Sermon on the Occasion of the Circuit Reformation Service, 2017

Circuit Reformation Service, 2017
John 8:31-36
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Does anyone here not like Dairy Queen?

I might owe a few people an apology…

If my three-year-old son says to me, “Daddy, let’s go to Dairy Queen,” there are several ways I could reply.

I could say, “No,” but who could do such a thing?

I could say, “Yes, of course. Let’s go,“ which is much more likely.

But I could also respond with, “Why? Why should we go to Dairy Queen?”

And to that, he might respond with one of the best and simplest responses: “Because.”

And what he means is—we should go to Dairy Queen because we should go to Dairy Queen.

To a three-year-old, and let’s face it, to many of us, it’s a self-evident truth that we should go to Dairy Queen.

But that kind of argumentation gets us into trouble.

Husbands, have you ever said to your wife, “Dearest wife of mine, you should fix me dinner, because you should fix me dinner”?

That’s not what St. Paul means when he teaches wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord” nor is that what he means when he teaches husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the Church” (cf. Ephesians 5).

This faulty logic is called “circular reasoning” or “circular logic.” Similar to it is “begging the question.”

You see, if you want to convince someone of your opinion, or if you want to convince someone of the truth, to say the equivalent of “We should go to Dairy Queen because we should go to Dairy Queen” is a bad argument.

When you recognize that someone’s doing this—when the salesman tells you that you should buy the vacuum because you should really buy the vacuum—when you realize what’s going on, what do you do?

Immediately, you don’t listen.

You close your door.

You discredit everything that’s said.

You don’t believe them. Right?

Well…listen to this:

“It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Roman 3:21-26 and 4:5” (AC IV).

That’s the article by which the Church stands or falls, Article IV, Justification, and my oh my does it sound like bad, faulty, circular logic. Listen again:

We receive forgiveness of sin…when we believe…our sin is forgiven.

It uses more words than that, but that’s what it says.

Why are our sins forgiven?

Because we believe they are.

Why should we go to Dairy Queen?

Because we believe that we should go to Dairy Queen.

Now, I should’ve said at the beginning—this is one of those sermons where you need to stay to the end.

Now would be a most inopportune time to leave.

All the pastors here are worried because I just called the most important words in the entire Book of Concord—what did I call them—“bad, faulty, circular logic.”

Look at their faces. That is the face of worry.

But, rest assured, the Dairy Queen argument has nothing in common with the justification argument.

Here’s why.

Circular logic begins where you’re trying to end.

You begin—You should go to Dairy Queen—with where you want to end—because you should go to Dairy Queen.

But when we confess that you’re forgiven when you believe that you’re forgiven, we’re saying two distinct things.

“Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight” (AC IV).

There’s a lot going on here.

Your sins are already forgiven. That’s already true.

The sins of the believer are already completely forgiven.

The sins of the unbeliever are already completely forgiven. The only sin that will put a person into hell is unbelief—blaspheming the Holy Spirit is persisting and insisting on unbelief unto death, rejecting the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.

So when we say that “Christ made satisfaction for our sins,” we mean that all are justified.

St. Paul says exactly that in Romans chapter three: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24).

And that’s what he has in mind when, in 2 Corinthians, he writes: “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

It’s already true that your sins are forgiven.

It’s already true that every person’s sins are forgiven.

But if you do not receive that by faith—then you don’t receive the benefits of what Christ accomplished, of what’s already true.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).

You’re already forgiven.

Jesus earned your forgiveness on the Cross, saying, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

And when you believe that—when God creates faith in you that holds fast to Christ alone—when you believe the Gospel—that all sin is forgiven in Christ—when you believe what’s already true—then, you’re justified.

Then, you receive the benefits of what Christ accomplished.

In simpler terms, this is the distinction between objective justification and subjective justification.

Objectively, all sin is forgiven.

Subjectively, not every person holds fast to Jesus.

Objectively, your sin is forgiven whether you know it or not.

Subjectively, believe the Gospel, and rejoice in life eternal.

Here’s the difference that makes.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

If you know what’s true—if you believe what’s true—you will receive the benefits of what is true.

The truth will set you free.

But if you reject the truth—if you reject Jesus’ word and work—it’s still true—but you receive nothing.

“They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’” (John 8:33).

We can’t imagine speaking to Jesus like that.

I like to imagine that if I were to talk to Jesus face-to-face, I would pretty much only say, “Yes, Lord.”

“Pick up that fish.” “Yes, Lord.”

“Let’s go to Dairy Queen.” “Yes, Lord.”

That’s it. That’s what I want to say to Jesus.

But we get into trouble with what Jesus says next: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

None of us want to say that we practice sin, like we’re trying to get better at it.

We certainly don’t want to say that we’re a slave to sin, serving it, listening to it, obeying it.

But do we realize how much our flesh hates what Jesus says? I don’t think we realize it.

You cannot be ruled by a sin—you cannot habitually abide in the same sin—and remain, forever, with Jesus as a child of God.

You’ve all heard of mortal and venial sins, right?

Is that a Roman Catholic thing or a Lutheran thing?

It’s actually both. We maintain the terms, but we define them differently.

In Roman Catholicism, a mortal sin damns the soul and a venial sin doesn’t.

We disagree. All sins deserve death and hell.

Venial sins are what remains in the Christian after conversion—we confess that the flesh is at war with the Spirit, that evil lies close at hand when we want to do good, that we’re sinners—though we serve God and are not conscious of any evil.

Mortal sins are ruling sins—sin being the master, served by the slave.

You cannot believe that your sins are forgiven, rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, and abide in that sin.

St. Paul says it this way: “What shall we say, then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

We would never speak to Jesus the way the Jews did.

Unless Jesus said the same thing to us as He did them.

”Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever” (John 8:34-35).


Believe the Gospel.

Believe what’s already true.

All sin is forgiven.

Your sin is forgiven.

God’s death and a dead God hung in the balance so that all sin would be—and is—forgiven.

And our God leapt up and out of that scale and tomb, and lives and reigns to raise us up with Him.

When you remember and celebrate the Reformation, celebrate what’s true—the Gospel—the power of God for salvation to all who believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

All sin is forgiven.

Your sin is forgiven.

Believe in the Son who has set you free, and you are—most certainly—free indeed.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!


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