Would you turn in your Bibles to John chapter 8 this morning? Last time we were together for the series Believe: 879 the message was called "The Worst Way and the Best Way to Die." Here's a follow-up on that. This is "The Worst Way and the Best Way to Live." Verse 31. Let's read a couple verses from there down: "Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will [make us free or you will] be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." Let's pray together...
In the movie Braveheart, the hero is William Wallace. William Wallace is rebelling against the rule of England, something we as Americans can relate to historically. The archenemy of William Wallace is the King of England, nicknamed Longshanks because of his stature. It was Edward the First, if memory serves. They became bitter rivals--archenemies. Edward the First was a cruel, horrible man who wanted nothing more than to capture William Wallace. As the movie progresses, so does their hatred toward one another. At one point in the film, when William Wallace, gathering all of his troops together for one of several battles in the film, he addresses his men. And he says to them something like: if ye fight, ye may die. If ye run, ye will live--for awhile, that is. But let's let our enemies know that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom. Pardon the accent. I give it my best shot. At any rate, as the movie goes on, William Wallace is captured. He's betrayed by a friend, captured, brought before a mock court in England, big court, outdoor court of people, and an executioner who's gonna kill him. As he's brought to the crowd, they mock him, they kick him, they spit on him, and the executioner looks him in the eye and he says if you beg for mercy, I'll make a quick end of you. If you don't, it'll be a long, torturous death. Above the court, in his room, is Longshanks, Edward the First, King of England, on his deathbed, window open, wanting to hear the last word before he dies of William Wallace begging for mercy. Wallace didn't do that. When the crowd dies down, so they can hear his confession, he doesn't give a confession. He musters up just enough strength to shout out one word: Freedom. And that's the word Longshanks hears before he dies.
Freedom is a powerful word. It's an even more powerful reality. Nations have gone to war for freedom. Our nation was built upon freedom. July 4, 1776, you know it well, 56 men signed The Declaration of Independence. And, among other things, they said we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We've always believed that that's the best way to live. We believe that the best way to live is freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it. But here's the tragedy and it's a sad one. We live in a country filled with people that enjoy political freedom while at the same time they are spiritually enslaved. They don't really enjoy true freedom. The best way and the worst way to live. What's the best way? You know I was walking through a store the other day and ended up in line. I was buying a few groceries. And whenever I'm in line, I always look at the magazines that are next to me. I just look at them--I glance at what the headlines are. And one caught my attention. There was an article that said "3 Ways to Total Fulfillment." I knew that magazine would sell. That's what people want. Everybody has some idea of what would bring them total fulfillment, absolute happiness. If I only had this much money. If I only owned that thing. If I was only married to that person. If I was only not married to that person. Whatever it might be.
There was an Englishman who said true happiness is when you come home and find your slippers warmed by the fire. A Frenchman overheard him and said you English are so unromantic. True happiness is dinner out with your beautiful wife in a fine restaurant. A Russian was overhearing them speak and he said you're both wrong. True happiness is when you are in bed at night and you get a knock on the door at 2 in the morning and it's the Secret Police and they say Ivan Ivanovich? You're under arrest. And you say to them oh sorry, Ivan Ivanovich lives next door! It's all a matter of perspective. Speaking of perspective, that's what Jesus gives us in this paragraph. Divine perspective. What is the best way and what is the worst way to live. We begin with the best way. In verse 31 and on down. I'll sum it up for you. The best way to live your life is in freedom of genuine discipleship. Let me state it another way. If you're truly an authentic pursuer of the Lord Jesus Christ, that's the best way to live. I believe that with all my heart. Now there's a few stages to that. I want you to notice them. Gratefully, the Scripture has them here laid out for us and they're in your outline. Believing is the first--believing in Christ. First stage to freedom. Second, continuing in His Word. You'll get freer and freer. And finally, knowing the truth. All of those form the freedom of genuine discipleship. I'd like you to notice. It says in verse 30. Let's go back one verse: "As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him," stop there.
