So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31–32
Who are you?
Who is Jesus?
The opening arguments of John 8 concerned the latter question. At verse 31 there is a turn to the former. John Calvin opened his Institutes with a chicken or the egg conundrum, pondering which of these came first: knowledge of self or knowledge of God. He begins by saying, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” First he answers,
“Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”
So first there is this knowledge of our own depravity then that makes way for a true knowledge of God. But Calvin goes on to say,
“Again it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.”
Calvin then leaves the question hanging without resolution except to say, for the matter of teaching, we must begin with the knowledge of God. But in doing so I do believe he has answered the question. There is a sense in which these are simultaneous, and yet, there is a priority given to the knowledge of God. It is by His light that we see the answer to both of these questions.
We know the darkness within by means of the Light without. But then, once illuminated, we must admit the darkness that is exposed in order to proceed in any knowledge of the Light. Jesus unfolds something of who He is in 8:12–31. He is the Light of the world. Many seem to receive this truth and believe in Him, but once the Light begins to expose their own darkness, they refuse the Light for refusing to own the darkness of their own hearts and parentage.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world (v. 12). You are full of darkness. You love the darkness. You are under the dominion of darkness (v. 44). You belong to the kingdom of darkness. Own this. Come humbly to Christ confessing this and pleading His mercy, and light will not only expose, it will transform. Believe that you are a sinner and come to Christ as the Light and you will know the truth of Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the eternally begotten son of the Father. You are a rebellious creature of God most high, subjected to sin through Adam. Jesus is the Son; you are a slave (vv. 34–35). You are in bondage both to the practice sin and to its condemnation. You cannot not sin. Jesus cannot be convicted of sin (v. 46). Look to Jesus and you will see your sin. You will see all your righteousness to be as filthy and full of hypocrisy as the sham righteousness of the Jews and religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus. But as you look, know that He took on flesh to live as a sinless man that you might be clothed in His righteousness. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Son will set you free and you will be free indeed.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son doing what He has seen with His Father—God (vv. 28–29, 38). You do what you have heard from your father—the devil (v. 38. 41, 44). Murder and lies brood within your heart. Anger and deception abound. Hatred and willful ignorance proliferate. You lie and murder. Jesus not only speaks the truth, He came to lay His life down, pleading even as He was dying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” You need not fear the deep darkness, the unspeakable that lies within your own chest, for Christ not only made atonement that you might be forgiven, but so that you might be cleansed. In Him there is not only justification but sanctification. There is not only propitiation, but purification. You can own who you are in repentance when you own who Jesus is in faith. The darkness within isn’t greater than the Light without. No matter how much evil you’ve done, no matter how much darkness lies within, no matter how many murderous and hateful thoughts you entertain, it is as nothing compared to the righteousness that Christ accomplished and the righteousness that abounds in Him.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will no longer be who you are. You will be a new creation in Him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be justified, you will begin being sanctified, and you will one day be glorified. You will not longer be a child of darkness, but a child of light. You will not longer be a slave, but a son. You will no longer be a child of the devil but a child of God. All because who you are will no longer be found in who you are but in who Christ is so that you may boast as Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20). This will be true of you: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Dear soul, if you have believed, you are now in union with Christ and Romans 6 speaks of who you now are:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:5–11).
And so I ask you once more, who are you?