We love it when things are free. We really do. Even hearing the word — free! — gets our attention. It doesn’t matter how old I am, when I see one of those free sample booths set up at the grocery store, I start to get excited. Free food! Whether or not I’d want to eat it on a regular day, I want to eat it when I see one of those booths, because… did I mention it’s free?!
So our text for this morning should definitely make us perk up our ears and listen. Jesus is talking about freedom there in the Gospel of John. He’s not talking about free food, he’s talking about us — that’s you and me — being free. More specifically, he says the truth will set you free. (Jn. 8:32) And he says that he, Jesus, is the one who does the setting-free. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
Free indeed! It sounds exciting, and it is! Jesus sets us free, the truth sets us free, and we get it all for free. Happy Reformation! What more is there to say?
Well, I don’t know about you, but there is something else I feel when I hear the word free. I don’t just feel excitement; I also feel a bit of suspicion. I’m suspicious of how free something can really be. I start to wonder what strings are attached. Maybe you get suspicious, too.
I’m here to tell you today that we’re right to be suspicious. The word free doesn’t necessarily mean what people think it means. In fact, here’s a truth that I want you to think about today: When something’s free, someone still has to pay for it. I’ll say it again: When something’s free, someone still has to pay for it.
Take my “free” food at the grocery store. Yes, I don’t pay any money to eat my free sample. But the store, or the vendor, still had to buy the food being used. At the very least, they “paid” for it by losing money when no customer bought it. But in another way, the store is hoping that I — and everyone else taking the sample — will still pay for it. They want me to buy what’s being offered. They want me to like the sample so much, that I’ll put one in my cart and pay money for it. And they know that people who try it or going to be more likely to buy it. So, the free sample is there to get me to pay.
Another example is using a “free” program on your computer. Whether you use the internet or not, you’ve probably heard of Facebook. It’s a website where people can connect with each other online. You also probably know that Facebook is free, that is, you don’t have to pay anything to use that site.
But just because it’s free doesn’t mean that nobody pays. Someone always pays. In this case, Facebook the company pays to run its own site. And advertisers pay Facebook to keep the site up. Why do those advertisers pay? What are they paying for? They’re paying for you and me? They are paying for the privilege of trying to get us to buy stuff. We don’t pay to use Facebook because we ourselves are the product that are being sold to the advertisers. When something is free, someone still has to pay.
It’s been on the news with new healthcare laws coming into effect. I have no interest in getting into any political views on this, but many people were under the impression that the new law meant things would be free. If anyone needs to go to the doctor, it will be free! What’s not to like? But, people are starting to find out that it isn’t going to quite work that way. Many people, it seems, will have to pay more. And even those that don’t pay more will still pay because the companies that have to provide this “free” insurance now have to charge more for their products to survive. Someone still has to pay.
So when Jesus talks about freedom, about something or someone being free, we have to wonder: who’s paying? Someone always does. Listen to Jesus. To the Jews who had believed him, 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.” (Jn. 8:31–32)
As we follow Jesus’ words, we can see how exactly we get to be free. The truth, Jesus says, is what sets us free. And where do we find the truth? In Jesus’ teaching. Another way to say what Jesus said here is “If you continue in my Word” you are really my disciples. Jesus’ teachings, his Word that gives us truth, that’s the Bible. By Scripture Alone is one of the slogans of the Reformation. So, Jesus is telling us that the Word is what gives us freedom. And it makes us free not just because it sits there, but it makes us free when hold to it and continue in it. We have to actually use the Word and believe it, and then, Jesus says, we will be true disciples who are free.
But do we feel that we are really free as Christians? Does the world that we live in think Christians are free? Jesus said that continuing in and holding to his Word gives us the truth which makes us free. So think about it. Is someone free who believes that the Bible made the world in six days, who believes that God designed marriage as something for one man and one woman for life, who believes that Jesus and Jesus alone is the only way to heaven and any religion that says otherwise is false… is that person free?
The world certainly doesn’t think so. The world might think that such a person is chained to the Bible, or chained to “the church” or to “religion.” The world might say, “Come on! Think for yourself! Don’t let the Bible tell you what’s true and what isn’t! Be free and think for yourself?” So, are we free when we follow and believe and obey God’s Word, or are we free when we don’t?
Jesus weighed in on this again in our text. ”I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn. 8:34) Jesus was saying that the opposite of being free is being a slave. It’s being forced to do something. So Jesus makes a pretty strong statement. Anyone who sins, Jesus said, is a slave to sin. They’re a slave! They’re being forced into that position and chained to their sin.
That’s what Jesus said, but does our world think that way? One person is careful to obey what God commands. He is careful to obey the laws of the land and his parents. He makes sure he hears God’s Word. He doesn’t take God’s name in vain. He tries not to murder or commit adultery or steal or lie or even covet. So is he free? Someone else, though, does the opposite. He does what he wants to do. If what he wants to do happens to be what someone wants to call a sin, well, so what. So which of these two people is really free?
