Free At Last
A sermon preached on John 8:31-36 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD on November 3, 2019.
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:31-36
“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Martin Luther King Jr. finished his famous I Have a Dream speech with those powerful words. We care about freedom as Americans. As we celebrate Reformation this week, I am very thankful for the freedom of religion we enjoy here.
Yet, when I look out at our country, I see many, many people who are not free. In fact, they are slaves. Not for reasons that are debated today like racial inequality, a gender gap, or someone’s orientation. They’re slaves to sin and their own sinful natures. Today, Jesus shows us what true freedom is. And we see in Jesus, we truly are Free At Last! 1. Freed by the Word 2. Freed from slavery 3. Free to serve.
We join Jesus as he speaks to Jews who had believed in him as they saw his miracles but started to fall away when they realized following Jesus involved more than getting free bread. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Spiritually speaking, most people don’t know what true freedom is. Most people think getting to do what I want, when I want is true freedom. The teenager can’t wait to leave their parents’ home and rules. There are people that view it as true freedom to identify as whatever gender they want. Yet, that’s not actually freedom.
There’s only one thing that can truly set a person free and it’s God’s Word. One of the key foundations of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura – “by Scripture alone.” Everything we do and teach as Lutherans is based on the Word of God and nothing else. So convinced of this truth was the first Martin Luther that when the Catholic church threatened his life unless he took back his preaching against the false teachings of the church, he proclaimed: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scripture or by clear reason… I am bound by the Scriptures… and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
What led Luther to such conviction? He had been led to believe Jesus when he said: “I tell you the truth.” The Bible, Jesus’ Words, they are the truth. And Jesus says of this Word: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Free from what? God’s Word sets me free from the lie that doing what I want is freedom. That’s a lie from the father of lies: the devil. The devil has been lying since the world began. He whispered in Eve’s ear “You will not surely die.” He lied to Adam and Eve and convinced them that God was somehow holding out on them, restricting them. He told them that if they disobeyed God and ate the fruit he told them not to, then they would be happy; then they would be free. You tell me if they felt free after they sinned and realized what they had done.
And the devil continues to recycle the same lie again and again because we never make him change it. He comes and whispers in our ears “You will not surely die. Throw off God’s restraints. Do what you want. Then you’ll be free. There’s freedom in sinning.”
It’s a lie. Ask the alcoholic trapped in their own lie how free they are to quit. Ask the person caught cheating how much freedom they enjoy when everything they do is now viewed with suspicion. Ask the person addicted to drugs how free they are to be themselves without them. Ask the person addicted to pornography how free they are as it slowly consumes their thoughts. The devil promises freedom in following your sinful nature. But it’s a lie.
Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And I realize how impossible it is to save myself. A slave has no free will. They can’t do what they want. And every time I sin, I chain myself back to my enslavement. I can’t manage or control my sin. It always snowballs out of control. I might start small by saying at least I’m better than the crazies out in the world. It easily turns into looking down on others in church with me. And before I know it, I’m acting like I deserve heaven because I’ve earned it. And I’m humbled by Jesus’ warning: “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family.” I deserve no place with God for my sin.
That’s why I need to see again what Jesus says about the truth. Jesus says “the truth will set you free.” The truth matters. In a time consumed by Fake News and an age of spin – the truth will set you free. This is more than “honesty is the best policy.” No, the truth of God’s Word sets me free.
God’s Word is true. Right after sin entered into the world in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Savior to fix it – and that was true. God made more promises. The Savior would live for us. He would die for us. Yet, he would not see decay. He promised he would pay our punishment. He would take on our sin and guilt. And it’s all true. Because God’s Word is true, I can trust it when it promises: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). You are pure and forgiven in Jesus.
The drunk finds forgiveness. The adulterer is forgiven. The addict forgiven. Jesus suffered in your place: “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
“But a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” You have been set free and are part of God’s family. That’s freedom. You are members of God’s family. And there’s no qualifiers or adjectives added to being a Christian. You’re not the black sheep of the family. You’re not the drunk-aunt. You’re not the creepy-uncle. You are sons and daughters of God. And he sees you as that – purified in Jesus.
So you have been set free. Set free to serve. The Apostle Paul once said: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). To the world, a life of serving Jesus is not freedom. But you have seen differently. It is sin that is slavery. Forgiven by Jesus, you are now free to choose to serve Jesus. You are free to say no to sin and yes to Jesus.
And that’s true freedom. Following Jesus, holding to his teachings, even ones I don’t rationally understand gives me freedom. I’m free from the regret and guilt that comes with sin. I’m free to have a life that has true meaning as I bask in God’s forgiveness and share that joy with my fellow man.
I thank God for the many freedoms we have in this country. Yet, none of them compare to the freedom we have in Jesus. You have been set free by Jesus. You belong to God. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Amen