Are you a slave of sin? Or are you free?
We should strongly desire to be free sons of God, instead of slaves of sin. After all, a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. If we want to dwell eternally with the Lord, then we must be free.
But simply desiring something, no matter how strong that desire is, does not make it so. We must be certain.
As we examine our own lives, we may easily conclude that we are free. We make a few mistakes here and there, committing sin accidentally, we might say. But slaves of sin? Surely not! “Sin does not control me,” we want to say. “I am not really a bad person. Deep down, I am free to choose, free to do the right thing.”
But is this really true? How would we know for certain? Feeling that we are free does not make it so. We must deal with reality, not our own fallible perceptions. After all, when we stand before the judgment-seat of God, will we say, “I felt like I was free”? Will the Righteous Judge decide to accept our feelings as if they decide the matter, not He? If that were true, then our feelings would be more powerful and righteous than the Almighty God, able to overrule the decisions of His holy Law. Our emotions would be able to cast aside His commandments simply with the statement: “I felt like I obeyed.”
Many who rely on their own self-judgment will be disappointed on the Last Day. May we, who have received the precious gift of the restored, pure Gospel through Martin Luther, not be one of those who build upon a false foundation.
So what is the truth? How can we know? Are we slaves of sin, or not?
As always, the truth is found in the Word of Christ. He says to us today, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” This is so simple. We want to find some loophole, some exception to slip out of the inevitable consequence. Surely it cannot be that direct.
But Christ allows no exceptions. He does not give us a loophole. There it is, in black and white. If you sin, you are a slave of sin.
So the judgment is simple. I am a sinner, and therefore a slave of sin. You are a slave of sin as well, and everyone else here. All of us fall under this condemnation.
No one wants to think that they are a slave. The Jews who listened to Jesus certainly wanted to deny that they had ever been slaves of anyone, despite their history.
But the stark reality of Christ’s Word shows us what we are.
Yet there is a second reality, a greater reality. Christ says to us, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Often, this saying of Jesus is used if a person is hiding some truth, perhaps some crime that they committed. They need to admit that crime, and so unburden their soul from their guilt. The truth of their confession is said to set them free.
But if a person were to admit one sin, then there is a great multitude still left to confess. Many sins we do escape our notice completely. How do we unburden ourselves from the guilt of those?
If confessing your sins were a work that earned you forgiveness, then you would have to be confessing all day long, every day. Still, you would not cover every single sin.
Thank heavens that is not how forgiveness works. The truth that sets you free is not to admit your sins, although you should certainly do that. An unbeliever who admits his crimes is not thereby forgiven by God. Faith is necessary, because faith grabs hold of something outside of us, something that actually pays for our sins and gives us free and total forgiveness.
What we grab hold of is Jesus. He is the Son who has made us sons. He is the Truth that sets us free, as He is also the Way and the Life. Although we sin most abundantly, despite our best efforts, Christ pays the price to buy us.
Again, our modern sensibilities do not want to think that a person can be bought. We are not property. But the buying back of Jesus is far more than the purchase of property. We are ransomed from the evil slaveholder that would keep us bound forever. We are redeemed, bought back, because the Lord has removed the shackles of sin from us.
We were property. In sin, we had all sold ourselves into the ownership of sin. We made ourselves far less than the glory that humanity was supposed to be, the glory of the image of God. Instead, we became mere slaves, without free will, without hope or future, without the noble honor that mankind should have carried.
But from our lowly state of slavery to sin, Christ has bought us back. He purchased us with His holy, precious Blood and His innocent suffering and death. When that infinite price was paid, it was enough for the entire human race. Past, present, and future generations of men have been paid for by the work of Christ, no matter how many men could be born before the Last Day.
In this way, He has made us more than mere property. He has declared us sons of God, free from sin, filled with His Spirit.
So there should be no doubt at all in your mind that you are a son of God, as surely as Christ is the Son of the Most High God. As certainly as His Blood is the Blood of God in human flesh, so you are most certainly redeemed by that unimaginably vast payment.
And yet …
Perhaps you may have noticed that you still sin, even though you are forgiven. Even though you are a son, you still act like a slave. Since you still sin, are you still a slave of sin?
This may lead some to doubt their faith. If I really believed, how could I do this, and this, and that?
Here Doctor Martin Luther helps us. He said that we are simul justus et peccatur. Paraphrased in light of today’s Gospel, this means that we are at the same time both slave and son. We are fully adopted as God’s children, yet also remain in our bondage to sin.
This is because in our sinful flesh, our old Adam is still as rebellious as he ever was. God has not changed us into perfect saints. No, He has declared us righteous on account of Christ. We are declared sons even though we do not deserve to be. We are adopted into God’s household, even though we really should have remained alienated forever from Him.
But the reality of God’s declaration is far more powerful than the reality of our sins. He says, “You are Mine,” and no amount of sin is strong enough to negate God’s proclamation. He is the Judge, and He has pronounced the judgment that you are free.
Let us therefore act as sons. Let us fight the sins that keep coming up from our old Adam. Why should we keep living as if we are slaves when our Lord has said that we are not? Indeed, sin has no binding force on us because of Christ and the Cross.
And when we sin, giving in to the slave-nature still in us, may He bend our knees quickly in repentance. For we sons of God should be ashamed when we act as if we were mere slaves.
Yet if we act as slaves, and forget the Cross, and forget the price paid for us, then we may eventually put the shackles of bondage back on our own wrists. If we act as if sin does not matter, and we stop repenting of our sins and feeling any sorrow for them, then we may stifle the faith that holds onto Christ.
May this never be among us.
Lord, keep us from unrepentant sin by Your Spirit. Keep us acting as sons, no longer as slaves. Most of all, O Lord, keep our eyes upon You, trusting in Your precious sacrifice by which we are declared children of the heavenly Father.
In the Name of this Triune God, and to His glory alone, Amen.
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