December 22th, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 8:31-47 ESV] 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.” 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’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father–even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
One of mankind’s longest debates is about whether people are more influenced by their nature or by their nurture. Are you like your father because you are genetically similar? Or are you like your father because you grew up in his household? Or both? Your height might be more dependent on nature, but the language and dialect you speak must primarily be due to nurture. Whether you are more influenced by your genes or by the means of your upbringing, the popular saying often rings true, “Like father, Like son.” And a person who well-knows the father may easily be able to identify a person as that man’s son. Unless there is some power that drastically intervenes, a son is likely to be a “spitting image” of his father, if not in looks then in deeds.
As we look at Jesus’ continuing dialogue with the Pharisees and the people of Israel we find him using this emphasis; like father, like son. They are indeed children of someone, as indeed we are as well. But in each— for the Jews whom Jesus speaking with, as for our very selves—we ask the question, “Children of whom?” That is, who is their father, and who is ours?
As we look at our passage today from John’s Gospel, we can, with reasonable accuracy, discuss it under these three headings:
I. Children of Abraham
II. Children of the Devil
III. Children of God
I. CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM
First, let’s look at the “Children of Abraham.”
This, we’ve seen previously is something that many of the Jews were banking on for their salvation. They believed that merely because they were physical offspring of Abraham that they would be saved.
And Jesus, in verse 37, even admits that, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham.”
But he does not allow that they are children of Abraham in the spiritual sense. That is, they do not have faith like Abraham does. Their works fail to evidence any saving faith in them.
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.”
Remember last week I noted that at the end of passage on which I preached there was this comment from the Apostle John saying “Many believed in him[Jesus].”
Now we see that this belief was not saving faith. The very persons who were said to have believed in Jesus, he now declares to not be true children of Abraham.
We can see from this that there is a type of belief that is INSUFFICIENT for salvation. It is a belief that proves itself to be disingenuous in that it produces no fruit. [REPEAT: There is a type of a belief that is INSUFFICIENT for salvation. It is a belief that proves itself to be disingenuous in that it produces no fruit.]
Those who have this disingenuous faith have an interest in Jesus without a desire to follow him. But it is an empty faith. It is a faith that lacks fruit.
The lack of good works (and in fact the evil deeds that come forth from these men) prove that they are not Children of God. True faith is given to those who are made children of God. And true faith produces fruit; it produces good works.
Now it must be clearly said that man’s works DO NOT merit salvation. Good works rather are the fruit produced in us and through us by the Holy Spirit who has given us faith.
Works are never the ground of salvation. They are the fruit.
This is a distinction that I’ve found to be of great value. GROUND – INSTRUMENT – FRUIT [REPEAT]
We must never confuse these.
The GROUND of our salvation is the shed blood of Jesus Christ which by the Grace of God covers our sins and imputes to us the righteousness of God. This is the ALONE ground of salvation. It is the SOLE ground for salvation. Completely OF GOD.
Then, the INSTRUMENT of our salvation is faith. Faith, which is a gift from God and not mustered up from our own abilities, is, as the Confession says, the SOLE instrument of salvation. It is only by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that we are born again, come to know God and to rest in Christ Jesus for our salvation. Faith is the INSTRUMENT or means of our salvation because it is THROUGH faith that we receive Christ and his righteousness.
Then, the FRUIT of salvation is good works. Good works are not the grounds of salvation, nor are good works the instrument of salvation. They are the fruit. Good works are the result, what is produced in a Christian.
And, if we are Children of God we will produce good works proving that we are His children.
Abraham lived by faith, and thus did good works by that faith. And now Jesus is saying that if the Jews who is he speaking to were spiritual descendants of Abraham, they would likewise do good deeds as Abraham did.
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.”
But there is no fruit. They do not evidence being children of Abraham.
Rather, as Jesus says of the Jews,
“but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.”
These sons are not like Abraham, and they are not like God. They cannot be called spiritual children of Abraham.
Not only are they NOT spiritually children of Abraham, Jesus declares that they are, in fact, children of the devil.
II. CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL
The devil is their father. And their actions mimic his!
They seek to murder Jesus. The Devil was a murderer from the beginning.
They lie. The Devil is the father of lies.
These Jews do not truly believe in Jesus Christ. They do not have the will to do the Father’s desires.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”
They are not of God and so cannot hear the Words of God which Jesus speaks. They cannot bear to hear his word because they are children of the devil.
Do you think Jesus’ approach here would be favored by many evangelists today? This is probably not the most popular passage to preach on! Isn’t everyone a child of God? Clearly not! Some are children of the Devil, and Jesus declares this to be true.
They are children of the devil, John Calvin says, “because they oppose His doctrine.” They hate with deadly hatred true and sound doctrine.
