Controversial Jesus #9 - Freedom

Josiah Leuenberger, Life Stage Leader & Director of Young Adult Ministries, looks at John 8 and the gift that comes with authentic faith is freedom.

Message Transcript

Well, good morning. It is great to be together. My name is Josiah. I serve here with our young adults at Orchard Hill and there are two things I want to share before we get into the message. First, there are times where I am just blown away by the men and women who serve here with their musical gifts. That last song, wow, let's thank them.

That guy who is lifting the chains, man, that has to wear you out. Hey, the other thing I want you to know is that this morning at 11:15 we have our kids fest celebration service, and we are continuing in our teaching series in the book of John, but at 11:15, for the month of July, we are going into a separate teaching series, a special teaching series on parenting. This is really a unique opportunity that we have to speak to those families of kids who went to kids fest, and so if you're interested in that, you can check that out at 11:15 or even watch it online. All right, well why don't we pray, then we'll get into the word. Father, it is good to be in Your house this morning. It's good to speak words of truth about who You are as we lift up our voices and praise. And Father, we've come expecting to hear a word from You.

And so we ask that Your Holy Spirit would be in this place. Would You communicate Your truth to our hearts, to our minds, in a way that would impact us right where we are, and transform the way that we live, and we ask this together in Jesus name. Amen. Well, this week, our message topic is freedom. And as I was preparing, I was remembering some of the different moments of freedom that we all experience in life. Those moments when we gain independence in new and exciting ways. I was remembering some of those moments in my own life, and I remember, around the age of seven or eight, my parents gave me free reign of the neighborhood on my bike, and that was an experience of freedom I had been looking forward to. I remembered this story my parents tell where that first week where I was allowed to go wherever I wanted, they couldn't find me after a few hours and they became concerned, so they started making phone calls and when they track me down, I was at the home of a 90 year old woman from our church.

You see, I knew very limited places to go and so I made a pastoral visit, like I normally did with my father when he took me with him. I was pretty innocent. You know, I remember a few years after that getting my driver's license when I turned 16, and with that newfound freedom of being able to drive wherever I wanted, you know where I went? To a girl's house. Those pastoral visit days were over. No longer quite so innocent. And then I remember turning 21, like many of you, I can't quite remember why, but I was really excited about the freedom that came along with that birthday for some reason.

I know some of you are looking forward to those moments right now, maybe even down the road. Some of you are looking forward to the freedom of having your last child move out of the house. That grocery bill gets slashed in half. Others of you are waiting for that day you turn 65 and the deposits keep showing up in your bank account, even though you no longer need to keep showing up to work. That is real freedom. You know, freedom has been one of the foundational values of this country from the very beginning. You may remember this story from history class, certainly you remember the line, but in 1775 a group of colonials were gathered in Virginia making a decision whether or not to continue pursuing reconciliation with Britain or deliver troops to the colonial militia and fight for independence. And the crowd was split in that meeting.

But towards the end of it, Patrick Henry stood and delivered a bold, passionate speech. He made his case and concluded with the words, "Give me liberty or give me death." After that, the crowd went silent for minutes, it is said. And before the day was over, Virginia was gathering a militia, because Patrick Henry clarified with conviction what was at stake and people thought freedom, that is something worth fighting for. That's something we can all get behind, because freedom, really, it is a universal value. But I want to ask you this morning, what is freedom? How would you define freedom personally? Think about that. How would you define freedom in your own words? I think many of us, we would answer that question by saying something like, "Freedom is the ability to act or speak or believe as we so choose. Freedom is about having the autonomy, the independence to direct the course of our own lives, to have control over our own destiny."

Would you agree with that? Would you agree with that? That's a fairly standard definition of freedom in our culture in society today. Well, in this story, Jesus, he really challenges us. He challenges us to consider what the ultimate expression of freedom a person might be able to experience in life might be. The ultimate level of freedom we can attain, in his words, show us that the path to gaining that type of freedom, true freedom, it's really different from what comes naturally to us. And so in this passage we just heard Jesus, he's in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and this is one of three feasts, the annual feast of the Jewish faith when people of that belief traveled to Jerusalem, their capital city for a week of worship, a week of feasting altogether, and on this particular occasion during that week in today's story, Jesus is addressing a group of Jewish people who had recently made a profession of their belief in him.

That's who Jesus is speaking to today. And so this is a very interesting scene. These people have just started following Jesus. They've recently professed their faith in him, but in this story, immediately following that profession of faith, we see Jesus challenging them. He puts their faith to the test. Now, I want you to imagine what this might feel like. Imagine that you have just begun a new fitness program and it's day number two. You're at home, you're drinking your coffee, getting dressed for your workout, and you hear a knock on the door, and there's your trainer. He's at the door greeting you with a tray of warm, gooey cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven. That is my great weakness. He's putting them to the test right from the get go. Jesus, he's doing the same thing here in this passage. Part of me reads this story and I think, man, Jesus, couldn't you just let up on these folks?

