Reformation Day (Transferred)
October 25, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
What is truth? Up until about the middle of the last century, philosophy and academics pursued an objective truth as something that could be found. But then a shift happened in the way people thought about philosophy as well as art and architecture and literature, among other disciplines. It’s a movement called Postmodernism, which is a reaction against the older Modernism of the previous century. Instead of pursuing an objective truth, truth itself is now questioned. Truth no longer corresponds to reality, but is instead your interpretation of reality. For a Postmodernist, truth is relative, a construct of your own experiences and biases and narratives that drive the way you perceive reality.
What is truth? It’s an old question for a new movement. Two thousand years ago Pilate asked the very same question of Jesus as he interrogated him. For this reason I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth, says Jesus. All who are of the truth hear My voice (Jn 18:37). Postmodernists would be happy to read this as Jesus bearing witness to a truth, or simply to truth in general. But truth itself is self-determined. For the postmodern mind, then, Jesus becomes a parable for standing up for your personal convictions against competing narratives.
What is truth? As the Lutheran Reformation began to take hold in Germany, another world-be reformer by the name of Erasmus wrote about free choice. He maintained that God’s grace helped man toward God, but that it was man’s free choice that effected conversion. He believed that man had the ability to choose good or evil. Ironically, because he believed in a liberated will and free choice, he found it hard to believe any assertion. Erasmus shows us that the root of all postmodernism is the belief in a liberated will.
What is truth? Most commentary on postmodernism presumes that it’s a result of the secularization of society, that as people have become less religious, they tend towards finding a little bit of truth in all religions, and that all truth-claims have the same amount of truthiness. But I’ve come to realize that postmodernism is an intensely religious movement and, in fact, comes out of liberal Christianity in particular. Liberal mainline Christianity is the logical conclusion of Erasmus’s freedom of choice and doubts about assertions. It’s called liberal Christianity, not because of its political alliances, but because it depends on liberated, or free choice. And so much of liberal theology is nothing more than liberation theology. There are many liberation theologies—black liberation theology, women’s liberation theology, Palestinian liberation theology, among others—whose sole purpose and goal is to free the individual will from perceived oppressors in order to restore the freedom of choice.
What is truth? It’s no coincidence that the devil used a corollary to this question to deceive the first man into sin. Did God really say? It’s the oldest question in this fallen world. Adam’s temptation wasn’t to eat a forbidden thing, but it was to become like God, knowing good and evil. This is nothing other than the desire to exercise free choice.
What is truth? Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you remain in My Word, you are truly My disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth the truth will free you.” They answered Him, “We are seed of Abraham, and we have never been enslaved to anybody. How are you saying that we will become free?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I am saying to you that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the household forever; the son remains forever. If, therefore, the Son frees you, you will be actually free.”
What is truth? The truth sets you free, but the lie makes you a slave. It was the lie that enslaved Adam with the promise of freedom. Like the Jews who believed in Jesus, we Americans can say that we have never been slaves to anyone (though slavery is a shameful part of our history, too). But we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let freedom ring! But anyone who commits sin is slave to sin. To punctuate this statement, Jesus introduces it with not one, but two Amens. It is true, it is very true, that whoever commits sin is a slave, even though he consider himself free. The sin underneath our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we can make ourselves free by exercising our own wills. And the slave does not remain in the house forever.
What is truth? If you begin with freedom you will end up with slavery. But if you begin with slavery, however, you will end up with freedom. To find the truth it is essential to first confession your bondage. Anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Yes, we do have some measure of freedom in things below us—civil matters such as choosing the clothes we wear, or what to eat for dinner, or even conducting ourselves in a civil way with our neighbors. But in spiritual matters—in choosing good and rejecting evil—we must confess our slavery in order to be freed.
What is truth? Erasmus, Luther’s Roman Catholic opponent, took no delight in assertions because you really can’t be sure about what’s true. Luther, on the other hand, writes in response to Erasums, “On the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion—in order that we may not be misled by words—I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible persevering…I am speaking, moreover, about the assertion of those things which have been divinely transmitted to us in the sacred writings…Take away assertions and you take away Christianity (AE 33). It is essential to the Christian faith to make claims to the truth, to adhere, affirm, confess, maintain, and persevere in the truth.
What is truth? If you remain in My Word, says Jesus, you will know the truth, and the truth will free you. Truth is found in God’s Word, and God’s Word alone. Many religions and philosophies make a claim to truth, but there is only one truth that sets you free from the bondage of sin. The truth that is the Word of God. Erasmus thought man was essentially free, but could not assert the truth from God’s Word. Luther, and the Lutheran reformation on the other hand, confessed that man was essentially bound and found a wonderful liberation in asserting the truth of God’s Word. That’s the beautiful irony revealed in the Reformation: if you consider yourself free, you are in complete bondage to your sinful nature; but if you confess your bondage to sin, you find a wonderful freedom in the Word of Jesus that forgives sins.
What is truth? There is something to the Word of Jesus that sets it apart from every other claim to truth. There is something that distinguishes the Word of Jesus from the writings of Muhammed, or the Book of Mormon, or the wisdom of Confucius, or the many philosophies of man. Every one of those people who made a claim to truth are dead. In a grave. But the assertions of Jesus are the claims of truth of a man who said that He would die and then rise from the dead three days later, and was true to His Word. That’s what separates the Word of Jesus from every other claim of truth. The Word of God is the Word of the living. Because Jesus is risen, His Word trumps all other truths.
What is truth? Pilate asked the wrong question. Truth is not a “what,” truth is a “Who.” The truth will set you free, says Jesus. And if the Son sets you free, you will be actually free. The truth that sets you free is the Son of God. The words that Jesus speaks are true words because He is the Truth (Jn 14:6).
Who is truth? That’s the question of the Reformation. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the One who died and who rose, true to His Word. Therefore, the Words that He speaks are trustworthy and true. And the Word that He speaks is a Word of forgiveness that sets you free from your bondage to sin, that places you in the household of God. If the Son sets you free, you will be actually free.
You Know the Truth When You Know Jesus Christ
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard