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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Take the ultimate paternity test
Text:John 8:39-47 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Psalm 105:1,2,4

Psalm 95

Psalm 81:1-3

Scripture reading:  Genesis 18

Text: John 8:39-47

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When things are the way they should be, when a baby is born, everyone knows who the father is.  The mother is married and there’s no question:  her husband is the father.  That’s the way God designed things to be from the beginning.  But we live in a world wrecked by sin.  Because of sin, it does happen that a baby is born and there’s uncertainty about who the father is.  In those kinds of situations, there’s sometimes a paternity test.  A paternity test is a medical test that takes samples from everyone involved .  Those samples are evaluated and then a conclusion is reached about who the father is. 

In our passage this morning, we also see a kind of paternity test.  If things were the way they should be, this wouldn’t be necessary.  If no sin had come into the world, God would be the spiritual Father of everyone.  But because there’s sin and rebellion, because we live in a world wrecked by sin, we sometimes see uncertainty about spiritual fatherhood.  Who’s the father of these people in our passage?  Who’s your father, spiritually speaking? 

So God calls us to take the ultimate paternity test laid out in his Word.  We’ll see what the results are:

  1. If Abraham really is your father
  2. If God really is your father
  3. If Satan really is your father

Let’s just take a moment and remember where we are in the book of John.  Jesus is in Jerusalem at the temple.  He had been there for the Feast of Booths.  He gets into this long conversation with the Jewish religious leaders and we’re in the middle of that conversation.  In that conversation, Jesus has made some powerful claims about who he is, where he’s come from, and what he’s doing.  In verse 30 it says that many believed in him as he was saying these things.  But that belief was superficial.  It wasn’t saving faith.  These were just religious people who were impressed with Jesus at some level, but hadn’t believed in him for their salvation. 

In the verses before this passage, the Jews brought up Abraham and they claimed to be his offspring.  That meant they were free.  They probably meant to say that their covenant relationship through Abraham was their ticket to spiritual freedom. Christ acknowledged their biological relationship to Abraham – there’s no doubting that Jews are physically descended from him.  Yet their spiritual relationship is in question.  Jesus called that into question already in verse 38 – there was a hint that while God was Jesus’ Father, the Jews have a different spiritual father.  What was hinted at before gets explicitly stated in our passage for this morning. 

It starts with verse 39.  Please look there with me.  Notice how the Jews claim again, “Abraham is our father.”  That’s speaking about biological facts, but it’s more than that.  It’s a spiritual claim.  It’s a covenantal claim.  Having Abraham as your father means you’re in good with God because Abraham was in good with God.  What’s true of him gets passed down to his children via the covenant.  It’s almost like it’s in your genes to be in good with God.

But Jesus says we need to look closer at this.  Let’s apply the paternity test.  Let’s see if you really are children of Abraham who are in good with God.  It’s a simple test:  “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did…”  So if you’re doing the works of Abraham, that proves Abraham is your father in a spiritual, covenantal sense.  If you’re doing the works of Abraham, you’re in the same healthy relationship with God that he was.

That raises the question:  what are the “works Abraham did”?  We could think of what we read from Genesis 18.  The LORD appears to Abraham.  He comes to reveal a beautiful promise:  next year you’ll have a son with Sarah.  He also comes to reveal judgment on Sodom for the sins of that city.  Abraham took God at his Word.  He was receptive to God’s revelation, both of grace and judgment. 

That vividly contrasts with these Jews in front of Jesus.  God has appeared to them in human flesh, sort of like those three men who came to visit with Abraham.  God has come to the Jewish religious leaders with words of grace and judgment.  Jesus told them what he heard from God.  He told them they could have freedom by believing in him.  But he also told them that if they didn’t believe in him, they’d die in their sins.  True words of grace and judgment coming from God.  And what did they do?  They want to kill Jesus.  Abraham didn’t want to kill his visitors, but that’s what these so-called children of Abraham want to do with Jesus.  So, how can they really be children of Abraham?  See, it’s not enough to have biological connections or even covenantal connections to Abraham.  You have to reflect your father. 

