On a recent episode of Grace in Focus Radio (April 17), Shawn and Bob discussed John 8:30-32. This is an often-misunderstood passage of Scripture. In verse 30 it says that while the Lord was speaking “many believed in Him.” This phrase is a standard phrase in the Gospel of John for those who are saved spiritually, that is, they have eternal life.
In the next two verses, the Lord tells these new believers that if they “abide” in His word, they will be His “disciples indeed,” and they “will know the truth and the truth will” set them free.
However, many commentators take the view that the folks in verse 30 are not saved until they abide in Christ’s word. They equate being a “disciple indeed” with being saved from hell.
In verse 33 it then says, “they answered Him.” In the answer, “they” are opposed to Jesus. Based upon this, the same commentators say that the believers in verse 30 did not really believe. They only believed with their head or they didn’t repent, or they didn’t believe enough to follow Jesus and be His disciples. They needed to prove they were believers by abiding in Christ’s word, and these so-called believers were not willing to do that.
Of course this is nonsense. The believers in verse 30 are believers. Jesus is not telling them they must abide in His word to be saved from hell. He is telling them they must abide in His word if they want to be His disciples. There is a difference between being a believer and being a disciple. Not all believers are disciples.
Finally, we must identify who the “they” are in verse 33 that oppose the Lord. All throughout chapter 8 Jesus is teaching in the temple. There is a large group of unbelievers in the crowd. But we see in verse 30 that many in the crowd believe. Others didn’t. Those who answer back in verse 33 are not those who believed in Him, but those who have not believed in Him and continue to argue with Him.
For those interested in a more in-depth look at this passage, I highly recommend Bob and Shawn’s radio episode that can be heard on the GES website. In 2017 I also gave a presentation at the GES regional conference in Lynchburg, TN. You can hear it here.