His Word, For You!
We live in a world where identity is on everyone's mind. What does it mean
to be human, to be a man or a woman? When does life really begin or end?
What is my identity as a father, mother, son or daughter? What is my
identity at home, at work, or at school?
We could also ask this question of the church: What does it mean to be
Protestant? What does it mean to be Christian? Maybe there was a time when
everyone knew what the answer was to those questions. Today is also the day
when the churches of the Protestant World Federation, including the ELCA, are
signing the Joint Declaration on Justification, which denies that the work
of Jesus Christ on the cross is enough for our salvation. So the question
of Protestant identity is one which is foremost in people's minds.
Now according to our text, Jesus said that there are two basic identities:
The identity of slave or the identity of the free. According to the Jews of
Jesus' day, they had never been slaves of anyone! Never mind Joseph,
never mind all of the Israelites suffering in Egypt, never mind the Exile and
the years of bondage to the Babylonians, and never mind the Romans they paid
tribute to every day. They believed that they were not in bondage! Jesus
ignores the historical inaccuracy of what they say, and gets right to the
heart of the matter. They were in bondage to sin.
Jesus shows them the falsehood of their claims from the very start by
saying, Truly, truly I say to you that whoever is doing sin is a slave of
sin. There was no escape for them. They sinned, they had a master, and his
name was Satan. There was no great earthly kingdom for them. That was not
what Jesus was about. His kingdom was the kingdom of heaven, and it came
only through the cross and death, not glory and might and power.
You and I today do the same thing as the Jews back in Jesus' time. We
deceive ourselves into believing that we have freedom, and that we are the
masters of our own destiny. Look at yourself! Everyone of us has our own
little dream that we hope and pray no one will ever discover. It may be for
power, or money, or control, or fame or whatever. Each one of us has one,
and it just will not leave us. Sometimes we as Protestants find it very
tempting to rely on our own spiritual history. "My family has been Protestant
for over 100 years." It is easy for us to think that our identity as
Christians or as Protestants is shaped either by how long we have been
Protestant, or even by how much we think we know.
Look back at our text, though, and the words of Jesus. He said, If you
remain in my word, truly you are my disciples. (v. 31) It has nothing to
do with what we think we deserve, or who our parents are, or even anything
we can say or do or think. What it is about is faithfulness. Faithfulness
to the Word of God. Faithfulness to the Gospel which sets us free.
Jesus shows us here also that the one criterion which makes us a follower of
Jesus is the one criterion we cannot do by our own strength or power. You
cannot be faithful by your own efforts. If it were up to you, Satan would
be your master from now until the day you die, and beyond. As St. Paul
wrote in our Epistle lesson, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory
of God. We cannot reach that glory of our own strength or power. We are
talking about identity, and our identity according to our nature is one of
death, and of someone who is on the way to hell. I believe that I cannot by
my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.
You cannot go to Jesus, you cannot make a decision for Christ, you are a slave
to sin and death.
Thank God that it does not end here, though. Jesus just a little later on
in the text says, Now if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (v.
36) There is the key! The Son does set us free! He has given us a new
identity in our baptism, and as Paul says, we are justified freely by his
grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:24)
Now this shapes who we are as sons of God. This gives us an identity which
is far better than anything we could make or see in a mirror. Satan does
not rule over you! Jesus Christ trampled him underfoot in His death and
resurrection. He has shaped and given you an identity in your baptism which
can never be taken away from you. In the words of the hymn,
Lord, Thou canst help when earthly armor faileth;
Lord, Thou canst save when deadly sin assaileth;
Lord, o'er Thy Church nor death nor hell prevaileth;
Grant us Thy peace, Lord:
Our heavenly Father has given you an identity in your baptism, and made you a
part of His bride, the Church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against
this place. The Church is God's house. That is why in ancient times they
often pictured the church as an ark. The place where you are sitting is
called the nave, which is Latin for boat. Our fathers in the faith saw
Christ's Church as a place of sanctuary and rest when the troubles of life
and death and Satan are all around us. The Church gives us place and
purpose when nothing else makes sense. In the words of Psalm 46, Be still
and know that I am God. Christ, baptism, Church, these all give us our
identity as Christians, as children of the heavenly Father.
Now you might be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with
Reformation Sunday?" It has everything to do with it, my friends. If I
were to ask you what it meant to be Protestant, what would you say?
Being Protestant is about believing the words of Jesus, when the Sons sets you
free, you are free indeed. You see, everything in Protestantism is about the
forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and the life lived under the Gospel.
The Protestant Church is not about feelings, although you will certainly find
them. Faith is not the same as good feelings. If you want that kind of
faith, turn on your television and you can see and hear it. It may make you
feel good, but it is not Christian.
Being Protestant is not about "thinking right doctrine," although we talk a
great deal about what the Bible teaches, and how to understand the Bible.
It is very easy to make Protestantism into a sort of super-school, where you
have to have the right answer for everything. It may not have any impact on
your life, but you have to have the right answer.
That brings us to what Protestantism is all about. Protestantism is about
nothing other that Jesus Christ, "The Way, the Truth, and the Life." Our
text says that the truth sets us free. That truth is not a thing or a
thought or a feeling. That truth is Jesus Christ Himself! He is the one
who sets you free, and He is the one who gives you your identity as a child
Being Protestant, then, is about being faithful to Christ our Lord. That
means being a part of the universal Christian Church. Martin Luther didn't
care a hill of beans about starting a revolution or reformation or whatever
you want to call it. What Luther was about, and indeed what all true
Christians are about, is being faithful to Christ our Lord.
If there is a danger for us in the Protestant Church here in America, it is to
forget our roots, and think of ourselves as just one more Protestant group
with a little different views on baptism and the Lord's Supper. Being
Protestant today is about the Real Presence. You see, we believe and confess
that Jesus Christ is truly present here, in this place. Not just an "I feel
so good that God must be here" sort of feeling, but that God has come to
dwell with his people. Our Lord is present when His Word is preached, when
children are won for the Kingdom through baptism, and when Christ comes to
us in his very flesh in the Lord's Supper. God knows full well that we can't get
heaven to find him, and so He comes to dwell with His people.
So what is your identity as a Protestant Christian? It is the identity our
Lord Himself gave us at our baptism. You are one of His children, bought
with the blood of Calvary, and sealed in your baptism. God is with you,
forgiving you sins. That is justification by grace. In the name of Jesus.