Abide in Jesus’s Word
Series: The Gospel of John
Our big idea this week is Abide in Jesus’s word and we see three reasons for doing this or 3 results of doing this: 1. It will set you truly free. 2. It reveals who we truly are. 3. It reveals who Jesus truly is.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I have a question for you, which do you think is more important? To know yourself or to know God? Think about that for a second. Now, this is church, so you’d probably think the right answer is definitely to know God. But the theologian John Calvin begins his famous book called The Institutes with this. He says “Nearly all the wisdom we possess… consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. And which one comes first and leads to the other, it isn’t easy to tell.” In other words, both – knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves – are really important, because they are connected.
So for example, start with knowledge of yourself. Calvin points out that as soon as we start to know ourselves, we realize how much we lack, how much we don’t know, and how nothing we have really comes from ourselves, and this naturally turns our thoughts to God. But on the other hand, start with God. If we do that, and we see how perfect, so righteous, and holy he is, that naturally leads us to look at ourselves, and see how naturally imperfect and unrighteous and unholy we are. So we need both, and they go together.
Now, In our passage today from the Gospel of John we definitely see both. We learn something about God, and we also learn something about ourselves. And the common denominator for both, according to this passage, is Jesus’s word. The word of Jesus. Let’s set the scene, and then I’ll show you where I got this from, and what we can learn from this passage.
(Setting the scene)
If you’ve been with us the past few weeks, you know that in John ch. 8 Jesus is in Jerusalem speaking at the Jewish Feast of Booths. And at the end of last week’s passage, in John 8:30, it says “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” Many believed in him – at least at first. And this week’s passage picks up from there. Let’s read in v. 31-32: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
That’s a pretty famous verse – we’ll get to it in a minute – but for now, just notice the scene. Jesus is speaking to these new Jewish believers. And I don’t know about you, but it seems to me this should have been a pretty beautiful moment. Imagine you’re there, you’ve just come to start following Jesus, and Jesus says “If you abide (that is, remain) in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Now don’t you kind of think they should have been like, “Wow, yes, thank you! That’s all I want to do, Jesus, is abide in your word!” Tell us your word! But it doesn’t go down that way, because their immediate response is to argue: “We’ve never been enslaved to anyone…” they say, and it goes downhill from there. And all throughout the rest of the chapter there’s this extended argument that escalates quickly between Jesus and these would-be disciples.
And there’s a common thread that ties the whole passage together, and it’s this: Jesus’s word. When we’re studying the Bible, especially the Gospels, repeated words and phrases can clue us into what’s important, and that’s what we see here. For example, notice v. 31: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31) And later in v. 43 Jesus says “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:43) And then down in v. 51 he says “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51) “My word.” “My word.” “My word.” So the common thread all throughout this passage is Jesus’s word. So this brings us to our big idea of the passage, taken from verse31: Abide in Jesus’s word. Abide. Remain. STAY in Jesus’s word. Hang out. Don’t just dip your toe in, but dive in head first. Don’t just AirBnB it, but buy it. Move in. Stay. Remain. Abide.
And there’s three different sections of the passage with 3 different points, and they all have to do with Jesus’s word. And so our big idea is Abide in Jesus’s word and we see three reasons for doing this or 3 results of doing this: 1. It will set you truly free. 2. It reveals who we truly are. 3. It reveals who Jesus truly is. Let’s get into it.
First, If you abide in Jesus’s word, it will set you truly free.
1. It will set you truly free. (vv. 31-36)
Let’s read v. 31-32 again: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32). A few verses down, Jesus says “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36). In other words, “truly free.” Friends, the word of Jesus, if we abide in it, sets us truly free. Now let’s unpack what this means.
First, what is Jesus’s word? Well, it means “whatever Jesus says.” So if you abide in what Jesus says, you’ll be truly free. But we need to be clear about something. You see, there’s this notion out there about being “red letter Christians” – have you heard about this? In some Bibles the words of Jesus are in red. Now I like that, because it helps me locate passages I’m looking for quickly. But the whole “red letter” thing can be misleading. So for example sometimes people say “Well, Jesus never said anything about LGBTQ” (or whatever issue is under discussion) because there’s nothing specifically about that issue mentioned in the red parts. What do we say to that?
Well first I’d point out that even in the red parts Jesus has plenty to say about God’s design for human sexuality and marriage as being between one man and one woman, two genders beautifully created in the image of God. But even if somehow you put that aside, you have to ask a more fundamental question: Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? If Jesus is just a prophet, or some moral teacher, then maybe, whatever the issue might be, you’ve got a point. Maybe Jesus didn’t talk about XYZ issue specifically to your satisfaction. But what if Jesus (as we’ll see below) is more than that? What if he’s MORE than a prophet like Abraham was or a great teacher? What if he’s truly God? What if he’s the Great “I Am” of the Old Testament? Well if that’s true, then let’s think about this, then the whole Bible is the “word of Jesus.” Do you see that? Not just the red letter parts, but the black letter parts too. “In the beginning was The Word” goes the opening lines of the Gospel. And what this means is that the whole thing, from Genesis to Revelation, is the word of Jesus. And so when Jesus says “abide in my word” then it means not just the red letter parts but the whole of written revelation, the whole Bible.
