Surrounded by admirers and enemies, Jesus teaches in the temple. He experiences what most would consider a mark of great success. He proclaims the good news concerning himself, saying, “I am he” (John 8:24, 28 ESV), the one sent from the Father (John 8:16, 29). Then, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him” (John 8:30). Amazing, right? To use modern parlance, there were many “decisions for Christ” that day. But Jesus doesn’t move right to celebration. Instead, he instructs those who believed in him about the mark of a true disciple. It turns out it is not merely a single decision.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” Jesus says (John 8:31). They had received Jesus’s word, but the mark of a true disciple is abiding in it. You don’t often hear that word—abide—these days, at least in Philadelphia where I live. Other translations render it “hold to” (NIV) or “continue in” (NASB). Jesus is saying that his word is not something true disciples hear once, believe, and then move on from. His word is something meant to be continually heard, considered, and applied to our lives. Important as that first decision is, it is just the beginning.
So, what is a disciple?
Being a disciple is not primarily about how we feel. It is possible for someone to feel good about their relationship with God, and fall far short of true discipleship. I was speaking with someone recently who was persistent in disobeying God’s commands, but who assured me that her relationship with God was in a healthy place. Jesus suggests otherwise.
How could he not? Consider how any real relationship works. Earlier this week, after a long day taking care of our five-month-old son, my wife came back from the gym and let me know she wanted to take a shower. I’d be responsible for taking care of our son during that time. If I ignored her words to me and did something I might have enjoyed more, I could still have said at the end of the night, “I feel good about our marriage.” Would she have said the same thing? Probably not.
Jesus is a real person. He’s not you; he’s not a projection of your imagination. He speaks, and true disciples—people who are genuinely engaged in a personal relationship with him—let his words affect them. The question for us as Jesus’s disciples today is: Where do we find his words?
How to hear Jesus
We just heard some of Jesus’s words in the Gospel according to John. As he is teaching in the temple, he knows he is soon to die, rise again, and return to his Father, so he prepares his disciples for this. He tells them: After I die, I’ll send the Holy Spirit to you. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Consider the setting. Jesus is speaking audibly to the friends he has been living with for the past three or more years. He’s telling them that when he leaves, he’ll send the Holy Spirit, who will continue to teach them his word. The Holy Spirit will remind them of all the things Jesus has spoken. The verse has application to us as well, but only indirectly. Jesus can’t bring to your remembrance all that he said on earth, because you weren’t with him while he was on earth. The first people who received Jesus’s word were these early disciples. They and their own followers wrote his words down in the New Testament—like the Gospel according to John that we’re looking at now.
So, the place we find Jesus’s words today is in the Bible, and not only in the “red letter” parts (the parts quoting Jesus). Every word of every page is the Word of God. As Paul writes, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). To continue in Jesus’s words today—to be his disciple—is to continue in the Bible.
At this point, many Christians might wonder, “Yes, of course the Bible is Jesus’s word, but since he is still alive, and since the Holy Spirit has come, can’t Jesus still speak to us directly, even outside of the Bible?” His followers have disagreed on exactly how to answer this question. I won’t enter into the debate here, but we all can agree at least that the Bible is the place where we know we are hearing Jesus’s words. Our common faith was delivered to the saints once and for all (Jude 3), so any further claims to hearing from Jesus today must be assessed against this unique gift God has given us.
What happens when we listen
Are you continuing in Jesus’s words by continuing in the Bible? It’s still January, and that means it’s a great time to reassess your priorities and evaluate how you are spending your time. Are you moving things in your life around to hear the Bible preached? Do you make time to read it on your own? With others? Do you think about it, pray it, talk about it? Are you letting it change you? What needs to get moved this week?
If you do continue in Jesus’s word, you are truly his disciple, and he makes two astounding promises to you: You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). One thing that means is that abiding in Jesus is so much richer, so much more exciting, than a one-time transaction or decision.
We’re going to explore these promises in greater depth in future posts, but first we have to deal with an important question. Jesus says true disciples continue in his word; they don’t change it. But how can we continue in a word that is almost 2000 years old? Aren’t parts of the Bible outdated? What about slavery, or laws about what foods you can eat or what clothes you can wear? Don’t we have to update the Bible? I’ll explore these questions in my next post.
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.
Help us share God's Word where
Sign up to receive Bible-reading tips, tools and resources.