Truth, Freedom, and Jesus
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 8:31-36
October 27, 2019

Our Gospel reading occurs in the middle of a dialogue Jesus had with some Jews of His day. Jesus is speaking to some of the Jews who had believed Him. They have the beginning of faith. Jesus wants them to continue in faith. So He says, “If you remain in My word, you are truly my disciples.” It is Jesus’s word that makes us His disciples.

His word gives us life. It feeds us. It shapes and inspires us in faith and action. It defines you as a Christian. It defines us as church, a community of Christians.

What is the word Jesus is talking about? It is everything Jesus has said and done that is recorded for us in the Scripture through eyewitness testimony.

It is the inspired word of Jesus’s authorized representatives, the Apostles. It is the inspired word of Jesus’s representatives before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, namely, the prophets.

Understood thematically, Jesus’s word is the word of the gospel and the word of the Law. It is the word that speaks the truth to us about God, about creation, and about ourselves. It speaks to us the redemption we have in Jesus.

It is the word that tells us who Jesus is for us, and, therefore, who God is. It tells us of the cross and the resurrection. It speaks to us the justification that is proclaimed due to the cross and resurrection.

It is the word of command that gives us baptism as God’s gift, God’s action of making us and our children His people. It is His word of absolution that unlocks heaven’s doors for those who are sorry for their sins.

Jesus’s word is the words of institution that give us that most intimate connection and communion with Jesus, and through Him with God: On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus took bread and said, “Take eat, this is my body given for you.” He took the cup, full of wine and said: “Take drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We hear the Apostle Peter tell us that Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross. We hear the writer of Hebrews tell us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. This Sacrament of His body and blood is the Gospel.

So, Jesus says, if you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples.

Jesus goes on to say to the Jews who had believed in Him: “Abide in my word and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus connects truth and freedom. In God’s way, freedom and truth are connected. There cannot be true freedom without truth. Truth gives true freedom. Jesus words teach us truth, and truth gives us true freedom. Therefore, abiding in Jesus’s word is the path of freedom.

But how do truth and freedom play in our culture today? It seems our culture regards truth, that is, God’s word, as constraining freedom, so that the two are incompatible. This could be illustrated in what the Rolling Stones said about freedom in their song “I’m Free.” It was written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. It was first released on September 24, 1965 on the Stone’s “Out of Our Heads” album. Here are some excerpts:

 

I'm free to do what I want any old time
I'm free any old time to get what I want

I'm free to choose what I please any old time
I'm free to please what I choose any old time

So love me, hold me.
I'm free any old time to get what I want, yes I am

 

This is the picture of the absolutely free autonomous ego, a law unto oneself. This presents to us a picture of freedom that means getting what one wants without restraint, whenever one wants it. It speaks about such freedom as an entitlement to it.

But what about if getting what I want goes against what is true and right?  

We can look back on it now and realize that those words defined a cultural revolution. In times past, I don’t think truth and freedom in our society were separated, because to be free meant to do what is right; to be free meant to control one’s passions and desires; to be free meant to be willing to sacrifice for a higher purpose, for the good of others. Entitlement to get what one wants, when one wants is an entirely different sort of “freedom.”

The freedom the stones sang about leads to anarchy. Anarchy leads to totalitarianism. It also leads to a culture of death. Why has our society turned to human death as a solution to problems? Unrestrained self-indulgence does not ultimately lead to satisfaction and to the good. It leads to rottenness of soul, disillusionment, and bitterness. Such freedom is not freedom at all, but slavery. Jesus tells us the truth: “The one who practices sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

If we give ourselves to sin, we are not free, not really. We are not free in a way that matters with respect to character and being a decent human being. God did not make us for sin. He made us in goodness and for the good. In sin, we are not realizing what it means to be human. In genuine goodness we realize it.

Sin is a spiritual power that corrupts our nature contrary to the good. It cannot, therefore, be the way of freedom.

Truth and the good go together. Truth and trustworthiness go together. Truth and humility and the good of the other go together. Truth and respect for God, His ways, and His institutions, the way He has created them, go together. Truth in delighting in what God has given in His generosity, but not in what He has not given in His goodness and wisdom is freedom.

The Stones sing praises to selfishness and the gratification of unrestrained desire. But that is not freedom. It is not freedom for the self, not really, and not for others who become the means to the end of such gratification.

The one who commits sin is a slave of sin. But Jesus says that the truth sets us free. Truth and freedom go together.

Jesus unpacks this for us when He says that the slave does not remain in the house forever. The Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:35-36).

With such language, Jesus is drawing upon the economic arrangements in household estates that existed in the Roman world at that time. Any household servant was not an heir of the family. He had no possessory rights in the property and the family inheritance. He had no standing as a child of the family. Thus, the slave did not remain in the house forever.

But the Son remains forever. The children of the family are the heirs. They have possessory rights. The children of the family remain in the house forever.

But then Jesus also collapses this into Himself as He switches to speaking about the Household of God. In the household of God, the Son of God remains forever. It is His house. All things in heaven and earth belong to Him. All human beings are under His authority and reign, whether they recognize Him or not. The Son remains forever.

This is the Son, who came from the glory of His Father to speak to us about truth and freedom as human to human in our time and place. This the Son who hung on that cross bearing the sin of all, bearing God’s wrath against all sin. This is the Son whose dead body came back to life on the third day, in indestructible life, as the promise of our own resurrection in Him. This Jesus is the Son and He remains in the house forever. It is His house.

And the grace of Jesus’s words is this: if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. You are free in that you are part of the household, and in the Son remain forever. You are free, because He, the Son, has accomplished your forgiveness and deliverance from the power of sin. You are free in this house as full heir, in full peace, not being grounded, no timeouts, no standing in the corner; no spankings. Free. Free in forgiveness. Free in peace. Free in the standing of being a true child and heir in the Son of the house. Free in the goodness He inspires in you.

You are free because you are connected to the Son. The Son is your redemption. The Son is good. He is love and trustworthy and true in His own good character.

This is true freedom, to have control of yourself, to be good, doing the right thing because doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Being connected to Jesus, you are connected to the source and power of this true freedom, and He is working this freedom in you and through you.

The autonomous ego would regard this as another form of slavery, because it could not be defining the good for itself and doing it out of its own desires and thought. How sad it is that the autonomous ego in its autonomy is really a slave and dying, autonomously separated from all goodness, which is found only in God Himself.

But you dear Christian, through faith in Christ, having Christ as the inspiration, power, and strength of your life, you find true freedom and life eternal in all goodness in Him. And this gives your soul great joy.

If the Son sets you free, you are truly free. This freedom is your reality as you remain in His word, as you look to Him as Savior and Lord, and He remains in you through faith. This is a freedom that is yours forever and that no person and no power can take away. Praise be to God. Amen.