Second Reformed Church

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Slaves vs. Sons" Sermon: John 8:31-38

“Slaves vs. Sons”
[John 8:31-38]
February 28, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            The question before us this morning is, are you still a slave, or are you a son?  And quickly notice we are talking about first century Jewish legal rites – we are not denying that some of you are women!
            Are you a slave, or are you a son?
            Jesus had explained to the crowd that when He was “lifted up” – when He was crucified – unbelievers would look at Him and know that He is truly God the Son and Savior, but they would hate the truth and prefer eternal suffering in Hell to submitting to the lordship of Jesus.  Yet, we are told that some who heard Jesus believed.
            Apparently, some of those who believed did so with something less that a salvific belief.  Some of them seem to have believed –  in some sense – that Jesus is the Messiah – the Savior – but they had not received Him in a heart-work of belief – it was merely an intellectual belief – their hearts were not in it.
            And so Jesus called out some of the Jews who had an intellectual belief, but not a saving heart belief in Him.
            And we see, first, the truth sets us free.
            “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
            Jesus told them, if they abide in His Word – what does that mean?
            When Jesus spoke of “abiding” in His Word, He was talking about that heart response which hears what Jesus has to say – Who He is, what He has done, what He has commanded –  acknowledges it as true, and obeys.
            Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV).
            “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23, ESV).
            “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:24, ESV).
            “If you abide in My Word” – “if you know about Me, and you love Me, and you strive to do everything I have commanded in the whole of God’s Word”
            Do we believe in Who Jesus is and what He has done?  Do we love Him?  Do we strive to obey Him?
            Maybe we wonder.
            Dr. R. C. Sproul tells the story of someone who came to him worried about his salvation – worried that he did not love Jesus enough.  And Dr. Sproul asked, “Do you love Him at all?”  His point was that if we love Jesus at all, if we are striving to keep His commands at all – then we do truly love Him, we do abide in Him – because the only way we can love Jesus at all, is if God the Holy Spirit has changed our hearts and caused us to believe.
            If we struggle with obeying Jesus – if our sin is ever before us and all the more painful to us as time goes by – then we love Jesus and we are seeking to obey Him – we are abiding in Him, and we are growing and being grown.  These are our growing pains.
            If we are like a certain politician who says he is a Christian, yet he says he has never lied and doesn’t need to ask God for forgiveness – be very nervous.  Make sure you really do believe, because when we think everything is fine and we are good enough and doing well – that may be a sign that we have never really believed.
            So, if we abide in Jesus – if we love and obey Him as believers, we are His disciples – we are those people who are His learners – His students.  All we who truly and savingly believe in Jesus are His students in the faith.
            And if we are disciples, we will know the truth – not merely in an intellectual way, but in an experiential way.  We will know the truth in the sense that we have experienced the truth and its effects. 
            “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6, ESV).
            If we know the truth in this experiential way – through belief and obedience – we will be set free from slavery to sin, by the truth of the Triune God and His plan to save a people for Himself.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit apply Jesus’ work to we who believe by the work of God the Holy Spirit in us, and we are set free from slavery to sin.  We no longer have to sin.  We are now free to know God and to love and obey Jesus, as we are empowered by God the Holy Spirit.
            The truth sets us free!
            Second, people in spiritual slavery don’t realize it.
“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”’?”
Some of the Jews reacted poorly to Jesus’ saying that they were in slavery to sin, and they made what seems to be an outrageous statement: “We are the offspring of Abraham; we have never been enslaved to anyone.”
We can take it as a given that the people who responded in this way were biological descendants of Abraham.
But, what about the claim that they had never been enslaved?  Did they forget the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Romans?  No.  They knew that they had been enslaved as a people, and they knew that was not what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus was talking about their being enslaved spiritually.
And their response was: “How can we be enslaved when we are biological descendants of Abraham, we have attended worship in the Temple our whole lives, we offer all the sacrifices, we keep the 616 laws – or however many there are – everyone knows how religious we are.  We are the chosen people that God chose for Himself to be His.  How can we be spiritually enslaved?”
“I was brought up in a Christian family.  I attend worship as often as possible.  I give generously to the church, both in money and time.  I have taught Sunday School.  I head up our fundraising rallies.  I know all the books of the Bible.  I carry my Bible with me – the one my mother gave me – and everyone knows I have it with me.  I know all the hymns by heart.  Everybody says I’m such a good person.  How can you say I am spiritually enslaved?”
In this way:  religiosity does not save.  There is a life and death difference between people who go through all the motions and look like good people, and people who truly believe in their heart in the message of the Gospel – and have been changed by it.
Salvation is by faith alone by grace alone in the Gospel of Jesus Alone – Who He is and what He has done to accomplish salvation for all we who believe.
Third, slaves unrepentantly sin.
            “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’