We have a bit of a problem because Jesus is addressing believers. They believed Him, it says. And I say it's a problem because Jesus says, you're trying to kill Me. That's in our paragraph. You're trying to kill Me. What believer would want to kill Jesus? What kind of a believer is that? Moreover, as the conversation continues, our Lord will say to the same group you are of your father, the devil. We'll save that for next week. What kind of a believer is that? So that's why I say we have a problem. And now you could solve the problem by saying, verse 30 and 31 says a bunch of people believed Him, but it was shallow, superficial faith. There's another way to look at it. We're dealing with two separate groups in two separate verses. Verse 30 is one group; verse 31 is yet another group. I want you to notice something. In verse 30 it says, "As He spoke these words, many believed in Him." They believed in Him, or King James, on Him. They lean completely on Him. That's genuine belief. John chapter 1 verse 12: as many as believed or received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God as many as believe in His name. But notice the next verse. It doesn't say they believed in Him. It says, "Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him." In isn't there. Those Jews who believed Him. In other words, they only accepted His message--what He said. They liked what they heard but it wasn't saving faith. They went hmm... that's good. I think I might believe that.
Leon Morris has a helpful note in his commentary: The section is addressed to those who believe and yet who do not believe. They were inclined to think that what Jesus said was true, but they were not prepared to yield Him the far-reaching allegiance that real trust implies. The first step to freedom is believing Christ. But. But not all belief, not all faith, is saving faith, would you agree with that? Not all faith is saving faith. Didn't James say that? The devils believe and they tremble. And do you remember a few weeks, a few months, back in John chapter 2? Remember it said in John chapter 2 many believed Him when they saw the signs that He performed, but Jesus would not commit Himself to them. In other words, they believed Him--He didn't believe them. They were false believers. Also, Jesus describes this kind in a parable when He said these are those on rocky soil. They receive the Word with joy, but they have no root. They believe for awhile, but in time of temptation they fall away. No wonder Paul told his readers test yourselves and see whether you are in the faith. Examine yourself. Do that this morning. Let there be a little self-examination. Are you an authentic, true believer? Like Morris says here a far-reaching allegiance of real trust in Him. That's the first step. Abraham Lincoln was called the great emancipator. Jesus Christ is the greatest emancipator. And the way He sets people free is their initial point of contact, believing Him, leaning completely on Him. That's the first step.
The second step is continuing. Notice in verse 31, "Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." Now there's something you're gonna discover about John. John loves that word abide. He peppers it all through his writings, the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John. In fact, the whole New Testament uses the word abide 34 times. John takes 31 of those, leaving 3 for everybody else. He loves the word abide. Now Jesus said this. What does it mean? It simply means to remain in or to continue on in something. Now what Jesus said is if you do that, if you are continuing on, remaining in My Word, notice what He says you will be. You are My disciples indeed. It's an old way of saying you will for sure, for real, be My disciples. Authentically. You will be real, authentic disciples. So here's the point. Real disciples are people committed to continuing on in the truth. So the first step to freedom: believing. You make initial contact. But you can't stop there. You don't stop with a raised hand. You can't stop with tears rolling down the eyes. You can't stop with people coming forward and saying a prayer and go yay! That's just the beginning. You don't stop there. You now continue. It's what Eugene Peterson calls a long obedience in the same direction, isn't that a great phrase? A long obedience in the same direction. As soon as I received Jesus Christ, I've told this story a bunch of times, I was watching Billy Graham, at the end of the message he always said this, he said it to the crowd that came forward, he said it to the audience on television: and make sure that you go to church this Sunday. And you know what? He didn't even need to tell me that because I wanted to go. I was so amped at that point on learning more than I knew. I wanted to grow from that point on, it wasn't like had enough--I wanted more. I was just getting started on a long obedience in the same direction.
