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NO FREEDOM EXCEPT IN CHRIST -
A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, May 1, 2005
Tonight I am giving you a sermon adapted from one given by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Great Britain in 1931. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was one of the outstanding preachers of the twentieth century. Great revival accompanied his preaching in the early 1930s. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was not trained for the ministry in a Bible school or a theological school. He was a medical doctor who was special assistant to Lord Horder, the King's personal physician, which was a very high position in the medical field in Britain at the time. Dr. Lloyd-Jones resigned from this high and honorable medical job to become a preacher. That was, humanly speaking, one of the reasons for his great success in preaching. People came for miles to hear the young "Doctor" who had given up a high-paying and honorable position to preach the gospel. And this is one of the reasons his preaching was so different and startling to his hearers. Doctor Lloyd-Jones preached differently. He wasn't afraid of disturbing people with his sermons. If you listen carefully to this sermon you will find that it is quite revolutionary - even today. It unmasks many of the faults of modern day preaching, and it will cut you open and expose your sinful heart if you pay attention and listen to it carefully. Let the "Doctor" do surgery on your soul. I have abbreviated the sermon and adapted it to twenty-first century thought.
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"
I have often thought that one of the best ways to know if you are preaching correctly is to see whether or not a certain kind of people object to what you are saying, and hold a grudge against you for having said it. I don't mean that preachers should deliberately try to make people angry. But it seems obvious to me from reading the Bible and Christian history that the very best preaching has always made a certain class of people upset. At the same time, the worst preaching has always tended to soothe people, to lull them into a false sense of security. And there can be no question that most of the preaching in our time is not much good, and possibly the worst that has ever been produced in the long history of Christianity. One of the main reasons for the decline of church attendance surely lies in the attempt to conciliate and please everyone. And I think a good deal of the problem comes from letting a certain class of weak people decide what is objectionable in a sermon.
I am not talking about how loud or soft the preacher speaks. You can go into the pulpit of someone with a booming voice and quietly read sermons from Jonathan Edwards or W. P. Nicholson and cause a revolt among church members. This is not caused by the sound of a booming voice, but by the very content of the sermon. And this, I think, is one of the main reasons our churches are declining. The gospel has become so inoffensive and nonthreatening that it is no longer taken seriously as a possible alternate theory of life. We are told that "present day preaching does not save people." But there is something worse than that. Present day preaching does not even annoy people. It doesn't disturb them enough to make any vital change in their lives. Present day preaching leaves people exactly where they were, without upsetting them, and without the slightest disturbance.
Now in reading the four Gospels there is nothing clearer than the fact that Christ, in His preaching, had one of two effects on His congregations - He either saved them or else He definitely antagonized them. They were either saved or upset. Christ's preaching either converted people or else it caused them to object, persecute, and threaten Him. And this characterized the preaching of the Apostles throughout the Book of Acts. And throughout Christian history, during times of revival and awakening, the preaching has always returned to the pattern established by Christ and the Apostles Vital, living, Christ-like preaching always demands a clear-cut choice, and always causes a certain kind of people to be annoyed, to object, and sometimes even to threaten. The absence of any such disturbance and annoyance shows that the preacher is not speaking as Christ and the Apostles did - or as Whitefield, Wesley and other great revival preachers did. This is the nearly universal sign of the powerlessness and impotence of modern preaching.
Think of the contrast between the preaching in the New Testament and what we hear in churches today! Sermons are delivered which are perfectly harmless and lifeless. They are short "purpose driven" messages, cheerful "possibility thinking," motivational talks, soft-toned verse-by-verse Bible expositions, or sometimes windy diatribes against people who are not present, such as Catholics, or liberals. These phrases describe much modern preaching. Pitiful! Nothing is said or done that would in any way disturb anyone in the congregation. They certainly would not annoy or irritate anyone who hears them. Thus modern preaching has forsaken the example of Christ and the Apostles.
The church is regarded as a pharmacy where soothing mixtures and drugs are given out to ease and comfort everyone and leave them just the way they were. Anyone who happens to break these rules, and whose preaching disturbs members of a congregation is thought of as an objectionable, frightening preacher. He is disliked and is charged with voicing his own opinions instead of preaching the gospel, which is said to be nothing more than a constant repetition of the pablum they have heard before.
