“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.” (John 8:37-40)
Jesus’ opening statement in John 8:37 is an acknowledgment of what the Jewish religious leaders said in John 8:33. Jesus understands that the leaders are the physical descendants of the patriarch Abraham.
However, God is more interested in an individual’s spiritual relationship with Him. A good person’s godly ancestry doesn’t help a person if they are living in disobedience and sin (Ezekiel 18). Likewise, a person’s ungodly ancestry doesn’t hinder the Holy Spirit regenerating them and they coming to God-given faith in Christ (Romans 4:9-12; Galatians 3:29; 4:21-31).
Jesus subsequently identifies the spiritual condition of the religious leaders. This evaluation is not based on their ancestry but rather on their actions. They seek to kill Jesus. This is because God’s Word has no place in their souls, in spite of their outward religiosity.
Jesus concludes in this section that one’s true heritage and spiritual condition is identified not by credentials and one’s family tree, but rather by one’s behavior.
However, in spite of Jesus’ logic the religious leaders adamantly protest by again proclaiming their religious heritage “Abraham is our father.” Yet Jesus responds with factual evidence rather than trade with them argumentative statements.
He says “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.”
Jesus indicated that Abraham, even though he was a sinner, was obedient to God’s direction even when it was painful. This indicates the fundamental distinction between Abraham and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day or any day. As Dr. R. C. Sproul wisely observes, “True sonship is not defined by biology but by obedience.”
John Calvin writes, “He (Jesus) proves from the effect that they (the religious leaders) are not the children of God, as they boasted, because they oppose God. And, indeed, is there anything in Abraham that is more highly commended that the obedience of faith? This then is the mark of distinction, whenever we are required to distinguish between His children and strangers; for empty titles, whatever estimation they may procure from the world, are of no account with God. Christ concludes again, that they are the children of the devil, because they hate with deadly hatred true and sound doctrine.”
No matter how religious a person may seem outwardly, they are a child of the devil if they have rejected Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. While it may be easy to hate such a person, we are called and commanded to pray and plead with them to repent and receive Jesus Christ. May God find us faithful in doing so.
Soli deo Gloria!