The words of Jesus come back in Romans 9.  The Holy Spirit says there that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…”  To be a true Jew, to be a true child of Abraham, that means believing God’s Word.  It means having faith when God brings his Word to you.  The same thing is said in Galatians 3:7, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”  Faith is what marks you as a true child in the same healthy covenant relationship that Abraham enjoyed.

Psalm 105 is a much-loved psalm in our Reformed churches.  We often sing it after a baptism.  That psalm speaks of God’s covenant with Abraham, God’s special relationship with Abraham and his offspring.  We know we’re part of that relationship.  We could be tempted to think like the Jews in our text:  covenantally speaking, Abraham is our father, we’re in the covenant of grace, and therefore we’re automatically in good with God.  But Christ says your covenantal paternity is proven by what you do with him.  Faith matters.  Do you believe what God has revealed through Jesus Christ about grace and judgment?  Do you believe that he’s your Saviour?  Do you acknowledge that unless you believe in him, you’ll die in your sins? 

Christ speaks about the true paternity of the Jewish religious leaders at the beginning of verse 41:  “You are doing the works your father did.”  Again, he’s hinting at the fact that they have Satan as their true spiritual father.  Because they get what he’s insinuating, they throw a veiled insult back at him:  “We were not born of sexual immorality.”  What’s left unsaid is, “Unlike you, Jesus.”  The Bible tells us that Jesus was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, without the involvement of a human father.  But the Jews had a different story about Jesus’ origins.  He was conceived outside of wedlock, they said.  He was a child of sexual immorality, they said.  Unlike him, the Scribes and Pharisees claim to have an immaculate parentage.  They are God’s children.  God is their Father – he’s righteous, and so are they.  They’re claiming that their righteous life reflects their spiritual Father in heaven. 

But Jesus says we need to look closer at this.  Just claiming something doesn’t make it so.  Let’s apply the paternity test.  That’s what he does in verse 42.  Look at the test:  “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”  So if you love Jesus, that proves God is your Father in the most meaningful spiritual sense.  If you love Jesus, that proves you’ve been adopted by God into his family – he’s your Father and you’re his beloved child.  You’re one of his redeemed.  Love for Jesus is the ultimate divine paternity test. 

That love was completely missing amongst the Jewish religious leaders.  Jesus came because he was sent by God.  He came on God’s authority and at God’s initiative.  Yet when he preached and taught, they couldn’t stand to hear him, and therefore they’d never understand his teaching.  It’s because their hearts were cold and dead and full of hatred for him.  These were religious people in so many ways, but they were also consumed with hatred.  It wasn’t just that they were indifferent towards Jesus.  They actively hated him in their cold, dead hearts.  That’s why they’d never listen to him, understand him, and then truly believe in him for their salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders’ paternity test proved that God wasn’t their Father.  They were self-deceived into thinking otherwise.  But what about us?  What about you? 

How can you know if God is really your Father?  Well, simply look at what Jesus says here in verse 42.  God is proven to be your Father if you love Jesus Christ.  Well, then that raises another question:  how do you know if you love Jesus Christ?  I mean, you could say you do, but you might just say it because it’s expected of you.  But what does the Bible say?  To answer that, we should go to what Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In other words, if you love Jesus, you’ll pay attention to what he says and do it.  When he says, “Believe that I am the Saviour,” you say, “Okay.  I believe you, Lord, you are my Saviour.”  When he says, “Turn from your sins and follow me,” you say, “That’s what I’ll do.”  Loving Jesus Christ is shown by how you respond to his Word.  It’s not just a matter of words or even emotions in the first place.  No, it’s first a matter of what happens in our lives in response to his calling.  That’s how love for Christ is proven.

Now there’s another biblical way you can discern whether you love Christ.  It’s found at the end of John 17, the so-called high-priestly prayer.  Out of Christ’s love for his own, he prays that they may be where he is going.  He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me…”  He says that out of his love for his own.  But then at the end of the prayer, he prays that his love may be in them.  In other words, he prays that they would love him in the same way.   He’s praying that their love would be shown in their wanting to be with him to see his glory. 

