The Gift of LibertyPastor Lutzer | December 27, 1998
Selected highlights from this sermon
Sin is nothing short of bondage, and there is only one way to break those bonds: through the truth found in Christ Jesus.
Jesus taught us that truth can set us free. Even though some say that truth is relative, the fact is that truth does exist, and it can be known in Jesus Christ. The Lord asks us to receive the truth and tear down our self-constructed walls. His deliverance can set us free from the slavery to sin.
Christ, the gift of liberty! What is liberty? What is freedom? Well, John Locke probably said it as well as anyone else has when he said that freedom is the ability to act or not to act according to as we shall choose or will. That’s a pretty good definition of liberty.
Now, of course, there are different kinds of freedom, and today we think for example of political freedom. We are aware of the fact that there are still some countries of the world that do not have that and as a result they are enslaved, oftentimes by dictators. The wisdom, of course, of those who wrote the Constitution of the United States is that they refused to give the president a great deal of power. There are checks and balances because those who wrote the document knew that the potential for corruption was awesome and great. History had proven that. Political freedom!
There’s another kind of freedom as well, and that is personal freedom. That’s the ability to live wherever you want to live, choose whatever career you want to choose, get married to whom you wish to marry (that is to say unless the other party is not in agreement, you understand). There are obvious limitations.
Martin Luther wanted to give us freedom of conscience and we thank God that he stood there in Worms and said, “My conscience is taken captive by the Word of God.” What he was doing there was to say that at the end of the day, when it comes to religion, one must be free in his conscience.
Well, today, however, I speak about a different kind of liberty, a different kind of freedom, and that is freedom from the blinding absorption of sin. It’s the kind of freedom that does not allow you to do whatever you like, which some people define as freedom, but rather than thinking of that, it is the kind of freedom that allows you to do what you should, and to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul, and get on with the business of fulfilling the purpose for which you were created. Now that’s the kind of freedom that the Bible talks about. This is a kind of freedom that you can have even if you are in a political regime where there is no political freedom.
Back in the 1980’s when the Soviet Union had not yet fallen, Rebecca and I went there. We ministered in different churches and in the process we met men and women who were free in their souls, though they did not yet have freedom of assembly or freedom of speech. Those things were just coming their way, but they weren’t there yet. But it is possible, you know, to be free within even though you aren’t free without. I’m talking about a sense of liberty that involves joy – a sense of freedom, and that’s the freedom that Jesus spoke of.
The text today is John 8 and we shall pick it up at verse 31 - John 8:31. Now you have to understand the context here because Jesus is speaking to Jews, some of whom believed in Him, and some of whom did not believe on Him, and so what He’s doing is helping them to siphon through their own faith, to understand whether or not their faith is genuine. But he’s talking about freedom. It’s a kind of freedom that only Jesus can bring. So now beginning in John 8:31 it says, “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.’ 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”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 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.’” What a statement!
Now today we are going to discuss freedom. Some of you come with addictions, you come to this situation with habits, behavioral ruts that are deep that have been well worked. You come with foundations that go back to your family of certain patterns that you cannot break and you say, “There is no way that I can be free.” Jesus is going to tell us you can be free indeed. And by the time this message is over I expect some of you to be delivered.
Now what we’d like to do today is to go on a fact finding mission, and I’d like to give you some facts that Jesus talks about here that will help us get a handle on what freedom is and will eventually lead to liberation and spiritual freedom.
The first fact is this. Truth exists. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Now years ago you didn’t have to begin there. It was generally believed that truth existed, but today in our (quote) post-modern age people say there is no truth. Now when I went to school, which was a ways ago, it was often said that truth is that which the majority believes. That is devastating but today it is even more devastating. Truth happens to be what I believe, what I make it out to be. And what people say is that whatever I think is true (and catch this), it is true simply because I think it. And so everybody makes up his own truth.
Well I want you to know that biblically, truth resides in God. That word truth in the Scripture is very closely aligned to trust because what it says is that there are some things that are reliable because they are true and they are true because God delights, the Scripture says, in truthfulness. God is truth.
Now that means immediately that truth has some interesting characteristics, doesn’t it? For example, it has universality. It applies to all cultures. There’s none of this idea of saying, “Well you know there are certain religious truths that are in the west but not in the east.” No, no, no! Truth ultimately is like mathematics. Two plus two is equal to four. You say, “Well, is it true for all cultures? Is two plus two be equal to four even if the moon should turn to green cheese?” Yes! “Well,” you say, “Would two plus two be equal to four if all of the oceans suddenly disappeared and evaporated overnight?” Yes, two plus two would still be equal to four. You say, “Would two plus two still be equal to four if the Cubs were actually able to win a World Series?” (laughter) That’s the point at which one might question whether or not two plus two is still equal to four, but the answer is yes, because it has universality.
