Thus far in the Gospel of John Jesus has been established as God made Flesh, the Word, the Son of God, and the Messiah promised in The Law and by the Prophets. Several core Christian doctrines have been duly established—The ‘New Birth’, the Sonship of Christ and His relationship to the Father, the overwhelming evidence that existed even during Christ’s time on earth that proved Him to be who He claimed to be, and the complete sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice to impute righteousness to us by faith. Today’s section of scripture feels very repetitive—the Pharisees come to Him with a question He already addressed with them—how they can know that His testimony and claims are true:
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
23 But he continued, “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; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
The first time this question was brought to Jesus he answered it directly and with ample scriptural examples and support. John 5:31-46 accounts Jesus’s answer to this exact question, and in this initial reply Jesus sites not only Himself and the Father has witnesses, but also John the Baptist, Moses, the Prophets, and his ultimate works to overcome the grave. In this interaction, we see Christ pointing more and more at what is coming—at His eventual departure from them to a place that they cannot follow. He urges them to have faith, and that unless they believe that He is the Messiah, they will die in their sins.
But of course, the Pharisees do not understand what He is trying to say. A group of people did believe Him though, and He urges them to continue holding on to His teachings and obeying them—it is by this obedience that they could know that they were truly Christ’s disciples:
27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “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 but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Before we move forward in our text I want to reiterate this profound statement in verse 31—those that believe upon Jesus Christ and are His disciples cling to His teachings and continue to study and walk in them. Disciples of Christ will know the Truth of the Word, the Truth of Jesus Christ, and the Truth of their position on Christ—and this Truth will set them free! What a profound and wonderful thought! Jesus is not telling these early believers that they must become gleaming examples of perfection in their daily behaviors in order to follow Him. No where are they asked to put their faith into something that cannot be tested and proven to be True. Nowhere does Christ tell them that their lack of understanding or lack of perfect faith—for healing, for salvation, or for the resurrection that was to come—would somehow limit them and make them less Christ-like. All He tells these believers is to hold to His teachings—that holding to the teachings of Christ is the thing that makes them disciples! What an amazing revelation for us!
Coming out of the teachings of William Branham, it can be hard to shed some of the false teachings from our minds, and one of the hardest is this issue of discipleship, faith, and the way in which we can be sure we are truly walking with the Lord. Scripturally, being a follower of Christ is as simple as our Lord states it right here—hold fast to His teachings and abide in them. The next question we must ask ourselves is this—what are the teachings of Christ? How do we abide in them?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized thusly: We are all sinners (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 59:2) that are in desperate need of a Savior. Jesus was prophesied and promised to come in order to be the Savior that we needed (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Peter 2:24). We have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by Grace when we believe upon Him (Mark 1:15, John 6:29, Philippians 1:29). It is by faith that we can accept this free gift of God, and it is by our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord that we are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Jesus taught all this and more—that we are new creatures in Him (John 3:1-8), that we are given a Comforter, the Holy Spirit as a leader and teacher (John 14:26), and that we are called to live by the Spirit, loving God and loving neighbors as the fulfillment of the whole law (Matthew 12:30-31), and the list could go on and on.
It is our obedience to these teachings, and our commitment to the continued study and application of these principles in our lives that identify us as disciples of Jesus Christ’s.
Wiliam Branham often tried to simplify the issue of disobedience and sin by stating that “sin is unbelief”. And though there is ample scripture to support the statement that it is sinful to disbelieve God, this is an over-simplification of the definition of ‘sin’. Before we examine a biblical explanation of what sin is, let’s look at some quotes that demonstrate the problems with this doctrine:
"And I said, "Now, if you believe with all your heart, and you prove to me now that you've got faith… Now, you look right directly at that bracelet," and it hanging there in mid-air, "and you make that bracelet swing around and around in the room. Then you make it swing back and forth in the room, and then stop it, and I'll believe you have faith."
"Well, if we can't have faith enough for Divine healing, how we going to have a rapturing faith?"
Now, we all know that sin is, "unbelief." "He that believeth not is condemned already." Now, sin is the attribute of unbelief. Smoking cigarettes is not a sin. Stealing is not a sin. Lying is not a sin. Committing adultery is not a sin. "What is it then?" you would say. 75 It's the attributes of unbelief. If you were a believer, you would not do those things. The reason you do it, proves that you're an unbeliever. See? There is only two factions, that's, either you are a believer or not a believer.
