If you are a true believer in Jesus
today, or if you are an unbeliever, or if you are phony believer, thinking you believe when you don’t, these words of Jesus are meant for you. In fact, there is so much here for you in verse 31 that I never got to verse 32. And what I have decided to do is make verse 32 the text for Easter next weekend. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I encourage you to bring unbelieving family and friends. Everyone wants freedom. What is it? How do you get it? And how does it relate to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? That’s next week.
Five Questions Raised by Verse 31
But today we focus on verse 31: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you Abide
in my word, you are truly my disciples.’” And I have five questions that this verse raises — all are crucial for your life:
What does it mean to “truly be Jesus’s disciples”? (“You are truly my disciples.”)
What is Jesus referring to by the phrase “my word”? (“If you abide in my word. . . .”)
What does it mean to be “in” that word? (“If you abide in my word. . . .”)
What does it mean to “abide” there? (“If you abide in my word. . . .”)
What’s the relationship between abiding in his word and truly being his disciple? (“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”)
1. What does it mean to “truly be Jesus’s disciples”?
“If you have believed — truly believed — God’s wrath does not remain on you.”
Verse 31: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’” What this phrase “truly my disciples” implies is that there are disciples who are not truly disciples. The word “truly” means “really” — “really my disciples.” In other words, there are real and unreal disciples. There are authentic and inauthentic disciples. There is discipleship that is merely outward, and discipleship that goes down to the root.
The world is not just divided into two groups: disciples of Jesus and non-disciples. It is divided into three groups: non-disciples, unreal disciples, and real disciples — people who make no pretense of following Jesus, people that say they follow him and have a surface connection with him, and people who truly follow him.
Not All Belief Is Real
Why did Jesus bring up this distinction? It’s disturbing. It makes us squirm and ask ourselves the question which one we are. He brought it up because verse 30 says, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” There had been a large response to what he was teaching. And whenever there is a large response to anything you may guess that some are being carried along by the crowd. If your friends are going, it’s easy for you to go, even if you wouldn’t go on your own. You are along for the ride.
So Jesus doesn’t assume that all this belief is real. What he does is give a test that we can use to see if we are real. And in giving us this test Jesus helps us be real. It is not just a test of reality. It is a pathway to reality.
To Create Faith — As Well as Sustain It
So what becomes clear here again, as we have seen several times before (for example, John 2:23–25; 6:26) is what John meant when he wrote in John 20:31, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” He meant that this Gospel was written not just to awaken faith in non-disciples, but also to wake up people who think they are disciples but aren’t, and to help those who are real disciples confirm their reality and be stronger in their faith. John’s Gospel is written to sustain faith as well as create it.
You are in one of those three categories. And therefore all of you are included here. Let Jesus diagnose for you which you are, and then move toward reality.
Being a True Disciple
What then is a true disciple? Or what does Jesus mean by saying in verse 31, “You are truly my disciples”? Let’s be really clear here: For Jesus “true disciple” is the same as “true Christian” or “true believer.” Jesus is not saying that “true disciple” is a second stage in the Christian life. First believer, and then later you attain the level of disciple.
There have been ministries who talk that way. First, you’re an unbeliever, then you are a believer, then you grow into a disciple, and then you are a disciple-maker. That is not the way Jesus thought. And one piece of evidence for saying this is to notice the words he uses here in verse 31: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’”
He did not say to these professing believers, “If you abide in my word, you will become truly my disciples.” In other words, he did not teach that being a true disciple was a later stage after simple belief. No. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Now that you have believed, here is how you can know what you now are. You can know if your belief is real: you are now my true disciples if you go on abiding in my word.
So there is no thought here about “true discipleship” being a second stage of Christian maturity. True disciple means true believer or true Christian or true follower. It means, for example, truly forgiven for your sins. Look at verse 24: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So he says, if you do believe in me, you won’t die in your sins.
Rescued from Wrath
Why not? What happens to them? They are forgiven, taken away. Back inJohn 1:29 Jesus is called “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” How does he do that? He tells us in John 10:15, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” So Jesus takes our place, and receives God’s punishment of death which we deserved, which means that the wrath of God is totally removed from us. And instead of getting wrath from God, we get life and adoption from God because of the death of Jesus.
Listen to this amazing word about God’s wrath in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” But if you have believed — truly believed — God’s wrath does not remain on you. Never again will you taste it. Ever!
Saved from Sin
So a true disciple in John 8:31 (“truly my disciples”) is a true Christian, a true believer. His sins are truly forgiven; the wrath of God never again rests on him. He has true eternal life. He is one of Jesus’s sheep, and no one can pluck him out of his hand (John 10:29). He is no longer a slave but a son of God (verse 35; 1 John 3:1). He is the heir of ten thousand blessings that come to the children of the creator of the universe.
That’s what it means to be a true disciple. To be saved from sin. Rescued from the wrath of God. And already in the enjoyment of eternal life.
2. What is Jesus referring to by the phrase “my word”?
Our second question from John 8:31 is: What is Jesus referring to by the phrase, “my word”? “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
“If you want to know Jesus, you can know him through his word.”