Truth also has consistency. There’s no such thing as a contradiction. It actually exists. Truth has objectivity. It exists outside of myself. A scientist may investigate a star, and then the scientist might not even see the star. By the way, did you know that next year for Christmas you could actually buy a star for somebody? Now that’s the best deal I’ve ever heard of. I wish I had thought of that – advertising “I’ll sell you a star.” And nobody can go up there to check it out to see whether or not you like it, but if you are in the mood and have the right telescope, you can see what you’ve bought. You can see your property up there.
Listen, my friend, I want you to know today that facts do not disappear even if people do not have regard for them or ignore them. Truth has objectivity. It exists outside of us. The star would be there whether it was found or not if it exists. And Jesus said, “You shall know the truth.” Truth exists.
You say, “Well, where is religious truth found? Where is the kind of truth found that will set me free?” Well, we look at the text and He said in verse 31, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” First of all, it is routed in the sayings of Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” It is what Jesus tells us. “Thy word is truth.”
And then, of course, it is found also in the person of Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” You see, the Scripture says regarding Christ, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” You think of any attribute of God and Jesus has it. Is God omniscient? Christ was, though He didn’t always use His omniscience. Is He omnipotent? Why the Scripture says, “By Him all things were created both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” Truth exists and it resides in God’s words, and in God’s Son.
Someone asked an old music teacher (Now not all music teachers are old but some are.), “What’s the good word for the day?” You know we sometimes say that to one another, and the teacher apparently went over to the side of the room and took a tuning fork and then, having done that, took a hammer and hit the tuning fork, and said, “That is an A. The soprano who is above me in the room is always off-key. The tenor across the hall flats when he hits the high notes. The piano is out of tune, but that is an A. It was an A a thousand years ago. It’ll be an A a thousand years from now. That is an A.”
My friend, Washington headlines may not always be good. They seldom are. We don’t know what the future holds. Promises are made by politicians that are not kept. All kinds of false cults arise within our nation, and people go wandering off on all kinds of false paths and they don’t know where to turn. And sometimes in the dark you wonder whether or not there still is something that you can hang on to. And I say to you today, this is truth. Truth exists. That’s the first fact.
Let me give you a second fact that grows out of the text. Truth can be known. You’ll notice in verse 32, “You will know the truth.” Now I want you to know that there are some things that we will never know, and it’s very unlikely also that we will know everything about anything. There’s always something new to be learned, but it is possible to know enough that you need to know for the kind of deliverance that Jesus is talking about and the kind that I will offer to you on His behalf in just a few moments. It is possible to know truth.
Now there are two ways that this truth needs to be understood. The first is there is a certain amount of intellectual content to truth. Calvin, the great philosopher and theologian (I should say) in Geneva wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which were the textbooks of Protestantism for 200 years. And in the Institutes he begins by saying this. “There are two kinds of knowledge, and,” he says, “they are interrelated. One,” he says, “is knowledge of ourselves, and the other is knowledge of God, and,” Calvin says, “one cannot have one without the other.” You need a knowledge of God to have a knowledge of yourself.
Now have you ever wondered to yourself why the world is so messed up? It’s because people are trying to have a knowledge of themselves without a knowledge of God, and therefore they have no standard by which they can really judge themselves, and they do not see themselves in the right light, and that’s why they come off so well. It’s because they refuse to look at God, and if you refuse to look at God you do not know yourself.
Many of us are like that little boy who said to his mother, “I am eight feet tall,” and he was according to the yardstick that he had made. So we make our own yardsticks. We have our own means of measurement, and then we say, “I am so-and-so. I am righteous. I am better than someone else,” and the fact is we have not seen God. Now that happens through the Word of God, so there’s that intellectual content, but hear this. It isn’t enough to merely say, “I have that intellectual content about God and about my own great needs in His presence.” The knowledge that Jesus is talking about also necessitates the will. It is a willingness to know the truth, and there is the rub – there is the difficulty.
Let’s take our Bible and look just a few verses beyond the text that I read. Jesus is interacting with these Jewish leaders, and he says, for example, in verse 43, “Why do you not understand My way of speaking? Because you are not able to listen to My message.” Now I need to pause there and just simply say that these people could have said, “What do You mean? We hear You perfectly. We understood the meaning of every single word.” But Jesus said, “You are not listening to what I am saying. You are not absorbing it into your soul. It is making no impact on who you are. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father!” says Jesus.
