How Do We Know If We Are Really Disciples of Jesus? #357
Happy Friday, friends! Another short episode today as this one is being written and recorded on the 16th, my anniversary, and my dear wife and I are about to head off 20 minutes down the road to a nice and safe bed and breakfast to celebrate 25 years of marriage. Today we are reading 2nd Chronicles 21, Zechariah 5, John 8 and Revelation 9.
Our focus is in John 8, and our question is how do we know we are disciples of Jesus? If you recall John 6, this is an important question. In that chapter, Jesus taught the Jews and His disciples that He was the bread of life, and the only way that anybody would have eternal life was by eating this true Bread of Life. Jesus taught this truth in such a graphic and powerful way (see episode 355) that many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer followed Him. They had made a decision to literally follow Jesus, and did so for some time, paying a price to literally follow Him around and listen to Him. They went beyond merely going to church a few times a month, and some of them probably even left jobs and maybe even families to follow Him for a time…but when the rubber met the road, and they began to understand who Jesus was, what He was teaching, and what He was claiming about Himself…they noped out and left, abandoning Him and abandoning salvation in the process. As a pastor, I have seen many, many people walk the aisles and ‘decide to follow Jesus,’ as the old song goes. I have seen some of them get baptized and join the church. And then, at some point, they just vanish. Some of them go to other churches and continue to pursue God. Some leave for a time and return, but many just kind of follow Jesus for a while, and then turn back, like the John 6:66 former disciples. I do not mean to imply that abandoning a particular church indicates abandoning God, but the people I am thinking of not only stopped going to church, they stopped following Jesus.
The implications of this is that Jesus doesn’t tell us that we are truly His disciples if we have walked the aisle at church, or made a one time decision to follow Him, or if we asked Him into our heart. How does JESUS say we will know we are His disciples? Let’s read our passage, and find out!
30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples.32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This passage reminds me of two important truths:
#1 Believing a set of Biblical truths about Jesus does not mean we are disciples of Jesus. “19 You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder.” James 2:19 You might believe He is the son of God. You might believe He was born of a virgin. You might believe He died on the cross and rose from the dead. All of these things are true, and, as James points out – the demons believe all of these things, because they presumably saw them. But believing a fact does not make you a follower or disciple of Jesus.
#2 There is a type of temporary belief (Jesus describes this clearly in Mark 4 – the seed that sprouts up quickly and then is choked out and dies…) that does not save, and does not make you a disciple of Jesus. The disciples of Jesus in John 6 believed in Him for a time…and then abandoned Him. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Notice the similarity of what Paul and Jesus both say: If you hold to my truth, you are REALLY my disciples, says Jesus. If you hold to the gospel message about Jesus, you are are really saved and being saved, says Paul…if you let it go, you believed in vain.
What does this mean? That we can’t know we are Christians? Of course not – Jesus preserves every one who truly in faith comes to Him. As we also saw in John 6, He will never cast out or push away a true believer – He will preserve them by His strength and power, not our own. We know we are truly disciples of Christ if we continue in the Word of Jesus and continue holding to the gospel message that Jesus died for sinners, rose to life, and promises eternal life to all who look to Him in faith believing – and continue looking to Him. A true disciple of Jesus that is saved and transformed and washed in the blood of Jesus will have His word dwelling in them. They will hold to the teachings of Jesus and the good news about His life, death, resurrection, return and reign.
37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me because my word has no place among you
May the Word of Jesus have continuing place in us!
I’ll close with some great words from pastor Tim Keller on this passage:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Three things we taught in this verse. Number one, “hold to the truth” means obedience is a matter of discipline. It’s sticking with it. Hold to the truth.“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Always see this. Always see this!
God never jumps and says, “Obey, and then everything will be fine.” He says obey in order to become a certain kind of person. You see, ethical behavior doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than barking makes you a dog. If you want to be a dog, you need the DNA. You need the nature implanted. In the same way, what we’re talking about here is God is saying, “It’s not obedience that makes you a Christian. Obedience is a way of seeing that you’re really my disciple.”
That means the new birth. That means receiving him. That means you must keep in mind the whole purpose of the Christian walk is to become a certain kind of person. The freedom only comes from being that kind of person and developing that kind of character. Finally, the truth will set you free. . John 14:23. Jesus says, “If you obey my words, my Father and I will come to you, and we will manifest ourselves to you.” Christian friends, if God isn’t real to you, somehow, in some way you need to go back and say, “Where am I failing to hold to his Word? If I hold to his Word, obedience is what brings reality.” Psalms 1 says the mark of the godly man is not that he prays day and night. It’s not that he witnesses on the street corner day and night. What does it say he does day and night in Psalms 1? It says he meditates on the law of God and he delights on it. He delights in the law of God and he mediates day and night.
The mark of a godly man is that he is someone who loves to have God tell him what to do. He loves to have God’s Word examine his life. Do you like that? If you don’t, that will tell you something about the state of your soul, because, you see, freedom … perfect freedom … comes from his service. Jesus Christ says, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If you’re being crushed today, it’s because you have some other yoke, you have some other burden on. The only yoke that will not crush you is to put on absolute, unconditional obedience, making him supreme in your life, no other lord. Then, and only then, will you be free. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).