I am going to put to the test your spiritual acumen this morning. I know it’s early, and maybe you can’t think all that well first thing in the morning. Todays message is not a story, maybe not so easy to understand, but nevertheless it is essential doctrine that must be understood and followed if we are going to be true disciples of Christ. So consequently, I am not going to approach this text today in my typical fashion of exegeting each verse in order, but I’m going to expound on a few verses from the text, not focusing so much on the historical content but hoping to bring us to a deeper understanding of the underlying doctrinal principles found here.
I hope that most of you here today would already know the fundamental doctrine that salvation is by faith. We read a passage that illustrates that last Wednesday in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So salvation is by faith. But what is faith? That is the question. Well, we have the Biblical definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So you can combine those truths by saying that salvation is by faith in what is not seen, but believed to be true and evidenced by my life.
Now that is the essence of what Jesus said in John 7:17, isn’t it? “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” So what Jesus is saying is believe in Me, and believe that My words are the Word of God, and then be willing to do what I say, and when you do that the truth will be evidenced. Now that is counter intuitive, isn’t it? Be willing to obey what God tells you, and when you do His will, the truth will be evident. That’s contrary to the way we normally do things. We want to see the evidence, the proof before committing. But Jesus says My words are truth, and when you are willing to believe that and do it, then you will know the truth.
Now that segues into another important statement of Jesus, which is found in the next chapter, 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” See, freedom doesn’t just come from accepting that Jesus lived on earth, or that God exists, or even from knowing that the Bible contains truth. True freedom comes from knowing experientially the truth. That means that you submit to it, and obey it, and act on it, even though all the evidence may not be apparent when you start to do it. That means that our faith which saves us is not just an intellectual assent, but trusting in what God has said, even when we can’t see the proof of it.
Jesus says you must continue in My word, if you are truly disciples of mine. Continue means to keep on being obedient, to keep following His commands, to keep walking by faith in the path of God’s truth. That continuance proves that His word is truth. As we continue in it, we prove it, and as such we know it. It’s so important to recognize the difference between realizing something is truth in a detached kind of way, and appropriating that truth to the point of trusting in it for yourself and committing yourself to it. When you trust in God’s truth, so that you prove it, you know it is true, THEN the truth will set you free. A lot of people believe in a kind of theoretical way that God’s word is true, or contains the truth, but they have never acted upon it, and as such they have never been set free.
So being set free, what does He mean? What does it mean for the truth to set you free? Free from what? Well, Jesus makes it clear that you are set free from the bondage of sin and death. Jesus said in 8:34, that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” But that the Son will make you free indeed. And so freedom comes from doing the will of God, even when that means not relying upon the natural senses for evidence, or upon your common sense, or even academic evidence, but believing what God says is truth, and acting upon it.
Now let’s look at the next statement of Jesus which will help us to see how this is acted out and applied in our walk. Jesus accused the Jews of breaking the law of Moses which they claimed to be upholding, because they were trying to kill Him. And of course, they deny it. So in vs. 22 Jesus said, ”For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?”
Now first we need to understand circumcision in order to understand the text. I’m sure everyone here has a general idea of what circumcision is without me having to go into detail. But do you know what circumcision symbolizes? It represents the cutting away of sinful flesh, so that you might live in the Spirit. It was a picture of the man’s sinful nature which is passed on from generation to generation, and which needs to be cut away in order for the promise of blessing to come from God.
Jesus is referencing circumcision because it was routinely performed on the Sabbath when a child’s eight day after birth fell on Saturday, and even though it was considered work it was acceptable because it was mandated through the law. Jesus, on the other hand, was being condemned for HIs work of healing the lame man on the Sabbath. So what Jesus points out is the hypocrisy of saying that it was ok to cut away the flesh through circumcision on the Sabbath and yet condemn Him for freeing a man from the enslavement of the flesh on a Sabbath.
See, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda back in chapter 5, He not only removed the impediment of the flesh, but He gave him life in the Spirit. The lame man, you will remember, encountered Jesus in the temple, and Jesus revealed Himself to Him, resulting in salvation; new life in the Spirit. So that this man was able not just to walk physically, but to walk in the Spirit, to walk as a new creation in a new life. This is a picture of salvation for us. The Sabbath then, argues Jesus, should be a day for freeing men from enslavement to the flesh so that they can walk in the Spirit.
Now let’s make sure we understand all that is implied by this new life in the Spirit. First of all, when you are given new life through salvation, you are given a new nature. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that you still have the old nature. So now there are two natures in you warring against one another. Rom. 7:22-23 “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”
So there is within us a war between the old man and the new man, or the physical versus the spiritual. Which one wins is up to you. Which one becomes dominant depends upon which one you listen to, the one you are obedient to. The way of faith is to cut away the old nature. Or to look at it another way, to starve the old nature. To ignore it’s cries for the lusts and passions that it craves. In effect we put to death the flesh, or as Paul said, we “crucify the flesh” and walk in accordance to the Spirit. That is the way of sanctification, and the way of a true disciple. That’s the way to have fellowship with God, to love God, and to know the truth of God experientially in your life. This is the path to freedom, to put away the old nature, and put on the new nature.
I was trying to explain this to a Christian the other day who had backslidden and fallen back into sin. And so I likened it to waking a sleeping dragon. There should be a sign posted in your soul somewhere which says, “don’t feed the dragon.” Because when you wake him up, and then feed him, he is going to want more, to take over your life again. The only way to deal with him at that point is to starve him to death until he becomes too weak to roar any more and eventually becomes dormant. So Paul says we wait eagerly for the final redemption of our body when this natural man is exchanged for a glorified, sinless body.
Unfortunately, so many Christians miss out on true freedom because they are looking for some sort of experience or feeling or emotion that shortcuts obedience. But there are no shortcuts. God works through our sufferings to bring us to sanctification. Even Jesus, the Bible says in Hebrews 5:8 “leaned obedience from the things which He suffered.”
Sometimes you may not feel close to the Lord. But the way that intimacy happens is the result of listening to the truth, then obeying the truth, and then the feelings come as you are being obedient. Don’t rely on feelings. But as you draw near to God, He will draw near to you and as you trust the Lord, and rely on the Lord, and have intimacy with the Lord, then you will experience the joy of the Lord.
So this new life in Christ requires that we put to death the old nature, and live according to the new nature. Or to say it another way, to turn away from the old paths, renounce the old lies of the world, and walk after the Spirit, according to the truth of God’s word. Ephesians 4:21 tells us to do that very thing. “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.”
Listen to what Paul says about this new nature in Romans 8:4, I’m going to read from the New Living Translation; now that we are in Christ we “…no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
Now that is the practical application of what it means to cut away the flesh through circumcision. What Paul calls having been circumcised in our hearts. This is the practical application of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight, to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. It is living according to the new nature, and putting to death the old nature. Letting go of the things of the flesh which are our security, in which we put our hope, and trusting in that which is unseen, yet true, things of the Spirit.
Then notice the next statement of Christ which I want to capitalize on, verse 24; “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Now I don’t want to go sailing off on a different tack with this verse, but I can’t help but point out this verse to those people who like to quote “judge not, lest you be judged.” Here it says we are to judge, but to judge with righteous judgment. Now I will let you figure out what that means in that context.
But to stay within the context of my message this morning, I would just say that this statement is really the culmination of all I have been trying to say to you. And that is, that we cannot depend on our natural sight, but we must use spiritual discernment if we are going to know the truth so that the truth will set us free. But unfortunately as Christians, I think far too often we hold onto a token amount of what we think is the truth of God, presumably to secure our salvation, but we still hold onto, and rely upon the great variety of lies from the world and the devil.
