Through the Bible in One Year

Day 143

John 8:31-47

Yesterday we saw the dispute over Jesus’ testimony about himself.  And today we come to the dispute over whose children are those oppose Jesus.  This debate, that runs through the end of chapter 8, reveals the intensification of the theological divide between Jesus and the religious leadership.  The two major issues at the heart of the debate are the truthfulness of Jesus’ testimony and the falsehood of those who opposed him.  The repeated references to Abraham in this passage are the only references to Abraham in John’s Gospel.  These references to Abraham center on two related themes: Abraham’s relationship to Jesus and Abraham’s relationship to Jesus’ opponents.  The passage can be divided into three sections: Jesus’ opponents were physical descendants, not spiritual descendants of Abraham (vv.31-38); Jesus’ opponents were not children of God (vv.39-47); and Jesus is greater than Abraham (vv. 48-59).  And we will be covering the first two sections today.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”—8:31-38

Jesus addressed those who appeared to put their faith in him.  The harsh nature of the debate that follows calls into question the genuineness of their faith.  Obedience to Jesus’ teaching is evidence of saving faith.  The liberating power of the truth is unknowable without being Jesus’ disciple.  The religious leaders’ actions reveal that they were not genuine believers.  Jesus’ comment about freedom hit a nerve with them.  Their appeal to Abraham became a central thought in the debate.  Is it possible to claim a relationship to Abraham and reject Jesus?

Jesus addressed his opponents’ two points of protest: freedom and descent from Abraham.  Those whose lives are characterized by sin are slaves to sin.  If they are not God’s children, then they are slaves and have no place in God’s family.  Jesus repeated the promise of freedom from verse 32 but substituted the word “Son” (v. 36) for “truth” (v. 32).  While his opponents were physically descended from Abraham, their desire to kill him revealed that his word had no place in their hearts.  Jesus and his opponents have different fathers.

“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. 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. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”—8:39-47

Jesus rejected his opponents’ claim to spiritual descent from Abraham by focusing on their actions.  Instead of doing what Abraham did, they desired to kill Jesus.  They accused Jesus of being illegitimate while they claimed to be children of God.  The discussion concerning paternity reached its conclusion with Jesus’ assertion that his opponents were children of the devil.  Jesus came from God, so their refusal to love him was evidence that God was not their Father.  They belonged to their father the devil and wanted to carry out his desires.  Their father was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (Genesis 3:1 and 4:9), and they had murderous hearts toward Jesus in keeping with their murderous father.  Their root problem was that they did not belong to God and therefore refused to hear and obey God’s Word.

Now let’s circle back around to verse 31-36 and take a closer look at what these six verse can teach us.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.—8:31-36

The first thing we need to look at is the phrase “if you hold to my teaching.”  Jesus, with this phrase, was not encouraging his disciples, both past and present, to rely on past faith or experience.  Confidence about spiritual salvation is appropriate only “if you hold to my (Jesus’) teaching” (the added wording is mine).  Genuine followers of Christ continue to obey and live by the words of Christ.

The second thing we need to look at is the phrase “the truth will set you free.”  This is not speaking of philosophical truth (the idea truth) or freedom from ignorance.  In the context of human knowledge, many things are true.  Yet there is only one truth that will set people free from sin, destruction and Satan’s power.  That truth is Jesus himself and the revelation of truth in his Word.  We can know that truth personally.  Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth” (1:14).  He is “the way and the truth and the life” (14:6).  His message is the word of truth (Colossians 1:5 and 1 Th. 2:13).  And here are some important observations about truth:

  1. The highest, life-saving truth is found only in God’s Word—the living Word and the written Word—which reveals the message of forgiveness and new life through faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. God’s Word presents the truth that frees people from sin, the corrupt world and demonic powers.
  3. Further revelation of “truth” is not needed to complete or enhance the gospel of Christ.
  4. The truth that saves and frees peoples spiritually is revealed only from God “by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10) and does not originate from any person or from human wisdom.

Romans 1:25 speaks of those who “exchange the truth of God for a lie” (Greek to “pseudie,” literally “the lie”) of Satan.  At the end of time, for those who refuse “to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Th. 2:10), God will send “a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Th. 2:11-12).  Thankfully, we can escape this deception and judgement by accepting and basing our lives on the truth of Christ and his Word.  The truth sets us free; the lie brings us into spiritual slavery.  The truth retires; the lie destroys.  We are called to love Jesus and his Word so that we can know the truth that sets us free.

The third thing we need to look at is the phrase “everyone who sins.”  The New Testament clearly teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ himself breaks the power and control of sin in the lives of his true followers.  Individuals who habitually sin are still slaves to sin and are still allowing themselves to be under Satan’s influence and control.  Those who accept Christ’s forgiveness and enter a personal relationship with him, based on his death and resurrection, will experience freedom from sin as they continue to rely on him.

The fourth and final thing we need to look at is the phrase “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Whether they recognize it or not, people who do not have a personal relationship with Christ are slaves to sin, Satan and their own immoral behavior.  They follow the selfish desires and cravings of their own sinful nature and the ways of the devil.  And there are three things that we can learn about spiritual freedom in this one verse.

  1. True followers of Christ, who rely on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit who lives in them, are set free from the power of sin and immorality.  When they face temptation, they now have the power to do what God desires and requires.  They are free to be God’s servants and to do what is right.
  2. Freedom from slavery to sin, which is freedom from constantly giving in to temptation and experiencing the consequences of going our own way, is the one sure standard by which we can tell if we are truly following Christ.  If we have a personal relationship with Christ, it should be evident that God’s power has changed our lives and is continuing to transform our character, making us more like Jesus.  Anyone who is presently caught up in immoral and ungodly behavior either has never experienced true spiritual birth or has given themselves back over to sin, in other words has made themselves a slave to sin again.
  3. This does not mean that Christians are free from doing spiritual battle against sin.  Throughout our lives, we will have to constantly fight against the pressures of the world, our own spiritual nature and the forces of Satan.  Complete freedom from temptation and the influence of sin will come only after we die and go to be with Christ or when Christ returns for his faithful followers.  What Christ offers us now is his life-changing power to help us overcome evil and temptation and to grow spiritually.  This power, given through the Holy Spirit, can set us free from the tendency to defy God and go our own way and enable us to live in a spiritually pure and blameless way.

And we will pick up from here tomorrow when we finish up John chapter 8, where we will see what Jesus has to say about himself.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Samuel 4-6, John 13:31-14:14, Psalm 119:17-32 and Proverbs 15:31-32

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