John 8:31-38 (Sola Scriptura)

St. John, Galveston 10/15/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor


+ In Nomine Jesu +


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Today we are observing and giving thanks to God for the Reformation of the Church that took place in the 16th century. Martin Luther, of course, was a key figure in that Reformation. We are going to reflect for a bit this morning on the Gospel reading you heard a few moments ago from John 8, about the truth, that is, the Scriptures setting you free. “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed 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.”


The Gospel of Jesus’ grace and mercy was restored, it was reseated, if you will, to its rightful place in the Church in the Lutheran Reformation. There are, of course, many significant dates and events of the Reformation, because it took place over a period of about 60 years. April 18, 1521 though stands out as perhaps one of the most significant of those dates and events. Martin Luther, who had been excommunicated from the Church a year earlier, when Pope Leo X issued his papal decree, Exsurge Domini, Arise, O Lord, was called before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and given an opportunity to recant what he had written that challenged Church tradition and Papal authority. At the Conference in Worms, there were some 25 works of Luther that were laid out on a table in front of him. The Papal Emissary, Johann Eck, asked Luther if he was the author of the writings that lay before him, and further, if he revoked, or recanted what he had written. 


Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court, which seemed a proper and churchmanly thing to do. And then he answered. "(These works) are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." He went on to place the writings into three categories: (1) Works which were well received by even his enemies: those he would not reject. (2) Books which attacked the abuses, lies of the Christian world and the papacy: those, he believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression. "If I now recant these (he said), then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny". (3) He acknowledged that some of his works attacked individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of any personal attack, although he did not reject the substance of what he taught even in those works. 


Finally, having been granted a day to reflect, Luther returned the next day and took his stand on the Word of God and it alone. He said, “unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”


When Luther made his faithful confession on that day in 1521, he was well aware that the Church was deadly serious in dealing with people they considered to be heretics. Jan Huss, a Bohemian reformer, had been burned at the stake just 100 years, or so, before Luther for teaching basically the same thing Luther taught. That being the case, Luther’s confession before Emperor Charles V was no trivial matter. In fact, it was a matter of life and death.


But Luther considered imprisonment and even death, more tolerable than a life built on anything other than the Word of God. He knew, as we all do, that men can err and that councils can affirm and support error, even errors that obscure the glory of Christ and endanger souls. He also knew that human reason and ego had to be held captive to the word of God for the sinner to find freedom in the grace of God. Thus, he bore his soul when he said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”


I have within me the great pope, self. Perhaps the genius of Luther is most evident in his understanding of the bound Will and in his recognition of the role God’s word plays in setting the sinner free from an obsession with and worship of self. The fact is, God created us in His image, and yet, we spend a good part of our lives trying desperately to turn the tables, to create Him in our image. As such, we are enslaved by our egos and our passions. In a futile effort to find freedom and deliverance, we are inclined to search, to dig deeper and deeper into the depths of our own popish hearts and souls. 


Sadly, like those to whom Jesus called to the truth in this morning’s Gospel reading, we are inclined to deny that we are now, or ever have been, enslaved to anyone, or anything, much less to the distasteful notion of being enslaved to self. “We are offspring of Abraham (they said)!” And we say, we are reasonable, enlightened people! “We have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?’”


When Luther confessed Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, he acknowledged that salvation, freedom from sin and death, freedom from self, could never come from within us. In fact, salvation from sin and self, come from God’s Word, the Truth, for it proclaims none other than Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And so, the Scriptures themselves are more than the compiled writings of numerous authors. Rather, though they are the books of many writers, they are of but one author. In that, they have a single purpose. Namely, to reveal and glorify the Christ of God. Thus, Luther once said that the Scriptures are the cradle wherein Christ has been laid.


The Scriptures, being the very Word of God, must, therefore, maintain supreme authority in the Church. As such, all other institutions, be they councils, or, seats of power, must conform to and ultimately bow to the word of God. By God’s promise and through his own experience, Luther learned to cling to God’s Word because the devil himself must also ultimately bow to its supreme authority. In other words, God’s Word is, as the Apostle Paul wrote, the Sword of the Spirit. It is a weapon to be wielded in spiritual warfare.


More than anything, Luther so longed to be set free from a relentlessly accusing conscience. He had entered the Augustinian monastery with the hope that his conscience would be silenced by hours spent in meditation and prayer. His hope for freedom, though, was still in himself, in his own works.  Thus, he was as bound in the monastery to sin and death as he was outside of it.


By God’s grace, he finally found solace and peace in the Gospel and in the word wherein Christ Jesus was laid. He then wrote of the power of God’s word in dealing with the accusations of the devil. “If you now attempt, in this spiritual conflict, to protect yourself by the help of man without the Word of God, you simply enter upon the conflict with that mighty spirit, the devil, naked and unprotected.” Such an endeavor would be worse than David going up against Goliath—without God’s supernatural power helping David. You may, therefore, if you so please, oppose your power to the might of the devil. It will then be very easily seen what an utterly unequal conflict it is, if one does not have at hand in the beginning the Word of God.”


A fiery shield is God's Word; of more substance and purer than gold, which, tried in the fire, loses nought of its substance, but resists and overcomes all the fury of the fiery heat; even so, he that believes God's Word overcomes all, and remains secure everlastingly, against all misfortunes; for this shield fears nothing, neither hell nor the devil.


“If you abide in my word (Jesus said), you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” By God’s grace, we, like Luther, take our stand in this battle against sin, death, and self. More importantly, we take our stand on the Word of God and on Christ Himself. For God’s Word truly is the cradle wherein Christ has been laid.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.


+ Soli Deo Gloria +