They've just come to believe in you and you're already putting it to them. Right from the start, you're testing their commitment. This interaction, it feels pretty abrupt, but why do you think Jesus does this? Why do you think he puts their faith to the test? I think what we really see in this passage is that Jesus can see that something in their profession of faith is off. You see, many of these people, they saw themselves as spiritual insiders. Throughout this passage, they come to Jesus and remind him of their background in the faith. They were from a Jewish background. Jesus was from a Jewish background and he was doing big things, and so he could see that for many of them, identifying with him was simply a way to bolster their sense of religious superiority. It bolstered their entitlement based on their religious background and they really liked the way that that felt.

So Jesus, he can see here their reasons for following him are off track and he won't have it. So he puts their superficial faith to the test, and the way that he does it is by teaching them what authentic faith really looks like. Look at verse 31, "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." So Jesus challenges them here by pointing out the defining characteristic of authentic faith, obedience. That is the defining characteristic of true faith in Jesus Christ. Holding to his teaching, that's the first key in today's passage. And throughout this series, we've really gained a clear picture of what Jesus' teaching is all about. Jesus taught that all people, Jews and gentiles, religious and irreligious alike are equally lost. Our default way of operating as human beings is to live with ourselves at the center of our own lives, to act as if the world revolves around us.

We call that sin. And in our sin state, we are separated from God and our relationship with him. We harm ourselves. We harm one another in living contrary to the way that God has made us to live. But the Bible also communicates a word of hope to us, and that is that God, the God who made us, he loves us so deeply that he sent his own son, Jesus Christ, to make a way for us to be restored to him. Jesus entered into our space, not just to be a good example for us, but to give his life on the cross, to make a way for us to be restored to our heavenly father through believing and what he has done on our behalf. Jesus came on a mission to save the lost, and that is you and I. And when we trust him, we can receive forgiveness and new spiritual life.

That's what Jesus most essential teaching is about. And so when it comes to this conversation on obedience, what we need to know is that first and foremost, obedience to Christ begins with recognizing our need for grace and turning to Jesus that we might be saved. You know, when Jesus puts that litmus test out there for the people in this passage, it's not hard to see where they fall. I mean, throughout this story, they are both full of their religious lineage. They're constantly reminding Jesus, "Don't you know, we're descendants of Abraham? Maybe you missed that." They're entitled in their religious heritage and they feel as if Jesus should be saying, "Man, I am just lucky to have y'all in my corner." That's the attitude that they come to Jesus with. They're focused on all the things they bring to the table, but Jesus isn't nearly impressed with their genealogy as they are.

He knows if they truly get his message, they won't be focusing on all the things that they bring to the table, but the things that they don't, and that's because there is a prerequisite heart position for any person, if we want to come to Jesus with authentic faith, and that is humility. We can't begin to follow Jesus without recognizing that there's nothing we can bring to merit his favor. There's nothing we can do to stand before him on our own. We are completely in need of help from the outside, and there's no substitute for humility. You know, I was thinking back this week on a conversation I had with a teacher many years back. I was in high school and I was speaking with one of my teachers about our mutual background in faith and I asked him, I said, "Does faith play any role in your life right now?" And I'll never forget his response. He said to me, "You know, I don't really need to be involved with that stuff anymore, because my wife goes to church every week and I can kick her butt in Bible Trivia."

Don't you think it's probably safe to say that guy was missing the point? I wouldn't characterize his response as overly humble. There's no substitute for humility when it comes to recognizing our need for grace, if we're going to get Jesus message. I mean, Jesus says in Mark, chapter 2, "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I've not come to call the righteous but sinners." And so today's passage is really clear. Authentic faith is marked by obedience, but obedience begins with recognizing that we are spiritually broken in coming to Jesus in our need. But you know there's something else that's really important for us to notice in verse 31, when Jesus says, "If you hold to my teaching, you are truly my disciples." The Greek word translated hold there more literally means remain. Remain. If you remain in my teaching, you are truly my disciples. That word is actually translated remain, several different places in the book of John, and with this language, what Jesus is really emphasizing is that the whole life of faith, the whole life of faith is about looking to him for grace and what that means is that we don't begin in our relationship with Jesus based on grace, what he's done, and then live it out by our own power, our own self discipline.

He's telling us that through and through, from beginning to end, the whole Christian life is about grace, because if we begin to live according to self, that's really a step back. It's a huge mistake. And if you are a believer, I think this is absolutely essential to you and I for living out our faith in a healthy way, and especially so when it comes to our efforts to grow, because Christian maturity isn't about moving beyond our need for grace. It's about moving deeper into it. There's a quote that I love from an author named Dallas Willard. I've shared it before. I will share it again. He writes, "To grow in grace means to utilize more and more grace to live by until everything we do is assisted by grace. The greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most, who indeed are most in need of grace. Those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being, grace to them is like breath."

