Whether you’re brand new to SonRise or have been around SonRise for a while, let me briefly state what we seek to accomplish in this sermon moment each week.

During the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gathering we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means we do not aim at saying anything new but seek to only say what God has already said. So, each sermon will have more than a point or theme, but a text, and the point of that text will be the point of the sermon. In this sense I as your pastor or whatever elder preaches the sermon we aim to be the nothing but waiters, whose task is taking the Chef’s meal and bringing it to the table without changing it in any way, shape, or form. We don’t to do this randomly but orderly, as we work through books of the Bible. So when we come to specific passages week after week we come to them in their own context, having already examined the verses that come before and anticipating the verses that come after. Or to put it another way, we seek to sit underneath the authority and illumination of the Scripture, rather than standing over it using the Scripture to support our own message. This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we do aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.[1]

Today, at Year’s End, we find ourselves in John’s gospel. We began John this past January and plan to be in it until May 2019. If you do not have a Bible you can understand we have one for you in the back that you’re welcome to keep if you’d like. If you’ve already picked up one of those Bibles you’ll find our passage today, John 8:31-36, on page 522. I’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it.

Let’s pray.

For Christmas my wife Holly got me a survival fire starter. I’ve always been into camping and surviving in the wild, so it was an awesome gift. But along with it came with a survival guide that goes over the most important things to know when in a dire situation where there’s no one to rescue you. As I read over this guide I was encouraged to know what to do if I ever find myself in a situation like that, but I was also alarmed, and reminded that I don’t ever really want to be in a situation like that………John 8:31-36 is similar. In it there are two certainties for us to behold. One of them is gloriously wonderful, the other horrifically awful. In the first one God means to deeply encourage you, in the second one God means to acutely alarm you. Both of them, though, help us see things are they really are, and will lead us to a greater resolve to know God better and trust Him deeper in the new year.

Let’s dig in now and see these things as they come to us in v31-36.

The Freedom of Abiding (v31-32)

After Jesus gave some very hard teaching directed at the hostile Jewish crowd in John 8:21-29, we see a wonderful result in v30. From this hard teaching many of these Jews had come to believe in Jesus. After they believed in Him, Jesus turns to address them, saying in v31-32, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To these new believers Jesus makes something clear. Following Him is much more than a momentary action, it’s something continuous, it’s a way of life.[2] It’s not about warm feelings or finding some of His teaching agreeable. It’s not a one time decision. It’s not walking an aisle, praying a prayer, and signing a card. No, following Jesus is all about abiding. And this way of life Jesus calls abiding is what distinguishes true disciples from false disciples. Yes, these Jews did just make a profession of faith, and that is a good thing. Professing Christ may mean that you truly do have Christ. But just because someone professes to be this or that doesn’t mean they really are. I could profess to be a scratch golfer all day long, but my word doesn’t prove that I am, my actual golfing would. There is a world of difference between those who merely profess faith and those who truly possess faith.[3] See what Jesus is saying here. Who are His true disciples? Those who abide in…what? Those who abide in His Word. Those people are true disciples of Christ.

Notice in v32 the results of abiding in the Word of Christ. Those who abide in Christ’s Word will experience two things: first they will know the truth, and second they will be set free by the truth. v32 is a glorious progression isn’t it? Because Jesus said He is the truth in John 14:6 means that this freedom coming from knowing the truth is in reality a freedom from knowing not just things about Christ but actually knowing Christ, who is the truth. This is glorious indeed, but it begs a question. You who profess to know Christ, do you feel free? Do you feel liberated? Do you feel rescued from bondage? Or do you feel in bondage, taken captive, or enslaved? For those of you who do feel enslaved, could it be that you don’t truly possess what you profess? Or could it be that the reason some of you feel like this is because you’re not abiding in Christ’s Word? You continue to tell yourself that true freedom is in having no master over you, yet the more you distance yourself from the Scripture the more shackled you feel. If either of these scenarios fit you hear Jesus in v31-32 speaking directly to you. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The way to freedom from the bondage of sin isn’t by being your own master and living life on your terms. The way to experience freedom from the bondage of sin is by placing yourself under the authority of Christ and His Word and living life on His terms.

