How Can You Tell?

There is no shortage of “new” interpretations of Christianity. One need not look very far to find them; sometimes they are advertised in the titles (The New Christians, A New Kind of Christian, etc.). While some of this phrasing is more about marketing than about substantive changes in what Christians should believe, there are some subtleties that go unnoticed. One way of detecting them is to begin with what Jesus himself has to say about his death and resurrection, which is where the text for today takes us. John 8:21-32:

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The closer Jesus came to the final entry into Jerusalem and onto a cross, the more his words began to focus on the centrality of that event for faith. As we continue the series for Lent, I want to direct our thoughts toward the question of whether our own understanding of salvation is sufficiently centered there so that we can read any interpretation, new or old, with both the necessary parameters or boundaries and the openness to different ways expressing that truth.

What are the boundaries or parameters I have in mind? While they are not fully drawn in this passage, there are a couple of ideas which seem indispensable to an honest interpretation of what Jesus had to say to those who were dubious, at best, about his identity. One of those ideas is the unity of the Father and the Son. Another is the somewhat surprising claim (at this point in his life) that he would be recognized for who he is when he would be “lifted up,” a phrase to which he will return with wider application in Ch. 12. At a minimum, these ideas seem to require that we look unfavorably toward those interpretations which on hand divorce the Father from the Son in the work of salvation, and on the other hand toward those which implicitly or explicitly minimize the necessity of the cross.

It is understandable that we might want to acknowledge as wide an inclusion of people in the saving work of Christ as possible; in fact, it is even like God Himself to desire this, for He is not willing that any perish. But the other side of that is that He does want them to come to a knowledge of the truth, which is what Jesus says is known by “abiding” in his word.

My question for today is this: what it means to abide in the word of Jesus? Should we think of this phrase as the equivalent of scripture, or just of the “red letters” (the words actually attributed to Jesus himself in the gospels)? Or is his “word” more inclusive than the recorded message? What do you think?

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