Jesus promised his followers that if we abide in his Word, it will set us free. But free from what? And what does it mean to abide? This series of articles explores how the truth of Jesus’s Word can free you. Start from the beginning here.
As I sit down at my computer today, I’m struck by just how different our world is from the world in which Jesus lived during his time on earth. Not only am I typing words on a computer, but my computer is portable. Next to it is my smart phone, a hand-held device through which I can speak to people on the other side of the globe, take a photograph, and check the weather. On the other side is a baby monitor, through which I can see live images of my (hopefully) sleeping 5-month-old son. And that’s just my desk!
In Part I of this blog series on Jesus’s words in John 8, we looked at verse 31: “If you are truly my disciples, you will abide in my word.” Jesus says the mark of true discipleship is abiding in his word, which we say means to “remain” or “continue” in his word. To those who abide in his word, Jesus makes stunning promises: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). He’s saying that if you want to know the truth and experience the freedom that comes with it, the way to do that is not to change his Word or move on from it; it’s to remain in it. Of course, Jesus knows that there will be future generations of disciples (see John 17:20), some of whom would live in a world with laptops, smart phones, and baby monitors. Knowing the changes that would occur throughout human history, Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in his Word.
A once-for-all faith
We find a similar idea in the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). His charge to Timothy is to preserve the things he’s heard by entrusting the teaching to others. Then these students will be able to teach others also. The teachers change; the message stays the same.
Similarly, Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3, emphasis added). We are to contend—to struggle or work fervently—for a faith that was already delivered. We are not instructed to adjust it. There is no expectation that a person or a culture will grow out of it. Jesus’s true disciples will spend their entire lives growing in their understanding of his Word. They’ll have to figure out how to apply his Word in different situations. They’ll have to learn to communicate his Word in different times and cultures. But their tasks all depend on the understanding that they will never change or move on from his Word, never.
Yet here we are, and our world does seem so different. It’s been over 2,000 years since the last book of the Bible was written. Isn’t the Bible outdated by now? Don’t we need to change it, or at least move on from it?
Well, what could a true disciple gain from changing Jesus’s word? A disciple is a follower, a student—of a master. To be Jesus’s disciple, then, is to follow him, not only as a good earthly teacher, but as what he claimed to be: God himself. For us to think we could improve on something he said by changing it would be the opposite of the attitude of a disciple. That may be the attitude of an admirer. For example, I admire C.S. Lewis but disagree with some things he said. However, to admire Jesus is not the same as being his disciple. A true disciple looks at Jesus and says, “I can’t think of any way I could possibly improve you or what you’ve said.”
Today it’s common to hear people say something like this: “The Bible’s got a lot of great stuff in it, but we also know now today that some of it is outdated. To keep believing those parts, to suggest people should actually live by them, is a threat to progress.” Then here’s Jesus, telling us that true disciples continue to follow his teaching. What gives?
The problem with this “progressive” perspective is that in order to evaluate how much progress you’re making, you need to know your goal, or your ideal. If a company’s ideal is to maximize profit, they know they’re making progress insofar as the bottom line is increasing. From where I live in Philadelphia, if my ideal is to get to Washington, D.C., I know I’m making progress when I hit Baltimore. If I start seeing signs for New York, I know I’m regressing. When people look at the Bible and say, “Well that sounds regressive,” they’re bringing an ideal to the Bible. They have a picture of an ideal life or ideal society, and in their view, the Bible leads away from it.
But Jesus’s true disciples don’t bring their ideal to Jesus; they get their ideal from Jesus. The question for anyone accusing the Bible of being regressive is, “Where’d you get your ideal? By what standard are you measuring progress?” And if that standard is not from God who has authority over all people, why should it be the measure of progress? Why should anyone’s words have to measure up to our self-made ideals of progress? Why should Jesus’s words be subject to it?
The vintage gospel
Jesus can tell us to abide in his word because his word has abiding relevance. Science and technology are wonderful gifts of God’s grace, but they can’t tell me why I’m here. Technology can give me the convenience of a laptop, but it can’t tell me how to enjoy true freedom. A video monitor can give me an image of my son, but it can’t tell me how I should parent him, or what to do with the fact that I so often seem more concerned with myself than with him. These sorts of things matter, and they’ll matter in every time and culture.
These sorts of things—our purpose, finding true freedom, deliverance from our selfishness—are the very things Jesus’s word addresses. It is far from outdated! Jesus promises that if you abide in his word, even today, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll begin looking at the first part of that promise: “You will know the truth.”
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