Reformation Sunday

by Crossings

John 8:31-36
Reformation Sunday
Analysis by Norb Kabelitz

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendents of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’? 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Preface: In this text the preacher is responsible to dissociate v. 32 (“the truth shall set you free”) from its use as a slogan in politics, philosophy or science, and engage it with John’s theology, the “word of God” centered and fleshed out in Jesus. The truth John speaks of is Jesus Himself who reveals the reality of my condition before God in two ways:


  • failure to believe in Jesus’ word leaves me enslaved to a condition of sin and death (v. 24); 
  • a faith connection to His word frees me from every alien bondage and fate to live before God (v. 52).


The two verses (24 and 52) become bookends of the text we preach from today. How will we proclaim the “truth” so that hearers will indeed experience liberation?

DIAGNOSIS: Dis-belief/ Mis-belief Create a Short Circuit in God connectedness

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Disconnect, “They had believed”
R.H. Lightfoot (St. John’s Gospel, Oxford Press), suggests that John would have us draw a distinction between those who in 8:30 are described as “believing on” the Lord and those who in 8:31 are described as having believed but no more. A “short circuit” in their continuing allegiance put their “belief” on hold. Hence verse 31 conveys the sense that “If only you had continued to dwell, made your home in my word, then you would still be my disciples.” We lose the truth about ourselves and about Him when the connection is broken, when resistance interrupts the flow of promise.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : Reliance on Religious Relatives
We get short changed when disbelief or mis-belief in Jesus leads us to hope in something less than Christ. To rely on Abraham’s DNA (or perhaps Lutheran DNA) for freedom falls short of acknowledging the One who claims, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Without Him in the mix there is a short circuit and the lights go out (8:12). Reference to Abraham as a source of “freedom” would be okay (Isaiah 51: 2; 41:8-10; 63:16) if it did not lead us to regard ourselves as possessing freedom merely because of sacred genes, tradition, or history. Faith looks to God’s promise through Abraham (see Psalm 105:42): “For He remembered His holy Promise and Abraham His servant.” Mere physical descent does not make us “free.” (Caution: Even though the Roman occupation of Israel makes the Jewish claim to freedom seem ambiguous to us (v. 33), the issue is not political freedom or Roman occupation, but a freedom dependent on our relationship to God, gifted by God-a relationship that has been short circuited by unbelief.)

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : A Disconnect from Christ Leaves Us Dying in Our Sins
When we fail to “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), we remain infected and diseased. Sins of commission and/or omission are symptoms of a moral and religious infection, disease, bondage. We are enslaved to a sinful condition and “cannot free ourselves” (v. 34). Someone said, “The bondage that holds us in chains is not the one imposed by others, but the one imposed by ourselves: our fear, doubt, self-hatred, weakness, and empty claims to self-importance- in short, our sinfulness.” The diagnosis is terminal. “I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe I am he (who would set you free, v. 24). As unbelievers we “do not have a permanent place in the household” (v. 35).

PROGNOSIS: God’s Son Makes a Connection through Faith for Freedom

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : Christ Connected Makes Us Free
The question raised in v. 33b deals with solution stuff: “What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” “Born Free”, the 1966 Academy Award film was based on the best-selling story about an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, who when grown must be prepared and released to “live free” in the wild to survive. “Born free” was her natural state, and also the motivation to return it to “the freedom of the wild”; but that is not now our “natural state.” The truth we learn in the text is that we are not “born free”; we are made free! We ask: “how are we made free?” But while the answer is promised in this text (“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”), it does not explain the how of such good, truthful news. [Shall we import St. Paul’s answer to the question?: “We know that our old self wa s crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin…The death He died he died to sin, once, for all; but the life He lives , he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin exercise dominion over your mortal bodies…for sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:3-14).] How does one preach this “crucial” (crucis/crossing) step so that our hearers might say, “I didn’t know how enslaved I was until I was made free!” In short, while the Exodus took people out of an environment of slavery, Jesus’ word takes the “slave” out of us.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : Knowing the Truth in Christ
Knowing the Truth will make you free. Trusting in Christ’s word of promise is the Spirit’s call to really hear and believe the Gospel. While “I believe that I cannot believe,” the Spirit calls me through the Gospel, overcoming my doubts and my efforts to find security in second-class traditions, whether from Abraham or Luther. Knowing that this Truth is the truth about us as slaves, about Jesus as God’s Christ who loved me and gave himself set me free. The Gospel is not about Moses and the Decalogue, nor about Saints and saintly people. The Gospel is about Jesus, who through the Spirit’s gift connects me to the DNA of God’s Son and offers me a place in the household. Trusting this offer we have Him and all his benefits.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Living in Freedom Connected to Christ
Making our home (dwelling) in His word, we are freed to claim and enjoy the status of being a son or daughter of God, a disciple indeed! And friends (John 15:15)! We are “tied” to Christ’s word. Untethered kites fly “free,” ultimately to their destruction; sailboats without landmarks get lost on unfamiliar coasts. As the saying goes, if you are not going anywhere, any road will take you. Our kite (life) is free to fly because we are tethered to Christ as “free lords” over all and as “servants of all.” [The preacher will be challenged to explain why we still “sin” even though we are freed from sin’s power and how “faith and grace” make it possible to still “live free!”]


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