But the highest and best reason for disturbing people is that a man is simply and honestly preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Look at the four Gospels and the account we have of the preaching of the Apostles in the Book of Acts! If ever there was anyone who understood and preached the love of God it was Jesus Christ. And yet what was the effect of His preaching? Did the people all go home after hearing Him preach all smiling and happy, feeling self-satisfied and sure of their salvation? Read the pages of the New Testament and find the answer. Read especially the pages of John's Gospel. Read his account of the preaching of Christ. In John's Gospel you will find that, on one occasion, because of certain things Christ preached, "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). Christ's words on that occasion caused a certain number of people to go home determined that they would never listen to Him preach again. No phrase occurs quite as often at the end of His sermons as this, "then they sought to take him" and "then they took up stones to cast at him." Almost every time Christ preached certain people discussed how they could catch Him or destroy Him.
I need not explain this any further. In no sense can the gospel, as Christ preached it, be said to have been comfortable to listen to. His preaching never left people as they were. It either thrilled them or infuriated them. For "he that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already…" (John 3:18). If you are not saved by hearing it, you are condemned by it. One thing is certain. You cannot remain indifferent to it. It is not that Christ wanted to condemn people. He came to save, not condemn. Rather, it is that the gospel itself must either save a man or else condemn him. It is impossible that the gospel should have no effect, and that we can listen to it and be left exactly where we were before. There is an offence in Christ's message, a sense in which it upset every unconverted person. When Christ said that He came to save people, He implied that they need to be saved, and that without Him they are lost. We don't like to admit that we are lost. It disturbs our dignity and self-esteem. And we object as much as those Jews did when He said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Read what happened to the people who were listening to Christ that day. We are told, in verse 30, that "As he spake these words, many believed on him." In other words they believed that what He said was true and that He was indeed the Messiah. Up to that point they accepted what He said. But He went on to say, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). When Christ said that these very people who said they believed in Him turned with astonishment and said, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" Their objection seems surprising to us unless we think more deeply. We feel like asking, "What could they object to in Christ's statement about making them free?" We think, "Surely they should have been glad to hear Him say that the truth would make them free." But it didn't make them glad at all. It troubled them and annoyed them - and for a very obvious reason. Christ's promise to make them free showed that they were slaves. Even though they believed He was the promised Messiah, they rejected the thought that there was something wrong with them the way they were. They said, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?"
Ah! The gospel of Christ is all right as long as you don't apply it to me personally. When it becomes personal, then people object to it. It is one thing to feel sad when you see a picture or hear about Christ's passion and death on the Cross. But, remember, if you believe Christ died on the Cross to save you, it means you are in a terrible condition, and only His death could possibly save you. There is nothing that condemns us as much as that Cross and His death, which were needed to save us.
Have you ever seen yourself as being so helplessly sinful that nothing but His death could save you? If not then you are in the same exact position as these people in John 8. You believe that Jesus was the Son of God. You believe Him. But you do not believe in Him. Believing things about Him is completely useless, as He showed these people here in John 8. Isn't that your problem tonight? Don't you like hearing about Christ, but at the same time dislike it when you are told about your need of conversion? Why is that? Well, it's because you don't like hearing that you are "dead in sin." No matter how much life changes, there is one thing so deeply ingrained in human nature that it never changes - and that is the good opinion people have of themselves. We like to hear the gospel when it appeals to our emotions, but when it promises to "free" us and give us liberty it shows that we are enslaved to sin. And you don't want to think about that. And your whole difficulty is centered in your false idea of freedom.
Now the first thing that is made clear here is that your false idea of what freedom is makes you blind to your slavery to sin. You may not realize that you are enslaved and in bondage. Because they were descendants of Abraham, these Jews rejected the idea that they needed Christ to make them free. "Why," they said, "we have never been in bondage [or slavery] to any man." They forgot all about being slaves in Egypt and later in Babylonia. They forgot that they were virtually enslaved right then by the armies of Rome! "We are free already," they said. That thought may come to many of you tonight. Why, you are an American. You have "certain unalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as given in the Declaration of Independence. That is one of the noblest mottos ever written. And yet I tell you that although Americans have freedom in that way, you may be miserable and unhappy inside because you are a slave to your own depraved nature, and to sin, and to Satan.
