They Had Believed

July 14, 2017

Jesus addressed a group described as “the Jews who had believed in him” (John 8:31). Yet the speech which follows may seem odd given this description of the audience. C.H. Dodd captures the tension with these words, “A group of Jews described as believers are accused of attempted murder and roundly denounced as children of the devil.”*

Yet, the description of the audience needs to be noted: “they had believed.” There was a point in their past in which they had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. But observe this commitment in their past was not enough. Jesus’ instructions make a great deal of sense given this audience.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31–32, ESV)

What does it mean to abide? The standard Greek lexicon states it is used “of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: remain, continue, abide” (BDAG, p. 631). This is the person who continues to believe in and practice the teachings of Jesus. Only such persons can be described as “truly my disciples.”

What is the benefit of this continued relationship with Jesus? “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what kind of freedom is envisioned? Jesus makes this clear in 8:34-36. It is freedom from sin. It is to no longer be enslaved to sin. Earlier in this section of speeches Jesus had said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

But what was true of this audience as Jesus addressed them:

  • They were seeking to kill Jesus, 8:37, 40.
  • They were not able to hear Jesus’ words, 8:43.
  • They are acting like the Devil’s offspring, 8:44.
  • They do not believe Jesus, 8:45.

Believing is not something I check off my list. It is not enough for it to be true of my past. Believing in Jesus must be something that continues, abides, and remains. These “Jews who had believed” are a warning example of starting off right and finishing wrong.

If continuing and present evidence for belief is missing, it would be a sad epitaph to have said, “they had believed.”

*As cited by George R. Beasley-Murray, John, p. 132.


How Shall We Escape?

October 25, 2013

Drifting is easy. Staying on course is hard. Drifting takes no thought. Piloting to a desired destination takes paying attention and concentration. Drifting is to allow the currents to take you where they will. The true sailor may tack into the wind and go against the currents–destination taking precedence over contrary forces. The careful sailor finds secure anchorage in the safe harbor. Drifting can be dangerous.

Neglect is easy. Maintenance is hard. Two houses in the same neighborhood, one maintained and the other neglected. At first the differences may be undetectable, but a little work done in regular intervals holds back the ravages of time and decay. Peeling paint, rotting wood, fallen shingles, and crumbling mortar can spell disaster if not averted. Neglect can lead to ruin.

Powerful images are conveyed by the words “drift” and “neglect.” Hebrews asks us to apply them to our spiritual lives and heed the warning. Many who begin the walk of faith end it not with a conscious rejection, but with a slow, creeping neglect. It comes on them with many little decisions and plausible excuses that lead away from faith. It’s like the boat that has lost its anchor. The drift is slow and almost imperceptible, but if it is not checked, the current leading it away may become stronger than the will to return.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1–3a, ESV)


Work Out Your Own Salvation

April 27, 2012

Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13 is sometimes regarded as a difficult passage. People are troubled by the phrase, work out. Doesn’t Paul say we can’t be saved by works of the law (Romans 3:20) or that the one who works, his wages are counted as his due rather than as a gift (Romans 4:4)? The answer is yes, but Paul can use the word, work, in more than one way. It can mean merit, and Paul clearly teaches we can’t merit or earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) . But it can also be a way of talking about deeds of obedience (Ephesians 2:10). Faith clearly leads to obedience (Romans 1:5), so Christians are created for good works. What does Paul want us to learn from this statement?

Paul wants us to lead a life of obedience (work out) because we are Christians. Obedience is our God-given purpose (see Philippians 1:9-11, 1:27). We were always meant to let God be Lord in our lives. We were always meant to obey. By the way, obedience isn’t tested when what God wants and what we want are the same. Obedience is true obedience when we are willing to say with Jesus, not my will but yours be done. Obedience is also tested by the people around us. Obedience shouldn’t depend on our human audience. Paul indicates that when he says “in my presence, but much more in my absence.”

Paul wants us to accept and live a life of individual responsibility — “work out your own salvation.” Paul is reminding them of their individual responsibility to continue in the path to salvation. There are things others can’t do for you. I can’t build your character for you. I can’t make your moral choices for you. Yes, each of us can receive guidance, but even that is something we must choose to accept or reject.

Paul wants us to live a life of perseverance (work out your own salvation). Louw and Nida give this insight into the word: “to do something with success and/or thoroughness.” A.T. Robertson in his, Word Pictures in the New Testament, notes for this passage to “work on to the finish.” We see this even in Paul’s example:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)

Paul’s statement is consistent with grace. Work out has to do with the obedience which is our purpose. Because of our status as Christians, Paul wants us to live lives of obedience, responsibility, and perseverance.


Wings Like Eagles

December 2, 2011

Are you weary and troubled? It is part of the human condition. We will all face moments of trial. We will all at times grow tired. In Isaiah 40:27-31, Isaiah looks ahead to the Babylonian Captivity. Those would be dark days for Israel. Those captives too would be weary and troubled.

Isaiah pictures the discouragement of the captives. They think God has forgotten about them. They long for a vindication and return to their homeland, but they fear that God is no longer concerned. Isaiah in his prediction asks them, “Why do you say this?”

Isaiah then reminds them of the nature of God. God is everlasting. God is creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or become weary. God’s wisdom and understanding are limitless. Who could search it out?

Why does Isaiah remind them of the nature of God? The nature of God and the problems of life have a connection.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Isaiah 40:29, ESV

Even the young can be exhausted. But renewed strength is available for “they who wait for the LORD” (40:31). This is the waiting in faith. This is the waiting in hope of God’s saving activity. Isaiah provides a beautiful and poetic picture of those with renewed strength.

…they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31, ESV

Eagles soar even on the winds of the storm. Our own strength will fail us, but if we rely on God’s strength, we will have the strength to endure. We may not escape the storm, but we can endure the storm. We can ride out the storm. If we hope and trust in the Lord, we will see His salvation. We shall mount up with wings like eagles.