By the way, you know what disciple literally means? Learner. Learner. Mathetes is the Greek word. It means learner. Question: does that describe you? Are you in learning mode? Are you in learning mode? Is your life still wide open and it's like tell me more, I want to grow, I want to learn, or are you the type that you sort of narrowed that embrace down, I'm mature now, you can't tell me anything? Well, that's a shame because real learners is what Jesus is talking about. Authentic disciples are those who continue on and remain in the mode of learning. Ask yourself a couple questions. How often do you read the Bible personally? Not at church--personally, where you crack it open and you read through it. Second question: how often do you meditate on it? Where you'll not just read it, you'll actually take a little chunk, break it apart, ask what it means, how is that related to the next and to the previous, and how does that apply to my life, where you're actually chewing on a little section, meditating on it? Do you own a Bible? Your own copy of the Bible that you read, that you write in, that you mark up on. All of those are important things in continuing.
Here's the third step: knowing. Believing, continuing, knowing. This is where you don't just continue and learn stuff. Now you have deep convictions formed that are guiding principles in your life. Verse 32: "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Do you realize how foreign that sounds in this post-modern era? In our day and age, any search for absolute truth has been abandoned. In fact, post-modernists are absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain. That's about all they're certain of. I'm absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain. And that's why the highest virtue of any person living today, the highest, you get straight A's, the world'll give you a clean report card, if you say my highest thing in life is tolerance. I tolerate every ideology and every thought, whatever--you'll get straight A's if that's your posture. If you want to flunk their evaluation of you, just say this: I know the truth. I know the absolute truth. Hmm. So narrow. Such a shame. So pitiful that you're that ignorant as to say I know the truth. But Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Now I'd like to just say that's the thinking of the world but it's crept into the church. Newsweek magazine put out an article that said 85% of American Christians believe there are other ways to heaven other than Christ. 85%. Oh, I'm a Christian but... that's just for me. Jesus is my way--might not be their way or your way. There's a lot of ways.
There's one way. Jesus Himself did not say I am a way. I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. He Himself narrows it down. Verse 32 is one of the most famous verses in Scripture. Did you know that on the seals of great universities and colleges this verse is often inscribed on many of them? Sometimes the whole verse; sometimes just the section the truth will set you free and you know what they mean by it? What they mean by quoting this verse is that academic knowledge is the freeing journey in life. Learn stuff. Get degrees. Truth will set you free. Now I'm frankly surprised that they would dare to put that in their seal because they ought to know better. Every college professor should know that you can't take a text out of its context. In fact, there's a little saying. I may have learned it in college: Any text divorced from its context can become a pretext--which is a false premise. Jesus is not speaking about academic knowledge or acquiring facts. He's speaking specifically of the knowledge about Himself, knowledge about Christ--that's what's liberating. How do I know that? Well, compare two verses that are complementary. Verse 32: You will know the truth and the truth will make you free. Compare that with verse 36: "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." Did you get that? It's not about acquiring academic information. The context He's talking about spiritual liberation. Liberation. That's what He's talking about and it comes through Him.
By the way, here's a good moment to pause and again compare the difference between religion and Jesus. I came out of religion. It was very restrictive. Very legalistic. It was always about the rules. Then I stepped into Christ and the first thing that struck me is man, this is liberating! It's about a relationship with Him not about a legalistic set of laws. Here's how it works. Here's how it works. You first put your faith in Him. You believe in Him. You trust in Him. As soon as you do that, you are instantly freed from the penalty of sin. Instantly. But then you stick with it. You remain in it. You continue on with it. And you learn and as you learn, you learn about God, you learn about humanity, you learn about yourself, you learn about marriage, you learn about how to do business. And the more you learn and continue in it, then you come to know certain things, deep-seated, unshakeable convictions are formed in the heart. These guiding life principles. And you find yourself free from the power, the grip, of sin. Not just the penalty, the power, the grip. And there are more levels and more levels. Listen. I'll tell you right now. Whatever level you're at right now as a Christian, you've got to know there are more levels to go to. There's higher growth to go to. There's more freedom you experience. There's more things to know.
