Reflections – John 8:34

Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices 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 8:34 (ESV)

Slavery is a word that hits people hard, especially if they’re American. Across the United States, children will learn in their history classes about the atrocities committed by the slave trade in the 17 and 1800s. Slaves were ripped from their homelands, separated from their families, and forced to live in complete submission underneath their masters who had bought them. They were abused in many senses of the word, and forced into backbreaking labor. They didn’t have any choice but to live this way.  They were bound to their masters, having no power to free themselves.

The characteristics of physical (bodily) slavery relate very closely to those of spiritual slavery. As children of Adam, we are born into spiritual slavery, forced to submit to our master, sin. As a result of Adam’s act of rebellion toward God, the shackles of sin were wrapped around the human race, binding it in death. Every human, no matter how young and innocent-looking, is conceived by sinful parents and born into a sinful world. Like infants, we cannot live without a parent to watch over us. The way Satan would have it, we would live our short lives here on earth, die as sinners, and face God’s eternal and righteous judgment on our own.

That’s not how God would have it.

As Jesus tells us in the verse above, those who practice sin are slaves to sin. As slaves, we cannot remain in the household of God. However, Jesus gives us hope. Those who are sons of God will remain in His house forever. But how can this happen? If we are born as slaves to sin, how can we become sons of God? The answer is simple yet beautiful: we are adopted as sons on account of Christ.

Paul expresses the intricate nature of God’s plan for salvation in Galatians 4:4-5 –

“But then the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Because sin entered the world through one man, so must sin be conquered through another. We were cast into sin through Adam, who is the father of us all. But we were reconciled to God through the precious atonement of Jesus, giving us a place in God’s house, where He will remain our Father. He has “set us free,” as Jesus tells us in the verse above. This same truth is expressed by Paul in Romans 5:17 –

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God has placed a seal on our adoption with the precious gift of baptism. There we were marked as His children, reborn through water and the Word. Our baptism assures us of our place in God’s house by killing our sinful humanity and raising us anew in Christ, who is our redeemer. We were adopted by God’s grace, through faith in Christ Jesus. Looking to Christ, we now have the assurance that God is our Father, for life and for eternity.

Reflections – 1 Timothy 3:16

As part of a daily Bible reading plan, I was going through 1 Timothy chapter 3, trying my best to pay attention to the details in the text, and reflecting on the meaning of each verse. Much of this chapter is instruction from Paul to Timothy on the qualifications for the Office of the Ministry. These words are true and comforting, reassuring us that those in the Pastoral Office must be godly men, and “above reproach.” Although there is plenty of reassuring gospel to be found in these verses, I was especially interested in verse 16:

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.”

1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

The first time reading this through, I took note of the word “godliness.” In most evangelical circles, this term is defined as one’s leading of a “purpose driven life.” (In other words, godliness = good works.) There is some truth to this mentality. “Godly” is indeed a term that can apply to the way a Christian lives, being a loving neighbor to those around him. Many people throughout the Bible are referred to as godly, meaning that they feared God an followed His Law. But we should not let our opinio legis (opinion of the Law) cloud our understanding of what it means to be godly. That is, when we read any verse in the Bible, even if it is a verse of pure Gospel, the sinful nature in our hearts will try to turn the Gospel into a command we need to obey. It is the nature of mankind to desire to earn salvation, not to receive it.

Pay attention to the verse above, and notice how Paul is defining godliness. It is something we confess. Godliness is Christ manifest in the flesh, Christ being filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ being seen by angels and proclaimed to the nations, and Christ being believed in, and having been taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. To summarize my point, Paul is saying that “godliness” is not dependent on what we do. It is something that has been done.

I looked up this verse in the Concordia Self Study Bible to help me drive this point home. The commentary on 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “The phrase [mystery of godliness] means the ‘revealed secret of true piety,’ i.e., the secret that produces piety in people. That secret, as the following words indicate, is none other than Jesus Christ. His incarnation, in all its aspects (particularly his saving work), is the source of genuine piety. ” The way this verse is formatted in the original Greek text suggests that it was an early creedal hymn. This was something confessed by the early Christian Church even before Paul penned these words!

To be godly and pious is to confess the work of Christ and how He justifies us by grace, through faith. Christ was our piety for us. I say this not to diminish the importance of “walking in a manner worthy of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) Rather, it is to realize that true piety and godliness was accomplished for us in the person of Christ, that we may add nothing to our own salvation. We lead “godly” lives as a response to this ultimate godliness completed for us by Christ. Martin Luther summarized this well when he stated:

“Yes, dear friend, you must first possess heaven and salvation before you can do good works.  Works never merit heaven; heaven is conferred purely of grace.”

Go about your life, knowing that this true godliness is credited to you by grace, through faith, on account of what Christ has accomplished.