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What is True Belief?
(John 8:31-59)

Sermon By Christian Temple


The text I would like to examine today is a long passage in the gospel of John, chapter 8. I don’t usually like to cover such a large chunk of Scripture in one sermon, but this text is so rich in theological truth, and so vivid in gospel reality, and since it is one continuous discourse between Jesus and the Jews it must be addressed as one message this morning. And rather than read it all now as one large chunk of Scripture, I would like to divide it up as we go along.

But I would like to read a different passage of Scripture as an introduction to the John passage. Today is Palm Sunday, one week before we celebrate the apex of our faith: the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, and we should set up and introduce the John passage in relation to what occurred at the beginning of the Passion Week.

Many Christians come to church two days a year: Christmas and Easter. It is thought that this fulfills their duty to the church or to God, and that in doing so they have exhibited their belief in Jesus Christ. I do not wish to examine the motives for two-a-year attendees, but rather look into the Scriptures to see if we can discern what is said about true belief.

In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 21, it says this:
1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 “And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them." 4 All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’" 6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.

7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. 8 And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!" 10 And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" 11 So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."1

Jesus entered into Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week before the cross in fulfillment of the prophesied Scriptures, just as it was foretold he would. And the people of Jerusalem - a very great multitude - greeted him on the road, welcoming him into the city as the king, as the Messiah.

Jesus entered the city in fulfillment of Zech 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is clearly a symbolic act, an act of identification, and it was not lost on the people of Jerusalem. Like the president riding in a car with the Seal of his office on it, Zech 9:9 was clearly recognized as Messianic by the Jews, and the people’s shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!", as well as the spreading of the cloaks on the ground, indicates that the crowd made no mistake and did not fail to recognize that Jesus was claiming to be the anticipated Christ and that the people believed him to be so.

So we can ask, what went wrong? Why the triumphal entry at the beginning of the week, and the same crowd shouting “crucify him, crucify him!” at the end of the week? They believed that Jesus was the Son of David. They believed that he was the entering King of the Jews. They believed that he was claiming to be Messiah, and by their actions of acceptance and adoration, they believed his claims to be true. So what went wrong? They believed in him, didn’t they?

Does this not happen yet today? Do not people love to believe in Jesus? Discounting secularists and atheists, people love to believe in Jesus. We love to hear the Christmas story, of the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger, receiving gifts from wise men. We love to hear stories of calming of the seas, and raising the dead, and feeding 5000 men. And we even love to hear the Easter story, a man who has risen from the dead. But many who love to hear about Jesus, who believe in Jesus, we find yelling “crucify him, crucify him!” once they discover who the real Christ is, and his real purpose, and his real message to the world, and his real gospel!

To understand how “believing” Jews could go on to crucify the Prince of Life as Peter tells us in Acts 3:15, we look to John chapter 8, beginning at verse 31.

Misplaced Faith

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." 33 They answered Him, "We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. 37 “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.

Jesus is speaking to those Jews who believed in Him. In John 8:13-30 Jesus had been preaching and many had believed in Him, as it says in verse 30. Many believed in Him. What does that mean?

Many people believe Jesus is who he says He is. James tells us even demons believe. But a mere assent to the fact of Christ is not saving faith, it is not loving faith, it is not the deep faith of trust in the Savior. It is misplaced faith. It is temporary faith. It is faith in facts, with no adherence to the truth of the person of Christ or the truth of the gospel. It is a belief in man’s ability to believe; it is not a belief in the revelation of God in all its truth.

The gospel is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Many of those who believe in the little baby Jesus of Christmas, and the Miracle Worker, and even the risen Christ of Easter, fall over the fact of total self-depravity due to sin and the need for the atonement of Calvary. The world cries “give me Christ without preaching to me sin!”

I like Jesus - I love Jesus as an example of humanitarian care. I like him; I even love him as the Son of God who comes down from heaven to show me how to love my fellow man. But do not give me a Christ who is the ultimate Supreme Judge of all creation, who came to die for his sheep, to atone for their sins, so that they may receive his righteousness and not stand under the condemnation of God! That is not tolerant! That is not pluralistic! That means there are some who will stand in judgment before God! I will have none of that Christ!