            Notice that Jesus opened the scope here:  He had been talking to certain Jews, but now He made a statement about “everyone” – Jews and Gentiles.  Every single person who has ever lived – in fact.  “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
            Ash Wednesday, we looked at Psalm 51, and we saw that David wrote: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, ESV). 
            And we discussed that David is not saying that his mother sinned in conceiving him.  No, what he is saying is that every mere human being since Adam who is conceived is a born sinner – a slave to sin – unable to do anything but sin.
            As Paul puts it:
            “What then? Are we Jews any better off [than Gentiles]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave;    they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:9-18, ESV).
            So, everyone is a born sinner, inclined towards sin.
            And since we are born sinners, it seems like our natural way of being; we don’t naturally think that we are spiritually dead and in need of salvation.  We have to be awakened and enlivened to our need for salvation.  We do not realize we are born slaves, and until we believe, we don’t realize we were slaves.
            And Jesus said that if anyone practices sin, he is a slave to sin.  What does He mean by “practice”?  The word He uses here is for a habitual action, something someone continually does (without repentance).  So, a person who practices sin is someone who constantly sins – he is someone who is a slave to sin.  He never does anything for the glory of God – any seeming good he does is done with some sinful motivation.  He is a slave to sin – and by himself, there is no way out of slavery.
            Now, think of slavery.  Are slaves members of the household?  Do they have the rights and privileges of the master and his family?  No.
            In fact, unlike the children of the master of the house, slaves are not part of the family – they do not live in the house forever – slaves are sold, sent away, and/or killed.  No matter how romantic an idea some have about the relationship between slaves and their masters – slaves are not members of the household – they are not brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.  They are, effectively, property.
            So, all mere humans since Adam are born slaves to sin, but don’t realize it.  Yet the truth is that we are born slaves, and the Master of the house does not consider slaves to be permanent family members.
            On the other hand, fourth, sons are free from slavery.
            “’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.’
            Sons remain in the house forever.  The sons (and daughters – remember we are talking about first century legal matters) of the master are always the sons of the master.  They are like their father; they are true members of the family – entitled to the inheritance of a son.
            Here, first off, we have the Son – in fact the Only Begotten Son.  The Son of God –Who has the right as a member of the household to free slaves.  And through the work that Jesus did, and because of Who He is as the God-Man, He is authorized and does free the slaves that God gave to Him from slavery – to become a people for Him – the Church.
            And this freedom is not simply freedom, but we who are freed are made sons (and daughters) with Jesus – we are adopted into the family of God, so we now have the rights and privileges of the household and inheritance, like Jesus.
            Paul put it this way:
            “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:3-7, ESV).
            We who believe have been freed from slavery to sin – we no longer have to sin.  Sin now is a choice we make contrary to our Father Who has adopted us and made us co-heirs with His Only Begotten Son, Jesus.
            Finally, we see that slaves want to kill the truth.
“’I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’”
            Slaves are so blinded to the slavery that they were born into that they hate to be told the truth of their slavery and the Only Way to be free.  Rather than admit the Truth of Jesus and receive the gift of freedom that He has secured for all who will believe, they deny the truth – they say there is nothing wrong with them – they seek to kill anyone who would say that there is a problem – that they are slaves – that they need to be freed to and by the Truth.
            Jesus told them that this is because His Word finds no place in them.  And we’re back to the beginning of this section:  if we abide in the Word – if we believe in Jesus and Who He is and what He has done in the Gospel, and strive to obey Him in all things, then we are His students – His followers.  Those who do not abide in the Word are not students of Jesus, they do not follow Him, they do not seek to obey Him – in fact, the prefer Him to be dead – which is one of the reasons why Jesus was eventually crucified.
            Jesus knew what He was talking about – He had seen His Father and followed His Will perfectly.  They heard from their father and followed him.
            And, so we have this distinction:
            Slaves to sin are spiritually dead people who pursue sin and deny the Truth of Jesus to the point to wanting to kill it – if not Him – and then anyone and anything that stands for Him and His Truth.  Yet, they do not realize they are spiritually dead.
            Sons are all those who have been freed from spiritual slavery by Jesus.  They believe in Jesus savingly – with their hearts as well as their minds, and seek to obey Him.  They have been adopted into the family of God by God.
            So, are you a slave or a son – and how do you know?
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, our Father, we thank You for choosing a people to be freed by the Truth and Your Son.  We thank You for adopting us as sons and daughters that Jesus would be our brother and we would be delivered from the wages of sin and, instead, brought into Your everlasting kingdom.  Help us to know the difference between slaves and sons, and may we rejoice if we have believed and obeyed in love that we are now sons.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray.  Amen.

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