The people Christ pitied most were those who thought that they were free. According to Him the dictator to be most feared is your own enslaved nature. John Bunyan, when he was put in prison for preaching the gospel, had a freedom which those who imprisoned him never knew about. Christian martyrs going to be burned at the stake have always pitied and prayed for the miserable sin-enslaved people who killed them.
Think also about people who have, they say, freedom of thought. "I refuse to be made a slave to old traditions and outdated ideas," they say. "I am an original thinker. I think for myself." I will show what a false statement that is. Apart from the freedom Christ gives, this is nothing but shallow boasting. Your ideas about life and religion did not come from your "freedom of thought" at all. Your ideas came from your parents. Your friends at school and college, your teachers and professors - all these contributed greatly to what you think, about what you call "freedom of thought." Have you ever noticed also that people's views and opinions change as their circumstances change? And yet they boast that they are free! You can say whatever you like but you cannot think what you like. You are bound up hand and foot by prejudices and heredity and environmental influences. You are literally enslaved by those factors which have made you who you are.
How sad and foolish is all this talk we hear today about freedom of thought. [Think of your teachers at the secular school you attend. Do they have freedom of thought? Or are they in fact, as Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, "Bound up hand and foot by prejudices and heredity and environmental influences"?] Yet in this so-called freedom you are in dictatorial slavery to the Devil and sin. All the time people still hear a voice within them saying, "You hypocrite, you coward, you sinful person." Don't you feel that way - at least sometimes? You try to drown out that inner voice, but still it is there - to torment you with the fact that you are truly not free at all. This voice within you, which goes with you everywhere, mocks you and calls you a hypocrite. Isn't that true of you? All of your sin will find you out in one way or another. The Bible says, "Be sure your sin will find you out." Your sin will find you out. It will not leave you alone. All the sins that you have done will rise up before you and condemn you, and accuse you. It may come in a nightmare when you sleep. All those things that you have done or neglected to do will haunt you in one way or another. They will tease you and torment you - and you cannot avoid them. "Be sure your sin will find you out." True freedom? Why, none of you have it! Within yourself is your own opposition to God. You cannot escape it, for it is in your very heart. This demon that goes with you wherever you are, and knows every thought and action you do, continues to enslave you, and you cannot avoid or get rid of his teasing thought that you are a sinner and a hypocrite at heart.
Do I need to say more about your slavery and bondage to sin? Anyone who thinks deeply enough must realize that he is a slave to his sinful nature. What is more, Christ makes it plain that you cannot free yourself from the guilt and slavery of your sinful thoughts and actions. He says, "The truth shall make you free." You cannot free yourself, or you would have done so long ago. But God be praised, you can be free. "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
A religion that doesn't free people is of no value at all. Many people are slaves to religion. That is not the freedom Christ promises. It is nothing but a shallow belief based on what others have thought and said about it. The faith which frees a person is that which flashes upon the soul and makes the person say, "I now know this is the truth of God. Christ has touched my heart and changed my life. I know Christ is true. Though everyone around me denies it, I know it is true."
The truth which frees a person is what Paul wrote about in Galatians, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). Well, what is that gospel? It is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the Cross to cancel the power of sin, and by doing so He wiped out the sinful debt of humanity, and that by God's power a man can be born again to eternal life by knowing Jesus Christ.
How can you be happy and free with a load of sins upon you? How can you be free when the voice in your heart is still conscious of guilt? But when you come to Christ He blots out your sins, and you know that you are forgiven by God through Christ. You now have a greater power than the Devil. You now have a power that swallows up death "in victory." Your past sins are gone and you are free. In verse 36, Jesus said, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).
That is what is meant by the truth that makes you free. It is not self-confidence, but confidence in Christ. Relying on Him, what is there to fear? Though I am weak, He is strong. I need not fear. I need not worry. His power is eternal and in His strength I am free! Believe on Christ and you will be free! "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Will you come to Him? Will you trust Him? Will you let Him make you free indeed?
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 8:28-36.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Jesus Has Lifted Me" (by Avis B. Christiansen, 1895-1985).
THE OUTLINE OF
NO FREEDOM EXCEPT IN CHRIST -
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
(John 6:66; 3:18; 8:30-33; Numbers 32:23;