Will We Abide in the Truth?
The One who is the truth (Jn 14:6) and brings the truth (Jn 1:17) is with us here today, in these words, speaking that truth upon us. The question is, will we stand with the truth? And will we abide in it? Excellent questions for Reformation Sunday, questions that (if we face them seriously) will make the difference between merely remembering the Reformation and experiencing it! The Reformation of the church is not an event confined to 1517 and following years; it is what happens whenever God’s Word takes hold of us. May that Word grab us today, for that Word of truth is the only thing that can free us from our bondage to sin and bestow on us the status of free sons and daughters of God.
And the Truth that Jesus speaks today take us from being stuck in blind bondage sin to being able to perceive the truth. We were all born into this world as slaves to sin (v 34). Our problem is not that now and then we do evil. We do evil because we are evil, and this proves that we are slaves of sin. As slaves, we are powerless to change that status, and it’s a truth we do not want to face, and so we tend to deny or ignore it, preferring to lie to ourselves and to others claiming that we are “free to do as we want to” instead. When we do this, we’re not only slaves to sin, but we’re slaves to a lie. We construct an imaginary freedom that blinds us to our true condition.
Just as the Jews in our Gospel lesson today refused to acknowledge (despite the omnipresent Roman army) even their political subjection, much less their spiritual subjection, we, too, are always in danger of being blind to the slavery that controls us. Their slavery became evident in their denial of it and in their prideful reliance on ancestry: “We are Abraham’s descendants.” We who are Luther’s descendants must hear truth’s solemn warning: There is no substitute for faith in Christ, for remaining in the Word of truth. None! Only the truth can free us. We, too, must face the cold, hard fact: We are slaves to sin and have no power to free ourselves.
Someone addicted to drugs might say, “I can quit whenever I want to,” but the truth is, he cannot, and he won’t be truly free until the truth of his slavery is faced.
And once we have faced the truth, God then leads us into freedom. Knowing the truth of our sinfulness, we have the freedom to confess our sins before a loving forgiver. God has spoken His truth in Christ, and that truth informs us that God’s forgiveness is not a groundless wish, but it is a divine reality in Christ.
When the congregation was called to confession this morning, I did not say: “All right, ’fess up! We’re not leaving until you come clean!” No! I began our confession by saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” It is our status as God’s beloved that beckons us into the truth. We are not confessing to God something He does not already know; we are telling ourselves things about our sinful nature that we don’t like to face. But the truth sets us free. Free to confess, free to worship in truth, free to forgive others, and free to know God’s love.
Then, once we have accepted God’s version of freedom, we can also be free to pursue righteousness. And this is an inherited righteousness (v 36)—a righteousness that sinners in denial could never achieve or comprehend. The Son, with His own absolution, sets us free, giving to us the righteousness that comes through faith in him (Phil 3:9), a righteousness we could never muster ourselves—and we are made truly free—free to be holy, good, and righteous.
There is a difference between a freed slave and a runaway. Although the runaway is free in one sense, he remains forever bound by the fear of being recaptured and punished. But the slave who has been freed by the Son is truly free! Our freedom in Christ from sin’s bondage now empowers and enables the life of free sons who are “chips off the old block,” imitating God in his merciful goodness, living not for self but for him. “‘No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness, and I will remember their sins no more’” (Jer 31:34).
Slaves obey because they must, and they fear what will happen if they don’t. But a son of God obeys out of love for the Christ who first loved him.
Rejoice! The One who is the truth (Jn 14:6) and brings the truth (Jn 1:17) is with us here today, in these words, speaking that truth upon us. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (v 32). The Reformation of the church was more than an event in 1517. It is the ongoing reality for each of us as we hear and abide in God’s Word of truth, spoken in Christ, his Son, our Savior. Remaining in his Word of Truth, be free and live in righteousness for the joy of the cross. Amen.