The Truth That [Who] Sets You Free

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So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘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).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text, like many other passages of Scripture, is often misused and taken out of context. The words “the truth will set you free” are isolated, so that any learning that might help us to find “truth” (whatever that may be) is praised. We see the words on libraries and as secular college mottoes. We hear them on the lips of our post-modern intellectual leaders and politicians. But we don’t hear Whose Word reveals the truth that sets us free. We don’t hear Who is the Truth that sets us free. And we don’t hear what it means to be really, truly free. And unfortunately this is not limited to the outside world. This goes on in many a church body that calls itself Christian—even among a number of them that claim to be spiritual descendants of the Reformer, Martin Luther.
So, what is the proper context? Jesus originally spoke the words of our text to those whose belief in Him was superficial. They were “hangers on” but not really disciples. And just as there’s no such thing as “almost pregnant,” there is no such thing as “almost a disciple.” You either are or you are not. Discipleship means accepting all of Jesus’ teaching and remaining faithful to it. That’s what He means when He says to “abide in My Word”—to hold to His teaching.
The message of the Scriptures rediscovered 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 true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin. We are free from the power of death to destroy us. And we are free to live for Jesus and for others.
But how do we live in this freedom without letting it go to our head? Or without falling back into slavery? How will our faith in Christ’s promise be sustained? These are questions Jesus addresses in our text, where Jesus lets us listen to his extended conversation with the Jewish leaders and people.
As a result of Jesus’ Word, some had believed in Him. And thank God they did!  But not everyone who followed Jesus was one of His own. What separates a true disciple from those with only a casual interest? Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples.” Abide: It means remain in, rely on, live in. Jesus is saying: “If you remain in… if you rely on… if you live in My teaching, then you are really one of My disciples.” You see, the Word of God is what works faith in a person. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ,” St. Paul writes (Romans 10:17).
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 abides in us. The longer a person who has been brought to faith in Jesus stays away from the Word, the weaker faith becomes. Eventually, if faith is not nourished again by the Word, it will die.
The Word of God is the food of faith, the air faith breathes, and the fuel faith burns. Without the Word constantly nourishing and sustaining faith, our faith dies. There is no other way. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus said, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Scripture says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Church of Christ is sustained and given life and freedom through the Word and through the Word alone. We know this. That’s why the Lutheran Church is the Church of the Bible. “Scripture alone!” is one of our Reformation watchwords.
So… how many of you regularly read and study the Bible? I have to admit, not as much as I should either. Do you think the devil knows “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” as the Scripture says (Hebrews 4:12)? Of course, he knows that! That’s why the devil works so hard to keep people from the Word. That’s why he tries so hard to keep pastors from doing their best to preach the Word. That’s why he works so hard to divide people from their pastors. Whatever it takes the devil is constantly trying to get us away from the Word of God, because he knows that’s where the freedom is. Without the Word of God, we are still slaves of sin. “If you abide in My Word… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus said.
Writing about this passage, Luther says: “The true disciple remains… [in] the Word of God, saying: ‘I am helpless. May God help me. It all rests in His hands. He promised and said: “Just cling to the Word, and I will uphold you.” When you find yourself in any extremity or distress, you will learn to continue in God’s Word. This will liberate you make you a true disciple…Truth does not consist in merely hearing Christ… but also in believing in your heart and experiencing with your heart that Christ wants to set you free.”   
“You will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.”
But the Jews respond, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Never enslaved to anyone? Right then and there, they were slaves to the Roman Empire. And that wasn’t the half of it. Because they didn’t see their need for the Word of God, they were slaves of sin—a slavery far worse.
Before we look down on them, let’s look at ourselves. Have you ever thought: “I don’t have to come to Bible class. I learned it all years ago in confirmation. At least as much as I need to know”? This is one of the devil’s favorite tricks: to convince us we really don’t need to know all that much of the Word of God. “I was born a Lutheran, confirmed a Lutheran, married in the Lutheran Church, and I’ll be buried a Lutheran,” someone told a friend of mine. When asked, “Well, don’t you have to at least come to church once in a while?” he said, “Why?” What a sad attitude! When we think we learned all we need to know years ago and have no more need to hear and study the Word, as though God has nothing more teach us—we are actually despising the Word of God. When we hear a sermon and, like, an audience at a movie, judge the message on how well it entertains us, instead hungering and thirsting for a deeper understanding of the Word of God, we are despising that Word. And that is a most dangerous sin!
Here Jesus exposes our real problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever.”
“Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That gets us all. No one is left out here. You’ve sinned? You’re a slave. Sin is your master.
Can you free yourself? (Pause)  No. Have you ever known anyone who stopped sinning? (Pause)  Anyone who claims he’s stopped sinning is in the worst sort of denial. He is already full of the sin of pride and self-worship and, ironically, is even more enslaved to sin.
That’s why Jesus invites us to confess our slavery to sin, so that His Word can bring His freedom. And with confession, Jesus also rouses in us a hunger for the Word. For in the Word, we come to know the truth, and knowing the truth in the Word is what sets us free. “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.”
Free from sin, free from fear, free from death. Free from slavery! 
The Word was written down in the Scriptures, not to give us a list of dos and don’ts or suggestions to give life purpose or teach us how to live a victorious life. The Scriptures are given to unfold for us the precious gifts God gives in Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us. The Bible is all about Jesus and what the Father gives in Him. It is His book, His words. His Spirit inspired it from the first words of Genesis to the last amen of Revelation.
This book preaches into our hearts the truth that is Jesus, and it is this truth that kindles faith and keeps it alive. And the truth that is Jesus is the truth heard from a cross, the true cross, the true Word of forgiveness and of freedom. Jesus speaks it on every page. He alone can speak it, for He alone has carried the sin of the world—even the sin of not listening to him and not wanting to hear what He has to say. He has carried it all. It’s all been forgiven.
To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery: freed from our callous disregard of the Word, freed to listen, to love, to treasure, and to keep the Word. “You have been born again,” Peter says, “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flowers of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the Good News that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-35). That Word is the truth that sets you free!  That Word lasts forever. That Word makes you last forever.
Again, Luther has a vivid way of putting it: “This doctrine proves its worth when death approaches, when the devil speaks to you and says: ‘You are forsaken by God, you are steeped in sin.’ It is also invaluable when your conscience denounces you. At such a time it is not a doctrine composed of mere letters and words, but a living doctrine, one that does not tell you what to do what to say, but how to live, how to defend and preserve your life against death, and how to escape the jaws of the devil…
“This freedom is attained when I have faith in Christ and believe that He suffered and died for me. This is what liberates me from sin—[nothing I do]; but it is solely Christ’s redemptive work. For no one else was born of Mary, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and so ascended into heaven than this one Man, Christ. Outside of Him there is no one in heaven or on earth, not even any angel, who could help us. Therefore we must cling solely to this Man and acknowledge Him alone as our Savior.”
This is why we have a special Reformation service. Not just to remember something that happened almost five hundred years ago, but so that God’s Word can do what it does in our lives and hearts now.
So that we are reformed by the Word.
So that our churches are pulled back into the Word of God.
So that we hear again the Son say to us today—Go in peace, you are free!  Free to live in Christ and for others. Free from sin and the power of death to destroy us. Free from the condemnation of the Law. Free to live joyfully as a son or daughter of God. Free to live in the house forever.
Freedom! In Christ, the Word of life: “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says in Galatians. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Abide in the Word of Jesus, my friends. Only His Word brings freedom and life. Christ has broken all the powers that enslave us. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
You are truly free. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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