Abide In My Word (John 8:31-32)Written by admin on Dec 30, 2018 in - No Comments
For my last sermon of 2018, I would like to invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of John. We will be looking this morning at John 8:31-32. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you would like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 894.
Well, it is that time of year once again where we are all getting prepared to make our New Year’s resolutions. And so, I am hoping to grab your attention before you write those sorts of things down in stone, and do my best to persuade you to consider making some sort of resolution about regular Bible reading in the coming year. It is my conviction that there is no more important thing we can give our time to than hearing from God in his Word, and so I hope that this sermon will be enough to encourage you to come up with some sort of plan for doing that in 2019.
But, since, as I always tell you, it is not really all that important what I say or think about things—we ought to be concerned about what God thinks—I want to appeal to you this morning on the basis of what Jesus himself said regarding the importance of being committed to regular time in God’s Word. So let’s go ahead and hear from Jesus on this now. If you haven’t done so already, please turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of John and follow along as I read from John 8:31-32. In these verses John says,
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.” (John 8:31–32 ESV)
Believe it or not, I have had at least one conversation with a professing Christian about the importance of them reading their Bibles on a daily basis, only to be informed by them that they did not believe that regular Bible reading was an important or necessary part of the Christian life. In fact, they even argued that, from what they could tell, there wasn’t anything in the Bible that said that they needed to read it for themselves. Now apart from the irony of someone who has basically admitted they have never really read the Bible for themselves, confidently proclaiming what the Bible actually says, those were very sad words to hear from the mouth of someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. Because, as we have seen in our passage for today, Jesus thought it was pretty important for his followers to spend regular time abiding in his Word. According to Jesus, abiding in his Word is the measure of whether or not someone is truly one of his disciples. And that is what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus and what it means to abide in his word.
True Disciples vs. False Disciples
So first of all, what does it mean to be a disciple? Well, there are many Christians today who think that the word disciple only applies to those original twelve men who were his first followers. But, that cannot be true because in his Great Commission Jesus told those original twelve disciples to go and make more disciples, right? He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV). And that is what they did.
You, see to be a disciple simply means to be a student. According to the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible a disciple is “a follower, pupil, or adherent of a teacher or religious leader.”1 And the Holman Bible Dictionary explains that “it was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master.”2 So, to be a disciple of Jesus means that you have committed yourself to learning from him and to passing on what you have learned to others—no matter what the cost.
To be one of Jesus’s disciples, then, means that you are a student of Jesus’s teaching. And since the Bible is the place where we find his teaching, true disciples must regularly study their Bibles. Jesus told those original twelve disciples to make more disciples by teaching them to observe everything that he commanded. And that is what they gave their lives to. But, they weren’t going to live forever, and so God saw to it that the things they were teaching about Jesus would be written down for future generations, and the way those original twelve disciples teach us about Jesus today is through the Bible.
But, when Jesus says in verse 31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” he opens the door to the possibility that there is a way to be an untrue disciple, doesn’t he? Yes, by talking about those who are genuinely his disciples, he is also implying that it is possible to be a false disciple. In fact, in the verses preceding our passage for this morning, Jesus was dealing with growing opposition from his Jewish opponents, particularly that group of Jews called the Pharisees. And in the midst of a debate with them, we see in verse 24 of this chapter, that Jesus said to them, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” And, we see in verse 30, that “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.”
And yet, Jesus wasn’t convinced. According to Jesus in verse 31, more was necessary for these people to prove that they had truly become one of his disciples. These people had made some sort of profession about Jesus and had seemingly become a part of his followers, but Jesus still felt that it was necessary to say, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” In other words, only time would tell if their belief was a real and saving sort of belief, or if it was just a superficial, short-lived sort of belief.
So what I am getting at here is that it is possible to believe some things about Jesus without really being one of his disciples. Yes, there is more to being a disciple of Jesus than just making a one time profession of faith. Jesus himself said that there will be many people who cry out to him “Lord, Lord,” who will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). And Jesus seems to be speaking here in John 8 to at least a few people who had made an outward profession of belief, “but a profession that did not go very deep.”3 Friends, the type of belief that saves, is more than just words, it actually changes a person from the inside out and results in their submitting to Jesus as their Lord and Master. Martin Luther pointed out that while we are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. In other words, don’t expect to become a Christian without experiencing any changes in your life. True faith results in true discipleship.
