February 23, 2014

The Truth Who Frees Us from Sin & Satan | Part 1

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 8:30–47

Sermon from John 8:30-47 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Jarring Passage Written for Genuine Belief

This passage of Scripture is rather jarring. Jesus just finished teaching that he is the Light of the world (8:12-20), that he is our only escape from dying in our sins (8:21-24), that his unity with the Father is what drives him to lay down his life for sinners (8:25-29), and as a result verse 30 says, “many believed in him” (8:30). From what we’ve read to this point, believing in Jesus is a good thing—it’s even a necessary thing, if we’re to experience eternal life: John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

What makes this passage so jarring is how Jesus ends up speaking to those who had believed. We see “many believed in him” in verse 30, and then we get things like this throughout the rest of the passage: verse 37, “you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you;” verse 40, “you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth;” verse 43, “you cannot bear to hear my word;” verse 44, “you are of your father the devil;” verse 47, “you are not of God.” Jesus is saying these things to the Jews who had believed in him. And they get so ticked off, that by the time we reach the end of the dialogue in verse 59, “they pick up stones to throw at him.”

How do you go from believing in Jesus to wanting him so much out of your life that you want him dead, stoned? What’s going on is the same pattern we’ve seen throughout the gospel of John: there’s belief in Jesus, and then there is belief in Jesus. There’s spurious faith in Jesus that has no saving effect, because it doesn’t come to Jesus for the right reasons ultimately; and then there’s saving faith in Jesus that comes on his terms, receives him for who he really is, and results in eternal life.

What we observe here are the results of spurious faith. The belief in verse 30—at least to my understanding—is likened to the belief we saw in 2:23-24: “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that [Jesus] was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.” What’s really inside the person with spurious faith is not a heart truly trusting Jesus for eternal life, truly coming to Jesus for who he is. People with spurious faith may look like Jesus’ disciples on the outside, but deep within them is really a heart that’s suspicious of Jesus, a heart that keeps him at arms distance and desires no vibrant, meaningful relationship with him. And Jesus knows it; he sees into the depths of our being; and as the Light of the world he exposes what our faith really is—whether it’s a façade or a fact, whether it’s fake or real. That’s what is going on in chapter 2.

Likewise in our passage, Jesus’ word goes out to the people and many believe in him, at least initially. But as Jesus keeps talking, the reactions of these professing believers betray what kind of faith they really have. Many of them aren’t genuine disciples; they’re not authentic followers. As long as Jesus’ teaching fits what they’re willing to accept, they believe. As long as they can control him and fit him into their mold, they follow. But as soon as Jesus starts jerking the rug of their ethnic and religious confidence out from under them, the more he keeps telling them that he is their only hope for salvation, belief ends and it’s time to start throwing rocks. The picture is jarring for us, because as God’s word it’s pressing the question on us, “What kind of disciple are you—a genuine disciple or a pretend disciple?”

Are you the kind of disciple that walks away when Jesus says hard things like we saw in 6:66: “After [he calls himself the Bread of Life] many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”? Or, are you the kind of disciple that says, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69)? Regardless of where you are today—whether you’re not a disciple at all, or you’re pretending to be a disciple, or you’re a genuine disciple—these things were written to awaken saving faith in you, the kind of faith that leaves you with eternal life in Jesus’ name (20:31). John writes these things to reveal that Jesus is totally worth following and to ensure that when we follow him, we’re doing so rightly, genuinely—we’re not just saying things with our mouths or believing things in our heads while our hearts remain distant from Jesus.

Genuine Disciples Abide in Jesus’ Word

So, what makes for a genuine disciple? Well, Jesus says in verse 31 that genuine disciples abide in Jesus’ word: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” In other words, “Belief in me is necessary, but this is what that belief entails—it abides in my word.” That’s what saving faith is in all true disciples—it’s an abiding-in-Jesus’-word kind of faith. You don’t believe in Jesus and then later become a disciple by abiding in his word; the only true belief there is is the belief that abides in Jesus’ word. But let’s get clearer. I take Jesus’ “word” to be a collective reference to all the utterances he makes about his person and his mission as well as their authoritative implications for our lives. Now, when put together with other verses in the Bible, that very much supports how we view all of Scripture as Jesus’ word. In one sense, to abide in Jesus’ word is to abide in the entire counsel of God’s word. But in our context Jesus is getting at something more specific; and when you look throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ “word” (singular) refers to what he reveals about himself and his mission as well as how his person and mission affect our lives (2:22; 4:41; 5:24; 8:37, 53, 51; 17:6).

