Reformation Day 2017, observed

Reformation Day, observed
John 8:31-36
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34).

Jesus says this to people who believed in Him.

A slave doesn’t accidentally obey. A slave hears and does.

Slaves are eager to please their master out of fear or for reward.

Are you a slave? Who is your master?

When was the last time someone gossiped to you and to cover up their sin they said, “Keep it secret. This is just between you and me. Nobody else knows.”

Did the sun set on that secret? How long did it take you tell your spouse, your friend?

We get a rush, talking about other people.

Would that we were with the Truth how we are with the lie. Oh how the Word of God would spread!

The murderous words we so often speak and think suppress the Truth and embrace the lie.

We enslave ourselves to sin, allowing it to rule over us. We speak out of both sides of our mouth, saying that we have fellowship with Christ while hating our neighbor with our words.

We do not practice the Truth!

If you’re a slave to sin, you’re not Jesus’ brother but a son of the devil.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit (cf. Mt. 7:18), Jesus says.

And He says a few verses after today’s Gospel lesson, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth” (Jn. 8:44). He says this to people who had believed in Him.

Oh, but Pastor, “We’re offspring of Luther, children of the Reformation, we know the Law, we don’t need to hear this! We’ve never been enslaved to anyone! We still know our catechism, we still meditate upon God’s Word day and night, and we never gossip. Well, we never lie when we gossip.” (cf. Jn.8:33).

That’s a hard heart talking.

If those are your thoughts or words—repent.

Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36), and we respond with the Jews, “We aren’t slaves.”

We know we’re not slaves because Jesus is in our heart with the joy of the gospel. That’s what we say.

Did you know one of the most important things to come out of the Reformation was a clarification about how we know we’re saved?

How do you know you’re saved?

The wrong answer is, “Because I have faith.” That looks inside you for confirmation. And the truth is, some days you don’t have faith, like when you’re a slave to sin. How can you comfort yourself with the words, “I have faith” when you choose to hate your brother in your heart?

How do you know you’re saved?

The wrong answer is, “Because I just feel like God just loves me just so much. He just does.” That looks inside you for confirmation. And, truth is, we don’t always feel like God just loves us. To suffer—and to love God for it—is the most difficult Christian art.

How do you know you’re saved?

The wrong answer is that you pray. You pray a lot. You talk to God a lot. And you just know. Again, that looks inside you for confirmation. That looks to your works.

So, how do you know you’re saved?

C.F.W. Walther’s ninth thesis in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel says it this way: “The Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace” (Walther, 127).

The Reformation called this sola scriptura.

How do you know you’re saved?

Because you’ve been Baptized.

For the first time, that looks, not inward, to yourself, but outward, to the Word of God which gives the Holy Spirit and promises salvation to those who are Baptized.

How do you know you’re saved?

Because you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins as He bids you to do.

That has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what Jesus says. It’s not as spectacular as a sweaty-palmed conversion story, but we know it’s real—Jesus says it.

“The slave does not remain in the house forever…” There is no hope for the enslaved son of the devil.

”The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:35).

How do you know you’re saved?

Don’t look inward, at your struggles, your prayers, your wrestlings with God. You’ll only see your sin.

Looking there, there’s always only two answers.

Arrogance or despair.

Looking inward, either you’ll be proud of your works, your struggles, and—in arrogance—you will think that nothing you do needs repenting of.

Or, looking inward, you’ll be convinced of your unworthiness such that you will despair of all hope.

It should surprise no one that arrogance leads to despair. And despair to damnation.

Don’t look inward for comfort. Don’t look there.

Instead, listen to the Son, hear His Word: the Son sets you free.

He does this by bearing your sins, suffering in your place, by being declared guilty so that you’re declared innocent, by dying and rising, so that, though you die, yet shall you live.

Free indeed, and you remain forever.

If God makes you His beloved child, then you’re no longer a slave to be cast aside when you displease Him.

You might sin, but you won’t be cast aside.

You sin. Sure. But you’re not slave of sin. Sin doesn’t rule over you, because your master is Christ.

Your master is Christ. If you’re a slave, you’re a slave to righteousness, as St. Paul says.

And as such, you are forgiven. You will not be cast aside.

You’re a son, a child of God, and that child remains forever.

Despite your previous slavish ways, God loves you, and He desires your salvation. And He accomplishes it.

He’s faithful to the unfaithful.

You’re not a slave to be cast aside when you displease your lord. The son remains forever.

So even if the son should go off into a foreign land, follow strange gods, and forget his own name.

Remember the Prodigal?

The Father remembers.

The Father remembers, and He waits, and He watches. He runs eagerly to greet and restore him. He holds nothing back.

“All that is mine is yours and always has been.”

He kills the fatted calf and places the ring on your finger and rejoices with the angels and restores you to your brothers.

You’re not a slave to be cast aside because of sin but a son. And the son remains forever.

In Holy Baptism, you were named as God’s son, His child, and God doesn’t take that back.

No casting aside of sons. You belong to Him.

He’s faithful to the unfaithful.

If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, we make God a liar, and His Word is not in us.

If you confess your sins, He is faithful and just.

He forgives sin. He restores fellowship.

All accusations have been turned away from you and toward Jesus, who bears your sins to become your savior.

In Christ, God declares you to be His son forever.

Forever innocent. Forever holy. Forever His.

You know that you’re saved, because His Word says so. He is faithful. We believe.

This is what it is to abide in the Word of Jesus. In His Gospel. In His sonship.

Sola scriptura.

This is what it is to be His disciple.

To repent. To confess your sins. To trust in His merciful Word that endures forever. To believe the good news, that you are no longer a slave to sin but God’s own child, and that, forever.

If the blessed Martin Luther has left us a legacy, let it be this and nothing else.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!


Portions quoted from a sermon preached by Rev. David Petersen.

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