Abiding In The Word
THE BENEFITS OF ABIDING IN HIS WORD
By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.
Text: John 8:31-32, NKJV
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."
Have you ever told someone something, and it seemed like that no sooner than they were out of your sight, your words were out of their mind? You tell your child to clean his room and he says, "Okay." But then you check later and nothing has changed. You know they heard you, they said that they would do it, but then the off switch in their brain flips and as soon as they leave the room, the message that you spoke to them has been deleted from their brain.
I'm sure there are a lot of wives you think that the same thing happens you're your husbands. You finally get time together to talk, important issues are breached and, you think you've made a real breakthrough in your relationship, but then over the course of the next few days you realize that nothing has changed. It's like you never even had the conversation.
As a pastor who prays and perspires over every sermon, I'd like to believe that everyone in the sound of my voice is being changed and transformed by the Word of God that I stand and declare every Sunday. But some people crying at the altars on Sunday wlll be back in the mess on Monday. It's like they didn't hear a word that was spoken.
I shouldn't feel too bad, because after all, Jesus saw the same thing happen in His ministry. On the one hand people were in awe at the words He spoke and the authority by which He spoke them, but on the other hand they violently rejected Him because of the words He spoke. In fact, further down in our text we see that some of people He's talking to here, begin saying that Jesus had a demon and picking up stones to stone Him.
But there was something powerful about His words. They said, "Never a man spoke like this before." Jesus said of His words, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (Jn 6:63). Jesus was speaking some powerful words. He spoke to a demon and the demon had to get out. He spoke to a dead man and the dead man got up. He spoke the crippled man and the crippled man walked. He spoke the blind man and the blind man saw. He spoke to the leper and the leper was made clean. He spoke a word of healing over a soldier's servant and the servant was healed without Jesus even being near that servant. Powerful words, spoken by Jesus! In fact, John begins his Gospel by saying:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, KJV)
So what am I saying? I'm saying that there is power in the word that Jesus spoke. I'm saying that there is healing power in that word, deliverance power in that word, the power of provision in that word, dead-man-walking power in that word, universe creating, life giving, spirit liberating, soul stirring power in the word of Jesus. But, the benefits and the blessings of that word in our lives is ineffective unless we do what Jesus tells us to do in this text.
I) THE COMMAND TO ABIDE
Look verse 31. Notice that it says that Jesus was speaking to the Jews who believed Him. These were Jews who had seen something, or heard something that stirred up faith, and they believed in Jesus, but Jesus says that a onetime spark of faith is not enough. (Some commentators call it "fickle faith".) Jesus tells us that more is required of us if we ever hope to experience the full measure of the benefits of believing in Him.
There are people who believe in Jesus, they confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but they don't live their lives according to His Word. They like good singing on Sunday and they like a good sermon, but after the dust has settled and the shout is over, there are many people who will leave the service on Sunday morning and act like God hadn't said anything to them. They will think to themselves, "I wish my mother-in-law had been here to hear that. She really needed that." We act like it's the person on the other end of the bench that needed to hear that word on jealousy. We act like it was that person sitting beside us that needed to hear that word on gossiping. And by the time we leave the doors of the church, we often don't even remember what the sermon was about.
But look at what Jesus said. He begins with the biggest little word in the Bible. He said, "If . . ." When you see God open with the word "if" then you can anticipate that a conditional promise is about to follow. The word "if" is used to introduce the condition of the promise. What is the condition? Jesus said, "If you abide in My word . . ." that's the condition. He's speaking to those Jews who believed Him, but He says to them, "If you abide in My word."
That word "abide" is from the Greek word "meno" and it simply means "to stay in a given place, state, or condition." The place that is given is His word. Notice Jesus says, "My Word." He didn't say, "the Word," or the "the Word of Moses." Jesus was making a statement about the authority of His Word and He is telling us all that the condition for the benefits of believing Him is that we remain in His Word. That means that even though we may walk out of this sanctuary at around noon today, we don't walk out of the Word.
We need to let that Word continue to do God's work in our lives. We need to conform to His Word and allow the Word to change us line upon line, precept upon precept, as the image of Christ is being perfected within us.
II) THE THREE BENEFITS
The condition is that we "abide" in His Word. So what's the promise? First, Jesus said, "If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed." There were many people who said they believed, and there were multitudes that followed Jesus, but there were very few disciples. We know the names of twelve disciples whom Jesus referred to as apostles. On the Day of Pentecost there were about one hundred and twenty believers in the Upper Room. But that fact is that out of the thousands who followed Him, and the thousands that He fed with the fishes and the loaves, there weren't that many that were true disciples. In fact, on one occasion, after Jesus laid down some powerful teaching using the symbolism of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many of the disciples left Him (Jn 6:66). They said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" But Jesus tells us that if we abide in His Word, we are His disciples indeed.