So ask yourself this morning, “Am I really a disciple of Jesus? Do I know what real faith looks like? Do I really understand the true meaning of discipleship?”
Abide In My Word
Well, as we see in this verse today, one of the characteristics of a true disciple is that they abide in Jesus’s word. Yes, abiding in Jesus’s word is one proof that we have truly believed and are truly one of his disciples.
But what does Jesus mean when he says, “abide in my word?” What does the word “abide” actually mean? Well, the word “abide” simply means “to remain.” And so, we prove that we are one of Jesus’s disciples by remaining in his teaching—by continuing to learn from him in the pages of Scripture. As one commentator explains: “It is easy enough to be superficially attracted to Jesus, but the test is ‘abiding.’ It is only those who continue who are genuine disciples.”4
You see, Jesus was speaking here to people who were sort of thinking that what Jesus was saying was true. It sounded pretty good to them. But, they were not prepared to go all in. They were not prepared to truly become one of his disciples. They heard the truth and believed it to some degree, but not to the point where they were ready to give Jesus their total allegiance. And so, they were not, in Jesus’s mind, true disciples.
Maybe you know people like this. People who believe all the right things about Jesus but don’t really follow him. People who have heard some things about Jesus and think some good things about him, but never really take the time to get to know him for themselves. Those are the sorts of people Jesus is speaking to here. And, you should ask yourself, “Is he speaking to me? Am I one of those people who know all the right things about Jesus, but doesn’t really follow him?” We all need to ask ourselves that question this morning.
Because, as we said earlier, being a true disciple means being a student of Jesus who is continually learning from him. You cannot be a true disciple if you are not regularly taught by your teacher. And the way we as Christians learn from our Teacher is by placing ourselves under the influence of his teaching for an ongoing (and really unending) period of time. And the place where Jesus’s teaching is found is in his Word. And that is why Jesus tells us that those who are truly his disciples are those who abide (or remain) in his Word.
Now, hear me clearly on this. It is not that abiding in his word makes us a true disciple. That is backward. That is a works-based religion. What Jesus means is that the evidence that we are truly one of his disciples is that we are continuing in his teaching over the long haul. What it means is that a genuine, saving sort of belief is accompanied by a lasting desire to continually remain in God’s word, learning from Jesus as his disciple. In other words, we don’t abide in his word to become a disciple; we abide in his word because we are disciples.
And so, where I am going with all of this, is to simply say that if we want to abide in Jesus’s Word like he is talking about here, we must intentionally and regularly open our Bibles and place ourselves under its teaching. There is no other place to learn from Jesus. And according to Jesus, if you aren’t learning from him, you are not truly one of his disciples. Yes, if I show no interest in the Word of God, if I make no effort to learn from Jesus in it regularly, then what I am demonstrating, according to Jesus himself in verse 31, is that I am not truly one of his disciples. Again, a true disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who continues to learn from his teaching found in the word of God. And, unlike a school situation where you eventually graduate and are done with being a student, followers of Jesus are never done sitting at his feet and learning from him. We never graduate. In fact, Jesus tells us here that it is our ongoing and never-ending submission to his teaching that proves we are a true disciple.
Jesus knew, and we even know from experience, that many people will believe some things about Jesus for a while, but only time will tell if they are true, genuine believer. In fact, if you look down two verses, down to verse 33, you will see that these same people, who just after claiming to believe, are already rejecting Jesus’s teaching. And, true disciples do not reject Jesus’s teaching. Nor do true disciples ignore Jesus’s teaching.
And so my point is very simply that if we are not continually and regularly in God’s Word, we are showing that we are not a true disciple. It would be like me saying I am a student of such and such college while not really being enrolled there and therefore not ever going to class. I can’t just buy the sweatshirt in the college bookstore and put it on and call myself a student at that college. I have to actually be a student who is learning. And so my question to you this morning is: Are you truly a student of Jesus or are you just wearing the sweatshirt?
