Text: John 8:31-36
There’s a very real, terrifying statement that appears in our Epistle reading for today, one that is not something we want to hear, and yet it is needed for us to hear: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” There it is. I said it, but I don’t like it: I’m a sinner. But at least I find myself in good company because all of you are there along with me. That’s about as Law as Law can get. If there was only a way to turn that negative into a positive. Fortunately for all of us, there is. That positive comes in our Gospel from John 8 for this Reformation Day: “So if the Son set you free, you will be free indeed.”
Once you have heard the Law, you need to hear the Gospel. Once you have been assaulted with the truth of your sinfulness, you need to hear what happens to that sin. Unfortunately, there are different responses to what happens to that sin or what could happen. 500 years ago, the prominent teaching of the Church was that sin could be forgiven by Jesus. But it could also be forgiven by indulgences, praying to saints or relics, or just downright paying to have your sins forgiven. But that’s not what Paul says in Romans. He says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Whatever you do or try to do to earn your salvation, it’s man’s work. That means that man is in the driver’s seat and that never works because man is sinful. That’s a problem for you because you can’t save yourself. But in reality, that’s a not a problem for you; rather, it’s a blessing! Paul goes on to say, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law….” So, God has made it clear that the Law won’t save you. He also makes it clear who does save you: “[we] 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.”
You see, the work of salvation is solely that of God through Jesus. Where are you in this equation? You’ve already done your part in this – you’ve sinned. And because you have sinned, that means that you are excluded from the work of salvation. And so, your salvation comes from outside of you through Jesus.
Why is this teaching so important? Because it’s the true Gospel that leads to salvation. It was that Gospel that was hidden from the people 500 years ago. That’s why it’s all the more important for us to hear our Gospel today: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is the Gospel my friends. The Gospel is Jesus. The Gospel is Jesus for you. That’s what was missing when the Reformation began.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are indeed slaves to our sin. Those at the time of Jesus didn’t think they were slaves. They even tell Jesus, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Despite all the times God’s people were made slaves, they missed the greater point that they were slaves to their sin. Prior to our text, Jesus tells them, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” He then follows up by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The only one who can set you free from sin is Jesus; the only problem was that they didn’t believe it.
At first, even Luther failed to believe it. He knew that he was trapped, but he thought it was the fact that he was sinful that was causing his slavery. He could never find freedom from that. And in a way, no one, Christian or non-Christian, ever can. We remain sinful even today. And nothing can change that fact. Nothing can redeem us from our sins except Jesus, and that was what the Jews needed to hear from Jesus, that’s what Luther needed to hear from Jesus, and that’s what you need to hear from Jesus.
You need the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven. The truth is only found in Jesus Christ and what He has done. The truth is that you “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could keep the Law. Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could do any good work to earn your salvation. Instead, you “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….”
Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been shown the truth. It is through that truth that God sets His people free, for it reveals Jesus and His work of salvation; through the Gospel He comes to a person and makes that person a believer in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. When a person believes in Christ, he is freed from being a slave to spiritual falsehoods, freed from believing in all that deceives and gives false salvation.
Paul writes a profound truth to the Galatians, one that is a profound truth to us all: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” The message of the Scriptures uncovered by the Reformation is that by faith in Christ, before God we are free, saved by God’s grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. And this is the true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin, free from the power of death to destroy us, and free to live for Jesus and for others.
But now Jesus adds, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Abide: It means remain, sit down in, rely on, live in my teaching. You see, the Word of God is what works faith in a person. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” Scripture says. But faith not only originates in the Word; the Word of God is also what keeps faith alive. Faith always comes from the outside in. So, for faith to stay alive, not just strong or growing, but to stay alive, we must abide in the Word of God and the Word of God abide in us.
The truth will set you free. The truth is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all slaves to sin. What a comfort it is then to hear the words that end today’s Gospel. “The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God Himself is the truth that sets us free. To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery.
There is nothing that any of us can do to gain heaven. Salvation is entirely a gift of God. A gift is something freely given, which the giver expects no payment in return. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to put a price tag on that salvation by indulgences and works. As we read the Scriptures, there is only one price tag for our salvation and that is the blood of Christ. It is the price that was to be paid for a gift that was to be freely given.
When one hears the teaching of the Church at Luther’s time, how could one accept it? How could you accept that God sent His very Son to take on human form, to live a sinless life, to die for your sinful life so that you may receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, but in order to receive all of this, you have to do something to earn it! That is not a gift! That is something that which you earn yourself. That’s not what the Scriptures teach.
Salvation, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as found in Scripture alone, is the basis of our daily Christian life because that is what the Word of God teaches. The Reformation and the work of Luther was nothing more than opening the eyes of God’s people to His holy Word so we may see that this wonderful gift of faith is ours, not because of what you and I do, but it is ours solely because of what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.