Let’s get to verse 46. “Who among you convicts Me concerning sin?” Now notice. “If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me? The one who is from God listens to the words of God. Because of this you do not listen —because you are not of God.” Have you ever wondered why it is that some people can hear the Gospel over and over again? Some of you are saved and your family isn’t, and you think to yourself rather naively, at least at the beginning of the Christian life, “All that I need to do is to explain it to them and they are going to accept it because it is so clear.” No, notice the words of Jesus. “You don’t accept the truth because you do not belong to Me.” Even though you are hearing the words, the light of those words is darkness to your soul because you do not belong to God. There has to be willingness. Jesus said, “If any man will do His will, namely the will of My Father, he shall know of the doctrine whether I speak of myself or whether or not I speak of God.” In other words, there is a commitment there to the absorbing of these words.
Now I have to stop and ask you a question. What about it? I know that there are many, many who are here today, but if I were having coffee with you in your living room and I could look into your eyes (and it’s always important to do that one-on-one so that you communicate), are you actually willing to let the truth be absorbed into your soul, or what barrier have you put up that in effect says, “The truth will not affect me?” Jesus is saying here that if you are going to know the truth, it has to be with an attitude of openness. It has to be with a willingness to change.
You know there are those who say, “I can’t accept the Bible as being God’s Word because of all these intellectual difficulties.” Well, there may be some intellectual difficulties, but what you need to do sometimes is to say to those people, “Okay, you can’t accept it, but let me ask you this. What changes would you have to make in your life if you did accept the Bible?” And usually it is those changes, you see, that stand in the way of its acceptance, because when you accept Christ as Savior, and when you understand that He is the deliverer, He comes in, not merely to add to your particular situation, but He comes to take over and He comes to flush out all of the evil, and all of the self-seeking and the egoism with which we are born, and its changes are revolutionary.
And so what Jesus is saying is, “Don’t be too quick to say, ‘Yes, I know the truth.’” The truth can be known, but to effect the change there’s a price tag there. So, let me ask you, friend, today, just one-on-one. Sometimes when we talk to one another we say, “You know, don’t take this personally.” Well, what I want you to do today is to take this personally. Now let me ask you this question. Are you willing to simply say, “God, show me whatever You see in this message today and by Your grace I’ll respond to it?”
Two facts we’ve learned so far. Truth exists. Secondly, truth can be known. Third, truth sets you free. It’s right there in the text in verse 32. Truth sets you free. It is a liberating truth. Now, what does it mean? It means, of course, freedom from the undue pressure that other people have put upon you, the expectations that are sometimes so debilitating. It is freedom from the compulsions and the driving forces of sin. It is freedom to be content with God when everyone around you is not content at all, and when you are being unfairly criticized. That word freedom in the context in which Jesus is saying it is a marvelous word of deliverance that some of you, who are listening to this, desperately need to hear.
Now in order for us to get at this concept of freedom, Jesus makes two contrasts, and I’d like to point them out in the text. The first is in response to the people (in verse 33) who are saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Now in verse 34 to 36, Jesus answered them. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Wow! You are going to experience the kind of freedom that can only be imagined. You’ll be free indeed.
Notice the contrast between a slave and a son. You see, you can have a slave in your home, and that slave is there by your choice. He serves at your pleasure, but you could also choose to fire him. He has no direct family ties, and it means that he has no inheritance. He is there temporarily. “He has no permanent place in the family,” Jesus says. But he says a son is different. Once you are a son, you become a part of the family inheritance. You become a part of what God is doing, and you rejoice in your marvelous, marvelous future.
Now don’t miss Christ’s point. He’s saying that when you accept Him as Savior, when you bow to Him as Lord, and you become a member of God’s family, then you are a son. And that sonship means that you are now under a new owner. Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin, as we’ll point out in a moment, but the son is no longer a servant. He is no longer driven by those urges. He is no longer torn and pushed and shoved by the forces of slavery. Why? It’s because he’s a son. That’s the first contrast that Jesus makes. Hang on to that because we’ll need it in a moment.
There’s a second contrast and that is between the fathers that are made here. Now Jesus is interacting with them and they are saying, “Well, we are Abraham’s children.” Jesus is saying, “Now wait a moment. You may be Abraham’s children so far as your seed is concerned, and so far as (what shall we say) the generations are concerned(physically the descendants of Abraham), but spiritually you are not.” He says (verse 42), “If God were your Father, you would love Me for I came from God.” They were saying, “Oh, God is our Father.” And Jesus is saying, “Now wait a moment. If He were you’d love Me.” Verse 43, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word.”