Christian maturity isn't about moving beyond our need for grace, but becoming even more dependent on what Jesus has done for us and relying on him. But I think there's something in this message that can be kind of confusing for us. If obedience is the mark of true faith, we've talked a lot about grace in this message, but think about that, obedience. Isn't there some aspect of our own action that is required here? Doesn't obedience require discipline? I think it does. I absolutely think so. But here's what we need to see. Obedience is a discipline, but obedience is a discipline of faith and not of self, because when it comes to our obedience, the truth is that what God requires of us, he also provides for us.

You know, there's an author that's been really helpful to me in understanding this concept and applying it to my life. His name is Jack Miller, and Jack Miller, he was a Presbyterian pastor. He's now passed away, but there's a book called the Heart of a Servant Leader, which is a compilation of letters that he wrote throughout his life. And in the early part of that book, it is described a season in Jack's life, in the middle of his career, when he took a sabbatical, he was feeling burnt out in his ministry and he needed to take a step back and regroup and process his discouragement. But during that time, God really worked in Jack's life in a profound way to give him a new experience, to understand the fullness of God's grace in a new way. And in that season, Jack came to some strong realizations about the vital role of the Holy Spirit for his life and ministry.

I think they can be really helpful to any one of us thinking about our own pursuit of following God, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Can be really helpful to us in thinking about how we might serve him with our lives. I want to share those words with you. As Jack reflected on his own ministry during his sabbatical, he came to understand that it was his pride and self-reliance that was keeping him from having a significant part in the great work of Christ. As he studied the fulfillment of God's promises in the Gospel, he noticed that he had missed the most important qualification for entrance into the Kingdom of God, being poor in spirit. He saw that doing Christ's work in Christ's way meant giving up all dependence on himself, acknowledging how poor in spirit he really was, and then relying exclusively on Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this is the part that really hits home with me. Jack spent the first half of his life attempting to do Christ's work Jack's way, and then he spent the last half of his Christian life repenting of that tendency and asking the spirit daily for the faith and humility to do Christ's work Christ's way.

You know, you and I, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, we are called to obedience, but we have a constant source of hope in living that calling out, because by grace God has saved us through Jesus and from that moment on he has put his holy spirit inside of us, and he is our great hope that the Holy Spirit inside of us is making us new, transforming us from the inside out, to make all of our efforts to live in obedience count. Obedience is a discipline, but it is a discipline of faith, dependent on grace. I love the way the Apostle Paul describes that dynamic in Colossians chapter one. He writes, "I strenuously contend with all the energy that Christ so powerfully works within me." I love that. Isn't that an example worth following? "I contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works within me."

That's what striving for obedience is all about. Let's continue on in this passage. After communicating to these people, that mark of authentic faith, obedience, Jesus go on to share them, share with them the outcome of being his disciple. Says to them in verse 32, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." And when Jesus makes that statement, the crowd, they're very much incensed and they respond in verse 33, "We're Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" You see, again here they are boasting in their background. "We're not slaves." They very much think that they are a big deal, spiritually. They're angry that Jesus isn't giving them the respect they feel that they deserve, but with every word, they're really just confirming Jesus' estimation of them, that they are absolutely lost, because their hope for standing with God is based solely on themselves.

They're blind to their own brokenness. And Jesus, he loves them enough to speak some hard words to them, to wake them up, to open their eyes to see their need. Verse 34, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now, a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed." And with those words, Jesus, he's really, he's yanking the fig leaves off these peoples self-righteousness. He really isn't impressed with their background. He tells them your works, they won't justify you. Y'all are trying to relate to God based on yourselves, but you are lost. He tells them, "You're slaves to sin," but then he gives them that word of hope. "The good news is you can be set free, if you'll humble yourselves, if you'll come to me recognizing your need, put your trust in me, hope in me, and you'll find freedom like never before, because the truth will set you free."

The truth will set you free. Think about that statement. If someone said to you, "The truth will set you free," what question would would be your first response in return? The truth will set you free. I think I would want to ask, well what truth? That seems like the natural question, to me at least, but here's where Jesus gets a little tricky, later in John's Gospel, he says, "The question we really need to know the answer to is, "Who is the truth? Who is the truth?" Jesus says in John, chapter 14, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." So when he tells these people, "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free," he's telling them, if you will humble yourselves and let go of that desire to justify yourselves and look to me, then you will know freedom like never before."