I think our world would find the answer pretty easy. You’re free when you do what you want! You’re free when you’re not constricted and held down by a bunch of commands and laws and strict ways of life. Sinning all you want, doing whatever you want, that’s being free, according to the world.
As Christians, as people who follow Jesus and take what he says seriously, we know that the world is wrong about this. We know that Jesus and the Bible are right. We know that sin is slavery and that obeying God shows true freedom. We know it in our heads, anyway. But that can be hard to know in our hearts.
In fact, sometimes even the great truths and victory of the Reformation that we celebrate today get used as an excuse to live in sin. After all, we happily say that we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone. And we understand that to mean that salvation — going to heaven — is free. It’s not about what we do. And that’s true. And then we get in trouble when we think that it then doesn’t matter how much we sin. Maybe we don’t think in these exact terms, but we can still get sucked into this idea: I can sin all I want. After all, Jesus forgives me. I can sin all I want because I’m saved by grace alone. I can sin all I want because what I do doesn’t really matter. I’m free.
But that’s a lie. Sin feels like freedom to us, at first. But it’s really the very thing that puts us into chains. Jesus said it. Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (Jn. 8:34) Whether you think that you can sin all you want because you want to be free and sins don’t matter, or you think you can sin all you want because you’re saved anyway by grace alone, it leads to slavery. And slavery is the opposite of being free.
Jesus went on to say, A slave has no permanent place in the family. (Jn. 8:35) As Christians, we consider ourselves part of God’s family. We talk about how God brought us into God’s family in our baptisms. We rejoice in being forgiven members of God’s family by faith. And it’s true! But when we keep on sinning, we do a strange thing. We slowly but surely take ourselves out of God’s family. We grab chains and attach one half of them to our hearts and the other half to sin. And instead of living in the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross and that is given to us by faith, we reject it.
It really happens. Oh, it’s rare for someone to wake up and say, “I think I’m going to stop believing in Jesus today.” It’s much more subtle, much more gradual. But continuing in sin keeps you as a slave to sin. It makes you not free. Since it’s not free for you, that means that you have to foot the bill. And the bill for sin is very high.
The wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23) We know sin comes with death, that it brings eternal death in hell. But as we continue in sin, we might not realize what we’re doing. We’re chaining ourselves to the sin, we’re saying, “that bill that sin owes? I’ll pay it myself.” When we sin all we want, we’re saying we want to pay the bill ourselves. Sinning all we want doesn’t mean we are free; it means we have to pay the ultimate price. It means we have to pay for all eternity.
But God’s Word gives us the truth, not the lies of this world. The Reformation that we celebrate today is about the truth found in God’s Word, not in our lying, sinful hearts. That truth shows us who is really free, who is free indeed. Jesus said it. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
Jesus is the only one who sets us free. He’s the only one who gives us salvation — who saves us — for free. But remember what we’ve learned about “free.” When something’s free, someone still has to pay for it. The same is true of our salvation.
Jesus paid it in full for us. That’s the truth of Scripture. Jesus lived a perfect life. He never fell for the world’s lies, he never gave in to the false freedom of sin. He lived the perfect life that God demanded of us. Then, he paid the price that our sins deserved. He suffered and died. He didn’t just lose his physical life on the cross, he paid the eternal death that is the wages of every sin. He paid for your sin. He paid for my sin.
Friends, the truth of God’s Word is that your salvation is free. Someone already paid for it; Jesus did. Look, your sins are forgiven! Your debt is paid! So now, when you hear the absolution, which you heard from me earlier in the service that said “I forgive you all your sins.” It’s really true! You’re forgiven! Come back again and again to receive Jesus’ love for you in his Word!
And when you come to the Lord’s supper, and you receive Jesus body and blood connected with the Word. You’re also receiving Jesus’ forgiveness! Come! Get the free forgiveness from your Savior! It’s not free because no one paid for it; it’s free because Jesus paid for it!
That means you are going to heaven. It doesn’t mean you’re maybe going to heaven if you keep living right. No, your right living can’t earn you heaven. If you’re the one who has to pay, your sins will always earn you hell. No, instead it’s Jesus’ right living that earns you heaven. It’s his death that paid for you to be in heaven. So look to Jesus and live!
And when you live, you will be free to serve Jesus. You will be free to continue in and believe God’s Word. You will be free to obey God’s commandments. You are free to do all those things, because it’s Jesus who has paid the price, not us. Now we are free to serve him and thank him with all we are. We are free indeed.
Celebrate that today. Celebrate that it’s not just about a catholic monk who started to ask some questions 496 years ago. Celebrate that we have a heritage of God’s Word. We have the truth. We have the truth that our efforts are never good enough, but Jesus’ efforts are always good enough. We have the truth that we are free to serve God now, and we are free to enjoy his salvation forever. Celebrate, my friends, because you are free. Free indeed!