sense, and is, in fact, the very reason why you don’t believe (45). If you belong to God, you carry out God’s will and you, like Jesus, always do what pleases him (8:29). If you belong to the devil, then you want always to carry out your father’s desire (44). It’s a tough life.
But that is what Jesus is saying. He said it specifically to people who were listening to him that day—people who were challenging his authority to determine who is and who is not a true disciple. Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’ Here are the things he is saying.
If we are truly his disciple, then we will hear and listen and understand and obey his commands, his teachings. If we are not, well, we’re not simply doing our own will. Those things that humans do contrary to the will of God are the terrible will of the devil; his desires. So frankly this means that many people in this world are serious trouble because they are doing the desires of their father, the devil. This means anything contrary to the will of God, anything that doesn’t please him, is the desire of the devil; that is, not that he wills it or commands it, but that he is ‘happy’ when people are disobedient to the will God. Whatever that means.
I’ll leave off that point for now that I might jump on another point. Jesus said, ‘Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.’ What was it about the truth that so offended people and turned them away from Jesus? If we always say the truth will people always turn away? I think yes. Why? Because Jesus has said that some people only hear and understand the language of their father, the devil, which is lies. The truth is, some folks simply cannot understand truth.
There is this ongoing assault on truth in this world. It is reminiscent of the Ministry of Truth in 1984 which was really dedicated the propagation of lies. There is an undercurrent even in the church nowadays. There are many who say that we should be careful when we make claims about truth because, in their words, we can’t really know the truth. I think that is wrong precisely because it is like saying we cannot know Jesus, the embodiment of truth. But anything less than the truth is a lie, and thus ultimately the work of the devil. There is no room for the work of the devil inside the church. In other words, there is no room in the church for anything other than the truth, and no room for anyone in the church who is not for the truth. This is what Jesus will say later, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (18:37b).
Philip Ryken is right: “Today the foundations are under attack. It would be hard to think of even a single major doctrine of the Christian faith that is not under attack in these postmodern times…But no attack is more fundamental that the attack on truth itself, the assault on the very claim that some things are true and others are false” (Philip Ryken, Only One Way, 83-84)
Another author, quoted by Ryken puts only slightly more bluntly:
“A solid sense of truth is foundering in America at large. Vaporized by critical theories, obscured by clouds of euphemism and jargon, outpaced by humor and hype, overlooked for style and image, and eroded by advertising, truth in America is anything but marching on…With magnificent exceptions, evangelicals reflect this truth-decay and reinforce it…Contemporary evangelicals are no longer people of truth.” (Os Guinness, No God but God, 18, as quoted by Philip Ryken, Only One Way, 84).
In another book by Guinness, Time For Truth, he writes of the assault on truth and the rather insidious manner in which the assault takes place:
“Not only the possibility but the worthwhileness of truth and virtue are emptied of meaning. Whatever someone may profess, things are always other than they pretend, darker and murkier than they make out. Our proper response, we are taught, should be to view every claim with a sense of irony, interpret everything with suspicion, and pursue ‘truth’ and ‘virtue’ with the central agenda of unmasking and dismantling them.” (32)
David F. Wells is even, perhaps, more unappealing to those truth dismantlers in the church. His book, No Place For Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, is a scathing, damning rebuke of the no-truth generation of ‘theologians’ and ‘preachers’ manning the lecterns of Christian based colleges and universities and, more specifically, the pulpits of churches. In fact, he begins with the church (p. 6)—and mustn’t he? All those little children who are sent off to bible college each fall have had their primary education in things of God by the church: little felt Jesus’ and Pauls, happy stories of arks and ‘fitting’ the battle of Jericho, and such like. But how many go to college armed already with a degree in theology because their preacher cared that they know Scripture more than how to deal with a bad break-up? He writes,
“Outside is a world that ignores what is most important to Christians and that is in fact now organizing itself on the basis of that rejection. Within the larger society, secularism seems natural because it gives plausibility; within that same society, Christian faith seems odd, and the context strips it of truthfulness. The bias of our experience in the modern world tilts heavily against a perception that the Christian faith is true and equally heavily toward a perception that secularism is truth.” (p. 87)
You can see that this is a big problem in our world. But if Jesus says, ‘you don’t believe me because I preach the truth’ (45), he also asks, ‘If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?’ (46). It must have something to do with the one to whom we belong. If we belong to the devil, well, ‘You belong to your father the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.’ Or we embrace the truth that is embodied in Jesus Christ. There can be no two ways about it and this is very limiting. But we see in this world the results of those who belong to their father the devil. We see their work: they are liars, they spread lies, they foment aggression and hatred based on lies. Sadly, there’s a lot devil manipulation going on in the pulpits of American churches today.
This is why, in my humble opinion, it is becoming every more imperative for preachers of the gospel to preach the truth of Jesus. Jesus said he was not ‘here on my own, but the Father sent me.’ God wanted us to know the truth and sent the Truth in Jesus Christ. What right does a preacher have to say something that is contradictory to what Jesus said and taught? John wrote it earlier, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The front lines against the assault on truth, against teh assault on Christ himself, is the church. The church must continue to bear arms against this assault: Our weapon is the Word of God. There must be preachers who are willing to risk it all, that is, risk that people might not believe, that they might reject Christ, that their churches may not be as large, and preach the truth. We must educate our young people before they go off to college and the university and the seminary (places where, with some exceptions, lies are continuing to be taught in the name of academic freedom). I’m calling for the church to preach the truth, not that I have a right to make the call, but for the sake of those to whom we are preaching: The lies must be countered because when lies prevail, God is diminished; when lies take over, God is finished. When lies are our native tongue, then we belong to the devil, not God.
Of course this doesn’t mean that God somehow vanishes or goes away or that his will is thwarted—May it Never Be! One could equally say that God’s will is done in the very rejection of truth in Christ. But there is something to be said about God’s rejection of us as well. As Wells writes, it’s a two way street: “A Culture for whom God is no longer present believes everything…When we believe nothing, we open the doors to believing anything. And the same is truth within the precincts of the Christian faith” (p. 9). When lies are propped up and purported to be truth—why would God ‘hang around’? God’s will will, indeed, be done. We cannot thwart it, but we reject it and Him at our own peril. When we accept the lie, we reject the truth. And then what is left? What is left when truth is gone? What is left when God has, ultimately, rejected us? Why wouldn’t people want to believe the truth when Jesus spoke it? Probably because people, ultimately, love the lie.
I’ll close with Wells:
Soli Deo Gloria!