In other words, we claim Christianity, but we live as if it’s all about the here and now. We say we trust God, but in reality we trust what we can taste, touch, or feel. And that is not exactly the life of faith, is it? Not according to the definition of Hebrews 11:1 – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Now Jesus rebukes these Jewish leaders because they were judging, or looking at things as they appeared outwardly. They did not have spiritual discernment because they were not spiritual. They had not been born again by the Spirit of God. They did not have the Spirit of God in them, so their spirit was dead. As 1Cor. 2:14 says the “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
Listen, these Jewish leaders prove that it is possible to be very religious, to be knowledgeable about the Bible, to claim Jehovah God as your God, and still be spiritually dead, and as a result, spiritually blind. I worry about some people that attend our church from time to time. If you asked them, I’m sure they would claim to be a Christian, and yet they do not understand the kind of things that I am talking about today. And even more to the point, they live very obviously in the here and now, as a citizen of the world, entranced by the things of the world, and perhaps unbeknownst to them, enslaved by the world.
This statement of Christ could be said differently and still, I think, retain the principle that Jesus is teaching. We could say, “don’t look at things as they are externally, and be attracted to them or believe in them. But look at things spiritually, and be attracted to the things unseen. That is spiritual discernment so that you might know the truth.
That is what Jesus means when He said, “judge with righteous judgment.” He’s not necessarily talking about judging people, He is talking about spiritual discernment. Having eyes that have been opened spiritually, so that you might know spiritual truth. Spiritual discernment is being able to know truth from error, to recognize the lie of this world, and believe the truth of God’s word.
Now these Jewish leaders missed the truth that would have set them free because they were looking at external things, and depending upon external appearances. They loved the externals. They loved banging a gong or blowing a horn to announce their good deeds. They loved the chief seats in the synagogues, the seats of prestige and power. They loved parading their good works and claiming their righteousness based on the law. They loved their long robes and funny hats and all the bells and whistles which showed their religious pedigree.
Jesus did none of that. I don’t think you could have picked Jesus out of a crowd and said anything special about Him. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should ]be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
So the Jews scorned Him because He came from Galilee where they believed the second class citizens lived. They scorned Him because they didn’t think that He had the right credentials to be a teacher. They derided Him because He hadn’t graduated from the right rabbinical schools. They scorned Him because they were jealous of the authority with which He taught, and the power that He had. They looked at Him in derision because they didn’t think that He had the right kind of evidence of being the Messiah that they considered important. Ultimately, the thought that if they needed a Savior, it would have to be someone more important looking than He was in order to be of use to them. So they rejected Him on the grounds that He didn’t meet their expectations, and I also I think because they were afraid that the kind of kingdom He was espousing would result in them being dethroned from power.
And as a consequence they did not believe His teaching. And because they didn’t believe His words then of course they would not do His will, and because they would not do His will, they would not know the truth, and because they did not know the truth, they were not set free from their sins.
I’m afraid a lot of people are like the Jewish leaders. They are happy with a form of religion, which is a religion made up of half truths. Which amounts to nothing more than a lie. But they are happy there, perched upon their thrones, in which they judge truth based on their criteria. From the throne of their self rule they live as they want to live, and do as they want to do. And as such they reject the will of God, living in the natural world, while claiming to have some part of the spiritual.
But that is not the way of the new life. We must cut away the old nature if we are going to be set free from sin and live in the new life. And that happens through true repentance. That is really what Jesus is saying in vs.17. If you are willing to submit to do God’s will – that is repentance, you give up your will in exchange for God’s will. If you repent, then God will give you His Spirit, and having spiritual discernment, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
I hope that you will examine yourself today in light of God’s word and see if you are really of the faith, or if you have never actually renounced the world, put away the old nature and lived by faith in the new nature. True discipleship is simply recognizing truth from God, then submitting your will to obey the truth, and asking God to help you be obedient to the truth. I pray that you will believe the truth, and that the truth will set you free.