So as we continue in His Word, we do that. It happened to me the first or second week I was a Christian. I'll never forget it. I'm two weeks old in the Lord. I'm reading the New Testament. There are lots of habits and practices from my old life that I hadn't gotten rid of because I frankly didn't think I had to. And then I started reading the Book and when I read the Book I went, wow, uh-oh, hmm. And I knew instantly that there were things I needed to stop, that weren't pleasing to God. So true, authentic disciples are those who continue to learn and they form those life principle convictions; it's called knowing. And we step into more and more freedom. We are people of the Book. We are Word-oriented. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, said man shall not live by bread alone but every word of God. Paul said in Colossians let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Those are not verses given to preachers but to disciples. Learners. That's how we know the truth--we abide. So that is the best way to live: being an authentic disciple of Christ. You believe in Him, you remain in Him, you learn and you know and with that knowledge of Christ comes the ability to be freer and freer and freer. That's the best way to live.
Let's now look at the worst way to live. It's in the slavery of a sinful lifestyle. Verse 33: "They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, [we] have never been in bondage to anyone," just keep that little statement in your mind. We've never been in bondage to anyone. "How can You say, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly," every time He says that it's like heavy duty, ok? Verily, verily, is the King James' way of translating it. Originally it's Amen, Amen, I say to you. Whenever Jesus said that it's like, dudes? Listen up. This is really important. So "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." Now our country, the United States, we know something about slavery. It's one of the blotches on our historical record. We look back at the time when 12 million slaves were brought out of Africa and we took 650,000 of them into our country. That's a blot on our record. And because of that we have learned to hate slavery, rightfully so, and to love freedom, rightfully so. But the Jews also knew something about slavery but here was the difference. They themselves had been the slaves. They had been in bondage their entire history. Let me name a few. They were slaves in Egypt. They were slaves in Babylon. They were enslaved by Assyria. They were enslaved by Medo-Persia. Later, Greco-Macedonia. Later, the Salusis or the Syrian Empire. And presently, the very time this conversation is going on, Rome was their slave master. They were under the bondage and yoke of Rome.
So where did they come off then saying, we've never been in bondage to any man? When weren't you in bondage to any man? This is classic denial. You ever spoken to an alcoholic and you try to intervene and they will say I can stop anytime I want? I'm not an alcoholic. Classic denial. What do they mean when they say this? They simply mean this. we may have been in political bondage; we've never been in spiritual bondage. Why? Because we're descendants of Abraham. We're the chosen race. We're the Jewish people. And because we're the Jewish people, we're automatically children of God. That's what they thought. And because we're automatically children of God by being descendants of Abraham, we're going to heaven. Because of our heritage. The rabbis taught them that. Rabbi Akiva said even the poor could be proud that they were sons of the kings because they were sons of the patriarchs. We have Abraham as our father. We've never been a slave to anyone. Now Jesus answers that and says to them this: Listen. The worst form of slavery isn't being in Egypt for 400 years, isn't being in Babylon for 70 years. The worst form of slavery is when sin has a grip on your life and you can't get out of it. You're enslaved to the principle of sin. It's the worst way to live.
