Talking about freedom these days can be a hazardous. Both the United States and Canada can boast about our freedom and our life in the land of the free. One day, a Canadian was boating to a Russian about the freedom of speech. He began by saying “I can literally walk into Parliament Hill and say, Prime-Minister Trudeau, ‘I don't like the way you are running this country' and I won't get into any trouble at all!" With that, the Russian replies, I can do exact same, too. I too can literally walk to the Red Square and say, 'Comrade Putin, I don't like the way Prime-Minister Trudeau is running his country and I won't get into any trouble at all!"
Jesus is well known saying things that land him in trouble. Today’s gospel is no exception. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The Jews present angrily challenge Jesus about their freedom saying “we have never been slaves to anyone” (John 8:33) while Pontius Pilate would retort at Jesus saying “what is truth” (John 18:38). According to Jesus freedom follows truth which is based in Him. “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
One day, a man approached Jesus asking him about the truth of life. “Good teacher, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). If you wish to enter eternal life, replied Jesus, you must keep the Commandments. “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother” (Mark 10:19). As the man went away deeply saddened, the disciples wondered “who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26) to which Jesus replies, “with man it is impossible” (Mark 10:27).
It took Martin Luther many years to come to this realization. Throughout his early years, Luther sought to please God through obedience. Luther actually hated the righteousness and justice of God because he believed that to be right with God required perfect obedience to the Law as detailed above. The church had forgotten the mercy of God. Luther described God as our angry judge and Christ as a relentless prosecutor. ‘How could a sinner face divine holiness’ asked Luther.
Martin Luther was deeply troubled. He prayed for hours on end. He fasted, went without sleep, and subjected himself to great physical discomfort in the search for truth. He longed to know how he could find a gracious God. He longed to find peace and rest for his tormented soul. “More than life itself, (he wrote) I wanted to be sure that I was acceptable to God. However, I was convinced that God was incensed with me. Angry with me. I was sure that He hated me”.
“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) begins God’s promise. The Lord is going to intervene and bring about change from within. Ezekiel describes God’s intervention saying “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The change came to Luther gradually as he studied the Word of God. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33) and with this God’s people will know the truth.
Before God’s wonderful and amazing grace can enter our stubborn and rock hardened human hearts, we have to come to a point in our mortal existence when we discover that there is absolutely nothing that we can do in order to be saved or to guarantee ourselves eternal life in heaven. “Who then can be saved” (Mark 10:26) we ask and Jesus replies, “with man it is impossible” (Mark 10:27).
Martin Luther would finally find the peace that he sought while studying Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Rome. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).
Before encountering this scripture, Luther wondered how an unrighteous sinner like himself could be able to live by faith. Now with a fresh spiritual insight and a heart of flesh Luther could see that a person receives a right standing with God only when s/he exercises their faith in Christ for salvation placed in their heart in Baptism – and not after s/he has performed a long list of good deeds based on the Law. The apostle Paul is clear in saying that we rely only on Christ—nothing more. Absolutely nothing else is required according to God. This is not salvation by works, for in declaring one’s helplessness before God we admit that we cannot save ourselves.
Righteousness before God comes from God as a gift to the individual who trusts in Christ and in Christ alone for salvation. “It is by grace [alone] you have been saved, through faith [alone] - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) proclaims the apostle.
You and I are mortal creatures. After eating the forbidden fruit God says “the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22) as humanity is banished from Eden into the world where they will die and return to the dust of the ground.
Humans with the knowledge of good and evil only exist for a short time. The fall of humanity defines our existence on this earth as limited. We are destined to die. This is a truth that cannot be denied. There is no getting around it, everyone will die - sooner or later. The truth of God’s Word is clear. Because of sin, our desire to be like God, our desire to want to be in control of our own life rather than placing our trust and dependence on God we are destined for physical and spiritual death which will leave us completely alone for all eternity in She’ol, Abaddon, Hades, or Hell (whatever you choose to call it). The truth of spiritual death is an eternal existence in which you will find ourselves in total and complete isolation from God and from any other being. King David understood this possibility when he wrote “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help” (Psalm 30:9-10).
Today, nobody wants to talk about death and even the church denies the existence of Hell. In a 2018 interview with an Italian journalist Pope Francis denied the existence of hell. We live in a society that prefers avoidance to confrontation. In the midst of trouble, we are asked to be kind, be calm and be safe. We prefer to sugar coat the truth with words like deceased, expired, or gone home. We try to make everything a little bit easier to swallow, especially in the words we choose when speaking about disease, sickness, or death. We might speak about a departed family member or the passing on of a relative using all kinds of language while avoiding the ‘D’ word.
Along with the ‘D’ word the church has a difficult time also talking about the ‘S’ word. Some who hold to a Methodist view of theology believe that all humans are born in total depravity. But, if they turn to God and do good, prevenient grace brings about a new birth when the believer is entirely sanctified and set free from the condemnation of original sin – unless they wilfully sin at which point, they fall from Grace. You’re right –Christ isn’t mentioned in this explanation. Under Christian universalism we find universal reconciliation where sin has been whipped away completely in the cross of Christ and all humans will eventually be saved. No Hell is required.
Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves if sin and sinful behaviour is even a concern in the post-resurrection age of the church when some believe that everyone will be reconciled to God and saved in the end – no matter what they did in this life. Some will use the expression ‘once saved, always saved’ to say that it doesn’t matter how we live our lives on this side of the grave. Many churches simply want to avoid certain words like sin. They want to avoid speaking about the Law (which has been replaced by grace – they say). They don’t want to point out sinful conduct or challenge people regarding their inappropriate behaviour because they don’t want to turn people away from church. Nobody wants to be accused of being judgmental and having somebody throw misquoted scriptures at them like “do not judge or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Instead of being open, honest and loving – people overlook sinfulness and sweep it under the carpet.
Any church that avoids speaking about hell or sin must be proclaiming what Martin Luther called a theology of glory - proclaiming the glorious new life which God has provided. This might be accompanied by the ‘prosperity gospel’ which teaches the people of the church that you will be richly blessed, materialistically and financially, when you do your good works. The problem with the theology of glory is that it only proclaims half of the story. This would be like telling the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf - leaving out what happens to the first two pigs who lose their houses while only proclaiming the victory of the third pig with his house of brick.
When we proclaim only a theology of glory, we leave out a large part of the truth. We aren’t lying, but we are only proclaiming some of the truth. We leave out those parts of the story of Jesus that we don’t want to hear - like the suffering, the death and the costs incurred in this gift of new life brought about by God’s one and only beloved son dying on the cross for our sin which Luther called the Theology of the Cross. When we proclaim only half of the story, we celebrate Easter and we leave out Good Friday. But you can’t have Easter without Good Friday. The truth of the gospel, which is our freedom from bondage to sin leading to death, is found only in ‘Christ crucified for me’. When you know this in your heart then you are living in the land of the free.
But are we truly living in the land of the free? Are we free from the bondage to sin? Not as long as we are living in the flesh which is corrupt and sinful. Some today will use omission as a safe alternative to telling the whole truth. They only tell the part of the story that does not incriminate them. They might say to the judge ‘I was sitting in my car in front of the bank when two men jumped in and told me to drive away.’ Sometimes, we justify ourselves bending the truth like the man who did not steal his neighbour’s newspaper. The subscriber regularly complained about not getting his paper on time. His neighbour borrowed the newspaper from his neighbour’s porch, read it and returned it before his neighbour noticed. Instead of omission, sometimes we teach each other that it’s okay to tell a little white lie. Whoever, especially in the church, decided that one type of lie was better than another type needs to read their Bible again. Paul reminds us that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned” (Romans 3:2-23).
People tend to use white lies when they want to tell the truth but not the whole truth because they believe the whole truth will get them in hot water. There is an Old Yugoslavian proverb which says, “tell the truth and run.” This is good advice for someone protecting their own interests. Historically many of God’s prophets paid dearly for ignoring this advice. Those who spoke the truth, then and now, regarding the sinful, immoral, and idolatrous behaviour are made to suffer.
Truth is a touchy subject in many different areas of life. The Lutheran Reformation spoke about truth as the church turned and tried to kill those whom they labelled as heretics to the church’s truth. The church today speaks about truth, but modernity says that its okay for everybody to have a different truth. Your truth doesn’t have to be the same as my truth. I might believe in Heaven and Hell – while you can believe in the Land of Oz.
The gospel today speaks about truth. How we understand truth as proclaimed by God himself in the person of Jesus may or may not change our present views of sin, death, salvation, freedom or truth – and maybe it will. Jesus says “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Along with the truth proclaimed in the gospel comes a wonderful freedom as Jesus frees us from our slavery to sin.
Martin Luther didn’t know enough to speak the truth and run. He stood his ground and confronted the most powerful entity of his time as he publicly spoke those memorable and timeless words four years after the posting of his 95 theses; “Since your majesty and your lordships want a simple, clear and true answer, I will give it. Unless I am convinced by the teachings of Holy Scripture or by sound reasoning - I am tied by the scriptures I have quoted and by my conscience. I can not and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither safe nor right. Here I stand. God help me! Amen” (Martin Luther). What began with Luther questioning the validity of buying one’s way into heaven through the sale of indulgences, turned into the re-discovery of the biblical truth. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
The truth of God’s holy Word could not and can not be ignored. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). No human being will be justified in God’s sight “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The truth is that not one of us is good enough to be called the children of God. But the truth doesn’t stop there. Who then can be saved asked Jesus’s disciples? “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
God’s law and sin condemn, but God’s Grace is the truth that rescues us from death and the law. We have been justified to God by God himself. Christ living in me opens the door to freedom. Only in Him can we find ourselves living in the land of the free. Christ’s spoke and lived the truth and he did not run from those who opposed him. He stood his ground, right up to the cross in order that we might be made right with God. When Christ’s gospel is spoken truthfully, it never accuses, isolates, alienates, or excludes. The gospel truth speaks of divine love that reforms our lives, our church and the world, as all sinners are welcomed to share in the abundance of God’s grace. At the heart of the Reformation is the truth of the Gospel. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you” (John 15:7) you will know the truth and experience genuine freedom.
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.