In yesterday’s sermon out of John 8:31-32, I shared this quote from Luther (from his commentary on the same passage) with the congregation:
It is a disappointing price that Christ asks of those who were beginning to believe in Him and were saying: “We will remain loyal to You even at the risk of life and limb.” Christ looks askance at them and says: “Yes indeed, if your faith in Me were only genuine and sincere! But it seems to Me that you will not remain faithful to Me.” And now Christ begins to speak about the true and the false disciples of the divine Word: “Many hear the Gospel and remain with it for utilitarian reasons. They reap money, goods, and honor from it. My dear friends, who would not like that! For this reason I state: ‘If you continue in My Word and doctrine, you are truly My disciples.’ For I have two types of disciples. The one group believes in Me; they praise and hear the Gospel and say: ‘This is the real truth.’ I regard them as great and fine Christians. It is all a matter of continuing. Then there are others who hear it; but when the battle grows hot, they declare: ‘Upon my soul, should I forsake this or that for the sake of the Gospel?’ There are few who remain true to the Gospel in the face of cross and persecution. Where can one find those who are constant? Therefore I say that if you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples. If My doctrine pleases you, you are well schooled and know everything. And if you persevere in the doctrine through cross and suffering, then you are My disciples. But My doctrine demands more than just an initial acceptance and much praise. I know that it is easy to believe in the beginning. But where are those who remain steadfast, who persevere, endure, and say: ‘Let come whatever God send me! If I am not to be well, then I am satisfied to be sick. If I am not to be rich, then I shall be content to remain poor. Whether I live or die, I shall remain with Christ’?”
People would gladly believe in Christ if this could make them lords or confer kingdoms on them. But if it involves suffering, they will have no part of it, and faith is finished. Therefore Christ declares: “I am sure that you will not adhere to My doctrine.” Fidelity to Christ’s doctrine is rare, especially when people encounter an evil wind. To be sure, many become Christians and hold firmly to the Gospel at first; but then they abandon it, like these fellows in our text. This is reflected by the parable in the Gospel about the seed that fell on a rock. When the sun beat down upon it, it withered away (Luke 8:6). But those who stick to the Gospel are the true disciples. The others are false Christians and false brethren.