Free Indeed / The 504th Anniversary of the Reformation

John 8:31-36

Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 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.

A park ranger was once caught in a blizzard high in the Rocky Mountains. As a result of the storm, he became lost. It was only by the grace of God that he eventually saw a cabin and crawling to the door with his last ounce of strength, he found it unlocked and crawled in. But being dazed and near exhaustion as he was, he didn’t light a fire or take off his wet clothing. Instead, he laid on the floor sinking into oblivion. And there he would have stayed and died except his dog, a St. Bernard, who came into the cabin after him. He saw his master lying on the floor and came to arouse him from his near comatose state. The ranger later said that it was the dog that had saved his life, the dog that had roused him awake and made him realize how desperate his situation was. For you see, when you’re freezing to death, you actually feel warm all over, and don’t want to wake up because it feels too good.

It occurs to me that there are some people who are in a similar spiritual state of mind as well. They don’t realize the state of sin they’re in. Everything seems good. They don’t see their need for Christ. They feel they’re really handling their salvation pretty well by themselves. But as Paul says, all boasting can’t be included because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and can be justified only by God’s free gift of grace in Christ Jesus. It’s only through faith in Christ Jesus that we can be set free from sin, death and the power of the devil. But many are still numb to the truth.

Jesus runs into some of those today. The verse just prior to our text today tells us that as Jesus was speaking, many put their faith in Him. But as Jesus continues to bring God’s word concerning Himself and God’s people, they begin to object. The faith of many within the crowd that day will only go so far, and they begin to grow numb to the truth that Jesus reveals. They’re numb to their being slaves to sin. In fact, they’re so numb to the idea of being slaves that they won’t even accept the reality of being subject to the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers guarded every major city. A Roman Governor held the seat of power in their capital city of Jerusalem, yet they defiantly claim that we are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free? But the idea of being bound to anything or anyone doesn’t fit with their self-elevating notions. Sin can’t touch them. Their tie to Abraham is their guarantee, as much as an indulgence was during the days of Luther.

One the chief driving forces behind Luther’s reform of the church was the Vatican’s sale of indulgences to raise funds for the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. For a fee, German peasants could purchase a piece of paper guaranteeing complete protection against sin. They were numb to the truth that the wages of sin is not a contribution, but eternal death and that apart from faith in Christ they were still lost. There was a great need to return to the Word of God and Luther nailed it, even as His Savior had nailed it before. There was a great need for the proclamation of the truth, even as there still is today.

Indulgences are pretty much a thing of the past. And while the Jews may still pride themselves on their tie to Abraham, most of us as Christians know, people are still numb to the truth of their humanity. Indulgence papers or not, there’s still a tendency to think that mankind is inherently good. There’s still an attempt on the part of many deny that there’s anything wrong with us or anything we do.

Never admit that anything is wrong. That sounds like the crisis strategy of a whole host of people I know. Why, I’m not above having used it myself! Deny, deny, deny. The idea of confession, or admission of wrong is seen as a weakness, as a recipe for disaster.

But look at its results. That course of action leaves people to live a lie. Worse yet, many live with the guilt of living that lie, knowing they’re a fraud; and dreading the day that they’ll be discovered for who they really are. They’re imprisoned to keeping up the illusion of being right because they know nothing else.

Jesus exposes the hidden truth. We’re sinners. Let’s just admit it. No one is righteous. The Law of God’s Word makes us conscious of the fact. Be freed from keeping up appearances. But that’s only the half of the freedom the truth of God’s Word affords.

There’s a righteousness to behold and claim. It’s a “righteousness,” not of our own making or appearances; but gifted to us nonetheless by God’s Son. It’s a righteousness bestowed on account of faith on all who believe because we have a brother, a friend, a fellow Son.

That’s the invitation and gift Jesus gives in the closing verses of our text. The one who is enslaved to sin, separated from God, tied up in guilt; can find freedom in the Son through whom they can be made a fellow member in God’s household and a joint-heir together with the Son who has set them free. We have a friend, and that makes all the difference.

Why do we wear the clothes we do? Why do we buy the kinds of cars we drive? Aren’t our choices often about “being” somebody? When we enter a room full of strangers, what do we want to do? We make connections. People will ask us about our work about where we’re from, about our ambitions. Why? It’s because relationships, connections, and reputations make us somebody in the eyes of others. We often feel we must in order to make it in our world.

But with our friends, that is our “real” friends, we can get beyond these surface activities and be ourselves. With friends we get to the vulnerable places of self, places where we don’t have to win anything anymore. We dare to be ourselves. They love us knowing us. We never have to hide our wounds, our weaknesses, or our deficiencies. There’s nothing to prove. Friends are those with whom we can be ourselves, make ourselves vulnerable, admit our wrongs; all while knowing their vulnerabilities too.

That’s what we have with Jesus. Not that He had any sins of His own. Nevertheless, He who had no sin, made Himself vulnerable to our sin and death on the cross. He who had no sin of His own, gave Himself to bear our sin’s guilt on the cross and to make Himself subject to our death. He did so, not as a new lawgiver, but as a sacrifice redeemer to set us free, free to confess our sins to one who understands, free to stand before our God just as we’re trusting in Christ’s forgiving love that makes us right with God, and free to be more of what we’ve been created to be.

So many people look for that freedom, but miss it. They miss it because they believe that freedom is found in being independent of any and all things except themselves. The curious thing about this is that the self has a way of using its freedom to hurry on back to some form of bondage. That’s because by nature it’s already bound to sin. Christ is the answer.

It’s like a guitar string. A string on a guitar can be free. It can be rolled up and placed in a package. It’s free. But it’s not free to be what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to do. That only happens when it’s strung down the long neck of a guitar and the keys are turned and tightened until it’s taut. Its freedom comes, not in being separated from everything; but in being set apart to be in something. And so is ours.

Our freedom is in Christ who has not only set us free from sin’s guilt but would also break its powerful hold. Our freedom is in Christ who enables us to live anew, not out of fear or an attempt to keep up appearances, but out of a love for Him who first loved us. Our freedom is in Christ who would make the “Reformation” of the church more than an event in 1517 that we remember. It’s an ongoing reality for each of us today as we hear God’s Word and abide in its truth, spoken in Christ, His Son, our Savior. Remaining in Him and His Word, you’re free. Free indeed. Amen!