Summary: How do you respond to the Word of Jesus? Is following Jesus an obedience-optional exercise for you? If it is, you stand to lose a great blessing--the freedom that only being a true follower of Jesus can provide.
Last week I asked you a critical question: What must a person believe, in particular about Christ, to be sure of going to heaven The answer, of course, is that person must believe He is God, very God of very God, the God-Man.
This morning I’m going to ask you another compelling question: What single factor demonstrates the difference between a true follower, a true believer in Christ and one who is not? What factor is the proof that someone is a follower or believer in Christ?
Now there are a lot of answers people might give. Some might say it’s the profession of faith in Christ. Some might say it’s a matter of whether they go to church or not. Some might say it’s their love for one another, which sounds pretty reasonable. Someone else might say it’s whether they bear fruit. And at that point I would say you’re getting pretty warm.
This morning I’m going to suggest to you that the outward sign or proof that someone is a true follower or believer in Christ is not just his profession of faith, but the obedience to Christ’s Word. The obedience that comes as a result of faith. In other words, your response to the Word of Christ, or the Word of God, for that matter, demonstrates who and what you are. And that seems to be the point of the continued discussion between Jesus Christ and, for the most part, His enemies in Jerusalem.
Again, its six months before Christ’s crucifixion. He’s at the Feast of Booths in late summer or early fall of His final year in ministry. He’s been speaking in the temple. The chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the council of 70 who are the political leaders of the Jewish nation in Jerusalem, have already determined that they need to rid themselves of Jesus—that He needs to be eliminated, however they need to eliminate Him. And in true Mafia-style private deliberations, they’re willing to do any and everything they need to do to eliminate Jesus, because with all the miracles He’s doing, with his continued exposure of their corruption, they risk losing their place and their following, and all the benefits that went with it in Jewish culture. He’s a huge political and spiritual threat, a great liability.
And yet as we have seen, He’s preaching openly in the temple. He’s attracted throngs of crowds. The Jewish leaders have been doing their best to discredit Him. He has already made some incredible, unbelievable statements about Himself such as He’s the Light of the World; He’s the “I Am” of the Old Testament, very God of very God. And as He has been speaking, there are some onlookers in the crowd who are observing this hostile debate who are being won over, convinced by Jesus, that He is truly the Messiah, that He is who He claims to be. And so the Apostle John, who was an eyewitness of these proceedings, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us what happens next as we pick up where we left off last week. Verse 30: “As He (Jesus) spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.” In other words, Jesus is winning the debate for those who are open to the objective truth.
And so John tells us in verse 31 that Jesus pauses for a moment in his debate with his sworn enemies to address those who have come to believe in Him. And He says to them,
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”
Now, once again, we have another statement of earth-shaking significance for those of us who claim to be believers in Christ. Here Christ answers the question which we have just posed: What is the proof, what single factor demonstrates above all else whether any person is truly a follower or a believer in Christ. Yes, of course, we would hope there’s at least a profession of faith in Christ. But there’s got to be something else along with that profession of Christ—there’s got to be this matter of continuing in the Word of Christ.
Exactly what does that mean? The Greek word means to remain in, or to stay in Christ’s word. The idea from the totality of Scripture seems to be that of making God’s Word, and especially Christ’s Word, the centerpiece of your life, the instruction book, and the operating manual for life. In other words, the picture of a true believer or follower of Christ is not someone who hears about Christ and announces he believes in a one-and- done sort of fashion and then goes on living as he always did before. Instead, it’s the picture of someone who comes to believe in Christ in such a way that it results in earth-shaking changes in his lifestyle—earth-shaking changes that result from a continual devotion to believing in, knowing and then doing what Christ’s Word instructs Him to do. Jesus here defines a true follower of Christ to be one who is continually drinking in the Word of Christ, meditating on it, conforming his life to it, devoting his life, therefore, to Christ. And as a result, the person demonstrates that he has become a new creature in Christ, as II Corinthians 5:17 puts it.