The Greek word for disciple is mathates, and it refers to someone who walks in another person's footsteps. You could picture it like a little boy following his father through the snow and putting his feet in the imprints of his father's boots. When we are abiding in His Word, then we will be His disciples because we will be walking where He tells us to walk, and speaking what He gives us to speak, and being what He calls us to be. The condition is to abide in His Word, and the promise is that we will be His disciples. We get to be closer to Him than the others. We get to receive revelation knowledge that others will not hear. We get to be empowered with ability that others will not have. We will lay hands on the sick and the sick will recover. We will cast out demons, and greater works than these shall we do, but it all begins when we are willing to abide in His Word. If we don't abide in His Word, then we have no claim to the promise.
The first benefit, then, of abiding in His Word, is that we become His disciple. But Jesus continues in verse 32 saying, "And you shall know the truth." That is a big promise right there-"You shall know the truth." Much of human history is marked by the philosophical pursuit of a metaphysical truth, that is, an absolute truth that can define everything and give everything meaning and substance. For much of human history it was assumed that there was such an absolute truth and that this truth could be known and everything else in life could be judged and evaluated from the perspective of this absolute truth. The problem was (and is) that there were so many who claimed to know or to teach the truth until finding THE truth, the true truth, was like finding a needle in a haystack. Even Pilate found himself in that position of a judge trying to discern the truth concerning Jesus, and while he stood looking truth personified in the face, Pilate surrenders to the people and justifies himself with the questions, "What is truth?"
Implicit in Pilate's words is the philosophy of our time that truth cannot be known. It is the philosophy that there is no such thing as absolute truth and that all truth is subjective, that is, truth is whatever we want it to be.
Still, we find ourselves, even in a largely secular world, scrambling to find the truth. What was the truth about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Were we lied too or not? Was Obama born in the United States or was he not? These are issues of truth and the irony is that in a world that has largely embraced relativism, that idea that all truth is relative to the person who holds that truth, we continue to live in world obsessed with trying to find out the truth about various issues. It implies that in the heart of every human there is this gnawing realization that there is such a thing as truth, an ultimate truth that will define our lives and our existence in time and space, and the promise of Jesus is that if we abide in His Word, we will know THE truth.
So what's the big deal about knowing the truth? Jesus said that "the truth shall make you free." The word "free" is from the Greek words elutheroo, which means literally to be liberated. It is also used figuratively meaning to exempt from liability. The third benefit of abiding in the Word of the Lord is that "the truth shall make you free."
On the other hand, if we do not know the truth, then we are not truly free. There is bondage in deception. Without the truth we dwell in an uneasy state of uncertainty where we are never sure if we are making the right decisions, or if we are doing the right things, or if we are going in the right direction.
Apart from truth, we have no real liberty, or joy, or rest, or peace. Our salvation, indeed our eternity, hangs or falls on truth. Our salvation doesn't hang on a philosophy, or on a religion, or on an epistemological existentialism where all that matters is what we deem to be true for the moment. Jesus tells us that there is an ultimate truth, an absolute truth that remains regardless of the century we live in, the culture we come from, or the politics we hold to. There is a truth upon which we can entrust our eternity and that truth will liberate us from all the uncertainly of life. Where do we find this truth? We find it when we abide in His Word.
III) THE FOURTH BENEFIT
As I was studying this text, I remembered that this isn't the only place in John's Gospel that a conditional promise is asttached to the command to "abide" in the Word of Jesus. In John 15:7 we read Jesus saying something very similar. In our text Jesus said that we are to abide in His Word, but in John 15:7 Jesus phrases it a little differently He says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (Jn 15:7). To abide in Jesus' Word is the same as abiding in Jesus. He said, "If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you . . ." He adds something here. We are to abide in His Word, and His Word is to abide in us, and if we meet that condition, Jesus gives us a powerful promise concerning prayer. He said, "You will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." That ought to motivate somebody. The pathway to powerful prayer is that we abide in Jesus and in His Word and His Word abides in us.
How can Jesus make this kind of open ended promise? He can promise us that we can ask whatever we desire because when His Word abides in us, we will always desire those things that are consistent with His will, and with His Word. You ask and receive not because you ask amiss that you may consume them upon your own desires (Ja. 4:3). When we abide in Jesus and His Word abides in us, then His desires become our desires and when we ask what we desire, we are asking what He desires. I've found that that the power of prayer is found in this reality; that we learn to pray according to His will and not our own. But we will only be able to pray His will when His Word abides in us and we abide in His Word.
But here's the deal, we don't find it on a visit to His Word, flipping through the Bible like it's our horoscope. We don't find this truth by merely sitting through church service after church service. Jesus tells us that we find this liberating truth when we abide in, live in, walk in, trust and obey His Word.
So there it is. I'm convinced that the reason so many people live such empty lives of restless uncertainty is because they do not abide in God's Word and God's Word has not place in them. They are hearers of the Word and not doers of the Word. Where does the Word fit in your life? James said God's Word is like a mirror, and as such, His Word defines us. It informs us of who we really are, and it reveals to us what we could be if we would learn to abide in His Word.