John 8:23-24, 31-32 – But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking (including us) several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
1.) They are worldlings (i.e., they operate under the dominion of Satan and the patterns of this sinful, fallen, enslaving world.)
2.) Jesus lived in the world but was not under its influence as they were. (in vs. of)
3.) As such, they were going to die in their sins.
4.) They must believe Jesus’ claims about himself if they were going to be set free from dying in their sins.
5.) To “believe” must mean more (though not less) than simple intellectual recognition, or even, acceptance of data. To those who had professed belief in him (verse 31), Jesus emphasized that they must “hold to his teaching” if they were truly his disciples.
6.) Therefore, only by genuine faith in Christ – which “holds to” (i.e., obeys) his teaching – can a person know the truth (Jesus is the truth – John 14:6 – and so is God’s Word – John 17:17). It is also by this means of believing or faith that a person will, therefore, be set free (freed from sin, liberated from the fate of worldlings, etc.).
True biblical, God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality to it that demands to be noticed. It’s very unlikely that the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they “intellectually believed” the claims of Jesus…and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be, (that he was the Way to be freed from sin, the Lord of Life, the Savior of the World, etc.), and that they loved him for first loving them, they obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
It was as their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives that they began being noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
If we would be people of the truth, we must first be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, believe him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of one who is the true Lord and King of the universe – which includes this world. The pretenders to the Throne notwithstanding, (their reign after all is finite and temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not merely the intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it contains an element of that). It is not primarily a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we claim to be his disciples.
PS – This is a devotional piece. Thus, I have not qualified every sentence and covered everything I’ve written with a, “now I don’t mean this…” sort of statement. Yet, I feel the need to add that I have written much on salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as central to my worldview. The “shape of faith and allegiance to Christ” that I have focused on in this devotion flow from the salvation won by Christ alone and received through faith alone. Nothing that I have written here, I pray, should lead anyone toward works-righteousness. Thanks.
Grace and Truth,