You see, a slave is not his own master. He's owned and controlled by someone else. He can't quit. He can't say I don't like you--I quit. He can't do that. No option. Unable to free himself. Gripped by the power of slavery as it was in those days. Sin is like that. It's just like that. Criminologists have discovered this. It's interesting, the more I read, criminologists who study criminal behavior will tell you that many who are paroled or pardoned, many of them will go right back to the crimes that got them in trouble to begin with. It's become such a gripping lifestyle, it's unshakeable. Always going back to the mire. One of the best illustrations I heard about the power of sin is from radio personality Paul Harvey. Remember Paul Harvey? The rest of the story. You remember that, some of you do. He had a great illustration about how an Eskimo kills a wolf. Here's his words. First the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood and then another until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Next the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and he discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh, frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder, the wolf licks the blade into the Arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf doesn't notice the razor sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue or that his thirst is being satisfied by his own warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more and more until the dawn finds him dead in the snow. Sin is just like that. It tastes good. It tastes good! Doesn't the Bible say it tastes good? It's pleasurable for a season. There's an allure to it. But it reaches those tentacles and that grip becomes tighter and tighter and it can absolutely destroy a life. It's the worst way to live--under its grip.
Now I'm gonna make something that my English teacher would kick me out of class for. That's the worst way to live. You know what could make the worst even worse? Is when you are under the grip of sin and you have a hardened heart. You don't listen to anybody's advice. You don't open the door to any good spiritual counsel at all. You have a hardened heart. Look at verse 37 and we'll close. "I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you." Their hearts were so hardened, they just rejected everything Jesus said whenever He said it. Doesn't matter. You know what they're like? They're like the seed that fell by the wayside. Remember that parable? You got the sower. The guy's out there sowing seeds and Jesus said some of it fell by the wayside or the roadside and Jesus said the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in the heart. Do you know that type? As soon as you even mention anything that smells like gospel or Christ, they immediately turn off to it. Don't want to hear it. You know the type? You might be married to the type. And if so, our hearts go out to you and we'll pray for you. You might be the type. You have learned so well the art of deflecting truth that you sort of pride yourself at being impenetrable. You're so good at being hard and you can hear truth and it's like eh, whatever. Feel no conviction, have no remorse for sin, have no sense of need. Charles Spurgeon said nothing good can come out of a stony heart. Insensitivity is a deadly sign. Frequently it is the next stage to destruction.
Listen, it doesn't have to be that way. Does not have to be that way. If you can even this morning hear the faintest call of Christ beckoning you to come to Him. Maybe at one time that call was loud and clarion and clear but you've become so good at closing off truth that it's still there, but it's like He's so far away. You know what the Bible says? Today, if you can hear His voice, harden not your heart. If you can hear just the faintest call, open your heart. Don't harden your heart. Now just indulge me for a moment. I want to finish this up. Verse 35 and verse 36: "And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you [will] be free indeed." They understood this analogy. 2,000 years ago, where there were slaves in households, slaves had no rights. Sons did. They were the heirs of the dad. They had the inheritance. Slaves, they could be booted out anytime. Jesus was the Son of the Father. He was the inheritor of the kingdom. And what He is simply saying is only the Son of God can free a slave of sin. You can't do it on your own. Only Jesus can do it. And when Jesus sets a slave free, you know what He does? He turns that slave into a family member. We become adopted, the Bible says, into His family. You become a son of God, a daughter of God. Only the Son can do that. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
So the best way to live? Freedom of a genuine disciple, believing, learning, continuing, knowing. Worst way to live? Bound by the slavery of sin, impenetrable in your heart, hardened your heart to truth. That's the worst way to live. And that's the worst way to die like we mentioned a couple weeks back. Ok. Perhaps, I'm speaking to some believers. You love Jesus. You've committed yourself to Christ. That's a given. You still struggle with certain areas. They just seem to have a tighter grip on you than other things and you've been trying to break free of that for a long time. I understand that, too. Like the little girl who fell out of bed one night. She was two or three years old and she screamed when she hit the floor and her mom came in and picked her up and put her back in bed and said honey, how did you fall out of bed? She goes I don't know, Mommy, I think I stayed too close to where I got in. know what I'm getting at? A lot of people commit themselves to Christ. They just sort of stay right there at that door. Stay close to where they got in. Close enough to the world instead of just leave that behind, keep going, keep continuing, keep learning, keep knowing, keep being set free more and more and more.