“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’  They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?
 “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ ” (John 8:31-36)
By Grace alone.
By Faith alone.
By Scripture alone.
It is fitting that on this Reformation Day, when we celebrate the Gospel, when our ears are so attuned to those three Solas of Martin Luther, that we should hear from Jesus how everything rests on Christ alone.
That is what it means to say by grace alone. And that is what is meant by faith alone. To say by faith alone is the same as saying by Jesus and His Word alone; by Jesus and His baptizing alone; by Jesus and His absolving and His feeding alone.
That is what the Reformation was about nearly half a millennium ago when Martin Luther called for a theological debate by posting the 95 Thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. That is what we are still to be about in the Church today.
It would be too easy to forget that when Luther speaks of faith, he is speaking of Jesus. When he speaks of faith alone, he is saying NOTHING rests on you or me. Salvation rests entirely in Jesus. That is what Jesus is saying this morning in our text. Christ addresses Himself to those who believe. “To the Jews who had believed Him, He says: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Our ears perk up.” Well, well! Believing! “There you have it, Pastor, just what we’ve been saying. You’ve got to believe!” Now, that’s a change! We’re used to saying: “If you believe,” as if the words of Jesus aren’t enough. “Yes, Pastor, I know that Jesus finished my salvation on the cross. But you still have to believe!”
Yet this morning, Jesus turns all that around. He speaks to those who believe, and says: “But you’ve still got to go on in my teaching.” As if believing weren’t enough! As if faith NEEDS something, As if the preaching of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus has to continually be heard or else it isn’t anything that saves at all.
My friends in Christ, this is what Christ tells us. “You must remain in me,” in my doctrine; in my words; in my teaching. Remain in. Abide in. Not simply “hold to,” as the NIV has put it, but “remain in,” for it is the thing, outside of which faith cannot save, for it is that which we must continue living in and never live apart from.
Our Savior knows the hearts of those who hear His words. He is telling you where your salvation is found. “if you believe in me. believe this: “If you remain in my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And with that, Jesus tells His hearers, he tells you and me where our faith should be. In His teaching. In His speaking. In His words.
“But we are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered. “We have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” With that, they show they’ve got a different kind of faith than Jesus says will make them His disciples. Jesus says: “This is faith – to go on in My teaching.” But it is Jesus’ teaching that His hearers do not want! It doesn’t say the things they want to hear. It speaks as if they needed something MORE than what they’ve got. It speaks as if the only place they can be sure is in the words of Jesus, and that just doesn’t speak as highly of believers as it should!
So they demand: “How can you say that we shall be set free? Are you saying that we aren’t?”
And that is where our reading ends. Too bad. Because the text goes on to say how all of those who had believed in Jesus will not have His words. They believe, but they refuse to go on in His teaching, nd that just isn’t faith, says Jesus, not the kind that saves. Because what matters isn’t what is going on inside of us, but WHO we go on in!
Faith alone means Christ alone. Faith alone means Jesus and His teaching alone, Jesus and His washing alone, Jesus and His absolving alone, Jesus and His feeding alone. Not Jesus PLUS our faith!
And that is just too much for these believing Jews. They do not want to be what Jesus calls them. They will not be the slaves to sin that Jesus says they are. They are Abraham’s children! How can they be slaves? They believe in God! How can they be children of the devil? And the irony of this section is that those whom the St. John describes as “Jews who had believed him,” don’t, will not, refuse to go on in His teaching, as if faith were all they needed. What do they need Jesus for when they have faith? What do they need Jesus’ teaching for, when they believe?
And so they show they have no faith at all. Because they will not have Christ’s teaching. Because they want to go on in themselves. Today, on the 487th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, Jesus teaches us what faith is all about. It is about Jesus. It is about continuing in Jesus’ teaching. It is about Jesus settling everything with His Word, not US settling everything with our faith.
That means that we need freeing; we who believe Him need freeing. But, Jesus! We BELIEVE! We’re children of the Reformation! We’re Lutherans! How can you say we must be set free? And Jesus says: “Whoever sins is a slave to sin, and a slave does not remain forever in the house.”
Hear THAT, you who believe. Believe that it is just as Jesus tells you. It’s what we call the Law, and it is Jesus’ preaching in our text to those who have believing in their hearts. If you sin, you are a slave to sin. If you disobey your parents, if you get your spouse upset, if you harbor any grudges, if you don’t obey the law, if you are not perfect, then you are a slave to sin, and slaves do not remain within the house. And Jesus speaks this to believers! To me! To you! The Law condemns us all. It says we ALL must go to hell. It says that no one’s righteous, no not one. And by such preaching, Jesus shows that not a one of us believes the way we should, because we just will not believe that we’re as bad as Jesus says. In fact, the believing in our hearts would have us turn away and go find someone else who preaches better than our Savior does this morning. Who tells us that we are not really slaves, because, while we may sin, we do not sin that much, or we don’t really WANT to sin, or we can stop it if we try, and then, because of that, we will be sons!
The doctrine Jesus teaches isn’t what our hearts believe at all, and that is why so many don’t remain within it. It’s why so many turn away from Jesus and His Word and Sacrament. They have faith. Faith ALONE. Who needs Jesus? You do not have to come to Church, they say, to be a Christian – not if you BELIEVE! And such believing isn’t faith at all, says Jesus. For faith alone means Christ alone. Faith alone means nothing rests on us or our believing, but everything resides in Jesus and His washing, teaching, feeding and forgiving.
And that is why Christ tells us: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Does the Law condemn us? Yes! We are slaves! We have to go to hell! But what does Jesus say – right here in Holy Baptism, in His Gospel, in the Holy Absolution and the Supper? He says: “I set you free!” And so we are! We poor sinners whom the Law declares unworthy of God’s House, are sons and daughters whom the Father loves. We cannot go to hell. The Son has set us free, made us sons and daughters, and sons and daughters of the Father cannot go to hell. This is Jesus’ Gospel preaching, and it is what faith hears, what faith remains in, what faith believes. It is what Christ tells us makes disciples. Not what is in our hearts, but what comes out of Jesus’ mouth: “You are free! I set you free upon my cross. I set you free by dying in your place. I set you free by preaching: ‘It is finished!’ So it is. Because I say so. All your sins are bought and paid for. They belong to Me. And if I say you do not have to worry, then you don’t. You are My son, My daughter. You will remain within My house – because I say so!”]
And THAT is faith—saving faith—when everything is settled with the words of Jesus. The words He puts into our ears, pours onto our heads, and even lays upon our tongues today in bread and wine. The Word of God made flesh who settles everything by what He does and says.
Luther’s Sola Fide never meant to say that our believing is the one good work we have to do in order to be saved.
When Luther spoke of Faith Alone, he means: Christ Jesus alone; His dying and His rising, His baptizing, feeding and forgiving alone. Faith alone means Christ alone, and that’s what Jesus teaches us this morning.
Here is your faith, dear Christian: Whoever sins is a slave to sin and has to go to hell. But Jesus says you cannot go to hell. He said it in your Baptism. He says it in the Absolution. He says it in His Supper. And He will go on saying it because that’s where our Faith will be. In Jesus and His teaching. Where we are sons and daughters just because He says so. We are free because the Son has set us free. Faith alone means that we live in Christ, abiding in His preaching which declares us free indeed!
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.