Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Freedom.” It is hard to miss the theme of freedom in our text from John. Freedom is also a slippery word. It can mean a many different things for many different people. For some the mention of freedom is closely tied with the political realm. Freedom is about democracy and the ability to elect our own representatives. Others will link freedom closely to the economic sphere. Freedom is about the free-market, and the great range of choices before many consumers. Some people use the language of freedom to speak about their right of self-determination. Freedom is about the ability to do whatever you want, to gratify your own desires, without being hindered or controlled. And since this is Reformation Sunday, it’s useful to remember that freedom was a major concern for many of the Reformers. They wanted freedom from certain traditions and superstitions which Rome was commanding apart from God’s Word. The Reformers insisted that many of Rome’s precepts and regulations did not earn forgiveness or favour with God. One of Martin Luther’s most famous writings is “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he wrote in 1520 just before he was excommunicated. In fact, in our text, Jesus talks about this last kind of freedom, Christian freedom, the freedom offered by the Gospel.
Freedom is Granted to Slaves
We enter into the middle of a dispute between Jesus and the Judeans. In this case, the misunderstanding arises out of what it means to be free. When Jesus mentions slavery the Judeans think he’s talking about physical slavery. (They seem to have forgotten about their slavery in Egypt). But of course our Lord was speaking of spiritual slavery, and those who rightly understood what he was saying chose to deny their condition. We see the same kind of denial today. People often refuse to accept the truth about themselves. If we suggest to someone that they are enslaved, they usually resist the idea. The more enslaved they are, the more they may resent being told the truth.
The truth is that we are all sinners. When we talk about sin, we’re not talking simply about specific deeds. Sin is far more than simply doing bad things, thinking bad thoughts, saying bad words. It goes much deeper than that. It is an underlying condition, a chronic illness. Our thoughts and deeds are a reflection of our heart. We are not sinners because we commit this or that sin. No, we sin because we are sinners.
Do you sin? Well, in case you’re not sure, the commandments say you do. Do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Do you use the name of God rightly in worship and prayer? Do you gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do you honour father, mother, and other temporal authorities? Do you help you neighbour in every need? Do you keep marriage pure and encourage others to do the same? Do you help your neighbour protect his property? Do you defend the reputation of others by putting the best construction on everything? Do you desire what doesn’t belong to you? Are you content with what you have?
And do you know what our problem is? We deny the truth about ourselves: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). In other words, we can convince ourselves that there is nothing really wrong with us. All we need is some good advice and a self-help manual or two and things will be fine. Far too many stubbornly persist in the delusion that humanity is fundamentally good! Surely our church-going and charitable giving and general all-around respectability is proof enough! That’s not what Jesus says. “Everyone who commits sins is a slave to Sin.” Sin is our master and we joyfully do its bidding. But Sin is the hardest task-master of all. Misery and disappointment in life, despair and hell in the death — those are the only wages that Sin pays to its slaves. We are born enslaved, captive to Sin and Death. We cannot free ourselves. We’re stuck. And any attempts to free ourselves will only make matters worse. If we are going to talk about true freedom, then we need to realise that only slaves can be set free.
Freedom is Granted by the Son through the Word
Don’t think that freedom from Sin and Death come from within — from inside of yourself. You don’t free yourself. You don’t have it in you to free yourself. No, freedom does not come from within, but from outside of you. The key to freedom is the Lord Jesus Christ: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Out of great mercy, the Son of God was sent down to us, to become one of us, to join us in our humanity. The Son of God stood along side slaves to free slaves. We could not free ourselves, so the Son of God became one of us. He who was without sin, committed himself to make restitution for the sins of the whole world. Jesus freely and willingly endured the agony of the cross to atone for sin. He paid what you owe. He paid it all with his blood.
The day of freedom has come! The slaves have been freed. Freedom has come because there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). This is the most important news you can possibly hear: your enemies of sin and death have been destroyed by Christ crucified and risen. He was sent so that, when we turn to God, we might receive freedom through him. We are justified, we please God, for the sake of the Christ, without merit on our part, freely, through faith. We are not favoured because we have been faithful, but because of Jesus! The Son became the slave so that the slave might become a son. And if the Son sets you free, you are free as free can be.
That Son says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). When the Word of forgiveness and life is preached and taught, your Lord Christ wants you to hear it, learn it, and trust it. Jesus sets us free from our slavery to sin and he does so through his Word. Abide in his Word; continue in it. His word is the truth and he works through it. The power of Baptism to save is not due to the water, but because Christ’s Word with the water works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this. By his almighty Word, Christ’s body and blood are truly present and offered with the bread and wine. Your sins are forgiven because the Lord Jesus, in his Word, has authorised his Church to absolve all who repent and believe. Whenever that Word comes to you, Christ is there to set you free.
That’s what Martin Luther discovered when He looked at the cross of Jesus and for the first time in his life saw mercy rather than merit. Instead of earning his salvation by doing what good was in him, he realised that he was a slave to sin. He heard that phrase “the righteousness of God” and realised that this was not something you worked for but something God did for you. Forgiveness is given as a gift through faith. In his fear and despair, he finally heard that the Law of God, no matter how holy and good and just it is, cannot save. It can only silence you by showing that you are accountable to God (Rom. 3:19).
But the good news that propelled the Reformation is that God declares the unrighteous to be righteous. God justifies the ungodly. Case dismissed. All charges dropped. He declares the sinner forgiven and acceptable because of Jesus. All have sinned; all fall short of the glory of God; they are now are justified by God’s grace, through faith. This is not earned, but a gift, given freely because Jesus blood has won the redemption.
In Jesus you are free. You are free from the guilt and consequences of sin by the blood of Christ. Justified, pardoned, forgiven. You can look forward boldly to the day of judgment, and cry, “Who will bring any charge against me? Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:33-34). You are freed from the power of sin by the undeserved, unearned, mercy of Christ. Sin is no longer your master. Through the Word you are renewed, converted, sanctified, you put sin to death and are no longer led captive by it. Freedom like this, is enjoyed by all who cling to Christ by faith, and commit themselves to Him. In Christ, we are free. Freedom like this, is will be our portion for evermore. Death cannot stop it. The grave will not hold it. Those whom Christ makes free are free to all eternity. Why? Because, “we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law,” (Rom. 3:28). That, dear brothers and sisters, is your blood-bought freedom. Treasure it. Abide in it.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.