HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE LEARNING CHRIST
John 8:31; 13:35; 15:8
1. Learning Christ is such a valuable undertaking that it justifies the renouncing of everything else.
a. That is the unreserved assertion of the Gospels (cf. Lk. 14:33; 18:28).
b. The word they use for a person who is doing so is “disciple,” and it means “learner,” a pupil who accompanies a teacher to learn his thinking and his ways.
c. Jesus was up front about the kind of allegiance this kind of learning requires: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” he said (Lk. 14:27 and parallels).
2. Why would anyone want to do that? Well, learning Christ is worth devotion like that because of who he is!
a. In fact, in the Gospel of John, instead of these sayings about the commitment involved in following him, there are claims about who he is.
b. Jesus is to be followed because he is “the bread of life” (6:35), “the light of the world” (8:12), “the door of the sheep” (8:9), “the good shepherd” (10:11), “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), and “the true vine” (15:1).
c. Surely it isn’t possible to really believe that he is the “I am” (8:58) without wanting more than anything to be a “learner” of him.
3. And if that is what we are committed to, how can we tell if we are actually learning Christ? The Lord laid down three markers by which his disciples can recognize themselves.
1. If you are learning Christ, you will be abiding in his word – John 8:31, 32.
a. Don’t miss the line of thought in this statement by the Lord; it is especially meaningful.
i. To “abide” in something means to dwell in it, or to settle down and make yourself at home in it – in this case, in the word of Christ. The point isn’t, of course, to keep your face in a book at all times, but to continue to do what he says. Abiding in his word is “welcoming it, being at home with it, and living it so continuously that it becomes part of [your] life, a permanent influence and stimulus in” everything you say or do. (Tasker, The Gospel of John, 117)
ii. Then “you will know the truth.” Does the order in which this comes surprise you? We don’t wait until we know everything before we do anything; we start doing what we know he says, then we come to understand that his word is guiding us to what is real and worthwhile and lasting.
iii. “And the truth will set you free” – “free indeed,” Jesus says in verse 36. Not free from reality or accountability, but free from slavery to sin (v. 34), from hated and lies (v. 44), and from bondage to the fear of death (v. 51). The truth of what he says is the instrument the Son uses to set us free.
b. There is a good reason why it is necessary to abide in his word in order to truly be learners of Christ: it is his own heart!
i. Jesus had just pointed out that his own approach was to do the things that are pleasing to the Father (v. 29).
ii. He said that he does nothing on his own authority, but that he speaks just as the Father taught him (v. 28), just what he has heard from the true One who sent him (v. 26).
iii. Can you see that it isn’t possible to learn a heart like his without abiding in his word?
c. If we are truly his disciples, our first characteristic is that we stay with what he says.
i. That means that our first concern when it comes to matters like how to become a Christian, or how to live as a Christian, or how to organize or function as the church, or how to worship, or anything else is: what does the Lord’s word say?
ii. But it means more than that. It means that our interest is more in what the word says than in what it doesn’t say not to do.
iii. Learners of Christ have an appetite for his word as “the law of liberty” (James 1:27; 2:12); they aspire to act in keeping with it; and they find fulfillment in pursuing that goal with him.
2. If you are learning Christ, you will be loving (and receiving love from) your fellow learners – John 13:34, 35.
a. Our Lord meant for his “new commandment” to result in learners being known by their love for one another.
i. The commandment to love was not new; the law said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
ii. What is new is the “just as I have loved you” and the “one another,” which is mentioned three times in this statement.
iii. And it may have been new, but the commandment is so important that he gave it two more times in the moments that followed (15:12, 17). One writer explained, “...When He left them behind ...the differences of temperament and the jealousies which He had already witnessed would alienate them from one another unless some powerful cohesive force were found to hold these tendencies in check. A disunited band of disciples would fall an easy prey to their enemies, and would afford a poor instrument for His subsequent plans.” (Tenney, The Gospel of Belief, 211)
b. Notice carefully the connection between mutual love among his disciples and what all people would know of him.
i. It was a major concern again in his great prayer we have in chapter 17, especially in verses 21 and 25-26.
ii. Tertullian tells us that the people commented on the Christians: “See, they say, how they love one another.” (Cited by L. Morris, The Gospel According to John, 633)
iii. Not so long later, though, Chrysostom complained that Christians showed too little love: “Even now, there is nothing else that causes the heathen to stumble, except that there is no love...Their own doctrines they have long condemned, and in like manner they admire ours, but they are hindered by our mode of life.” (Morris)
c. What is “just-as-I-have-loved-you” love like?
i. It is the kind of love which, though fully aware of their faults and of your own circumstances, loves them to the end by going first and tending to their most menial human needs (13:1-5).
ii. It is the kind of love which gives its own life for its friends with no though of what it will get from its friends (15:13).
iii. It is the kind of love which seeks out friends, gets involved in their lives, does what is necessary so they can take heart, and prays for them all the way through (15:15; 16:33; 17:8,9).
d. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis offered this wise advice: “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
3. If you are learning Christ, you will be bearing fruit – John 15:8.
a. The illustration Jesus is using to help each learner to understand himself or herself is striking in a way that is both challenging and encouraging: each learner of Christ is a branch on the vine.
i. Each one knows that he can’t produce a thing on his own power.
ii. But each one has to understand that his purpose is to bear fruit.
iii. How can both these points be true? Because the fruit-producing life comes from the branch’s place in the vine, Christ, and the necessary care comes from the gardener, the Father.
b. Understanding the Father this way, learners of Christ realize that he is known and honored through fruit.
i. That’s how it is in creation (Gen. 1:11-12, 22, 28).
ii. It’s the same way in promise (Hos. 14:4-8).
iii. And this statement by Jesus means it’s more true than ever in redemption.
c. What fruit? Well, the rest of the New Testament suggests at least three answers.
i. If we are learning Christ there certainly will be “the fruit of righteousness” in our character (Phil. 1:11) and “the fruit of the Spirit” in our disposition (Gal. 5:22, 23).
ii. When we are learning Christ “bearing fruit in every good work” will be central to the quality of our lives (Col. 1:10).
iii. As we learn Christ, “reaping some harvest” of persons sought and rescued for life more abundant becomes more and more important to us (Rom. 1:13). This is one place where likeness to him becomes most apparent.
1. This is how to tell whether you are learning Christ.
a. Scripturally: abiding in his word.
b. Relationally: loving, and being loved by, his people.
c. Practically: fruit.
2. Paul had to say to some in the church at Ephesus, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph. 4:20).
a. It is one of the most thought-provoking things he ever wrote.
b. Being a Christian is about learning Christ!
3. Remember that learning him has to follow coming to him. There is an enrollment in the school of Christ. It is obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:41).