Jesus tells these Jews what is required of true faith: If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” If one claims belief in the Son of God, then one must abide in his word, one must abide in his teachings to be a true disciple.

There was not a disciple of Plato or Socrates worth his reputation who did not abide in his master’s teachings. This is a universally know fact. If one claims to be a disciple of any teacher, they adhere to and believe in the teachings of the teacher. It is only when discussing Jesus Christ that we seem to think that we can cling to his character without clinging to his word. How can anyone be a Christian - a little Christ - without adhering to the very words and commands of Christ? Friends, it cannot be done!

Believing in Jesus requires abiding in Christ, being one with Him in truth and in spirit. To do anything else is to be non-Christian, and it means remaining in the sin which is condemned: Unbelief. The Jews, who had believed in him, did not truly believe. Their faith was misplaced. Their faith was put in Father Abraham. Their faith was put in their ethnicity. Their faith was put in themselves. They failed to see that they were enslaved to their sinful flesh and were not free at all.

Because Abraham was made father of the Jews by God, who had called him out of a pagan nation and had given him a covenant of grace, they believed that they were the perpetual benefactors of that covenant.

Genesis 12:1-3 tells us:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

What the Jews had done was to replace the faith which Abraham had in God and His promises, with adherence to the Mosaic Law and a faith in Judaism. Instead of understanding that through them Messiah would come and be a blessing to the nations, they believed that they were a blessing in their own right. They believed the law made them righteous, the law made them sons of God, and the law would save them. But none of them could keep the law. The law was not given for the purpose of salvation, but to be a teacher to lead one to the knowledge of their own sin and to faith in Christ. As Paul reminds us in Galatians:

Gal 3:6-11:
6 just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."

Scripture says it is by faith we are justified before God, and the Jews said it was by law and by descent from Abraham that they were justified. Jesus spoke to them of becoming free in Christ - free from sin and free from the curse of the law - but they in their sin even denied that they were enslaved or ever were enslaved.

Now these Jews had very short memories. They said they had never been enslaved, but their entire history is one of enslavement - to Egypt, Assyria, Philistia, Babylonia. But they denied their history of enslavement.

Aren’t we like that? don’t we have short memories when it comes to enslavement to sin? No, we say, I have never been enslaved to this, or to that. I am free and not enslaved to anything! That latest empty bottle of alcohol? No problem, you see I only drink when I need to unwind … those pictures on my computer drive? Well, boys will be boys … the latest angry fight I have had with my wife, well that’s normal for marriage … The sinner can convince himself of almost anything - except his own guilt. Conviction takes the power of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and righteousness.

Misplaced Trust

Now look at John 8:38-45:
"I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father." 39 They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 “But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 “You do the deeds of your father." Then they said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father--God."

42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 "Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.

In verse 37, Jesus had affirmed that yes, the Jews were physical sons of Abraham. He was not denying that. But Jesus’ purpose was not to argue physical and ethnic lineages. His purpose was to present to them a spiritual truth. He assured them that He spoke the truth as received it from the Father, and they followed what they had seen and learned from their father - and Jesus did not mean Abraham. “You are of your father the devil” Jesus said. Jesus directs their attention away from natural descent to spiritual. He acknowledges Abraham as their natural father, but he proclaims to them that Satan is their spiritual father, for it is he that they follow in sin.

Evangelism which proclaims that people are enslaved to their father Satan is not very popular today! Try that on your next door to door visitation! You do not believe because you are of your father the devil! Jesus was interested in proclaiming the truth, not in propagating a lie and puffing up the egos of his hearers.

Jesus was not saying that they were all possessed; not at all. Many in the Christian church want to blame everything that is wrong on the devil. The devil made me do it. There are two opposite spectrum camps within Christendom: those who deny any activity or authority of Satan, and those who wish to give him all the credit for all that goes wrong. Both are errors. Many times Satan’s name gets mentioned more often than Jesus’, he gets more credit and recognition than the Lord, and that is wrong.