Second, how do we abide? We don’t say “abide” a ton anymore, but abide means remain. Stay. Dwell. Live in. Again, it’s the difference between an AirBnB and owning a place. When you go to an AirBnB you’re like “Oh, this is nice, cool features. Nice view.” You appreciate it. But then you go home. But when you own a place, you abide. You remain. You stay. It’s part of your everyday life. It changes you. You also notice a lot of little things about it, the smallest little feature. And so that’s what it means to “abide” in Jesus’s word. Don’t just AirBnB it. Move in. Make yourself at home. Invest your time and energy into it. Examine it. Let it examine you. A great way to do that is to use the Scripture journals for the Gospel of John, which are available for you in the lobby. Another way is to use a daily Bible reading plan, or perhaps form a discipleship group with some others to study God’s word together in community.
This word “signifies a settled determination to live in the word of Christ and by it, and so entails a perpetual listening to it, reflection on it, holding fast to it, carrying out its bidding.”
George R. Beasley-Murray, John, vol. 36 of Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1999), 133.
Third, How exactly does the truth set us free? Well, Jesus explains the problem: we are slaves to sin. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (v. 34). That’s all of us – we are slaves to sin. But abiding, remaining in Jesus’s word frees us from sin. How does that work? Well first, when we initially come to Jesus, it’s His word that tells us that we are sinful people, lost and separated from God. And that Jesus died for our sins, and when we believe in him our sinful record is transferred to Christ and taken away at the cross, while his perfect record is transferred to us because we are now in him. In a word, Jesus’s word shows us the Gospel.
But even if you’ve been following Jesus for decades, here’s more good news: Jesus’s word keeps setting us free from sin, every single day.
Here’s how this works: It’s like a mirror. Safe to say, none of us knows what we really look like. And we’ve all had the experience when someone tells us we have a ‘thing over here’ or some food over there. There was even a story I heard recently where a fan at a hockey game, who happened to know what skin cancer looked like, was sitting behind the coach and noticed he had a cancerous mole on his neck. She told him about it and probably saved his life. A mirror. Outside perspective. The Apostle James puts it this way: But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas. 1:25 ESV).
So Jesus’s word keeps setting us free from sin because it acts like a mirror, and shows us where we’re off, and what to do about it. It doesn’t mean we walk in sinless perfection, but it brings us to our senses and helps us to repent.
By my bedside tucked into my Bible is a list of Bible verses I’ve collected over decades. And every night, no matter what else I do, or no matter how tired I am, I’ll pull out this list of verses, and look at the next one that’s on the list. Just one. And I keep cycling through and when I’m finished with the list I go back to the beginning. I’ve been doing this for decades. And man, you would be amazed at how many times the verse I’m reading totally makes something about my day snap into perspective, or bring me back to my senses, or encourage me just when I needed it. That’s the truth setting you free from slavery to sin. Abide in Jesus’s word. Make your home there, and it will set you truly free. And If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
But Jesus’s word, if we abide in it, does more than set us truly free. The second thing we see from our text is that we abide in Jesus’s word because it reveals who we truly are.
2. It reveals who we truly are.
So, back to our text, after Jesus tells these would-be disciples that the truth will set you free, instead of rejoicing that they have found out how to be free, they have a pretty different reaction: 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’?” John 8:33. They say “Hey, we’re Abraham’s children. We’ve never been slaves.” And this kicks off this extended back-and-forth between Jesus and these believers which basically centers around whose children they are. They say they’re Abraham’s children, but look at what Jesus says:
“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… 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. John 8:39-40, 44.
So Jesus says they’re not Abraham’s children because they’re not doing what Abraham did, which was to believe God’s word. Instead he says they are telling lies and looking to kill him, which must mean that they’re actually children of the devil!
And all throughout, I want you to notice the role of Jesus’s word in revealing who these people are:
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. John 8:31
You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. John 8:37
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. John 8:43
“My word. My word. My word.” What ultimately determines whether these “believers” are true disciples of Christ or not is their reaction to His word. In other words, Jesus’s word reveals who we truly are.
There’s something sobering about this passage, and it’s this: these people start out being described as “believers.” But apparently they’re not, not really. What this means is that not everyone who bears the name “Christian” is really a follower of Christ!
In fact, this passage is reminiscent of another passage that’s found in some of the other Gospels, what’s called “The Parable of the Sower.” And in that parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a farmer who went out to sow some seed. And the seed is the word of God, but there are four different types of “soils.” Let’s take a look.
And he says that As he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.
