John 8:34-36 “Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
There are few things worse than living in a state of denial. Not only do you have the harm and damage caused by some problem in your life. You have the additional obstacle of not being able to see it. You can’t start to fix it until you recognize it.
For example, the “bump” you feel keeps getting bigger and more painful. Maybe there’s even more than one now. But cancer isn’t an option, and you won’t see the doctor.
You insist that you only drink to relax a little. It’s not really that much, and you can stop any time you like. But you can’t imagine a day, much less a life, without it, and the empty bottles are overflowing your dumpster on trash pick-up day.
Do you sin? Every hand has to go up. If we think we are free, then why don’t we just stop? Sometimes people may muster all their strength and courage and manage to put a stop to one sin in their life. They will get past their addictions, clean up their language, stop sleeping around, or put a stop to some other vice. Then pride grows in place of their vice–I mean the ugly arrogance that is full of oneself. Love may still be lacking by and large. Sin runs deeper than the bad behaviors we see on the surface.
Some people will even redefine sin in order to avoid Jesus’ diagnosis. A visitor to a Bible insisted that she had stopped sinning years ago. A little exploration of the subject made clear that she was not willing to consider any bad thoughts or attitudes as sins. Anything we might classify sexual sin was “just some people’s interpretation.” It’s hard to lose the game when you get to change the rules as you go along.
If we are honest, we can’t duck Jesus’ diagnosis: we are slaves to sin by nature. Don’t we find ourselves in the same struggle as the Apostle Paul, “The good that I want to do, I don’t do. The evil that I don’t want to do, that is what I keep on doing.” People speak of “free will,” but it would be better to say we are “self-willed.” Our “self” has been twisted and bent by sin. We are all inclined in a certain direction. That’s not real freedom anymore.
Here’s the problem with our slavery: “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family.” What is Jesus’ saying? What does it mean to lose your place in the family of God? It’s the same as losing your place in heaven. It’s Jesus’ gentle way of saying, “Your sin has earned you a place in hell.”
Thankfully, there is more to the story. Jesus promises: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Earlier, Jesus promised this freedom through the truth he teaches. Sometimes people say “The truth will set you free” as an encouragement not to lie. Everyone knows how one lie has to be covered by another. Soon you can’t remember exactly how your own story goes. Each new lie adds a bar to the cage you have built around yourself. But the truth, however painful, will set you free. This observation may be true, but that’s not what Jesus is means in this case.
The truth Jesus has in mind teaches about where we stand with God. It starts with the truth that we sin, and we are slaves to sin. But it is so much more than that.
Jesus teaches us the truth about God’s grace. Even more, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus makes grace possible. He made our freedom happen. Mere months after he spoke these words, he was going to return to Jerusalem. The city would welcome as a King, but in less than a week they condemned him as a criminal. They crucified an innocent man whose only crime was that he loved them enough to tell them the truth.
On the cross, he loved us still more. He carried our crimes with him and the sins and crimes of the whole world. He let his heavenly Father forsake him, as though he was the one who needed to be banished from the family for his sin. He let death take him there as though he was the world’s one and only sinner. By his suffering and death, he satisfied all the debt we owed because of our sin.
That means we are no longer spiritual prisoners sitting on the devil’s death row. We are restored sons in God’s everlasting family. Here is Jesus’ truth: the Son has set us free.