No, the Jews were not possessed by Satan, but rather enslaved by him. Like a child who is raised by his father, and learns to walk like him and talk like him, and look like him, the Jews resembled their father, the father of lies. They denied the authority of Christ, and would soon rise up and put Him to death.

Church, who do we look like? If you are a Christian, do you resemble your heavenly Father? Do people look to you and see Christ? If we are adopted into the family of God, we had better start looking like the Divine Patriarch! The admonition of Jesus to the Jews is for us as well as for them.

The Jews adamantly affirmed that Abraham was their father, ignoring the plain words of Christ. They are a broken record. They had one argument and did not want to move away from it. But Jesus said that If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did. What did Abraham do? Trusted in God and not in ethnicity or religion, or tradition, or church history for their eternal future. Abraham trusted the promise of God given to him, and his faith was recorded as righteousness by God.

What is the Jews’ response to Jesus? An ad hominem attack upon his person (We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father-even God) and not addressing the real issue. When the argument isn’t working, when there isn’t any defense, people often turn to attack the messenger of truth. They had no argument to what Jesus was saying, so they could only slur his name. It was well known in Jerusalem that Mary was pregnant before she was wedded to Joseph - and the Jews spread rumors that she had committed adultery. So they presumed to proclaim that Jesus was illegitimate. When confronted with irrefutable truth, the arguments against it slowly spiral downward.

Does that happen to you, Christian? Do people attack you because of your faith? Do they say you are dumb and stupid, or are a religious nut, or are dangerous? Do they demean your upbringing or your family? If so, take heart. Know that the slave is not greater than the Master, and you share company with Jesus. The truth will always be profaned.

What would they do if God were their father? They would love Christ, who would be their brother in spiritual adoption. Jesus is establishing a paternal line here. A comparison of families. For the unrighteous: Satan as father through sin, and all sinners who are enslaved to sin look like him. For the righteous: God as Father through faith. God - Abraham - all who believe in Christ, sons of Abraham.

The reason they do not hear and obey Christ is because they are not God’s children but children of the devil. They are not his sheep, they are not his flock, they are not of the elect of God. They are not His. Their Jewishness will not save them. Their religion will not save them. Only God’s grace, through faith is the causation of salvation.

As Paul said in Gal 3:7-9:
7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

Undoubtedly, the Judaizers in Galatia were using Abraham as the Father of the Jews as an example just as had these Jerusalem Jews against Jesus. Israel always misunderstood the role of Abraham for the Jews, and the fulfillment of the promises of God made to him. But the promise to Abraham was the gospel for all nations. Salvation from beginning to end is a work of God and not of man.

In Gal 3 Paul make the point clear what the Jews never could grasp in their flesh: (Galatians 3:7) Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. It is Paul’s whole argument against the Jews that the children of Abraham are not those who are his physical descendants but those who believe. It was the Jews’ greatest confidence and glory that they were the children of Abraham, who had been circumcised and kept the law.

Although the message of redemption came through the Jews, and salvation is of the Jews as the Messiah came through Judah, this did not bring the unbelieving Jews any advantage. That is why Paul, especially in this passage, fights strongly against this argument, and wrests from the Jews this strong faith in themselves.

Again in Romans 9. Paul tells us:
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called." 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

The word of God has not failed because The word of God never fails: - it never said that ethnic Israel would all be saved. Rather, not all who are ethnic Israel are really Israel - The People of God. Not all who are descended from Abraham are children of Abraham. Children of the flesh are not children of God, but rather spiritual children. The children of the promise are the children of God.

For the Jews to argue against Jesus by clinging to the argument of natural lineage from Abraham was futile, for that is not what the OT Scriptures ever promised them.

Useless Excuses

Back to John 8:
46 "Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." 48 Then the Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?" 49 Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50 "And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.

The Jews are rapidly losing their case. Imagine being in a debate with Jesus, and thinking you could win? Jesus lays it out clearly for them: Who can convict me of sin? (Answer: no one). So if I tell the truth, why don’t you believe me?