In Boston there is what’s called The Freedom Trail. A 2.5 mile route that will lead you through all the major historical sites of the American Revolution: museums, meetinghouses, churches, and cemeteries. On the trail you can see the well known Boston Common, Park Street Church, King’s Chapel, the Old State House, the Paul Revere House, old North Church, the Bunker Hill monument, and more. Only one thing is required of those who would walk the Freedom Trail, you must follow the red line on the sidewalk. If you follow it, you’ll see all these sites and more. If you leave it, you’ll miss it all. Similarly but in a vastly greater way, only those who abide in the Word of Christ are Christ’s disciples. Profess what you will, only those who possess the Christ of the Word know Christ as He truly is.[4] Only those who walk the line He has set out for us know Him in truth. What does it look like to abide in the Word? To not only be a hearer of it, but a doer of it. To not only know it as true, but to see it beautiful. To not only study it, but to savor it.

The Slavery of Sin (v33-36)

When we come to v33 we come to a transition in the passage. We were told back in v31 that Jesus began addressing those particular Jews who had believed in Him. Then in v31-32 Jesus showed them what it really looks like to follow Him. Then we come to v33, and we see a response that carries a very different tone than belief. v33 is an angry toned response to Jesus words, scoffing at the thought of them ever being enslaved to anyone. I believe this to be a transition because I don’t think the ones angrily talking in v33 are the same people Jesus began addressing in v31. Jesus had been talking all along throughout the feast week context of John 7-8, most grew angry at Him and His words, but a small group of Jews believed in Him, so He began addressing that group, but as soon as He does so the angry mob intrudes back into the conversation in v33 with another angry remark and they then remain the group in view all the way until the end of chapter 8 when they try to stone Him.[5] Come back now to their intrusion in v33, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Apparently to them they don’t see themselves to ever have been under the yoke of or enslaved to another. Being the descendants of Abraham, being a people with such a high pedigree, slavery is something they’re above. They heard the implication of Jesus’ words in v32. For Him to speak of them being set free implies that they’re currently bound, and to them that is completely absurd. ‘Bound, we’re not bound, we’re Abraham’s offspring, we’re royal children of God.’ Yet, do you see how blind they are? They’re Jews. Did they not just finish celebrating feast week where they remembered how God led them out of oppressive slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh? Do they not remember their exile into Babylon? Do they not remember Rome who oppresses them even now? Clearly they’re deceived, and their proud boast of such self-sufficiency in v33 is itself evidence of the bondage Jesus is speaking of.[6] They’re boasting of Abraham’s blood running through their veins, but if their spiritual heritage only includes their earthly heritage, religious as they may be they’re still spiritual orphans.[7]

Yet don’t be too quick to judge them, many today do the same thing. J.C. Ryle comments on this passage saying, “The power of self-deception in unconverted man is infinite. These Jews were not more unreasonable than many now-a-days, who say, ‘We are not dead in sin; we have grace, we have faith, we are regenerate, we have the Spirit,’ while their lives show plainly that they are totally mistaken.”[8] As a child I believed myself to be a Christian simply because we went to church on Christmas and Easter. Others point to their family, ‘My grandfather was a Christian, my father was a Christian, my mother was a Christian, I was born a Christian…I come from a long line of Christians.’ Hear me friends, no one ever comes into the kingdom of God through biology, no matter how impressive our lineage may be.[9] This brings us back to their question.

Do not forget, they asked a question in v33, “How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answers their question in the remainder of our passage today in v34-36, giving first a beginning statement in v34, a brief parable in v35, and a concluding declaration in v36.

First the beginning statement. v34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” In His response to their question Jesus points out that He is not referring to physical slavery but spiritual slavery. All those who practice, who give themselves continually to, who make a habit of sin, are slaves of sin. Though they think they’re free Jews, Jesus reminds them they’re not, and that they’re enslaved to the worst master of all. Think of it, if one is a slave to man there is freedom, peace, and rest to be found in fleeing that human master. But in slavery to sin there is no such freedom, peace, or rest found, for you can never flee it. When the fleeting pleasure passes, the sting of sin remains. Where can the slave of sin flee? He always carries his depraved nature with him. Indeed he cannot escape himself.[10] So these Jews and we ourselves are not sinners because we sin, no. We sin because we are sinners by nature. Whether ancient Jews or modern Americans, as much as we may fight against this, we deeply know that we are not ok and are enslaved to sin.

