“continue in my word”

John 8:31-36 (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28)

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason,” argued the great American writer Mark Twain. I have to confess that I have some sympathy with his argument – as would many folks who watch television, read newspapers, or dare to go to the new Wild West that is the internet! Perhaps it is the disingenuous way in which politicians tend to promise their followers… well… everything. (Grandiose promises are the hallmark of a politician.) And then comes bitter disappointment. That’s one reason why the psalmist warns:

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish (Psalm 146:3-4).

 So, when we hear Jesus say “… and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32) we feel a wee bit uncomfortable. Are these the words of a snake oil salesman? Let’s look at the context. Jesus has been speaking with the crowds on his way to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. In verse 30 – just before today’s text begins – John tells us that, “As he was saying these things [teaching] many believed in him.” And so, when verse 31 states, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him…,” these are folks who are new to faith Jesus. Therefore, Jesus says:

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (vs. 31-32).

New faith (like new love) is powerful and invigorating. But a relational journey lies ahead, full of moments of challenge and testing. Perseverance and endurance are required. And if one endures, then love, joy and life are also parts of the journey. If these newcomers to faith continue to live a life that is rooted in the words of life that Jesus spoke, then they shall know the truth (in Greek, aletheia).

Theologically, truth is the revelation of Jesus. But, what does that mean? Literally, the word means unclosedness, unconcealedness, or disclosure. This is the opposite of the word lethe, which literally means oblivion, forgetfulness, or concealment. If Jesus is life-giving revelation, then what is it that conceals, or leads to oblivion? The answer in John’s Gospel is sin. Sin takes one out of the household of faith just as surely as slavery meant that one wasn’t truly a member of the family in which one was enslaved. And, in slavery to sin there is forgetfulness about the One who is Creator and Redeemer. This is the very opposite of freedom – it is a form of death. “There is no true freedom if there is no freedom from sin,” as one scholar puts it. For John, freedom means salvation and deliverance from sin: a truth that makes one free.

Yet, notice that this isn’t an earned freedom. This isn’t a freedom which one achieves through force of personality or force of arms. It truly doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to Christ and to him alone. In the language of the Reformation, freedom is a benefit of Christ obtained by faith. And so, part of this freedom is a freedom from the futility of seeking after self-righteousness; of searching for the magic formula that will make us right with God; of the fear of standing in sin before an angry God whom we seem incapable of satisfying; of feeling completely unlovable yet seeking the love of God. Instead, Jesus tell us to persevere in faith (“continue in my word”); a faith that rests in who Jesus is and what he accomplishes (“know the truth”); and in that way you will be free from the futility of sin, and death (“so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”).

 

Shalom

 

Pastor Ken+