Remain in the Words of Jesus

Based on: John 8:31-36

Are you a slave? Even if you don’t think you are, you have been one in the past. Sometimes, you still act like one.

You might say, “But pastor, we live in a free country. I can do what I want. I can make my own choices. No one ‘owns’ me!” Really? If we could make our own choices, don’t you think we would do what is best for us? Don’t you think we would avoid the choices that end up hurting us?

Yet, what happens? We know that eating right and exercise are good for us, but we don’t always do what is good for us, do we? Even worse, we know that drugs, alcohol, gambling, TV, work, sleep and many other things can become an obsession that hurts us and others, but it still happens. Are you caught in one of those addictions? You know, the very word “addiction” implies that you are not in control, something else is your master.

If we thought about it, I’m sure we would realize that some of the words that come out of our mouths are not good for us and others. Yet, we still say them!

If we believe God’s Word, then we would know that everything he tells us to do is for our own good, but over and over again we ignore what he tells us is good for us.

So if we can’t even make the choices that are good for us, then what really owns us? It is sin. Sin is doing the opposite of what God wants. And if doing what God wants is always good for us, then sin is always harmful. Yet, sin was your master.

When you are watching sports and one person loses badly, you might hear someone say, “Oh, he was owned”, meaning, his opponent was in control and could do whatever he wanted. Sin owned you. Sin could do whatever it wanted with you. Over and over again it defeated you and you sinned, driving you away from God and making sin ever more firmly, your master.

But you are no longer a slave. You were set free. You didn’t earn your freedom. You didn’t break free on your own. God’s Son came to you and set you free. He did that as he lived a life for you free from sin. He did that as he took your place under the curse of sin on the cross. This is the truth that sets you free. God’s own Son, by his life, death, and resurrection set you free. If God’s Son set you free, then who can say you are still a slave? No one. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

Consider what it means to no longer be mastered by sin. This means you are free not to sin. You are free to do what is right and good for you. Really, you are free to be a slave of Jesus Christ, who is by far the better, more loving master.

Hearing about Jesus Christ, how he has set you free, brings the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith and works in you so that you can say, “No! I don’t want to sin. Jesus shed his blood for my sin. Now I want what Jesus wants.” We have strength through the gospel to resist sin, to say “No” to our old master.

When we do sin, Jesus sets us free from guilt. He sets us free from a troubled conscience. He sets us free to enjoy eternity with him. If sin is our master, we would suffer in hell, but Jesus sets us free from that fate.

We need to keep hearing this message of freedom. Continuing to hear this message is what identifies us as disciples of Jesus. When people see us listening and following what Jesus says, then they know we are his disciples, and isn’t that what 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.” “If you hold to my teaching.”

The NIV does a very good job of translating the Greek words John wrote by God’s inspiration, but if we translate the Greek more literally, instead of “If you hold to my teaching”, we would get, “If you remain in my words . . .” I mention this because I want you to notice the little word “in” and the imagery associated with that Greek word. What does it mean to remain “in” the words of Jesus?

To remain in the words of Jesus is like being in a hamster ball. You know, one of those plastic balls that you put your pet hamster in so that she can roll around on the floor. Think about it. When it is in that ball everything it sees is viewed through the plastic ball. Inside that ball, the hamster actually has more freedom to move around than when it is in its cage. When it is in that ball it is safe from the dog that so desperately wants to play with it.

Being “in” the words of Jesus is to be surrounded by his Word. You surround yourself and immerse yourself in what God says about your salvation in Jesus Christ. This means hearing and studying God’s Word so that everything you see is seen through the words of Jesus, so that everything you interact with is always done through the words of Jesus – just like the hamster in the ball does not see anything or interact with the world except through the plastic sphere it is in.

So, when you consider how much to give to the church or you consider what to do on a Sunday morning, you always make those decisions while looking through the words of Jesus – for example the words, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Or when sin comes and tempts you to follow it and serve it, you look through the sphere of God’s Word around you and you hear, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” and you say, “I am free. I don’t want to be a slave again to sin.”

Or, when death comes close and tries to terrify you, you are still in the protecting bubble of God’s Word. You remember the comforting words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.“ And you know that death with its gaping mouth and large fangs can not hurt you.

But it does not help us if we are in that ball once and then get out. Jesus tells us to “remain” in his words. You can not hear the Gospel once and think that you are covered. You can not complete Catechism class and think you have completed your study of God’s Word. No, if you don’t continue to be in the Word you will not continue to be his disciple! Therefore, you will cease to recognize the truth and you will again be a slave to sin.

When I talk to people about being in church more often, I have heard the comment, “Don’t worry about me, pastor, I still believe.” When they say, “Don’t worry about me” it is a good sign that I should worry about them. If they are not coming to church and they think somehow they are OK, then they are deceiving themselves.

And when someone stays away from church for a weekend and chooses some other pleasure over God’s Word, then sin does a happy dance. Satan considers that a victory, maybe a small one, but a victory nonetheless. There is one less gospel message that sin has to overcome in order to make you a slave again.

But there is a solution. Jesus has set you free. By his blood your sins have been forgiven. He has made you his disciple. Remain in the words of Jesus. Hold to his teaching. Being “in” the words of Jesus and knowing his salvation really does bring freedom. Freedom to do the things that will bring you blessing upon blessing.

Amen.

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