31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
“One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, through he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8 [:36], “so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4 [:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that were the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.” (The Freedom of A Christian-Dr. Martin Luther) Dillenberger, John (ed.) (1962), Martin Luther, Selections from His Writings, p54
These words of Dr. Martin Luther from a work entitled, The Freedom of A Christian, are true. They are true—not because Dr. Luther said them, but because they are according to the Word or our Lord. They were not only true for him in his day. They are true for us in ours. The very truth is this way. It is universal—Timeless—Relevant to everyone.
The Word of God is for all time, for all people, and endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). It is not merely an option, one word of many, or for us to question or doubt. We might be in a different time and in a different culture as compared to the time Jesus lived among His disciples and walked among the people around Him, and we might be in a different part of the world and at a different time on the historical timeline of things than those who went before us, but people are people. And the Word of God remains the Word of God.
We haven’t changed much since after the fall from our first parents. We’re still sinners—sinners who think that we can get by on our own—sinners who believe ourselves to be able to manage things ourselves—sinners who hold to the view that God does a little bit here and we do a little bit there.
Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, we have the temptation to want to take matters into our hands, like not to take God at His Word, and to disbelieve what our Lord makes known to us. This is really what they were doing in today’s Gospel from St. John the Apostle.
The Jews were doubting—questioning—and disbelieving what Jesus was saying to them. They had rightly heard the part of being His disciples and remaining in His Word and knowing the truth. But for them, hearing that the truth would set them free they couldn’t grasp. And they couldn’t grasp it because it meant what they were not willing to accept—that they were not already free, but were in bondage and enslaved, from which they needed deliverance.
You’ve heard the phrase, “The first step to recovery is acknowledging that there’s a problem.” The Jews in Jesus’ day were not willing to acknowledge that they had the problem that Jesus was talking about. Though they knew that they weren’t perfect, they didn’t realize the seriousness of their condition. And because they refused to hear Jesus’ diagnosis, neither would they believe in the remedy—Himself.
Particularly might this be disturbing to us on account of the beginning words of today’s text where we read, 31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him…At first hearing, it might not sound so bad. But did you catch what St. John is saying—Jesus is speaking to the very Jews who were believing in Him. He was saying to them, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Those Jews had believed in Jesus, which is good, right, and proper to do. They had believed the very words which He had spoken before, which was also good. But at His Word about ‘being set free,’ these words of our Lord they could not take. It’s also just a few chapters earlier where we hear that because of Jesus’ Word, many of His disciples no longer walked with Him (John 6:66).
It’s not just making a beginning, starting off on the right foot, which is of import. It’s continuing, remaining, abiding—to the end. This is the difference between those who complete the race and those who drop out, those who only begin the class and those who finish it, those who only begin the struggle and those who keep fighting.
There are many who start off right, but who, in time, waiver, and pass by the way. There are also many who begin to believe, but then, because they don’t continue in the faith as a little child, simply believing what God says with child-like faith (not childish faith), they go astray, and even become worse deniers of the faith than those who never had believed.
Remember the parable that Jesus told about the Sower and the Seed? Some of the seed fell by the wayside, some on stony places, other among thorns, and still other, on good ground (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23).
The seed that fell on stony places is about the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for awhile. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles (Matthew 13:20-21).
The seed that fell among the thorns is one who hears the, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that hears the word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:23).
Those who only make a beginning in the faith, who believe for a time, or only believe what they want to believe or only believe how they want to believe show themselves not to be in the category of the Lord’s genuine disciples. These also will not know the truth, though they think they do, nor will they be set free. And by set free, we don’t mean the kind of freedom which they of the world talk about.
The freedom Jesus speaks of is not freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to worship, or the freedoms which we enjoy as citizens of this country. There may come a time when the freedoms which we currently enjoy are no longer our own. But this won’t at all mean that we are not free in the sense that Christ means it, because He is talking, not about a worldly kind of freedom, but the freedom which is the result of His sacrifice, the shedding of His blood, the freedom which comes from knowing and believing that before God the Father, all has been accomplished, all has been paid for, that there is nothing left remaining for our peace with God. We don’t even lift a finger and God pronounces us, you, in His good stead.
It is the freedom of sins forgiven, not being under Law, but under Grace (Romans 6:14-15). It’s the freedom of freely serving God and freely loving your neighbor, which is given on account of Christ.
All your sin is atoned for. You have a gracious God who loves you without end. And this love of His He demonstrated to you in Christ’s death. Therefore, it is yours. You are His and He is yours. And this love of God demonstrated in Christ you can be sure of and need not doubt, because Christ already did die and dies no more. And this message, Christ’s Word, continues to be proclaimed, that you continue to hear, continue to believe, abide in it, be His disciples, know the truth, and be set free, that you remain in God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ.
In Christ, you are free from your enslavement to sin, from your bondage to do what is contrary to God and His will. You are free from Satan’s grip on your soul and from the fear of eternal death, for in Christ, eternal life is your inheritance. As long as you remain in His Word, you will remain having His promise. This is because remaining in His Word IS faith.
One who believes contrary to Jesus and His Word, at any point, is not truly His disciple, but is a counterfeit, a fake Christian, one who truly is not. To be a Christian means to be ‘of Christ.’ This doesn’t mean that you have to know everything. But it does mean that you don’t deny what the Lord has said.
Being Christian also means that you believe what Jesus says, even if you can’t explain it, don’t like it, or have trouble with it because it goes against what you know or feel or would like to be.
Jesus’ word, even for the Christian, doesn’t agree with the sinful nature. It doesn’t agree with the world, the devil, or the nonbeliever. For them, it doesn’t make sense. And for you, too, it might not completely make sense, like how crosses and burdens can be good, or how this or that can be for God’s glory. But that’s okay. It doesn’t need to make sense to be God’s Word. It just has to be God’s Word. And God’s Word is what you are to believe.
Let others say what they will. The Word of God is stronger than any other. And besides, there is no other Savior. None other promises the freedom from sin, death, and the devil as Jesus does. And none other can change what God has already done in Christ for you, me, and the world. Christ already died, never to die again. And now He lives forevermore, as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:6).
The words of St. Paul are true, By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness (Romans 3:20-25)
This is the message of the Reformation—that God is a good and gracious God and that God makes this known to us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus is your true freedom, sins forgiven, and your peace with God. And this same message is that of our Lord! You too have inherited it, for you are Christ’s.
Therefore, in His Word abide. In His Word continue. And as you do so, truly you are His disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Amen.
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