When our hearts first provoke us to dabble in some kind of sin, we think we are strong enough to handle it, that we remain the master and sin remains the servant. But how quickly we learn that the opposite is true. Sin always takes us deeper than we ever intended to go and holds us far tighter than we ever thought it would. First we resist, then we yield, and as we yield our resistance gets weaker and weaker each time we give in, until we hardly need to be tempted at all. Before long, instead of doing what we would like to do we see that we’re slaves to sin, for sin has mastered us.[11]

Next comes the brief parable. v35, “The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.” This verse illustrates the previous truth and expands on it by giving us the example of a household. In a household a son can do whatever he wishes. He can go wherever and he can have access to whatever he wants, and he can stay as long as he desires to. The son has rights to everything in the house. The slave on the other hand is different. The slave cannot do whatever he wishes, cannot go wherever and cannot have whatever he wishes, and he cannot stay as long as he desires to. The slave has no rights, and is completely bound to the will of the master of the house.[12] There could not be two more different positions. The son is free, the slave is captive. The son will always be a son, the slave could be sold any day. A son remains forever, the slave is momentary. Jesus uses this brief parable to penetrate their understanding of God’s household. In the verses that follow our passage, v37-59 Jesus will unfold how this has a dramatic effect on who is truly related to and even greater than Abraham. For now, notice Jesus is saying these Jews are not sons in the house, they’re slaves. They have no rights, while the Son has every right.

This brings us to the concluding declaration. v36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Here Jesus declares that He is able to do what no one else has the power to do. He has the power to break the bondage of sin, to set the slave free, to rip apart the thickest chains, and more so when He does this the former slave is not only free, the former slave is free indeed! This is what He was talking about back in v32 with those who had just believed. Believing in Him they came to know the truth, and having come to know the truth, what happened? They were set free! Set free from fear, set free from self, set free from the opinions of others, set free from the power of sin, and one day they will be set free from the presence of sin.

I do wonder how v36 hits you. Do you believe it? Do you want it? Or do you scoff at it? “The world imagines that to become a Christian is to lose our freedom. They suppose we’d be chained down with loads of restrictions and rules and laws to obey which would abolish our liberty. But the opposite is in fact true. It is the one outside of Christ, not the one who comes to Christ, who is in bondage to sin and its influence.”[13] It is those who think themselves good and happy and well enough on their own who feel the most lost in life. The Christian is altogether in a different position. We admit that we’re sinners, that we deserve death and hell, but we also admit that we know One who suffered in our place, bore our burden, endured our curse, and defeated it fully and finally. Christians are the ones boasting in song “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

Conclusion:

So Church, thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, and today is New Year’s Eve. From looking back on 2017 and looking into 2018, I’m sure many of you are thinking about and wanting to make some changes about your life. Getting rid of some habits and replacing them with new habits in their place. Maybe you want to change how to relate to your spouse, your kids, or your friends. Perhaps you want to get into healthier patterns of eating, entertainment, sleep, exercise, or giving. Whatever you’re thinking and whatever you’re desiring about 2018, most of you are thinking about one thing…behavior modification. I’d like to suggest something else…

I want to suggest that you aim a bit deeper, that you aim at the root of all your behavior, that you aim at your heart. 10,000 years from now only one thing will matter: if you know God or not, make your resolutions accordingly.

 

Citations: 

[1] The Response Church in San Diego (Acts 29) begins every sermon with a description very similar to this.

[2] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 196.

[3] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 163.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 250-251. See also, thefreedomtrail.org.

[5] There is much debate about whether this group speaking in v33 is the group that believed in v30. Phillips, Hughes, and Morris do believe it is the same group and explain it by pointing out that though John says they believed in v30, in reality they didn’t truly believe and we’re still unconverted. I do not agree with them and I, along with F.F. Bruce, believe v33 to be an intrusion of Pharisee’s or unbelieving Jews back into the scene.

[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 457 note 67.

[7] Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes, page 1423-1424.

[8] Quoted in Morris, page 457, note 66.

[9] Sproul, page 164.

[10] Augustine, quoted in Morris, page 458 note 70.

[11] Ibid., page 550.

[12] Hughes, page 252.

[13] Phillips, page 554.

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