And now, you know Jesus. I don’t know. I realize that we live in a different day, and I guess in those days nobody was offering a course in how to win friends and influence people. Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil (How unpolitically correct can you get?), and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
You’ve heard it said many times. The only time you can believe the devil is when he tells you, “I am lying.” Believe him at that moment. Do you know what Jesus is saying? Two fathers means two natures. You see, if you have the nature of the devil, and all unbelievers do, you have the nature of your father the devil. Now that’s harsh language.
A young woman comes to me and says, “Pastor Lutzer, I am in love with a marvelous young man, and we want to be married, but I do need to tell you he’s not a Christian.” Well, what does Pastor Lutzer say to her? He takes her to this passage and he says, “You know, if he’s not a Christian his father is the devil. Now you and he may get along very, very well, but, young lady, the time will come when you are going to have problems with your father-in-law.” (laughter) That’s what the text says here. You have to think that one through carefully. He’s going to start to mess things up.
Now what Jesus is saying is, “If you are an unbeliever you have the nature of the devil who was a liar from the beginning.” You say, “I’m not that bad.” Well, I’m going to let that pass for just a moment. I’d like to know you a little better, but if you belong to Jesus Christ, you have the nature of God the Father, and what did Jesus say? “If you are born of God you will love Me because I came from God and you have the nature of God.” Jesus said, “We are partakers of the Divine Nature.”
What a contrast! There’s the contrast between a son and a slave, the contrast between two competing fathers – God the Father and the devil the father. And there’s the contrast between two lines speaking throughout Church history – those that belong to the devil and those that belong to the Father in heaven.
Now, how do we bring this down to effect deliverance in the lives of those who are listening? I’d like to make some very important observations here that will bring, and result hopefully in transformation of lives. That’s the only reason why we preach and teach. It’s because we desire eternal changes because of what we hear.
First of all, notice this. It’s very important. The worst kind of slavery is slavery to sin. I read it just a moment ago but all too quickly, but now we have to go back. Jesus said (verse 34), “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” It’s worse than political slavery. It’s worse than personal slavery. Slavery to sin!
Now do you realize what that means? It means that through a series of incremental steps some people give up their freedom entirely and yet they call it freedom. It goes under the illusion of freedom but it is the worst kind of bondage and slavery.
There are some of you who are listening who are no longer in control of your lives. Sin is! You say, “I’m doing what I like.” No, you’re not really doing what you like. You are doing what sin likes. You know when you are a slave you don’t wake up in the morning and begin giving the master orders and telling the master what to do. When you are a slave you do as you are told. It’s the master who barks out the orders and you jump in accordance with that master. And there are some of you who are like that. You no longer have control over alcohol. It is the sin within you that says, “Go ahead and do it,” and you do it because you are out of control.
For some of you it may be sexual addictions or pornography, and you say, “You know, all of those images – I hate it and yet I love it. I can’t help myself.” Yeah, that’s right because the servant cannot help it. He must do what his master dictates. Now I’m not getting people off the hook because of that. I’m simply saying that this is the nature of sin with its driving forces, whether it is covetousness or pride or whatever.
Alexander Pope wrote,
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
And some of you are under that grip. But let me tell you that there is a form of slavery that is even worse than that because if you are enslaved in these fleshly things, you at least know it. There’s a part of you that says, “Yes, I am a slave. I do whatever the dictates of sin demand. When sin says, ‘Do it,’ I do it. When sin says, ‘Go over there,’ I go over there. I am a slave.”
But there’s another kind of slavery, and that is of the religious type. It’s the kind that Jesus was referring to here when He was talking about the Pharisees. Now, the reason that that slavery is so much worse is because it involves sins of the spirit, which really do not cause us the same sense of shame or conviction. A sin of the spirit is a prideful kind of thing. It is when I am so self-absorbed, and when I’m so self-righteous that I take those righteous robes and wrap them around myself and say, “Just look at me. I’m okay. I’m as good as the person next door,” and we refuse to allow the light of God to come into our life and show us what we’re really like. That also is a kind of slavery of the sin of the spirit, and the Jews, bless them, could not see their need at all.
Remember Jesus told the story about the man who goes into the temple to pray and says, “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like other men (adulterers, extortionists and all of these awful things), and I tithe and I fast twice a week and I do all these things.” There’s a contrast between that man and the publican (Or is it Republican? No, it’s publican. I know. I’m just seeing if you are with me.) who smites himself and says, “God, be merciful to me the sinner.” Jesus said He’s the One who went home justified, and not that self-righteous religious bigot who could not see his sins.
