After the christening of his little brother, Johnny sobbed all the way home in the backseat of his car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I want to stay with you guys!”

What do our children see that no one else does? What does our spouse see that no one else does? Our friends? Are we publically a professor of Christ but privately not a possessor of Christ? What secures real salvation?

John 8 gives us a glimpse of men who outwardly appear to be followers of Christ but a closer examination shows that secretly they don’t know Christ at all.

False Profession

In John 8:25 we read, “They were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning? 26 I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He…

Jesus begins by referencing His death on the cross and links Himself to the Hebrew tetragrammaton (Yahweh) “I am” literally telling these men that He is God.

John 8:28 continues, “And I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.

This is a group who came to hear Christ, enjoyed Christ, liked Christ, and followed Christ as long as He made them happy. We know that, because they try to stone Him moments later (v. 58). In other words they held a professing acknowledgement of Jesus but turned on Him when a change in their lifestyle was required.

Paul warned the church of Corinth about this issue in 1 Corinthians 15:1, Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

Paul’s term hold fast (katecho) means “detain someone” or “hold the ship firm to land” signifying that faith is proven by how closely one clings to Christ. The point is clear, A PROFESSOR OF CHRIST IS NOT NECESSARILY A POSSESSOR OF CHRIST. Jesus explained this in the parable of the soils – In that story, three groups miss out on heaven. One, immediately. The second, fearing earthly snub. The third, finding earthly pursuits more important. Three stories, one sad conclusion.

In The Gospel According to Jesus John MacArthur writes, “Saving faith consists of three elements, commonly referred to in Latin terms notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia (knowledge) is the intellectual component of faith, meaning to understand the basic biblical facts regarding salvation. Assensus (assent) goes one step further, confidently affirming those facts to be true. Fiducia (trust) acts on them by personally appropriating Jesus Christ as the only hope for salvation. Hebrews 11:1-3 symbolizes all three, “by faith we understand” – (notitia), “faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (assensus), and “faith is the conviction of things not seen” (fiducia)

Fervent Possession

In John 8:31 we read that Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;” 

Jesus literally says, “If you continue (abide) in relationship with Me this will be the proof you are a learner and follower of Me.” The Scriptures time and again teach this principle that the works of our hands prove the beliefs of our heart, leaving us to make two critical assessments about our own lives:

  1. Do I Live the Way of Christ? 1 John 2:4 says, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commands, is a liar…” Yikes! A person moving from professor to possessor wants to live like their Lord. In Matthew 19 a rich young ruler asks to intern with Jesus. He had obeyed all the commands and was likely the kind of guy most churches would thrust into the limelight. But, Jesus saw a heart condition and told him to go and sell all of his stuff and return. The text says, “He went away sad because he was very wealthy.” Is money bad? No. Can money be used for good? Yes. But, Jesus knew this man’s heart issue and called him out on it. Is there one thing, which perpetually keeps you from full surrender to Christ?
  1. Do I Love the Word of Christ? 1 Peter 2:1 says, “Therefore,putting aside allmalice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” A person moving from professor to possessor craves the bible. A young man (age 7) recently proposed to my daughter (age 7). So, I wrote him a letter explaining what would be required of him over the next ten years should he desire to marry my daughter. I figured this would be the end of his pursuit. Yet, his mother found me and explained that he was pumped, ready to live out the letter for his love. Just like this young man, we should seek to obey the letter of instruction for our love of the Savior.

Jesus continues in V. 32 “…and you will know the truth…” This truth (just like belief) is not merely intellectual but a process of the heart brought forth by the Holy Spirit – In the upper room, before His death, Christ repeatedly told the men, “The Holy Spirit of TRUTH is coming.” Jesus is the truth, the Scriptures teach the truth, and the HS empowers us to know truth

We learn a powerful second principle, ONLY THE SPIRIT MOVES A PERSON FROM PROFESSING TO POSSESSION. This is why the apostle Paul begged people to pray for his clarity and boldness when preaching, recognizing that missionary zeal would be useless unless the Holy Spirit did a mighty work in people’s heart.

The most powerful prayer someone can pray is, “Change me.” Years ago my wife and I were working through long-term issues in our marriage, and the Lord was really taking me to the mat on some areas. I came home from church one night and noticed a beat up book lying on the counter (virtually bandaged), so I started flipping. It was an entire book instructing wives on how to pray God change them first and their husband next. Books like that should come with a warning label! My wife had taken us through a year’s worth of marital counseling by starting with herself, silently whispering, “Lord, Change me.”

Free Practice

John 8:32 culminates with a famous text, “…and the truth will make you free.” This verse gets misused often in Christian circles. Christ’s focus here is not on identity issues, doubt, Satan, or even judgment. The clear context is on sin – Truth frees from sin!

Paul supports this in Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

After hearing this the crowd responds in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”

This group is deluded with national and spiritual pride! They’d always been captives. They had been slaves in Egypt, the northern tribes carried away by the Assyrians, Judah exiled to Babylon, impugned under Greece and Syria, and were currently under the thumb of Rome.

Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. Christ proclaims, “I’m not talking physical slavery but spiritual slavery!” “Commits” is a present participle meaning constant action and “Slave” is anarthous meaning it has no definite article (the) making it a strong exclamation. A literal translation would be something akin to, “Sin means slave!”

Christ closes with the sad summary of a slave to sin in V. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

The crowd clings to the idea of being special because of Abraham but Jesus tells them they’re just slaves to sin who will be cast out, teaching us a final principle. A PROFESSOR REMAINS A SLAVE, WHILE A POSSESSOR BECOMES A SON. Slavery is wretched because it removes all rights. No matter the work, the relationship, marriage, or children, if the owner has a bad mood, the slave gets ripped away and sold to another. Conversely, being in a family is priceless, because both law and love protect each member. Merely professing leaves one a slave. Possessing Christ allows one be a son.

One Sunday morning during service at a 2,000-member congregation, two men entered, both covered from head to toe in black, and carrying guns. One of the men proclaimed, “Anyone willing to take a bullet for Christ remain where you are.” The choir fled, the deacons fled, and most of the congregation fled. Out of the 2,000 only about 20 remained. One of the gunmen then took off his hood, looked at the preacher and said, “Okay Pastor, I got rid of the hypocrites, enjoy your service!” Every one of us must ask, “Would I stay?” or, “Is my belief merely of the mouth?”

If your belief in Jesus Christ is merely external, a Sunday tradition, or quick prayer before meals, pray out loud, “Lord, change me” and confess your selfish ways, committing to follow him wholly and sincerely with every part of your life. Then, may you witness fruit in your life, proving you are a true follower of Christ. 

Posted by Anthony Wood

Anthony is Pastor of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, CA, and has authored the books Defining Church & Defining Family. He’s married to Bre, and they have three children.

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