They practice not good works, but they practice sin.
They are — like all people who do not know Christ — they are in bondage to sin. They are slaves to sin. Sin is their practice. It is what they do.
Imagine, if you will, that a doctor sets up and office practices medicine. And a lawyer sets up and office and practices law. And a blacksmith sets up a shop and practices his trade. What then are those who practice sin? They are like a man who has set up shop, with a sign, that says “Sin.” All day they practice sin. It is their trade. It is their lifestyle. And they cannot break free.
Now Jesus comes up to them and says they can be set free. And their reaction is “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?”
Now in the history of Israel they were slaves to many people. Rarely in fact were they not enslaved! The Egyptian slavery was the longest. But there were many foreign invaders in the land of Israel. And in this time the Romans occupied the land and King Herod was not a true Jew, but Edomite.
They Jews certainly knew that their ancestors had been enslaved in various periods. What they must be proclaiming is that they have no spiritual slavery. They believe that it is the heathen who worship idols that are enslaved. But they do not worship idols so they must free, right?
No indeed. They are not free. They are in bondage to sin. And this so clearly destroys the false idol people have of supposed “free will.” The will is not free. It is enslaved to sin or freed by Christ to because a slave of God. Martin Luther’s greatest book was in fact called “The Bondage of the Will.” He knew, from studying the Scriptures, that the will of man was not free but enslaved to sin.
Paul says this clearly in Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Those who are so enslaved cannot free themselves. They do not hear the word of God. The Son must set them free.
And thus we come to the BEGINNING of the passage.
III. CHILDREN OF GOD
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.”
If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples. Belief that does not produce good works is not an abiding faith. And it is not a saving faith. True faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and the ground of our salvation from sin produces fruit. It produces good works.
This is what “abide” means. To abide is to remain, to continue … in God’s word. To make it the rule of our life. Our daily bread. Our sustenance.
One of my favorite movies — though I hesitate to recommend it (as I hesitate to recommend any modern movie!) — is the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” And in this movie one of the catch phrases is one which the main character — who calls himself “the Dude” — applies to himself. When he agrees to obey, he says “the Dude abides.” He’s this lazy character who doesn’t want to put up a fight (ANY fight) and so he abides. This helps me remember the meaning of the word, though I don’t advocate laziness or even the such passivity as in that movie.
I explain this word because it doesn’t seem to be that common in English today.
Those who abide in the word of God are TRULY disciples of God. And they are CHILDREN OF GOD.
The knowledge of the truth of God sets man free because that knowledge comes to man in FAITH and that truth is of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus Christ frees men from the bondage of sin. And this Gospel – this good news – it known by the word of God.
This word, “to be set free” is the same as that used for slaves. The truth will liberate you just as a slave is liberated from his bondage.
Your works then display who you are a spiritual descendant of. The Jews in this passage are constantly desiring to carry out the wishes of the devil, so he must be their father. But those who abide in God’s word — who obey the commandments God — are Children of God.
But remember the distinction I made between GROUND, INSTRUMENT, and FRUIT. Abiding in God’s word is the fruit. It is not the abiding in God’s word that MAKES you a disciple, it is the abiding in God’s word that PROVES you are a disciple of his.
We well know in the Protestant world that we are not saved by good works. That is good works are not the ground of our salvation. They are not even the instrument of salvation. Faith is the alone instrument. But this sometimes leaves us shy in talking about good works. So it is important that I say this, and it might seem so obvious, but it needs to be said
Good works are GOOD.
We should strive to do good works, always knowing that it is the Spirit of God that works in us both to will and to do.
So there is this great section in the Westminster Confession of Faith. There is actually a chapter titled “Of Good works.” There we find some excellent material. First, a definition of good works. Then, the point that they are fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith. And then, the point that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit in all good works.
Of Good Works
1. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.
2. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, …
3. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. …
The truth has set us free to do good works. We are set free from the “tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.” (Calvin) so that we “willingly obey righteousness.” (Calvin)
To keep consistent points I used “Children of God” as my third point. But the term actually used in this passage is that of “truly my disciples.”
A true disciple ABIDES in the word of God. This doesn’t mean only to read the Word of God, or to say you believe the Word of God. But to Abide is to LIVE the word of God. To obey the commands of God.
You ARE my disciple. The continuance in the Word of God is EVIDENCE of being a true disciple. And the confidence of the disciple is not in himself, but in God.
As Children of God, as disciples of the Lord, we are set free. Our sin no longer defines us. We are now defined as forgiven. You are forgiven in Jesus Christ. You are a Child of God. You are his disciple. This is proven in that you belief in Jesus Christ for your salvation and do the good works of the Lord.
You are set free. Continue in Jesus’ Word. Abide in Christ and His Word.