31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.
Are You Really Free?
In this passage, Jesus had a conversation with some Jews living in Judea who were descendants of the Israelites who were led out of slavery in Egypt in Exodus. The Israelites were proud to be descendants of Abraham and the story of how Moses lead them through the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt was an essential part of the nation, ethnic, and religious identity. They were proud to be a “free” people. And even though the Roman Empire was the real authority in the Judea, the Romans had allowed the Judea to remain autonomous in deference to their national pride as a free people (so long as the Judeans promised to remain loyal to Rome and not cause trouble). But Jesus explains that true freedom is more than national or ethnic identity or a political matter. True freedom is a spiritual matter.
I have always known we are blessed to live in this country—the land of the free and the home of the brave. I came to appreciate those blessings in a new way the first time I traveled to Guatemala in 2006. For one thing, the poverty I saw in Guatemala reminded how fortunate we are to enjoy so many comforts in the United States. Everyone in Guatemala looked up to us—literally…
I will never forget returning to the United States after a week in Guatemala. Now, I love Guatemala. It is a beautiful country filled with amazing people (and we could learn a lot of things from the people there), but I was so glad to come back to my homeland and I was so proud to be an American.
I will never forget arriving at the airport in Atlanta and going through customs. There was a line of people a mile long waiting to go through customs and “enter” the United States. My mission team was tired and homesick and ready to see our families and the thought of waiting in another long line was a bleak prospect. Just then, a customs agent came walking down the line asking, “Are you a US citizen? Are you a US Citizen?” And all who answered yes were ushered to the front of a much shorter line. I could see the weariness on the faces of all the non-citizens waiting in that long line as we walked passed them and I thought, “I am truly blessed to be a citizen on the United States of America.” We enjoy so many privileges we take for granted.
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day on July the Fourth. Independence Day is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. In it, our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was the belief of our nation’s founders that Freedom was a God-given right that should never be violated.
If ever there was a national ideal that came straight from the pages of the Bible, it is this—humanity was created by God to be free. “In the beginning,” (Genesis 1), “God created the Heavens and the Earth.” And God created humanity to be free—free to think, free to make choices, free to love. God did not create us as animals chained to follow our basic instincts. God created us to be free!
Yet today, the vast majority of humanity is not free. Even here in this great Nation where freedom is the hallmark of our national identity, the vast majority are not free. People are enslaved to a cruel master, Sin.
You might have a hard time thinking of yourself—an American citizen—as a slave. We live in the land of the free, but that doesn’t automatically make you free, not any more than standing inside a gym automatically makes you fit and muscular. You are not truly free unless the Son of God sets you free.
Sin keeps us from being free.
Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages [or consequences] of sin is death…” So we all have a big problem. We are all guilty of sin—which is turning away from God and doing things our own way—and we will all reap the penalty of sin—which is death.
But the death Romans talks about is far worse than just passing away into oblivion and ceasing to exist. The death we face because of sin is a spiritual death. Sin separates us from God. Our spirits suffocate in the absence of God’s presence. In Luke 16, Jesus described the eternal destiny of sinners as a place of fiery torment. The 20th chapter of the book Revelation describes the place as a lake of fire. I don’t know for sure what that place is like, but I know it is something worse than death. It is spiritual death. (If God is like the air we breathe, you could imagine hell like suffocating without air for eternity.)
Jesus came to set us free from the spiritual death that sin brings into our life. The great Christian evangelist of the first century—St. Paul—epitomizes to me a man who is truly free. Death held no power over his freedom. He boldly traveled wherever the Lord led him to spread the Gospel unhindered by persecution, hardship, or even the fear of death. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually executed. Yet he was not afraid. Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” And he penned those famous words that have comforted so many at funerals, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
When the Son of God sets you free, you no longer have to fear death. I tell people (and myself), “What is there to be afraid of? The worst thing that can happen is death. And to die means to go home to glory—no more suffering or pain or sickness or grief. It’s like the ultimate retirement!” And to live with no fear of death out on the edge with God holding your hand—now that’s freedom!
It’s not just a fear of death that enslaves people. Because of Sin, some people are bound by chains of guilt. Ironically, the church is often a place where people feel the most guilt. I have known people who avoid church altogether because it makes them feel so guilty. They walk into a beautiful sanctuary like this and instead of inspiring them it just reminds them how far short they have fallen from God’s glory. They see everyone dressed up for church and smiling like they don’t have any problems and the preacher is standing up on stage peering down over the pulpit at them. And all these things remind them of how unworthy they feel. They don’t like that feeling so they just stay away.
Ironically, I have found that sometimes the people in church with the biggest smiles are the ones with the most heartache and guilt.
Jesus Sets Us Free
Maybe you feel that way, but Jesus doesn’t want church to be a place that overwhelms us with guilt. Jesus came to set us free from sin. He said, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17). And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” Because of Jesus Christ, those who confess there sins and believe in Jesus Christ can trust Psalm 103:12 which says, “[God] has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” When we come to church (or wherever we are), God does not looking down on us as He looks down on us. He looks at us and smiles the way a loving father smiles at their children.
And so we are free to live! We are not bound by a guilt that causes us to hide from God in shame or try to impress Him or somehow try to work our way back into His favor. We don’t have to bow our heads in shame. We don’t have to carry a load of constant apologies. As Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” Now that is truly free!
But the freedom we have in Christ goes even further. We are also free from the power of sin. This is the glorious Good News of Christ’s message that—frankly—doesn’t get preached enough. The salvation we have in Christ is not just forgiveness; it is also healing. We are on the road to recovery. Gradually, with God’s help, we are getting over this sinful nature that plagues us. So we don’t have to dread a life of constant mistakes and sinful living while we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t help it. I’m a sinner by nature.” Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” And Romans 6:22 says, “Now you are free from the power of sin…” So, we don’t have to go through life thinking we are bound to sin. If we slip up, we can be forgiven. But we don’t have to sin. We are free! Because God loves us so much, we are now empowered to love others! We are free to share the love of Christ with everyone!
Jesus said, “The truth shall set your free.” He said that to the Israelites and they had a hard time seeing that they were enslaved. Can you sense their national pride when they said, “We are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone.” I wonder how many of us here today have a similar notion. We think, “I live in the United States of America. I am not a slave. I am free.”
Jesus would say the same thing to you today that he said 2,000 years ago. “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” When we humble ourselves and recognize we are enslaved, Jesus is there to set us free. But if our pride makes us hang on to the false notion that simply being an American makes us free, we will remain enslaved. Exercising freedom takes wisdom and courage and determination. It takes the Son to set you free and keep you free.
As we give thanks for the independence of our great nation, what better way to honor freedom than to truly live out our freedom. I hope today you will humble yourself and ask Jesus to help you. And then I pray you will go out of this place and live the free life you were created to live!