What a question for the ages! If I tell the truth, why don’t you believe me? Man is willing to believe nearly anything and everything. Read the papers. Watch TV. Read the Internet. The rumors run rampant. Look at the false religions. Make one up, and someone will believe it. But give them the truth - that Jesus Christ is the only way, and the only truth, and the only life - and they will reject is as foolishness. Why? Jesus tells us: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) And Romans 8:7, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Until the Holy Spirit of God works on the heart and mind of natural man, the truth cannot be understood.

So what do the Jews say? “You are a Samaritan and have a demon!” In their argument Jesus has gone from being illegitimate to being a non-Jew and possessed! It never ends does it, the opposition to the truth of Christ? Whatever Jesus may be, says the world, he cannot be who He claimed to be.

Magician? OK. Faith healer? Sure enough. Religious guru? Why not. But the very incarnation of the Creator God of the universe, who has created all things by His own hand for His own joy and glory? No way! We cannot accept that!

In meticulous manner, Jesus averts their charge. "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.” Jesus is moving toward the close of His argument. One can sense it. I’m quite sure the Jews were beginning to sense it as well. He is bringing closer the relationship between himself and Yahweh. The comparison of honor of God and dishonor of the Son is very noticeable. No man and certainly no Jew would equate his own glory with that of the Father’s in the same sentence.

Again, in verse 50, there is the linkage of “I…My own glory… but the One…”. As the Jews’ argument sinks lower and lower into the ridiculous, the argument of Jesus rises into the inevitable.

Eternal Truth

John 8:51-59:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." 52 Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ 53 “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?" 54 Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. 55 “Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."

57 Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." 59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Here it is; the end. The triumph of truth. The Jews can do little more than watch as the waves of truth sweep over them and wash them away. Like a club fighter taking on Mike Tyson in his prime, they can do no more than offer feeble defenses as they are vanquished to the carpet. As Luther wrote in A Mighty Fortress:

The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure,
For lo his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

It just takes one little word from Jesus to fell the enemy. Jesus says “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death”. Never has a man spoken like this man. No prophet of God ever said “I say to you” and “If you keep My word”. The prophets spoke for God. Jesus spoke as God.

Jesus said “if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death”. Adherence to the word of Christ is eternal life. The word of God convicts. It upsets. It divides. It destroys. It also builds up. It gives life. It refreshes. It renews. It is hope. as Hebrews 4:12 tells us:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Earlier in John chapter 6 it says this:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 “But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus tells us of the path to salvation. It is all of grace. It is the Spirit which gives life. The works of men - ethnic lineage, family history and tradition, good works - the flesh, he says, profits nothing. Nothing. Jesus’ words are life. Unless one is given to Christ by the Father, they would never believe. The unregenerate heart is at enmity against God. it hates His word and the things of God. The Spirit gives life. Some may temporarily believe. True believers, like Peter, believe, and they know.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (Jn 6:66) Who does that sound like? In 8:31 we are told by John that these Jews who are about to demand the death of Christ are “those Jews who believed Him.” It was a temporary, self-indulgent belief, not a belief that saves.

The Jews in John 8:53 finally got around to where Christ was leading them. They asked the question of all questions: "Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?" They finally got it. It was time to choose. Abraham or Christ. God or Satan. Faith in heritage, or faith in the Redeemer God. Who do you make yourself out to be? they said.

It always gets around to that question for each of us. “Jesus, are you greater than .. fill in the blank.” Each of us must answer that question. How it is answered has eternal significance.

Jesus stuns the listeners. “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.” This prophet, this Nazarene this …manhas claimed to be honored by God. Honored by God! What man ever dare make such a claim! Then Jesus amazes them even more: "Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."

Jesus says that he has an intimate knowledge and relationship with God, which these Jews have never had. They have been secure and puffed up in their relationship to Abraham. They are Jews! The people of God! Of course we know God! But being religious does not bring one into knowledge of God. Only grace does that, through a God-given faith which brings one into the family of God. Jesus is not a liar; he is the way, the truth and the life, and his words are eternal life. He has known the Father, for He and the Father are One.

