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The truth will set you free. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s a popular phrase sometimes even used by non-Christians, politicians, or protestors. But that statement all by itself raises more questions than it answers. What is truth? More specifically, what is THE truth? What is meant by free? Free from what? How does this truth set us free?
There is a truth that does not set you free. It’s the truth of God’s word that we call the law. Because it’s part of God’s word, people often mistakenly think that the truth of the law will set them free.
We hear an example of this in the context of the first time Jesus spoke these words. Those who heard what Jesus said responded by saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” They thought that they already had the freedom that Jesus was talking about. But, Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
If you think you have freedom by birth, think again. Just because you were born a descendant of Abraham doesn’t make you free. In fact, just the opposite. If you are a descendant of Abraham, you are a sinful human being just like he was. You were born with a sinful nature and you sin against God every day by doing things he has forbidden and failing to do everything he commands.
If you think you have freedom because you were born in this wonderful country that says you are free and has a bill of rights designed to protect your freedom, think again. It doesn’t matter where you were born. If you were born of parents who are sinners, then you are a slave to sin. Like sinful Adam and Eve, your parents had a child in their own sinful image, not in the perfect image of God in which they were created; an image they lost when they sinned.
Like the Jews who heard Jesus say these things, we too want to object. We too what to say, “How can you say that we shall be set free? We already are free. We have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom to do almost anything we want or can afford as long as we aren’t hurting others.” But, despite all those outward freedoms, you still aren’t truly free.
By nature, you are a slave to sin. No matter how hard you try you cannot live without sinning. That’s why the truth of God’s law can never set you free. God’s law makes you conscious of your sin. It points out all your failures, all the times you have failed to follow God’s will for your life. When you become conscious of your sin you also become a slave to guilt. As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God they felt guilt and shame. The guilt of our sin is a weight that restricts our freedom. And, when God’s law is broken it speaks judgment. It calls for justice, blind justice that is not swayed by who you are, or by how many good things you have done, or by your status or lack of status. It asks no reasons and accepts no excuses. It’s a simple yes or no. Did this person break the law or not? When the answer is yes, as it is for all of us, the only power the law has is to condemn. The sentence is death, both physical and eternal.
As we celebrate the Reformation, we are reminded of how keenly Luther understood that the law could not set him free. He was told that it could by the church of his day. He believed that it could and so he did everything he could think of to keep it. But, the more he tried, the more he realized that he couldn’t keep it, not perfectly. The law didn’t set him free, it only made him realize his sin and made him a salve of guilt, and the fear of death and eternal punishment.
How then can we, or anyone, be truly free? The truth will set you free. What truth? The teaching of the Son! Only the Son, Jesus the son of God, can set you free.
What is that teaching? Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd who gives up his life for the sheep. He says, I am the resurrection and the life. He says, whoever believes in me has eternal life.
The teaching that sets you free is that, just as God sent Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, so God sent his one and only Son Jesus to lead us out of the slavery of sin, guilt, and the fear of death, to the Promised Land of Heaven.
The teaching that sets you free is that Jesus satisfied the demands of the law for you. He did what you can’t do, what you don’t do; he kept God’s law perfectly in your place. He lived his life without sin; even when he was tempted by the devil himself; even when he was mocked, and beaten, and tortured unjustly He didn’t retaliate. He never even spoke a hurtful or careless word.
The teaching that sets you free is that Jesus satisfied the law’s demand for justice. The law demands that sinners be punished and the punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. Jesus satisfied that demand when he was forsaken by God in our place. He claimed that his mission to set us free was accomplished when he proclaimed from the cross it is finished! And on the third day the Father put his stamp of approval on all that Jesus had done to set us free when he raised him from the dead.
By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has set us free from sin. He has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. Because our sins have been removed there is no reason to feel burdened by guilt. Because our sins have been paid for in full and God’s justice has been satisfied there is no reason for us to be condemned. And, even though we must still return to the dust as an earthly consequence of sin, Jesus rose from the dead as a first fruit. Because he rose bodily from the grave, so will we. He has removed the slavery of the fear of death.
He has even set us free from Satan. Satan is the accuser who loves to call God’s attention to our sins and demand that we be punished with him for all eternity. But Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He points out that whatever sin Satan holds up, he has already paid for in full. And, when we call on the name of Jesus for help in any time of temptation, Satan has to flee from us. He has been defeated by Jesus.
If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. In Jesus you have freedom from the guilt of sin. You have freedom from the power of the devil’s accusations and temptations. You have freedom from the fear of death and hell. That’s true freedom. That’s being freed indeed. That’s a freedom that is yours even if you lose all your earthly freedoms, like the freedom of speech or the freedom of assembly. It’s freedom that is yours even if you are persecuted, imprisoned, or executed.
It’s also important to note that Jesus didn’t come to set you free from sin, death and the devil so that you could be like a pig, who after being washed, goes right back to wallowing in the mud. Jesus has set you free so that you would be able to do what God created you to do, to serve him without fear.
That’s what Adam and Eve did before they sinned. They served God without fear. They cared for the garden, expressing thanks for all the beautiful things God had graciously provided for them. They worshiped God every time they walked past the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and did not eat from it because they respected the one command that God had given them. So, when God walked in the garden and made his presence known, they felt no shame or fear.
As long as we live on this earth, we will not be able to serve God in such perfection. But, when the Holy Spirit brought us to know and then believe the teaching about Jesus, to trust that he is our savior, a new man was created in us. The image of God is being restored in us. And the more we hear the teaching of the Son, the stronger our new man of faith grows, and the more we are filled with the desire and the ability to serve God, not in fear, but in love and thanksgiving.
In Jesus, we are no longer slaves. We are considered Sons. Children of God. Heirs with Jesus of eternal life. Through faith in Jesus we no longer see the law as a task master that can never be satisfied. We see that it has been satisfied for us by Jesus. Instead of feeling obliged to keep it or else, we rejoice that it gives us guidance as we look for ways to express our thanks and praise to God for the freedom we have in his son.
As we welcome each other to God’s house each week, let’s rejoice together that we are free to be ourselves. We see and treat each other as fellow sinners who have earned God’s wrath and punishment just as much as anyone else. We see and treat each other as fellow slaves who have been set free from sin and guilt by Jesus. We see and treat each other as fellow members of God’s family who, by God’s grace, get to serve God and each other together at this place and in this time in history; and who look forward to basking in God’s grace together for all eternity.
As we celebrate the Reformation may we never forget what Luther discovered. The law cannot set you free. But if the Son, Jesus, sets you free, you will be free indeed. Hold to his teaching. He is the one who laid down his life for you. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s the truth, the only truth at sets you free.