That is beautiful Gospel.
But when the Jews heard Jesus say this, they balked at it. He 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.” And they said, “Yeah, yeah, that sounds good . . . but wait a second, you said we will be set free? We are the holy and privileged descendants of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone, what do you mean, we will be set free?”
And Jesus said, “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Life can be deceptive. It is easy for us human beings to get feeling very free. Many people think that being free, means being in control of all aspects of your life -- being self-reliant, self-determined, self-sustaining. Unfortunately, many think that they are free because no one, nothing is in control of them, but rather, they themselves are in control of the things of their life and their death. Does freedom mean that you can say, “I am in control – control of my own destiny, control of my own decisions, free to make my own choices?”
How’s it sound to you when Jesus says “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Human nature wants to say, “no way, I’m free. And I’m free especially when it comes to sin. I can take it or leave it. I’m completely in control.”
And Jesus says, “You sin. You are a slave to sin.”
Anyone who says that they are free when it comes to sin is like that dog on a long chain. When the cat goes walking by, teasing and tempting him, the dog runs and momentarily forgets his bounds and limits until the chain snaps taut, and the dog is violently brought back to the reality of his bondage.
Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. You may forget that from time to time but the chain will snap taut and you’ll feel that bondage. Sins cause hurt relationships and heartbreaks. Sin brings shame and guilt and disappointment with yourself. And sin ultimately, for us and for our human race, leads to death.
Today we celebrate the reformation of the Christian Church and the restoration of the Gospel, the proclamation of our full salvation through Jesus Christ.
But what the reformation also had to do was restore the pure proclamation of God’s Law to the Christian Church. For the pure Gospel to be rightly told, and heard and believed, you had to have the Law of God rightly taught and understood. The Law of God is more than just a taskmaster giving slaves more to do, which it does, but more than that, the Law has to show us our depravity.
When you listen carefully to the Lord, you will hear his law, his clear and awe-inspiring law. The law will teach you what God wants, in the face of what you want. The law will give you what God demands, in the face of what you have been performing. The law will show you God’s perfect plan for life, in the face of your disappointing attempts to live. The law of the Lord, when you clearly understand it, will make it clear to you that you are not in control.
Sinful, rebellious human nature has always wanted to be free and in control of its own destiny and so historically errors crept into the Christian Church. Errors that were meant to allow people to feel as though they could get a little more control over their life and death. In the time leading up to the Reformation, people were given some things to do so that they could feel in control of the stuff that really belongs to God’s control. There were pilgrimages to be made, and rote recitation of prayers and the reverence of saints and their relics. There were indulgences that could be paid. And people had the feeling that, “here’s things I can do. And my destiny will be in my control.” You see, what those things did was weaken the law so that it seemed manageable, like something you could control and deal with yourself. The reformation restored the pure teaching of the law in all its severity. Sinners were shown their helpless condition so that they would then clean to Jesus alone and His Gospel as the only help and salvation.
Be careful not to take the law of God lightly. Don’t ever think it is something manageable, that you can do whatever it might take to control such things. If you think you have got it all under control and you are living your life good enough to be justified under the law, Listen to Jesus, “If you sin, you are a slave to sin.”
You are a slave pretending to be free, you are just fooling yourself. You are like a convict who escapes from prison and runs free. Yes, he may feel free momentarily, but the days ahead will be an existence trapped in the paranoia of constantly looking over his shoulder, constantly on the run, on the lam, constantly limited in where he can go, who he can see, what he can do. He isn’t in control. He hasn’t chosen his own freedom. He would never be free without the declaration of his freedom from another, the state officially declaring Him freed.
In the same way, you can’t find your own freedom, you can’t pretend to be free, you can’t truly be free without the declaration of your freedom from another.
“So If the Son sets you free, you will be Free Indeed”
Jesus, who died for you, who forgives you all your sins, who promises you eternal life in His family, has this to say to you. You are free. Free indeed.
You are free from sin. It has been washed away and the guilt and shame are gone. Jesus knows when you have been disappointed in yourself, realizing that you were just pretending to be in control, when in reality, you were just proving again, that your passions, and your selfishness, and your sinful pride were in control. Listen to Jesus tell you, “Your sins are forgiven, you are free -- free indeed”.
So you are free from the condemnation that those sins deserved. Romans 3 the Reformation epistle reading comes true to you today and will be true to you on judgment day. “[You] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24) when it comes time for judgment, therefore, you are free – free indeed.
You are free to live. And freedom does not simply mean self determination, being in control of you own life. No, better than that, you are free to live the life you’ve been given as a Child of God and a part of His eternal kingdom.
You are free from anxiety. When you sense that you aren’t in control of your life or your death, you are now free from worry and fear about such things. You are free to sing A Mighty Fortress, Luther’s Hymn based on Psalm 46. No matter what terrors might happen: “take they our life, goods, fame child, and wife, may these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the Kingdom ours remaineth.”
And in all of life, there is no place where we feel more out of control than at the death bed. The chains of death seem to close in and strangle tight. And we gasp and we look around for someone who has the key to unlock them. And no one has ever escaped that slavery of death, except one. And Jesus holds that key. And He says to you and to me and all the saints, living and departed, “You are free, free indeed.”