John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking (including us) several important facts about them and the world in which they live.
- They are worldlings (i.e., they operate under the dominion of Satan and the patterns of this sinful, fallen, enslaving world.
- Jesus lived in the world but was not under its influence as they were. (in vs. of)
- As such, they were going to die in their sins.
- They must believe Jesus’ claims about himself if they were going to be set free from dying in their sins.
- To “believe” must mean more than (though not less) simple intellectual recognition, or even, acceptance of data. To those who had professed to believe in him (verse 31), Jesus said that they must also “hold to his teaching.”
- Therefore, only by genuine faith in Christ – which “holds to” (i.e., obeys) his teaching – can a person know the truth (Jesus is the truth – John 14:6 – and so is God’s Word – John 17:17). It is also by this means of believing or faith that a person will therefore, be set free (freed from sin, liberated from the fate of worldlings, etc.).
True biblical, God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality to it that demands to be noticed. It’s very unlikely that the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they “intellectually believed” or accepted as true the claims of Jesus…and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be, (that he was the Way to be freed from sin, the Lord of Life, the Savior of the World, etc.), and that they loved him for first loving them… they followed him… they obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
It was as their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives that they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
If we would be people of the truth, we must first be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, believe (i.e., trust) him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe – which includes this world. The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it absolutely contains an element of that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we claim to be his disciples.