According to William Branham, If you cannot demonstrate your faith by performing stunts of levitation, or by attaining divine healing through faith you cannot possibly have the true ‘rapturing faith’ of the ‘bride’—that you are, because of your lack of faith, an unbeliever. According to this teaching, a true believer cannot ever do things that are contrary to the Word of God—cannot ever make a mistake or otherwise fall short.
The issues with this doctrine should be abundantly clear. There were plenty people in the Bible who did not have this kind of ‘faith’—Paul, for instance, was sick for much of his time as a minister of the Gospel, so according to this definition of ‘faith’ and ‘sin’, Paul was a sinner who did not believe for divine healing, and therefore could not rightly be considered a true Christian. Likewise, Jesus’s disciples on a number of occasions demonstrated their lack of faith, but instead of chastising them for it, He gently increased their faith through teaching, through miracles, and through gentle reminders of the Word.
A lack of faith, then is not the issue. In Romans, the issue of weak faith is addressed head-on when Paul deals with the manner in which the church should treat those ‘weak in faith’. Romans 14:1-3 tells us that we should accept the weak in faith and give them the opportunity to grow in understanding and faith over time. We cannot expect someone that bares a false belief, as was the case in Rome and in this example, to suddenly do a 180 and completely change overnight—it can happen, but it is not always the case, and patience is important. Paul tells us that if a man’s conscious is troubled by eating meat, he should abstain. Even though abstaining isn’t a scriptural command and does not help us in any way spiritually, we should bare one another’s weaknesses. Weak faith, then is not a death sentence and a means of identifying if someone isn’t a true Christian—it is just a weakness, a human flaw.
Additionally, the notion that there is no other sin outside of ‘unbelief’ is very troubling because it ignores many scriptures that deal directly with sin. Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” In this verse it is iniquity—wickedness, injustice, and transgression of the Law that separated them from God—that was their sin. Likewise, 1 John 3:4 states directly that “sin is lawlessness’. Sin, according to Romans 5:13, was not and cannot be counted as sin without the Law of God—relating ‘sin’ and ‘law’ in such a way that they cannot be separated and viewed in isolation to each other—therefore, without the Law (if in fact ‘unbelief’ is the truth of sin) no one could have disbelieved God and committed sin; but we know that is not true! The Law was given so that the people would learn to have faith--would come to believe upon the Lord! Sin very clearly is not simply unbelief.
Unbelief in the Word of God and in Jesus Christ as the Messiah is indeed sin. But it is also sin to reject the governing principles of morality contained in the Law (which Christ summed us as, “Love God, love each other”). It is sin to engage in wickedness and injustice, and it is sin to transgress the command of God. It is sin for someone to know the Truth and the good they ought to do and then to refuse doing it (James 4:17). Sin is much more than unbelief—though unbelief certainly bares a role in the purposeful engagement of sinful activities.
<Sin is disobedience to the Word of God and rebellion against God.>
That can happen because you don’t believe it, true. But someone can have a lack of knowledge, understanding, or spiritual maturity to accept the Truth of the Word, technically therefore this person would be ‘disbelieving’, but would still not be sinning. They are unbelieving in ignorance or in weakness, not in resolved disobedience or rebellion. Thomas, the disciples while in the boat on the stormy night, and even Paul are examples of this--weakness within our fallen state of humanity will cause unbelief--but the Lord is willing to bare with our weakness and in Him we can be made strong--and that includes strong in faith.
Conversely, someone can disobey because they allow the flesh to win the battle against temptation. They may fully believe that their behavior is wrong, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that is it disobedience. They may engage in the sinful activity because they feel like God will forgive them for it, or because maybe they believe God will never forgive them anyway—but someone can be full of belief and still sin by disobeying the Word of God. There are too many examples to count of such behavior in the Bible—David comes immediately to mind. He believed upon the Lord, knew the commandments, and knew the Word of God well enough to know that the wrath of God was going to be poured out upon Him anyways—but he still elected to engage in sin. In his case, ‘unbelief’ wasn’t the issue—it was the transgression of the Word of God that was the problem.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.