Now, first of all then, the worst kind of slavery is slavery to sin. When you wake up in the morning sin tells you what to do, and you hop to it. Let me give you a second very important conclusion. It’s the truth that sets us free. What does Jesus mean when He talks about the truth setting us free? Well, you know, it’s like a flashlight that God brings into our lives, isn’t it? God takes the flashlight and He goes into our souls and He begins to shine that light and it is so painful because of all the closets that we have hid, all of the things that we have done to try to prevent God from doing that. Suddenly the light begins to dawn, and as we learned in our last message, people flee the light because it is so, so filled with exposure and oftentimes shame, that we flee. But Jesus says that before you can do anything, if the truth is going to set you free, if there’s anything that can be said about truth it’s that truth is light. And then with the light coming in then the question is, “Are you willing to deal with the issues as God brings them to your attention no matter what that cost might be?”
You know I’m reading a passage from James. Now I could go to other places and we could even look at the words of Christ, but this fits so beautifully. Listen to what James says: “Submit then yourselves to God.” So we begin there. That means confession. It means we agree with God. We agree that we are out of line in ways that only God can show us, and we submit to God. We hold nothing back. There’s no provision made for future sin. There’s no desire now to simply say, “Well, this is temporary. I’ll confess my sins but my full intention is to do this sin again.” No, submission means that we have nothing left. We are exhausted and we give it all to God. “Submit yourselves to God.”
Secondly, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” because you can imagine the devil now being in a position of recognizing that there is some debilitating sin that someone might experience as even a believer, and they are going to give that up and enter into the glorious light of God’s freedom which is anathema to the enemy. But resist the devil and he will flee from you.
“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded. Grieve and mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning, your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will pick you up.”
That humility sometimes means becoming accountable to other people because you now realize exactly how desperately you want the freedom that Jesus gives. In fact, that freedom is so wonderful that Jesus said, “You shall be free indeed.”
I’ve prayed with people who, in the process of praying and getting honest with God, you can almost feel the chains of sin fall onto the floor after years of bondage and slavery. Suddenly they say, “In Christ I am free.” Now that doesn’t mean that there are no more struggles. You know all that. But what it means is that Christ has finally moved in, not only to save but also to take over and to transform.
You know there’s a song that we like to sing that I’ll quote in just a moment, but before I do that I need to tell you that Alexander the Great, as you know, was one of the greatest generals that ever lived. It is said that he wept because there were no worlds to conquer. There was someone who looked at that fact of history and said, “You know, maybe he wept because there were not ‘no worlds to conquer,’ but he wept because he had not conquered any worlds.” Within his own heart still driven by these desires for control, for leadership, for ownership, he was bound by the lust for war and to win every single battle. History may say that he conquered all the different nations of the world that existed in that day. That’s what history might say, but if you looked into his heart you might discover that he died a slave. He died a slave.
Wesley wrote the song that we sing. This is what it says": “He breaks the power of canceled sin.” Some of you say, “Oh Pastor Lutzer, I have confessed my sins so many times. My sin is forgiven. Yes, before I came here to church today I confessed my sins.” I hope that you did. I did and I hope that you did. But nevertheless, though the sin is canceled, its power is there, and tomorrow is a different day - Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday with all of the temptations. Notice the text that Wesley wrote.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
If the Son shall therefore make you free, you will be free indeed. What does God do? God takes us through that slavery until we are so sick we cry out and say, “Christ, deliver me.” Finally he has our attention. The promise is to all those who humble themselves and come to the only one who can offer such deliverance.
Our Father, today we thank You that Christ is the gift of liberty. We thank You for His astounding statement to people bound in their own religious traditions, bound in their own conceptions of righteousness, and we thank You that in Him there is that freedom. And we pray today, Lord, for those who are listening, many of whom are bound and driven. They are such servants. What good slaves they are! Whatever the dictates of the flesh tell them to do, they do it. Today, Lord, help them to see that Christ came to set them free.
Now what is it that you need to talk to God about today? If you are not a believer why don’t you reach up right now and say in faith, “I accept Christ as Savior. I transfer my trust to Him that He might set me free.” If you are a Christian, what issues are there in your life that you aren’t willing to face, but now in the presence of Christ you do and say, “Lord, my life is an open book. Take it. Rid me of my bondages.” You talk to Him right now.
Father, please come and deliver Your people. Only You know that which is hidden in the heart. Would You come, Father, to heal and to bless? Set free those, Father, those chained in their own little world of anger and self-will, and do not let us go until we are free and until the chains fall off. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.