If I were to take a survey right now and ask every single one of you if you want to go to heaven when you die, I’m quite sure I’d get a 100% positive response rate.  Who wouldn’t want to go to heaven?  But what if I were to also ask, “Why do you want to go to heaven?”  For a lot of people, the first thought is the perfect happiness and blessedness that heaven promises.  No more pain, no more tears, no more suffering, no more sin.  All true.  But what about Jesus?  What about being with him forever?  Isn’t that the greatest blessing heaven has to offer?  When you think about heaven and you think that Jesus is there, can you latch on to that and say, “Now, that is the greatest thing about heaven”?  “The Saviour I love is going to be there and I’m going to spend eternity with him.  What an awesome thought!  I can’t wait.”  Loved ones, if you can say that, the divine paternity test comes back positive:  you love Jesus, God is indeed your Father.  But if the idea of spending eternity with Jesus doesn’t matter to you, if you hear that and think, “Big deal, who cares?” then you don’t love Jesus, and God is not your Father and you’re in serious trouble.  That’s not me saying that – that’s what the Bible says.  That’s what God says.  He also says you must turn away from that.  Do it by praying for God to put the love of Christ in you.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to give you that love.  Without that love, you have nothing.  Without love for Christ, you have no reason to hope for salvation.  Pray for the love of Christ to be in your life.

Doing that was far from the minds of the Jewish religious leaders in our passage.  In verses 44-47, Jesus speaks about what their true paternity is.  Now he comes right out and says it in verse 44, “You are of your father the devil…”  That’s a stinging rebuke from Jesus.  Here are these incredibly religious men and Jesus says they’re actually children of Satan.  How could he say that?  It’s because he applies the paternity test and it turns out they’re the spitting image of their father.  Satan is staring right back at him from these religious leaders.

Now before going any further, notice how our Lord Jesus speaks of Satan as real.  The devil is real.  The devil is a fallen angel.  He was originally good, but at some point before Genesis 3, Satan rebelled against God and he led other angels to do the same.  Satan and these other rebellious angels are now called demons.  Their existence is real.  Many people today don’t believe Satan is real.  Even if they believe in some kind of god, even if they claim to be Christians, they think Satan is a fairy-tale figure, a myth.  That’s not what Jesus says.  That’s not what the Bible says.  The Bible says Satan is real and he’s dangerous.  Demons are real and dangerous.  They’re doing everything they can to destroy God’s work of salvation on this earth.

Jesus says the Satanic paternity of these Jews is proven by the fact that they want to do what the devil desires.  What is it that he desires here?  Jesus points to two related evils.  First, murder.  “He was a murderer from the beginning…”  Jesus is speaking about what happened in Genesis 3.  God established a covenant with Adam and Eve in which he promised them life.  From their side, they were expected to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They had life in a covenant relationship with God.  Satan came along and robbed them of that life.  In that sense, he murdered them.  He took away their life.  He did it by means of a lie.  He deceived Adam and Eve by telling them that they wouldn’t die if they ate the fruit.  He lied to them and killed them.  That’s true to his character, says Jesus.  There’s no truth in Satan, because truth is from God and he’s in rebellion against God.  Instead, nothing that comes from Satan’s mouth can be trusted – it’s all lies all the time.  That’s all he gives birth to:  lies and more lies.  Satan’s a liar and the father of lies.

What happened in the Garden of Eden continues on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  Satan is now using lies to try and kill the second Adam.  These Jewish religious leaders are his willing accomplices, his children, his apprentices.  They’re reflecting their true spiritual father in the way they’re interacting with Jesus.  They’re showing their true spiritual paternity with their lies and murderous desires.