So, the very nature of Jesus’ word—since it’s a self-disclosing word that affects us and demands a certain response from us to him—keeps us from turning Jesus’ “abiding” language into a mere Scripture memory program or devotional reading. Does memorizing Scripture and devotional reading serve our abiding in Jesus’ word? Absolutely, but the idea of abiding in that word means something more than simply familiarizing ourselves with its contents. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this in 5:38-39. They knew the Bible well, but for all the wrong reasons—and Jesus says of them “you do not have God’s word abiding in you [which is the flip side of what happens when we abide in the word; cf. John 15:7].” So abiding in Jesus’ word means more than knowing its content—crucial as that is—it also means we continue responding to his word’s transforming power, we continue to be constrained by its life-giving influence, we keep walking within the bounds of the light it shines on our path. Even when it confronts us and challenges us and convicts us, we don’t turn back and stop following Jesus; but we humble ourselves beneath his word and say, “To whom else shall I turn, Jesus? You have the words of eternal life.”

Abiding in Jesus’ Word Unites Us to the Truth, Jesus

When we abide in Jesus’ word like that—when the direction of our lives is steered by Jesus’ word—Jesus promises that we’ll know the truth, and the truth will set us free (8:32). What is the truth he’s speaking of here? I don’t think he has in mind just any old truth—just any general truth, like 2 plus 2 equals 4, or even a philosophical truth, like the law of non-contradiction. That kind of truth is certainly helpful; it’s helpful to live in accordance with reality instead of fighting against it. But that’s not the truth Jesus speaks of here. “Truth” in the Gospel of John is always associated with the person of Jesus. We’ve expected this development since chapter 1, when John tells us that the Word became flesh “and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Or again in 1:17, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” It’s not that God’s truth didn’t exist before Jesus’ coming, but that we see God’s truth now bound up in the person of Jesus, the-Word-made-flesh. Or again in 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the truth that leads us to the Father. And one more, 18:37: Jesus tells Pilate, “For this purpose I was born, and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Then Pilate asks, “What is truth?” a question that’s then answered by the apostle John as he unfolds the cross and resurrection of Jesus in the rest of his Gospel.

So, the truth we will know when we abide in Jesus’ word is essentially the truth of the gospel, the truth bound up with the person of Jesus himself—who he is and what he’s done and what he has revealed about the Father.

It is that truth—the truth of the gospel—which sets us free. When you hang on Jesus’ every word about himself, you will know truth that liberates your entire being from its bondage to sin. There’s a lot of truth in this world that may be able to help you live and get a good education and keep a job and communicate effectively with others and read books and give logical argumentation and even enjoy the amazing facets of the world around us—and in many ways that can be quite liberating for you. But if you don’t abide in the truth manifested in Jesus—if you refuse to be transformed by his message, even if you have things all sorted out philosophically—then you lose in the end, because you’re still enslaved to sin. You lose because you’re still enslaved to sin and you will perish in rebellion against God (cf. 8:21-24). There’s only one truth that can set you free from slavery to sin, the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. That’s the first point I want to call to your attention, and the only point we’ll end up covering today.

1. Abiding in Jesus’ Word Unites Us to the Son Who Frees Us from Slavery to Sin

Abiding in Christ’s word unites us to the One who frees us from slavery to sin. When we abide in Jesus’ word, we are then united to the truth which reveals Jesus for who he really is—and he is the One who frees us from slavery to sin. The Jews aren’t so sure they want to persevere in Jesus’ word after all, because what he just said implies they’ve got a real problem. So they object in verse 33: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’” (8:33). Jesus has exposed where their confidence ultimately rests; and it’s not actually in Jesus. They’re banking on their family lineage to save them. They’re a lot like Nicodemus in 3:1-8—they think their own bloodline, which can be traced back to Abraham, is all they need to enter the kingdom of God. And Jesus is trying to convince them again that “that which is of the flesh is flesh.” Their confidence rests in the fact that “my birth certificate says ‘my momma and daddy are Jews.’”

