Is God's Friendly Favor Earned Or Given?

Text: John 8:31-36 (Reformation Observed)

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Do you have to change to have favor with God, or does God’s friendly favor have the power to forgive and change you?  Let me repeat that.  Do you have to change to have favor with God or does God’s friendly favor have the power to forgive and change you? 

By nature, you and I think the first way.  We spend much of our time in this world trying to be good enough to bring about God’s favor.  We cross our T’s to make sure that we are friends with God.  We dot our I’s to make sure that we don’t end up in hell.  Everything we do, we typically do to be noticed by everyone around us, and especially noticed by God.    

The problem with this first way of thinking, though, is that it encourages selfishness.  In other words, this way of thinking leads us to conjure up selfishness in our hearts to do good to others so that we may earn brownie points before God.  We end up using people and doing good things to get God’s attention.  And when we have God’s attention, we show Him that we are goodie-two-shoes that deserve God’s friendly favor. 

But there is another way of looking at our friendship with God.  The other way of seeing this is that God’s friendly favor has already been given to us in His Son, and that this friendly favor is a power - the only power – that forgives and changes a person from the inside out.  This second way is how the sixteenth-century Reformation understood Christianity. Permit me an opportunity to explain. 

When we know and believe that we have God’s friendly favor – and that is a struggle for us to believe – we then rejoice that we are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.  Yes, in Jesus Christ, the Father looks upon us with rich mercy and eternal love, which means that we are set free from all of our pathetic attempts to win and earn God’s love and approval.  We are set free from using our neighbor and our good works to get brownie points before God.  And when we understand God’s favor in Christ, well… we stop using our neighbors for our selfish motives and become some use to our neighbors. 

Do you see why this is so? 

My friends, when we don’t use our neighbors as objects to do our good works for brownie points, we will then serve our neighbors with joy.  Without God’s favor, we try to earn it.  With God’s favor, we are freed to serve one another freely.    

It is profound, is it not?  Christ shed His blood for the entire world.  Therefore, our neighbors are to be honored, loved, and respected - even when they do not know a thing about Jesus yet.  

Stop for a second, Baptized Saints.  Consider this a moment.  Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are acknowledging that we cannot earn God’s favor, but that God’s favor is laid right into our hands and mouths.  We are given the body and blood of Jesus as an unearned and undeserved gift for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith to God, and the strengthening of our love toward our neighbors.

Now, this is not some big theological theory; it is bedrock reality of what it means to be a Christian.  And it is the difference between living in freedom as a son and daughter or living in fear as a slave. 

In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus talking about these differences, as He talks about a slave and a son.  We hear that the slave does not remain in the house forever, which results in a dreadful uncertainty.  And we hear about a son living in a house forever, which results in assurance and confidence.

What this means is that the slave will always live in fear and worries if they are doing enough, and whether they are going to get the boot.  How much longer will the slave have a place in the household?  Are they doing enough to please the master?  When will the slave hear:

“Enough is enough! I’ve had it up to here with you and your disasters. GET OUT!”?

Now consider the place of a son in the household.  A son’s place is absolutely secure and certain.  It is his home.  Therefore, what is there to fear?

Baptized Saints, because of Jesus, you are not a slave but a son and daughter of the Lord.  Jesus came among you and me to free us slaves from sin and fear.  He came to break the shackles of your sin.  You have tasted the fear of slavery.  You know how the evil one seduces you into it.  You know what it is like to be under the constant pressure of wondering if you have done enough to have God’s favor.  But you also know that you are not a slave but the Lord’s child, which means you are free from sin, death, and the devil.  You are free from fear. 

And so there is no fear for you in Christ.  Not even, “have I done enough.”  No fear in Christ, not even, “what must I do to have God’s favor.” 

Listen, Baptized Saints; Christ Jesus shattered the shackles of sin for you.  He opened the prison doors of death for you.  He lifted you out of slavery to the joy of being a child of God.  And so, as a child of God, you do not have fear.  You no longer have to ask, “What must I do to earn eternal life,” but instead can say, “Look at what Jesus has done to earn me eternal life!” 

The forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ are eternal, free, and unmerited.  You cannot earn it, and you don’t deserve it, but it is still given to you as a gift. 

So, as you continue in Jesus' Words, rest in assurance and confidence, not fear and dread.  Know this day that no matter how tough life gets that the shackles of your sin are cracked open wide in Christ.  Know this day that the lies of Satan are exposed in Christ.

Just think of how different the world becomes when you realize the profound reality that you do not have to change to be friends with God but that God’s friendly favor forgives and changes you!  Indeed, life is so very different when you realize that the friendly favor of God – in Christ – sets you free! 

This, my friends, is the heart of the Reformation.  This is precisely what Martin Luther and the Reformers fought so strongly for!  The sixteenth-century Reformation was all about the profound fact that we - who are slaves to the bitterness of sin – are freed by the bloody death and glorious resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus does all of this free of charge because of God’s friendly favor to ungodly sinners like me, and you too!  Indeed, God looks on you in love and mercy and calls you to the grace and freedom of being a son and daughter, not a slave. 

So, celebrate the Reformation this week with confidence.  Rejoice in being a Christian.  Rise again in Christ, blessed Baptized Saints!  You are a child of God.  You are not a slave.  You do not belong to fear.  You have God’s favor in Christ.  And with that favor, you have forgiveness. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Portions of this sermon are indebted to Rev. Joshua Reimche and Rev. Will Weedon's Reformation Sermons.  

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