There is a difference between those who think they’re Christians, with the supposition that all is good in their spiritual walk, and those who truly belong to the Lord. There is, of course, a spectrum of belief from the seriously devout to people who are extremely casual in their faith. On that scale are the religious of the past and present, i.e. those we’d classify as Pharisees with whom Jesus had much interaction in His day.
The questions – and the answers – as to where we fall on this spectrum arise for all of us because of what Jesus said in John 8:31-32:
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.”
Notice, He was speaking to those who believed Him. But were they true believers? From their question regarding their relationship to Abraham in verse 33, it’s highly doubtful. In fact, we see several verses later (verse 37) that Jesus accuses these Jews (again: whom the text says believed Him) of trying to kill Him. Next, verse 38 reveals that their father wasn’t the Father of Jesus. (Hint: we soon see in verse 41 that their father is the devil!)
So, if someone can believe Jesus, but still not have God as His Father; rather have the devil in that position of authority, then we end up with some serious issues of faith. Who is actually abiding in the Word of Jesus? Who is really a disciple of His? Who genuinely knows the truth? Who is free?
If we address these issues and examine our lives and the faith we profess, we’ll probably learn whether or not we’re truly a follower of Jesus or a pretender.
The key is what Jesus tells these men and us today in John 8:34:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
They were practicing sin.
They thought they were righteous, but apparently not. How many of us today think we’re in fine shape in our relationship to the Lord, but we’re not? Do we practice sin and not acknowledge it?
That’s what these Jews were doing. They declared that they were Abraham’s children; thus entitled to enter the Kingdom of God simply because of that status. Not so, Jesus said. In fact, He accused them of not doing the works of Abraham (John 8:39). As a result, they were of the devil.
So, what was the work of Abraham? It was one of believing loyalty. Abraham was righteous in God’s eyes, just like David after him, because he followed and revered Yahweh and Him alone. He didn’t pursue other gods in any way, shape, or form.
These Jews – as Pharisees – had made the Law itself their idol. They had actually placed it, and following its dictates, above Yahweh Himself. This broke the 1st and 2nd Commandments. God was not first and foremost in their belief system, and the idol of the Law was as much another god as a carved image. They had become slaves to their absolute trust in the Law and, as a result, slaves to sin.
These Pharisees had neglected the two basic tenets of the Law that Jesus distilled for them in Matthew 22:37-40:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
How about us? Is God – Jesus Christ – the one we live for and do all that’s conceivably possible to please? Are we loving others as Jesus showed us to do?
If not, then we’re not abiding in His Word. If we’re not doing that, then we’re not truly His disciples. If that’s the case, then we’re not completely walking in the truth. If that’s so, then we’re not really free.
This creates a quandary. Is Jesus Lord of our lives or are we our own lord? For the Jews with whom Jesus spoke, it was the latter. They believed Him, but that belief didn’t extend to actual practice. As such, they were like those whom James 2:14-26 speaks of who say they have faith, but the fruit of their lives negates that.
What is the fruit of our lives? Is it as Galatians 5:22-23 describes?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Or, is it something else? If Jesus isn’t our Lord as well as our Savior, our fruit is likely not what Paul expresses to the Galatians.
Our purpose – our job – you can even say our “work – is to believe. Jesus gave us the free gift of salvation. All we have to do is accept it, and we do that through belief in Him. That He is the bread of life. That He is the gate. That He is the Good Shepherd. That He is the light of the world. That through faith in Him alone He is all these things to us and more. How simple! Yet how difficult!
For many people, they think the kingdom can only be achieved by superabundant effort, others by learning the “code” and entering into certain secrets that only a few know.
All we can say to this is: No – No – No!
Walk with Jesus. Do as He says. His yoke is easy. Obey His commands. Repent. Trust in Him.
Do you want to no longer be a slave to sin? Accept the present of His life that He laid down for us. Walk in that life and put the world behind you. Turn to Jesus in all the simplicity of the Gospel and be set free!