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Sin is like a chain that keeps us from being as free as we were meant to be.

We are not as free as we were meant to be (but we can be)

As a new Christian, I had this impression that John’s Gospel the encouraging book. If you needed to share some good news, this was the book to do it with. This, I think, was due to hearing so many other Christians recommend it as the book to read with a non-Christian.1

Then I read it and began to realize how right and wrong I was.

Years later, in teaching through it with the pastors at my church, I’ve gained an even greater appreciation of that rightness and wrongness.

John’s Gospel is difficult. Yes, it has beautiful encouragements. But it is also a deeply convicting book that challenges every aspect of our lives. And one of the most important has to do with our view of freedom:

Are we really as free as we think we are, or as we were meant to be?

What it means to be a disciple

John 8:31–36 drops us right in the middle of Jesus’s answer to this question. In this passage, Jesus challenged a group of Judeans who were said to believe in him following one of his many confrontations with the religious leaders of his day.

Jesus defined for them what it means to be his disciples—to be those who abides in his word, who continue to follow in his teaching. These would know the truth, and the truth would set them free (John 8:31–32). But when Jesus said this, specifically that knowing the truth—knowing Jesus who is the Truth—would set them free, they caught something deeper that Jesus was saying:

How could the truth set them free when they weren’t in bondage? After all, as a people group, they weren’t presently in bondage to another nation (although Judea was certainly not free at the time). They had a degree of self-governance, limited though it might be.

More significantly, from a spiritual standpoint, how could Jesus say they were in bondage? The Jewish people were Abraham’s children; his descendants. They were God’s chosen people. They were the ones upon whom he had set his affections. How could Jesus call Abraham’s descendants slaves?

Yet this is exactly what Jesus did say:

Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the family forever, but the son remains forever. So if the son sets you free, you will be really free.

John 8:34–36, NET

So what did he mean?

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Bad new for a not-so-free people

When Jesus says that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin, he reveals an essential reality about the nature of humanity, something that points us back to the very beginning of the Bible.

After he made Adam and Eve, God called them good. And not just good, but very good. They had unhindered access to God and stood in His presence. They walked with Him in the garden. These two were free in a way that we can’t imagine. They could choose to obey God, to honor him, to love him. They could also choose not to—which they did. (Thanks guys.)

Rather than trusting their creator, the first humans rejected him. Why? While Genesis 3 gives us the story, it ultimately comes down to this: they wanted to. They chose to reject, and their choice doomed us all.

Because of that choice humans lost the freedom that belonged to us. Our nature was twisted and distorted by Adam’s sin and we were all condemned in it (Romans 5:12). Humanity toppled into a bottomless pit of ever-increasing evil, to the degree that it became our default mode (Genesis 8:21).

This is still true today. When presented with the choice to sin or not sin, we will always choose to sin. It is our natural inclination—we can’t help it. We are enslaved to sin as Jesus said. (John 8:34; Romans 6:17).

In love with what is killing us

I know using a word like “enslaved” is dangerous. After all, if we’re slaves, then we don’t really have a say in the matter, do we? But here’s where things get really twisted: we don’t sin just because we don’t have a choice not to sin; we sin because we love sin. That’s what John 3:19 says outright: “People loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

So we sin and we keep on sinning because ultimately it’s what we love to do most of all. We don’t want to do what’s right because we love nothing else like we love what’s wrong in God’s sight. This is the ugly truth the Bible reveals. We are not free the way we think we are. Sin enslaves us. And we love that which enslaves us.

Searching for freedom in ourselves

Our society revolves around “self.” We are radically individualistic in every aspect of our lives. So self-focused are we that we even seek to redefine the concept of truth itself. And why do we do it? Because we want to be free.

it’s tempting to read something like this and assume that I’m only speaking about non-Christians. But professing Christians do it too. All. The. Time. We redefine God’s commands to make them less off-putting, and sand off the rougher edges of Scripture. Often we do it in the name of reaching people who don’t know Jesus. But the truth is, we do it because we want to.

In desiring to be free on our own terms, we’re all in the same boat.

The one who sets us free

If this were all Jesus said, it would be really bad news. But he didn’t. Instead, he gave them—and us—some really good news: True freedom really does exist, and it’s found only in Jesus. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus offers all of who turn to him the kind of freedom we desperately need—the kind of freedom we didn’t even know we needed.

A freedom based in a new heart, one with new desires—that breaks the chains sin creates around us, and allows us to honor and obey Jesus. To trust in him as our only hope. And that’s the good news that we need right now. No matter who we are, no matter our background, as we search for freedom, Jesus is who we need. Jesus came to set us free—and those whom the Son sets free are truly free indeed.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

  1. Which makes sense since the primary purpose of this Gospel is to reveal Jesus as the Son of God so that readers would believe in him. ↩︎
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