Now the Bible tells us very plainly that the Jewish people were and are an incredibly privileged nation. God chose them to be the nation through which he would bring his saving purposes to pass, beginning with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). Paul tells us in Rom 9:4-5 that “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” To be a child of Abraham is an incredibly privileged heritage to have; but that was all the more reason why they should have trusted in Jesus for their salvation instead of trusting in their lineage (cf. 5:56). Jesus’ point is that you’re not safe without Jesus, regardless of your race or your religion. Without Jesus you’re in bondage to sin: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

The Universal Bondage: Our Slavery to Sin

Notice, this is a universal problem, not just a Jewish problem: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”—so we shouldn’t be so quick to read ourselves out of the picture here, even though he’s dealing with Jews. Jesus brings up this universal problem to say that regardless of what their birth certificate says, Jews have the same bondage as the rest of the world: they’re slaves to sin.

As elsewhere in the Bible, sin is pictured here not merely as this or that evil deed, but to a master who has dominion over his subjects. Sin is an enslaving power before it ever manifests itself in specific deeds. Paul speaks of sin this way, as reigning in our mortal bodies “to make [us] obey its passions” (Rom 6:12). When sin reigns in your body, it makes you obey its passions. So to be enslaved to sin means you are under sin’s power. It dominates you day in and day out. What you ought to do—obey God, give your life to him in worship—is what you cannot do when sin has dominion over you.

Sin is also a deceitful power—according to Heb 3:13—that hardens your heart to the truth, such that even when the truth is right in front of you, you’re either unable to recognize it fully or you suppress what you actually know to be the case (cf. Rom 1:19-20). John illustrates this rather clearly when Jesus repeatedly reveals the truth he heard from God—many times using their own Scriptures—and yet the people remain hardened to his words. Just look at 8:40: “you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.” Sin hardens you to the truth with its deceptive power; the more you give in to it, the more resistant you become to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.

Sin also has an enslaving presence. It’s not that you’re enslaved in this context over here but not over here. Sin comes with you wherever you go, because it rules you from within you (Mark 7:20-23; Luke 6:45). Moreover, as you go sin constantly offers you its fleeting pleasures—which you cannot see are fleeting pleasures, because remember it has also hardened you to the truth (John 3:19-21; cf. Heb 11:25). Then once you submit to these fleeting pleasures, it leaves you with death. Death is sin’s consequence—spiritual death on the inside (John 5:25; Rom 7:13) and eternal death under God’s wrath (John 3:36; 8:21-24; Rom 6:23). Sin promises you pleasure and leaves you with death; it promises you a bed and leaves you in the grave.

To top it off, we can do nothing to rescue ourselves from its power—even worse, we don’t even want the rescue, not merely because sin blinds us to our bondage (John 9:41), but also because sin makes us content in the bondage. We see both in these Jews: they’re both blind to their bondage—“we’ve never been enslaved to anyone”—and content with the bondage—“we are offspring of Abraham [Right? As if to say, ‘We don’t need you to set us free from anything. We’re okay!’].”

So the slavery is absolutely dismal. Slavery to sin means we’re in bondage to its power, deception, presence, pleasures, and consequences, without no ability or even want to free ourselves. It corrupts our thinking, our doing, our wanting, our feelings; it’s always with us and even the controlling influence within us apart from Christ; and the only reward it gives us in the end is death under God’s wrath. The world’s plight is desperately lost in its bondage to sin. But it’s no match for Jesus.

The Only Solution: The Son Sets Sinners Free

Verse 35 “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.” The Jews think they have an automatic place in God’s family, but the truth is that they’re not in God’s family at all: they’re slaves of sin like the rest of the world. The only one who’s not a slave of sin is the Son. The Son is able to free us from our sins, because the Son himself has no sin (8:46), and sin has no power over him. Remember, he came from above; he’s not of this world (8:23). The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (1:5). And if sin has no power over the Son—to make him its slave—then he is able to free people from its death-grip should he so choose. And he did choose to do so; that’s why he came. So, the Son is more powerful than sin.

Another reason Jesus is able to free us from our sins—namely, he is the Son, the only Son. Everybody else in the house are slaves. That means he alone has rights to his Father’s inheritance and the supreme authority to share it with others—precisely what we find him promising his true disciples in 14:2-3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” He couldn’t come soon enough!

Moreover, as Son, we’ve already learned that he’s got a unique mission from the Father, which involves going to the cross as our true Passover Lamb (1:29). You see, in God’s economy, it’s not a matter of the Son just telling the Father, “Let’s give them the inheritance; let’s just, by our sheer might, deliver them from bondage to sin in the world.” No, in order for sinners to gain freedom in the inheritance, a price must be paid for their deliverance. Sin has consequences, namely, the penalty of eternal punishment. That price must be paid if we are to truly be freed. Otherwise, what kind of freedom is it really if God frees us from the power of sin in this age only to leave us bearing the penalty for our sin in the age to come? The Father’s love was greater than providing us temporary freedom. He gave his Son a unique mission to purchase our eternal freedom.