And you know the world around us, we hear it, we see it, we absorb it every day, that freedom is about being able to do what we want. It's about choosing for ourselves. It's about doing what we want, when we want, how we want to do it. Freedom is about being the authority over our own lives. That's what the world tells us. But what this passage shows us is that real freedom isn't found in having control over our lives, but in opening our hands and relinquishing control to Jesus. Jesus tells us, "Whoever would save his life will lose it. Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it." That's what following Jesus really boils down to.

That's what leads us to true freedom. And so the second key here, the second key principle in today's passage is this, the outcome of authentic faith, being a true follower of Jesus, is freedom. Real freedom. Freedom that lasts is available to each and every one of us, but it comes at the cost of releasing our grip and yielding control to Christ. You know, maybe you're here this morning and this message is new to you. This message that God loves you so much that he sent his own son here to step into our space and make a way for you on the cross, for you to be restored, to right relationship with God through believing in him, if that's you, and this morning, you sense the Holy Spirit stirring in your heart, leading you to make that decision, to put your hope in Jesus for the first time, I would just love to have a conversation with you about that after the service.

So would any member of our ministry team out in the gathering place, because Jesus is the truth. He sets us free and I want to say to you, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you can be assured, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. Those words of the Apostle Paul declare our freedom, that it is complete. We have been freed from slavery and brought into God's own family. Through Jesus Christ, we receive his own righteousness. God's blessing that belongs to Jesus is something that we now share in, and friends this is life changing news. I believe that news is true. It gives me such hope. We are free. I trust God's word that that is true.

But I also want to be candid with you this morning. Sometimes, I don't feel all that free. There are moments where I know I'm saved. I thank God for His grace, but what I'm saying is, sometimes I still feel like a slave. Sometimes I feel stuck struggling with the same old sin tendencies. Sometimes I feel discouraged not being the husband, the friend, the pastor, the son, the brother that I wish I could be. I know I'm free in Christ, but quite frankly, sometimes I just get sick of my own crap. I don't know if any of you can relate to that. I think Jesus has a reminder that you and I need to hear in today's passage.

Look again at verse 36, "If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Why do you think Jesus tags that word indeed there on the end of that statement? He could have said, "If the son sets you free, you will be free." That gets the point across. But instead he said, "If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed." I think Jesus speaks that way because he knows the human heart. He knows us well enough to know that there are times where when even when we are saved, we are going to think about that freedom we have in ourselves and say to ourselves, you know what? That's nice, but I still know the mess that's going on inside of me.

Jesus speaks those words because he wants us to know that reality is, we are free, indeed. He emphasizes with that one word, that our freedom is rooted in fact, not feeling, because our freedom is something that Jesus Christ guaranteed on the cross, for each and every one of us who believe. It has nothing to do with us. Nothing can change that. Jesus has made our freedom secure. It is locked down. Nothing can take it away. No one. Not even ourselves and our own moments of weakness or discouragement. We are free in Jesus Christ and only because of Jesus Christ, and his work on our behalf. From the moment we first believed on, God has held us in the grip of His grace and his holy spirit will not let us go. That is our confidence, that we are free. The more we can wrap our minds around that, the more we'll experience the reality of the freedom we already objectively possess in our daily lives.

So, as we wrap up there are just two questions I want to leave you with. I hope you'll give them some reflection. They are printed in your update, you can see them on the screen. And the first is this, and what are you putting your hope as your source of freedom? Where are you putting your hope as your source of freedom? And I think this is an important question for each and every one of us, regardless of where you are in your journey of faith, because all of us are tempted to look to things, to look to the things of this world to provide for needs that ultimately only Jesus Christ can satisfy. And what are you putting your hope as your source of freedom? And now the second question really wanted to help you think about that more specifically. In your life right now, what is keeping you from fully enjoying the freedom that is given by grace to anyone who believes in Jesus?

What is it that's keeping you from fully enjoying the freedom you have been given, that only comes to us as a gift of grace? You know, we all have ways that we could afford to grow up. All of us have things that are holding us back from experiencing the freedom that we objectively possess if we have put our hope in Jesus Christ. What do you need to let go of to be able to more fully experience the grace, the freedom that you've received by grace alone? We all have things we need to let go of, but you know what's really nice? Because of the Gospel, we don't have to hide those things. We can bring them to God. We can share them with one another. We can support one another and we can receive help from God through the Holy Spirit to move forward by faith knowing that we will always be met with grace by God.

And that is the kind of community that we are called to be for one another as well. People who can be authentic about our own need, people who support one another, people who can encourage one another as we move forward through life by faith, because of the great grace we have been shown in Jesus Christ. So Father, we do put our hope in you. Would you help us to throw off everything that hinders us, the sin that so easily entangles us? Help us to run with perseverance the race you have marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, that great author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus, you are the truth. Only you set us free. But when you set us free, we are free indeed. And we thank you for that. Amen. Well, it has been so good to worship God together with you this morning. Hope you have a great rest of your weekend. Go in peace.