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To the Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free” (John 8:31b–32).

Over the centuries, many a people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have used our Lord's words here in John 8 in and out of context, as a firm unwavering belief in the Christ who sets one free or simply as a wisdom maxim, slogan or punch-line for whatever so-called truth one wishes to profess.

As we approach our annual remembrance and celebration of the Lutheran Reformation on October 31, we give thanks to our Lord for the work of the Martin Luther and company who brought to light the clear teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Holy Scriptures that truly and only sets men free from slavery to sin, death and devil! And yet, Martin Luther would be the first to deflect any credit for this historic movement that unleashed the good news of Christ upon people who were thirsting and yearning to be set free from the guilt and burden of their sins!

As Luther once famously said,

I did nothing; the Word did everything … I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it … I did nothing; I let the Word do its work. 1

Of course, one rightly celebrates the Lutheran Reformation properly when we remember it as the work of God through His Word and give thanks to Him for what He has done! At the same time, we would be well served to heed Luther's confession of the power and efficacy of God's Word in our own lives.

“If you abide in my word,” says the Lord, “you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free.” What does it mean to abide in Jesus’ Word? Does it mean that we should hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest His Word? Yes. Does it mean that we should walk in its truth as a light to our path? Yes. Does it mean that we should cleave to it, hold on to it with everything we have, never let it go, as we endure and suffer trial and cross? Yes! Absolutely! It certainly means all these things. But above all, it means listening, hearing, being open to hear again and again, hearing anew and hearing afresh the words of Jesus.

Jesus’ Words are spirit and life (John 6:63). His Word is light in the darkness (John 1:5, 9–11), life in the midst of death (John 5:24) and truth in the midst of relativity and falsehood (John 17:17; 18:37). Those who abide in His Word live in the light of His life and freedom. Those who abandon His Word for another word, who are indifferent to His Word, whose ears and hearts are not open to hearing His Word remain slaves to the darkness of sin and death.

Commenting on John 8, Luther observes the importance of abiding in Christ's Word and remaining His true disciples,

The divine Word alone is our cornerstone, the I-beam, the girder, the stanchion, and the pillar undergirding our constancy. Therefore it is imperative that we hold to the plain Word of God, that we cling to the words of Christ. Then we will experience God’s help in the midst of danger and upheaval … If we rely firmly on the Word, then we need have no fear … Here is where disciples of Christ come to the parting of the ways. The false disciples begin to believe, but they defect. The true disciples remain on the hard path or enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:14), namely the Word of God, saying: “I am helpless. May God help me. It all rest in His hands. He promised and said: ‘Just cling to the Word, and I will uphold you. When you find yourself in any extremity or distress, you will learn to continue in God's Word. This will liberate you and make you a true disciple.’” 2

Since the garden of Eden, man has and continues to be lead astray by the words, whims and teaching of the world. Amidst the cacophony of voices in our world that question, contradict, reject, deny, oppose and seek to silence Jesus' Words, faith clings to and abides in His Word. And abiding in His Word, we remain His disciples who are truly free.

True freedom is not the liberty to do, say or believe anything we want, but to abide in Jesus who “wants us to discard and abandon everything else … to give up the illusion that anything else will avail to make us free … [and] look to Him alone” who sets us free. 3

Jesus words are not a slogan or punch-line, but the very truth of His salvific work for you and me. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and truth will set you free.”

The Lutheran Reformation isn't just something that happened long ago, but is something that God is in the business of doing in you and in me today and always; opening our ears, opening our hearts, opening our minds anew, afresh with the words of Jesus that we might abide in His Word and be free.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Martin Luther, Eight Sermons at Wittenberg (1522), in Luther's Works, Vol. 51, 77–78.
  2. Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of John (1531), in Luther's Works, Vol. 23, 400.
  3. Ibid., 412.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.