You know, sometimes I think that people are so unwilling and scared to admit that, for a long time now, the belief they have had about Jesus has been something less than a saving belief, that they keep themselves from a deeper and fuller belief in Jesus that will really make them one of his disciples. Yes, sometimes a person’s fear of what others will think if they publicly admit that their belief in Jesus has not been the sort of belief that Jesus is talking about here results in them resisting and never really becoming what Jesus calls a true disciple.
Friend, don’t be more afraid of admitting in front of others that you have had this all wrong than you are of facing eternity without Jesus. That would be the worst decision you could ever make. If you have not truly become one of Jesus’s disciples, you should not leave here today without fully giving yourself to him—which means committing yourself to an ongoing and continual study of his teaching. Because that is an integral part of what it means to be one of his disciples.
So, hopefully, I have convinced you this morning that this Bible reading stuff is actually pretty important. It is actually part of the evidence that our faith is real and that we are truly following Jesus as a disciple. And because of that, I want you to ask yourself, as we are moving into another new year: “What is my plan for reading the Bible going to be in 2019?” Because as you know, if you don’t have a plan to do something, there is a really good chance you are not going to end up doing it at all. That is why we plan out important things. And brothers and sisters, I can assure you that there is not going to be anything more important on your daily calendar in 2019 than reading God’s Word. So what is your plan for reading the Bible in 2019?
Now, as you are thinking about that, let me also say something else very important. Because, it would be easy for someone to think that because I am pleading with you to read the Bible in 2019, that Bible reading in and of itself is the goal. But what you must understand is that when Jesus talks about abiding in his word, he is talking about much more than just reading it. He is also talking about doing it. In Matthew 7:24, Jesus said: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
The point I am trying to make is that even though I am very interested this morning in getting you to commit to reading God’s Word in 2019, you need to understand that reading God’s Word is not the end goal, nor is it enough. If we only read God’s Word because we have made a New Year’s resolution to do so, then we are missing the point. The reason we read God’s Word is to be nurtured by it and instructed by it. On the one hand, we read it for the same reason we eat—because we need nourishment. On the other hand, though, we read it for the same reason we go to school. And as a disciple, or a student, of Jesus Christ, the Bible teaches us not only what we are to believe, but also how we are to live.
Jesus is no longer physically here on this earth to teach his followers, but he has left us with two things. He has left us with his teachings written down by his original followers, and he has left us with the Holy Spirit to guide us in this teaching. But we must open our Bibles and submit to it if we are going to make any progress in the Christian faith. And so, I want to encourage you to make a plan for reading your Bible in 2019. There are many options for this. You can plan to open it up to Genesis 1 and just get started. Some folks can do it that way just fine. But for most of us, we do better with some kind of formal Bible Reading Plan. And there are a whole bunch of them out there. I prefer plans that have me reading in three or four places at a time, but you might find that you enjoy something else.
Ultimately the plan you decide on is not all that important. What is important, though, is that you have some kind of plan in place to regularly hear from God in 2019. Friends, I’ve said it before, but it is worth mentioning again: If you are not reading your Bible, then where are you hearing from God? Yes, if you are not reading your Bible, then where are you hearing from God? He speaks to us in his Word. He doesn’t speak to us in prayer. He speaks to us in his Word. If you all you do is pray when something is stressing you out, then God is going to be hearing a lot from you, but you aren’t going to ever hear that much from him. God has given us his Word. It is the place where he has spoken and continues to speak. But, if you are not, opening his Word, you can pray all you want, but you are probably not going to hear from God. Yes, he might do something extra-ordinary, I can’t rule that out. But, the ordinary way God speaks to us in this world is through his Word. And if you aren’t willing to hear from him in his Word, then he probably isn’t going to speak to you in some extra-ordinary way.
Listen, I am confident that if we will all commit to spending regular time in God’s Word next year, our church will be better for it at the end of 2019. In fact, I have no doubt about that at all. There is nothing more important for us as individuals and as a church than reading and studying God’s Word. That is what true disciples of Jesus do. We abide in his word by reading it and keeping it and obeying it and loving it. It is the most precious thing we have as Christians. And the way we demonstrate that it is, is by making it a priority in our lives. So, what are you going to do with God’s Word next year? Are you going to let yet another year pass without getting serious about it? Or, are you going to resolve to make it a priority in your life in 2019?