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.” 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’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
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, 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. 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.” 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. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 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. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
“I’m a good person.” Every Christian has likely heard this line from someone in sharing the gospel somewhere along the way. Without Christ in our lives, we naturally find something else upon which to base our worthiness before God. For us, it tends to be our own sense of righteousness. For the Jews in Jesus’ day, it was their descent from Abraham, who had been acknowledged by God as a righteous person based on his belief. As Abraham’s offspring, they considered themselves essentially vindicated by association. What use did they have for the “freedom” Jesus offered? They were already a part of the “in” crowd because of Abraham!
What Jesus highlights, rather, is a standard of entry into the good graces of God which is not based on personal merit but on the Son. Some have a misguided understanding of righteousness which holds that the former standard was deeds, and this was later replaced by a standard of belief. This does not accurately grasp the Old Testament standard of righteousness, as belief in God has always been the standard. “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Belief is, and always has been, what God required of His people.
The problem for many is that their belief is misdirected. They believe in themselves. They believe in their traditions. They believe that they aren’t in need of whatever Jesus has to offer. It’s because of this that those gathered seek to kill Jesus – their belief is erroneous. They cling so tightly to the traditions of their ancestors that they fail to see that the fulfillment of everything those very ancestors hoped to see is right in their midst.
Jesus is quick to point out the problem which is present in the people – they are not as dedicated to the work of God as they think they are. How often do people these days declare, “I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not really religious.” They believe they can be in touch with spirituality while still charting their own course, determining their own destiny. It isn’t much different than what the crowds surrounding Jesus were declaring: we have our own spiritual foundation and it doesn’t include you. But the only alternative foundation for spirituality is the enemy of Christ. We can choose obedience or disobedience. There is no in-between. We can choose Christ or we can choose Satan. There is no in-between.
Those moments where the congregation chooses to follow whatever a particularly strong voice has to say, regardless of the clear words of Scripture – they choose disobedience. When the heart chooses to give in to sin rather than walk in faithfulness to the paths of God, we choose disobedience. We choose Satan. We need to call this what it is so we don’t try to justify our disobedience or act as if it isn’t all that serious.
The truth hurts.
But the truth hurts not simply because it’s intended to make us feel bad. The truth isn’t a torture device. It’s the initial heat which causes us to draw our hand back off of a hot oven; although it may sear and although it may even leave a small wound, the reality is that the wound would have been far worse had we not heeded the warning.
There are those in this world who have no ability to feel pain. Although it sounds ideal at first, they are in very real medical danger. Pain is unpleasant, but it keeps us from sustaining more serious injuries. In like manner, the truth prevents us from going down much darker paths which would result in separation from our Father in heaven.
Do we heed Jesus’ words of warning? We must examine ourselves to see where God is at work in our hearts. Are we on those paths which would cause Christ to say, “What you’re doing is of your father, the devil”? If so, let us turn back! Let us walk in repentance and choose the paths of righteousness, of obedience. If we love Him, we will keep His commands. In so doing, we will be children of our heavenly Father.
Father, I recognize my inclination toward disobedience. Search me and know me, O God. Show me those places which are in need of Your helping hand, those areas which require Your surgical precision to remove that which is bringing me closer to death. Wake me up, O Lord! Stir within me a desire for holiness and a relentless pursuit of purity. Let me follow in the paths which You have laid out for me. Help me to put away that which causes my eyes to linger on impurity, that which causes my mouth to speak carelessly, and that which seeks to lure my heart away from You. Create in me a clean heart which seeks nothing less than full conformity to the image of Christ Jesus. Make me one in whom You delight, one who walks in a way which brings a smile to Your face. May I be devoted to You, my heavenly Father, above all else.