31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
In verse 31 Jesus now specifically addresses the believing Jews– that is, those that believed he had been sent from God. These believing Jews would show themselves truly to be Jesus’ disciples if they μείνητε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ –if they remain in, continue in, hold fast to, dwell in Jesus’ word of teaching. There is a sense in which Jesus’ true followers make themselves at home in his teaching. They live it, day by day. And in so doing, they would be truly free.
This would require their thoughtful study and reflection upon Jesus words. They would need to internalise his teaching. Similarly, we cannot think ourselves Jesus’ disciples if our engagement with his word is occasional or fleeting. There is a way of skimming over God’s word as though we are a water-skier pulled along by a speed boat. Or perhaps we glide across its surface like a kayak. But do we immerse ourselves in it? Do we swim in his teaching? Do we dive deeply into his word? We hold to Jesus’ teaching by making careful observation of it. We consider God’s word well. It becomes part of us.
As you read this little blog, I hope that it is not your entire diet of Jesus’ teaching for the day. Perhaps it is a ‘starter’ to whet your appetite. Maybe it is your ‘sweets’ at the end of your meal– an extra treat. But when you truly are Jesus’ disciple, you will feast upon his word. Have yourself a banquet.
And then you will know the truth, which will set you free. Of course, Jesus’ first hearers took exception to the fact that they would be set free by his word. They claimed that as Abraham’s children they had never been slaves to anyone– which seems a little unusual given their national experience of slavery in Egypt, of captivity in Babylon and then the repeated ravages of the Greeks and the Romans. The Old Testament is replete with Israel’s slavery narratives.
But Jesus does not go down that path. He is more concerned about their slavery to sin. They believed that in Abraham they were God’s chosen people; that they were the elect who always rose above sin by their obedience to the law. That is why in verse 33 they protest that they are Abraham’s children.
But Jesus argues “like Father, like Son.” That is to say, if they really were Abraham’s children they would not be seeking to kill Jesus but instead they would believe him and they would receive his testimony from God. Tragically, they refused to acknowledge their need of salvation.
When pushed by Jesus, the Jews press their claims of election higher: more than Abraham’s descendants, they claim they are God’s children– but in a different sense to Jesus’ claim. See Isa 63:16; 64:8. But Jesus refutes their claim, again on the basis of family likeness. They do not behave like God’s children. Instead their family likeness seems to make them children of the Evil One. Their unwillingness to turn from unbelief to faith, their inability to receive Jesus’ testimony, their hardened hearts show that they are not God’s children.
What is does your ‘family likeness’ say about you?