Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Reformation Day (Observed)
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Sermon: Reformation Freedom
Text: John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28
Focus: Jesus frees us from our bondage to sin by his forgiveness and death on the cross.
Function: That by faith they would believe Jesus’ Word of freedom and forgiveness.
Locus: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…” (SC, 3rd Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. On this Reformation Day, listen to the words of Jesus: “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, ESV).1
“The truth will set you free.” That is what Jesus says. But many of us are seasoned skeptics who, like Pontius Pilate, quip, “What is truth?” (John 18:18). And whose truth? In our post-modern, relativistic age, we live in a world that no longer believes in absolute truths, especially not the truth of God’s Word. “What’s true for you is true for me, and what’s true for me is true for me.” Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, the Virgin Mary—take your pick! One mountain, many paths. I’m okay, you’re okay.
But we are not okay! We are fallen sinners trapped by our sins with no way of escape. We are living a lie, denying the truth about ourselves. We keep on dancing and drinking at the ball, pretending that the music is never going to stop. But the music will end someday, and we will have to face the music.
The Jews in our Gospel reading were unwilling to face the music and admit the truth about themselves. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?’” (John 8:33). Never been slaves of anyone? Who are we fooling? What about 430 years of slavery in Egypt? What about 70 years of exile in Babylon? What about the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and Judea? Never been slaves of anyone? What about slaves to sin?!
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). We are all slaves to sin. We are “under the law,” in the words of the Apostle Paul (Rom. 3:19). And we are under the thumb of the Law’s impossible requirements and Satan’s inevitable accusations. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
None of us is good enough to earn our way into heaven. None of us is rich enough to buy our way. And none of us is clever enough to haggle our way in. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are trapped by our sins, shackled with guilt and
1 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
shame. Never been slaves of anyone? We are slaves to sin with no concept or hope of freedom until Christ comes.
Many people are surprised to learn that Lutherans deny free will in fallen sinners. (The Formula of Concord deals with this extensively.) Human beings have absolutely no free will in spiritual matters because of what Luther called the bondage of the will. We are slaves to sin. Our wills our bound to do what is bad and evil. There is no divine spark, no inner light, no scintilla of righteousness. It will not do to “do what is in you,” as Luther was told to do. All that is in me is evil and sin—until Christ comes.
We have no freedom until Christ comes into our hearts. But as we hear and believe his Word, our freedom is restored to us.
Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:35-36). Freedom comes from Christ! Freedom is found in the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross when he poured out his blood and died for our sins. That is the truth that sets you free! That is the Good News!
So you see, saying that we’re all okay is not the same thing as speaking the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus. Rather, we are engaged in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace: “the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (Cost of Discipleship). But cheap grace is the way of slavery and death.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). We are liars until we admit our fault and confess our sins. We are unrighteous until the Lord declares us righteous (that is justification). That is why Paul tells us, we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). We are slaves to sin until the Son of God sets us free! We deny the truth until we let Christ have his way with us. He is both “just” and “the justifier of the one who has faith” (Rom. 3:26). That is God’s honest Truth!
“What is truth?” Christ and his Word are the truth (John 14:6; 17:17). Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). Not only is Christ the highest truth; he is the only Truth. He is the Truth that sets you free! He tells you the truth about yourself: that you are a sinner in need of grace, a slave in need of freedom. And he tells you the truth about God: that God loves you and forgives you and sent his Son to die for you. That is the truth! “And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:37). In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Chris Matthis