So what does it look like when you have the devil as your father?  You reflect him.  According to what Jesus says here, you reflect him in terms of destruction caused by lies.  Lies in come various forms.  Sometimes it’s saying something that just isn’t true.  Sometimes it’s twisting the truth.  Sometimes it’s mixing falsehoods in with truth.  Sometimes it’s conveniently leaving out certain facts and deceiving someone into thinking it’s one way when it’s really another.  Lying is sinful and destructive.  It tears down and destroys life.  Lying destroys relationships.  Lying murders the body of Christ, his church.  When we do it, we’re not reflecting God, but Satan.  If we’re caught up in a pattern of lying, living in the sin of lying constantly, we’re reflecting who our true spiritual father is – and it isn’t God.

Unbelief is allergic to the truth.  It’s allergic because it’s addicted to lies.  In verse 45, Jesus says he tells the truth and they won’t believe him.  Jesus Christ is the truth personified, he always spoke truth.  But because these people are caught up in lies, they don’t believe him. They won’t.  They can’t. 

That’s why Jesus can say, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?”  By “convict” here, he means not only make an accusation that he’s sinned, but then actually legitimately prove it.  The Jewish leaders make their accusations.  They claim Jesus has sinned and they’ll say it again and again until they get him crucified.  But the point is that they can’t legitimately prove it.  There’s no objective proof to support their claim Jesus has sinned.  At the end of his life, they have to get false witnesses in order to have Jesus crucified.  They need liars. 

What this means is that at a certain level, they know Jesus is speaking the truth.  There’s a certain level at which his words are stinging them and bothering them.  It’s why his words create such a reaction with them.  They know he’s right, but they refuse to believe in him.  That adds to their guilt.  

But then why don’t they just confess faith in Christ?  Why don’t they just turn to him?  It goes back again to paternity.  This is verse 47, the last verse in our passage.  If you are “of God,” you hear the words of God.  If you don’t hear them, you’re not “of God.”  Hearing isn’t talking about sound waves going into your ear drums.  Hearing means taking it in, understanding it, and believing it.  Being “of God” here means being God’s child.  If you’re God’s child and he’s your Father, you take God’s words in to your heart, you understand them, and you believe them.  If you’re Satan’s child, if Satan is your father, you might hear the words outwardly, they go in your ears, but they don’t get into your heart.  You don’t have spiritual understanding.  You don’t believe what you’re hearing.  Jesus is basically saying the same thing as 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  In order to hear the words of God in the way Jesus is speaking about, you need the Holy Spirit to give you ears to hear and a heart to understand.         

Loved ones, to be of God takes a work of sovereign grace.  Have you known that work of sovereign grace in your life?  Has God blessed you with his Holy Spirit so you can hear the words of God?  Do you hear, believe, and follow what Scripture teaches?  None of us does that consistently – I sure don’t.  But do you want to?  If you do, praise God that he’s been working in your heart with his Spirit.  Pray that he’ll continue to incline your heart to his words, that you’ll reflect your true spiritual paternity.  But if you don’t, what then?  Jesus says, “If you’re not of God, you’re of Satan.”  If you’re not God’s child, you’re Satan’s child.  Does that bother you?  If it does, then you have to cry out for mercy.  God calls you to ask him to give you his Holy Spirit so you can hear his words and believe.  Ask him to help you flee the lies that destroy, and embrace the truth of the good news that Jesus saves.

Spiritually speaking, our paternity is a big deal.  If you don’t have God as your Father, you’re not fatherless.  Every human being has a biological father, and every human has a spiritual father.  No one is fatherless.  It’s one of two:  either God or Satan.  Which one is it for you?  AMEN.


Our Father in heaven,

We call you our “Father” and trust that’s who you are for us through Jesus Christ.  We call you “Father” because your Holy Spirit works in our heart.  We pray that we may always reflect you.  Father, we pray that you would especially help us to flee lies because they always destroy.  Help us to repent of all our lies.  Please forgive us all our lies because of Christ’s work on the cross.  We pray that all of us gathered here this morning would truly know you as our Father.  If there’s any one here that’s still in Satan’s family, we pray that you would deliver them.  We pray that you would work with your sovereign grace in their lives.  Father, please bring them to repentance and true faith.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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