“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him…”
This passage starts with an unexpected introduction. Or, what follows that opening sentence is unexpected at least. Because Jesus proceeds to declare that these believing Jews are not His disciples and goes so far as to say that there are children of the devil!
The reason this is so hard for us to read and accept today is that we have so watered down what it means to be a disciple that mere belief suffices—no, even a formulaic statement declaring belief is enough.
Instead, John here yet again records Jesus saying that there are types of belief that are not enough. Belief as a mental assertion—as an intellectual acceptance of a fact—falls short of what is needed to belong to the Kingdom of God.
So what does true belief look like, according to this teaching moment from Jesus?
True disciples recognize they have a sin problem, repent of that sin, and allow God to work in their lives to change them and free them from their sin.
True disciples follow God’s desire for their lives, they hear His words and do what He commands. He is their Lord, their King.
True disciples love God and conform their will and understanding to His. He is their Father.
The flip side of this would be as follows, the characteristics of those who call themselves Christians but fall short of Jesus’ definition:
Nominal disciples do not see that they have a sin problem. Sin is something bad people do, and they are not bad, they are Christians!
Nominal disciples do whatever they want. They have their plans and desires; their idea of what they want in life. They invite Jesus into their lives and plans and want Him to make all of their dreams come true. The want their idea of their best life now.
Nominal disciples only like God where HE agrees with their opinions. They love Him in the way a man loves an idealized version of his woman. They only see what they like and reject anything that doesn’t fit their version. These Christians have no need to conform to God, because they worship an idol of their own making.
So, how do we measure up, based on these three qualities? Are we disciples, or not?