[John 8:31-36] So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.”
“We’ve never been enslaved to anyone.” It’s odd for these Israelites to say so, since the hallmark event in the history of these offspring of Abraham is that God delivered them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt through Moses. Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures – for example, in the introduction to the Ten Commandments – God introduces Himself as “the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of slavery.” [Exodus 20]
Yet, they say to Jesus, “We’ve never been enslaved to anyone.” Slavery was a touchy issue for the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking. These Israelites yearn for a glorious kingdom – a glorious triumph of Israel over the nations – the restoration of their nation’s glory as it was in the days of David and in the days of Solomon – and more so.
They are waiting for glorious triumph, the restoration of David’s throne, yet, in truth, they are not even a free people. “We’ve never been slaves to anyone”, they insist, but, in fact, they are not much more than slaves in their own day. Politically speaking, their nation is servant to another – to a dominant force – the Roman Empire. They are not free in this world – so they insist all the more, “We’re nobody’s slave!”
Political freedom is a touchy issue. We are not unfamiliar with the insistence that we are a free people. And much blood has been shed for freedom over the centuries. Free. Free people. Not slaves.
These Jews, in their conversation with Jesus, had totally missed the point. They don’t know what kind of freedom Jesus is talking about. They miss the point and, therefore, miss their Savior – they don’t recognize Him as the one they need. Their minds were thinking so much about their political freedom that they couldn’t comprehend that there is another kind of freedom which is the freedom they needed to be concerned about most.
What do you think? When Jesus says, “The truth will set you free”, what kind of freedom is He talking about? What kind of slavery is He talking about when He says, “the slave doesn’t remain in the house forever”?
What kind of freedom occupies your mind? What is the freedom you need that Jesus gives?
“How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” There’s the slavery. “Everyone who does the sin is a slave of the sin.”
You say, “I’m free! I’m free!” But you’re not free. Whether you live in Communist China or the golden age of America, you’re not free from your own nature. You’re not free from you. From what’s in your heart, to what overflows your mouth, to the lust of your eyes, to dark-thoughts, to the angry monologues in your mind, to your aims and goals which don’t have God in sight – to your occupation with only earthly concerns instead of heavenly – you are a slave to that sin-broken nature which clings in your flesh and saturates your mind.
“Everyone who does the sin is a slave to the sin.” Is there any one of us who can claim that there’s ever even been one day that we’ve been free? Everyday there’s slavery in us.
“No, I’m free! I’m free!” Is Jesus wrong here? He’s not wrong. We truly have a slavery problem – one that is not solved by the good works of politics – we are slaves because “everyone who sins is a slave.”
Where is freedom found? Our Lord said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth about our Savior Jesus – the truth about what He has done, and faith in it – sets us free. “If you hear my Word and believe it, you’ll know the Truth, and that Truth will set you free from sin’s slavery.”
What is that truth about our Savior Jesus which sets you free? Every religion, to some degree, recognizes this slavery to sin and offers some remedy. And every religion responds with man’s natural way of thinking – “give me a program to keep, give me a set of works to do, give me a moral law to keep – I’ll strive at it; I’ll improve.” Man’s answers direct us to ourselves and what we can do. But ‘ourselves’ is the very thing that falls short.
Even man’s version of the Christian religion – the Christian faith as understood by natural man and my sinful nature – will only point me to depending on myself by teaching me to depend on my own keeping of God’s Law for liberation from sin’s slavery.
What’s the first, natural response to slavery to sin? To lay God’s commandments on thicker. “Change your ways! Do it right!” “Keep the Law!” Just stop sinning so much and you won’t be such a slave to sin, right?
Jesus said, “Abide in my Word.” What does Holy Scripture, Christ’s Word, teach me about His Law’s relationship to my slavery to sin? Freeing me from sin’s slavery is not what God’s Law does.
Instead, as we read in our Epistle today, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin”, “So that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” [Roman 3:19-20].
God’s Law shows us our sin. God’s Law stings us with the knowledge of our slavery. The Law always accuses and condemns us. God’s Law does this so that we may look for our God-given Savior. “For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – By sending His own Son.” [Romans 8:3].
What I cannot do – what even God’s Law had no power to do – God Himself has done by sending His own Son. The Truth of what God has done for me in Jesus is the Truth that sets me free.
Sin enslaves to death and hell. The Law condemns. Jesus, who is free, on the Cross died a Slave’s Death and was Condemned in your place. Sin and death were put to death in the flesh of Jesus. The righteous requirement of the Law was fulfilled in Him for you. It’s yours. He did it. You are free.
On the cross, He got our death sentence. In His resurrection, He shares with us His innocent verdict. He is counted the sinner, and, in Him, the sinner is counted righteous. He did it all.
That is your freedom. Something outside of you that has been done for you. God is still “the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of slavery.”
Today is Reformation Sunday. Jesus said, “Abide in my Word; know the Truth; the Truth will set you free.” The Lutheran Reformation is nothing other than the rejection of man’s version of Christianity. As the Church has existed so long in this world and has become part of this world’s social and civic structure, the faith of the Church has been refashioned by sin-broken man’s way of thinking.
Man is still insisting, “We’ve never been slaves to anyone!” – denying our slavery to sin. Man still insists, “We can liberate ourselves.” This is nothing other than the devil’s faith and man’s rejection of the true Christ and what He has done.
Jesus alone is the Son who sets the slaves free. We have this Truth and its benefits by faith:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” [Romans 3:21-28]
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Ephesians 2:5-9]
Whether I live in this Republic or under any dictatorship or regime, the biggest threat to my freedom isn’t political. Instead, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Therefore, the greatest Truth for us to proclaim isn’t political. Instead, we proclaim, as first importance, that truth of God’s Word which sets us free indeed.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Thanks be to God for that true freedom found by faith in His one and only Son, Jesus, who died and rose to make slaves free. Amen.