And Jesus closes the argument. Abraham is not condemned with this blasphemous generation, for Abraham was the man of faith. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. This is too much for the Jews. How can this be? Does this not seal the fact that this man is a demon-possessed lunatic? He is around 30 years old, and claims that he knew Abraham. How could he have seen Abraham? And then Jesus delivers the knockout blow:

"Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." The Jews got it. After this long discourse and showing how dense they were spiritually, they finally got it. They sensed it was coming by the manner of the Savior’s speech. But now He had said it. He claimed for himself the great name of Yahweh God. “I AM”. This is a clear reference to Jesus’ preexistence. Since preexistence is a trait of God alone, there was no mistaking what Jesus was saying. John 10:30 Jesus says, "I and My Father are one."

In Ex 3:13, 14 it says:
“Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’"

They got it. How do we know? “Then they took up stones to throw at Him”, the penalty in Levitical law for blaspheming the name of God.

O the religious are marvelous! O the religious are righteous! These Jews did not know God, did not know the will of God, were sons of their father the devil, and hated the truth of Christ, but they were going to defend the name of God, all right! It will always be this way. Men who hate God will defend his name. There will be persecutions and inquisitions and wars and murder and airplanes flown into skyscrapers, all in the name of God. They will defend the name of the God they do not know. But Jesus left them. He was done with them. He passed by them. They were left, Savior-less. They had chosen whom they would trust.


This brings us back to the beginning. The Lord rides into Jerusalem, affirming He is the Christ. And the people line the streets and cheer. “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!" (Mt 21:9). They believed in him, for a time. They believed he was the One they wanted Him to be. But by the end of the week, these same people would have the blood of the Lamb of life on their hands, and guilt on their heads, because He did not bring the good news they desired to hear.

A person can hear the gospel, but if he never exercises saving faith he remains lost for eternity. While many people try to justify themselves before God on the basis of their religious activity or their good works, the Bible clearly tells us that the only way to come to God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Too often, faith is misunderstood. The Jews misunderstood it.

There are several kinds of faith2

First, there is a historical faith, which means that a person believes what the Bible says because they have been culturally conditioned to believe it. In communities where the Christian faith is strong or there is a strong sense of divine authority, a person who does not believe the Bible's message about Christ might become an outcast. This happens due to the strong social and cultural influences which often have roots in Christianity. The only problem is that this kind of faith cannot save. The demons of hell exercise this kind of faith...and they certainly are not saved! You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19).

Second, there is temporary faith, which lasts for a while, then fades away because it does not have any roots. Jesus describes this in the parable of the sower in which the Word of God is sown upon a heart with shallow soil. Just like a little seed which germinates in shallow soil, there springs up what appears to be life. But because of the shallow soil the life is only temporary and quickly withers. Some people have a religious experience or even have great excitement about the Christian life, possibly even making a public profession of Christ. But if the Word of God does not take firm root in his life by its saving power, this kind of person quickly fades away when the demands of the Christian life confront him. This kind of faith cannot save. This is the faith of the believing Jews who fell away.

Finally, there is a true, justifying faith or saving faith, which is a gift of God given to us that we might believe the Person and Work of Christ on our behalf.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So the question must be, do you have faith, and if so, what type do you have? Is it the temporary faith of the believing Jews, who turned away from Christ once they understood what He was saying? Is it a cultural faith, a faith rooted in family or heritage or baptism, or church membership, or a profession of faith? Is it a faith in faith, instead of a faith in Christ?

I recently was debating on the Internet with a Roman Catholic over justification by faith versus justification by works. I asked him if justification was by works, then how many works must one do to be justified. He in turn asked me how much faith one must have to be justified. But that was the wrong question. We are not justified by how much faith we have, but the Object of our faith. We are justified by Christ and Christ alone, in whom our faith is placed.

Friends, in whom are you trusting? If it is in anything other than the One and only Savior, turn to Him. Repent of your sin of not trusting in Him, and trust in Him and Him alone.

1 All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Dr. Phil Newton South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN. Founders.org.

The above sermon was posted on this Web site March 30, 2002.

Forgiveness and Salvation

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