He gave his Son a mission, which involved going to the cross as our true Passover Lamb. Instead of a temporal deliverance from mere slavery in Egypt, those covered by the blood of Jesus find themselves freed from the tyranny of sin’s power forever. When God freed Israel from their slavery in Egypt at the cost of the lamb’s blood, he was setting a pattern for redemption that would find it’s fulfillment in the death of Jesus. The cross is where Jesus spilled his blood on behalf of those bound in the chains of sin. At the cost of his own Son, God liberated sinners from the invisible chains of sin. Even Paul celebrates in 1 Cor 5:7-8 with the words: “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed!” And that gives him confidence that the church actually can turn away from their sins. What we once should have done but couldn’t do and wouldn’t do, now we can do. That’s good news! True freedom is the ability to do what we ought before God.

Just think of it in relation to the way John lays matters out for us. If Jesus is the Light of the world, then it is slavery to remain in the darkness instead of coming to the light (1:9-11; 3:19-21; 8:12ff). If Jesus is the Bread of life, then it is slavery not to be able to come to him and receive spiritual nourishment and satisfaction for our souls (6:1-68). If Jesus is the One who offers us Living Water, then it is slavery not to come to him for drink. If Jesus is our Sabbath rest, then it is slavery not to come to him for rest, finding rest instead in our money and our fame, etc. Slavery to sin is everything that keeps us from seeing Christ as our one all-sufficient delight. And the good news is that because he came, we can come to him as we ought. True freedom is the ability to do what we ought before God, namely, come to Jesus as our one all-sufficient delight. And Jesus made that possible through his death on the cross. Believers can really turn away from their sin, because Jesus’ death snapped its power.

And there’s even more: Jesus is able to free us from slavery to sin because he alone remains in the house forever, because he is forever. He had no beginning—he forever existed with God in glory (1:1)—and he has no ending (17:1-5). Why? Because God raised him from the dead and gave him the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16). His standing as risen Son of God can never change or go away; he can never be demoted; he can never lose his rights or his inheritance—he not only purchased them with his blood but God guaranteed them when he raised him from the dead, giving him the ends of the earth as his possession (Ps 2:8; Acts 13:33). If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed! He is the righteous Son, the rightful Son, the redeeming Son, and the risen Son. Listen, there’s not another son like the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Let Us, Therefore, Abide in Christ’s Word

Abide in Christ’s word, and you will know this Son who frees us from slavery to sin. Even now, consider any sin that you see in your own life or in the life of this church. Christ is our freedom from that sin. Immoral relationships, lust of the eyes, gossip, one-upmanship, the fear of man, envy, divisive and quarrelsome spirits, arrogance, frustration with this, that, and the other, impatience with children, fits of anger, whatever—Christ is our freedom from sin. We do not have to be enslaved to any of it. Having Christ as our freedom from sin is the basis for our sanctification, and the one we keep returning to for our sanctification. Because of the work of Jesus we can turn away from sin. It does not have to boss us around or control what we do with our bodies or say with our tongues; in Christ, we have power to overcome it, to say “No” to it, and to run to our new Master, the Son, who is infinitely superior and powerful and loving to defeat it for our everlasting good. Think of it, if you believe. Our bodies don’t belong to sin, but to Christ; our affections don’t belong to sin, but to Christ; our minds don’t belong to sin, but to Christ; our wills don’t belong to sin, but to Christ; our schedules don’t belong to sin, but to Christ; our every waking hour doesn’t belong to sin, but to Christ. Everything about the Christian belongs to Christ.

That doesn’t mean you won’t struggle against sin—the Bible is full examples that tell us we will—but praise God there’s a struggle! Where did that come from? Not you! You were once in chains, blind you even had them on, dead in your affections for what was lovely and good. And now you struggle against sin in order to have what is ultimately lovely, Christ! Rejoice that you struggle, believer! Give thanks there’s a fight in you! Every passion in you that wants the sin gone is blood-bought and Spirit-wrought! Our struggle—because the Holy Spirit is a guarantee (Eph 1:13-14)—even anticipates for the day when Christ ushers in the new age, when all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more! Yes, you struggle now, but the death of Christ really won your freedom from sin, the full manifestation of which we will see when he splits the skies and sets his feet on earth. Despite what curtain lies over your weary heart some days, and only causes you sorrow, God hasn’t left you there! He’s pulled the curtain back in Rev 21-22 and given us a vision of where he’s taking this world—into the New Jerusalem where we’ll forever be freed from sin’s nasty influences. Only a love for Christ will fill our hearts, and that is true freedom indeed.