5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
(Matt. 13:4-8 ESV)
When Jesus explains the parable, he explains what each type of soil means. And notice he says about the first: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path (Matt. 13:19 ESV)
Back to John 8, it’s pretty clear that this is what we are dealing with here. These would-be followers of Jesus have heard the word- they’re even described as “believers” – but the evil one snatches it away and it’s all over before it even begins.
The main point of the parable is that different people will respond to the Word of God in different ways, and over time it’ll be clear who the true followers of Jesus are. In other words, the word of Jesus shows us who we are. It forces a choice.
Let’s take this personally. Are you willing to follow Jesus and His word when his way seems tough? When it costs you personally? When his words go against everything our culture is saying? These are the times that will reveal who you are – and whose you are. I mentioned this issue before – it’s not the only one in the church today, not by a long shot, but it’s a crucial one – take the Bible’s stand on sexuality. No matter what our culture is saying, in a world where we can’t even say “boys and girls” anymore, are you willing to follow the word of Jesus? No matter what it costs you? Sadly, we’ve seen many people stop following Jesus because of this exact topic. What’s happened? Here’s what: the word of Jesus has revealed who they truly are. They have believed the LIES of the evil one – the father of lies – and have stopped following the one who is the truth.
And by the way, the fact that Jesus’s word tells us who we truly are works both ways. In this case Jesus’s word reveals that those who say they’re his followers might not be. But his word reassures also. In the first letter of John it says For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:20. Are you tempted to doubt that you’re truly a follower of Christ because you’re struggling mightily with temptation, or you’ve fallen into sin? Remember that back in John 6 Jesus said Whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37. Let Jesus’s word challenge you to see if you’re in the faith. Let his word reassure you that no matter what struggles you are facing, you belong to Jesus and he weill keep you close to him.
So, when we abide in Jesus’s word it sets us free, and it tells us who we are. But there’s one final thing we see in this passage about Jesus’s word: it reveals not just who WE truly are, but who Jesus truly is.
3. It reveals who Jesus truly is.
This extended argument between Jesus and these would-be followers continues from v. 48 on, and it keeps escalating. Let’s pick it up.
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:48-51).
Here’s “Jesus’s word” again. Only this time, it’s pointing at something truly startling: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Think about what Jesus is saying for a secon. He’s not saying “If you keep my word it will go well with you” or “If you keep my word I’ll be pleased with you.” No, he says “If you keep my word, you’ll never die.” And for once these psuedo-followers 100% get what Jesus is getting at, because look how they respond:
52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
These listeners KNOW that this claim that Jesus makes is absolutely radical. It goes on to one of the most explosive claims of Jesus in the entire Gospel. Let’s pick it up from v. 56:
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Now, if you don’t know the Old Testament, you’ll miss what Jesus is saying here. Because way back in the Book of Exodus, God appeared to Moses, and sent him on a mission to set the children of Israel free. You see, the Israelites were in bondage. They were slaves in Egypt. But God wanted to set them free. And so he raised up Moses to free them. And in Exodus ch. 3 he appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to go and set the people free. And Moses is reluctant to say the least. But then he says “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exod. 3:13 ESV) And God answers Moses: “I am who I am.” “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) This is the name “Yahweh” – God’s personal, Covenant name by which he reveals himself in the Old Testament.
And so when Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I Am” he’s not just saying he existed before Abraham – he could have said “I was” if that’s what he meant – but he is identifying himself in no uncertain terms with Yahweh – the God of the Bible. No wonder they pick up stones to stone him, because if that wasn’t true, then it was total, 100% blasphemy.
Friends, Jesus’s word confronts us with the claims of who he is. And what that means is, it forces us to make a decision about Jesus. You see, you can’t stay neutral about Jesus. You can’t just say “Sure, Jesus is cool, but it’s not really for me.” C. S. Lewis, in his classic book Mere Christianity, is talking about just these claims of Christ in the NT, and he says this:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C. S. Lewis
Where do you stand with Jesus? If you’re not yet sure, if you’re on the fence, have you considered the radical claims of who Jesus said he was? There’s no getting around it.
And if you’re wondering, “Well, how do I know he wasn’t crazy?” The answer is simple: The resurrection. In just a couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday – the day when Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. The day when he obeyed God’s voice, just like Abraham did, even unto death. But he didn’t stay dead. On Easter Sunday Christians around the world celebrate when Jesus rose from the dead. This is a whole other sermon, but if you want to talk about evidence and the best explanation for the Gospels and all of that, the answer is, Jesus really did rise from the dead. He started a movement that persists to this very day and none of it makes sense unless his earliest followers really did see him alive again after he died. And just like Moses, his death and resurrection mean freedom for those who call on his name. Freedom from the penalty of sin, freedom from the power of sin, and one day, freedom from the presence of sin when we live forever with him.
Friends, abide in Jesus’s words. Rest in them. Live by them. We’ll be set free from sin, we’ll know who we truly are, and we’ll know who Jesus truly is, in all his glory and majesty. Let’s pray.