“If You Continue …”

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 5

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine’ “ (John 8:31).

Here are some red letter words of Jesus that have been used in the pulpit to cause fear and consternation among the flock.  Words like “if” and “continue” have been used to paint our relationship with Jesus as a tenuous connection dependent on our obedience to “His word”.  But your connection to Jesus is unshakeable and rock solid; you in Christ and Christ in you, nonstop!

And it all goes back to your new birth.  When you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you underwent a new birth.  A birth where you are now “born of God”; a beloved child in the family of God.  “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I John 5:1).  And, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God: and such we are” (I John 3:1).

One of the huge huge takeaways from this idea of our new birth is the fact that we cannot be “unborn.”  Think about your earthly parents.  No matter what happened after your birth, whether you were taken into their home or went to an adoptive family, your birth parents will always be your birth parents.  You cannot change the names of the mother and father on your birth certificate.  It is permanent.

Just like you cannot be “unborn” from your earthly parents, you cannot be “unborn” from God as your Father.  When you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you became God’s forever son or daughter.  You are now “born of God.”  And your birth was sealed by the imperishable, the unchangeable Jesus Himself.  “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God” (I Peter 1:23).

You were born of the imperishable seed of the living and enduring Jesus [the Word of God].  There is incredible security and confidence in the fact that your new birth cannot be undone.  You are signed, sealed, delivered; never to be returned.  Your connection to the Father is unbreakable and rock solid.

So who is Jesus talking to here with the warning “if you continue”?  We need to understand these words in the context of the first century practice of Rabbis and physical followers.  The followers of Jesus, or disciples as they were often called in the gospels, was a fluid situation.  Followers came and went.  People joined the group.  People left the group.  For example, in John chapter 6, the apostle writes, “As a result of this teaching many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).

Throughout the gospels, there were large crowds and small crowds.  Jesus was at times adored by the masses and at times alone with His twelve apostles.  I believe in this passage, Jesus was talking to His physical followers; again, a group that fluctuated in numbers.  Jesus is essentially saying to His followers. “If you continue with Me, then you will truly be my disciples.  But there is time to decide if this is truly what you want to do.”  These “if you continue” invitations were an offer to His physical followers to make a decision to continue or leave the group.

These disciples did not live in the age of grace, the age of the new covenant.  They were not making a one time decision to believe in Jesus.  They were not immediately indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit as we are today.  They followed Jesus, even believed His words.  But they would still ultimately face a choice to stick with Jesus as their Messiah or withdraw and leave the group of disciples.

So it makes sense for Jesus to say to His physical followers, “If you stick with Me, you will be known as My disciple.”  It is not more complicated than that.  And I don’t believe it is a passage addressed to us.