But we need not wait to foster that love for Christ. Jesus has given us his word and he tells us that if we abide in that word, then we are truly his disciples, and we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. The freedom from sin that will characterize us in the age to come is the freedom we can know even now—not in its fullness, of course, but at least in part. And that freedom comes by abiding in Jesus’ word, knowing the truth in Jesus. That at least means that we should be picking up our Bibles more often, reading what he says, and letting those words influence our character and our passions throughout the day. It also means, however, that we should repent of every time we’ve read our Bibles apart from abiding in Jesus’ words. Bible study is good, one-year reading plans are good, Scripture memory is good, but those disciplines are good only insofar as they humble us to the dust—leading us to confess we cannot free ourselves from sin and encouraging us to look to the Son for the freedom we need. That’s true for nonbelievers, fake believers, and true believers alike. If the Son sets any of you free, you will be free indeed. So, I would encourage you to abide in his word daily for your freedom from sin.

Listen to what Jesus says and humbly submit to his word when you hear him speak in the word. Reading the Bible cannot amount to information transfer but must result in spiritual change, Godward obedience, and joyful worship. And when you’re jarred by such a stinging indictment of your sinful condition, let me encourage you not to respond as these Jews did to Jesus—trusting in the flesh, priding themselves in their ethnic and religious ties. True freedom did not come for these Jews through being Jewish, nor will it come to us by being American, or by being a right-wing conservative; true freedom will not come through our ethnic or religious or political ties or even with others showing us favor in the world; true freedom will not come through our financial security or through changing our marriage status or through home-school education or anything else we can create by our own doings. True freedom—namely, freedom from sin—comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. So let us beware of trusting in anything that comes from inside us or in anything we create and attempt to impose on others—even if for noble reasons. Our ultimate trust must be in Christ, who alone is able to rescue from sin, and not anything within ourselves.

For us parents: that means we need not abuse our authority when correcting our children—whether that be through a harsh word, or a physical act, or a threat, or an overly strict routine, or even the silent treatment. None of those actions saved you from your bondage to sin. What saved you from your bondage to sin was a perfect execution of authority by the Father and the Son. The Father humbled himself in giving up his Son, and the Son came to give himself up, so that we might be freed from our sin. The only thing that will deliver our children from slavery to sin is not our domineering attitudes, but the preaching and application of Christ’s humiliation. How are you pointing them to abide in Jesus’ word? How are you abiding in Jesus’ word as you correct them? True disciples aren’t made through anger and threats; true disciples are made by helping them experience all that Jesus communicates to his followers about himself—the truth. And with that Jesus promises freedom from sin.

Something else to consider: if the freeing of people ultimately rests in the power of the Son—such that we never freed ourselves and could never free anyone else—shouldn’t this fill us with great patience and compassion for those still sitting in the invisible chains of sin. Never should there be a frustrated and overbearing spirit in us toward our non-Christian neighbors that says, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see that I’m right about your sin and about Jesus?” No, they can’t. We may very well be right about them and about Jesus if we’re sticking close to the Bible, but how do you convince somebody they’re in chains when the very slavery they sit in blinds them to seeing them? What’s wrong with them is the same thing that was wrong with you before Jesus set you free. And nothing else opened your eyes but the word of Jesus and the Holy Spirit applying Jesus to your wearied soul. Preach the cross to them with patience and trust Jesus to do the work of setting captives free. Don’t expect them to stop sinning before you offer them freedom in Christ. Only by embracing freedom in Christ will they ever be compelled to stop sinning. So preach Christ to them.

And should you meet a Jew, like Billy and I did on the train-ride to Akara, Turkey—from New York of all places—tell them that the true child of Abraham is not one who can trace his lineage back to the patriarchs, or who can look down at his circumcision in the flesh, or who can boast of his ethnic superiority to the rest of the world; the true child of Abraham is the one who depends on Jesus to free him from slavery to sin.

other sermons in this series