|The truth will set you free
Main point: We were all slaves to sin, but by remaining in Jesus we will be set free forever
Are you free?
There was a song a number of years ago which goes a bit like this...
I’m free to do what I want any old time
I’m free to choose who I see any old time
I’m free any old time to get what I want
These words written by the Rolling Stones capture the spirit of our times. We don’t like to be constrained, we like to be free to do what we want, see who we want, get what we want. We want to be free.
But is this really freedom?
What does it mean to be truly free? Is the unfettered freedom advocated by the Rolling Stones really what we want?
On Facebook earlier this week I noticed a discussion on the nature of freedom. And one of our congregation members, Ian Tupper, contributed to this discussion by wisely identifying "freedom" as a negatively defined concept. He wrote, ‘freedom only has meaning once you define what you want to be free from; Freedom from oppression, freedom from taxes, freedom from fleas!’
Now I’m not sure if freedom from fleas is a personal victory for Ian. Maybe you could ask him afterwards, but you might want to keep your distance! Freedom from fleas would be ‘Fleadom!’
But the point is ‘freedom from what’? What are we free from? Being imprisoned, enslaved, constrained?
Then what about following Jesus? Can following Jesus make you free? Many today believe that following Jesus seriously inhibits freedom. Can Jesus make you free?
Well, today Jesus speaks openly and controversially about freedom. He speaks about a type of slavery which affects us all. And he speaks about a freedom that is life-changingly liberating. A freedom everyone in our world needs. What is that freedom? Well, let’s look at John’s Gospel and find out.
If you remain in Jesus you will know the truth of the gospel and be free
In chapters 7 and 8 of John, Jesus has been publically debating with a group who challenge him about his identity. Who are you Jesus? Who are you really?
Jesus claims many things about who he is and these reach a climax in John 8:28 when Jesus says he’s the divine ‘Son of Man’; a powerful figure who would save the people. Some of the listeners believe this and begin following him. And it’s to those people Jesus now turns. Yet Jesus wonders how genuine their faith or belief in him really is. Some will follow with shallow faith for the wrong reasons.
Jesus then explains how you tell genuine faith – how do you know those who are truly his disciples. Look in verse 31.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples”.
The key word here is ‘continue’ or ‘remain’ in him. The measure of a disciple is the ability to hold to his master’s teaching. It’s about continuing in Jesus. And there are many who follow Jesus only for a season or when it’s convenient.
I knew someone who used to come along regularly to a Bible study group I was involved in. He came every week and gave excellent answers. He was very enthusiastic and involved. However all of a sudden he stopped coming. I was puzzled; where was he? After a while I gave him a call and asked if everything was ok. He said he couldn’t come to bible study any more because it clashed with dancing on Wednesday nights and dancing was a better way for him to meet people.
I was a bit shocked, this man who seemed so keen was following Jesus simply to meet women! This man’s faith was inadequate and shallow. He didn’t remain in Jesus, in fact I wonder if he was ever in Jesus in the first place.
But true disciples of Jesus remain committed to Jesus and his word. True disciples of Jesus remain in Jesus. They persevere, abide in, continue, keep on, stick to, Jesus. True disciples continue in Jesus and his word.
Our passage tells us two further things about what it means to continue in Jesus, see verse 32,
“you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Now to many in our world Jesus’ assertion here is preposterous. How can Jesus claim that knowing him, is knowing the truth? Leading atheists claim that Christianity is not truth. In response to the ‘Jesus: All about life’ TV campaign last year atheist groups launched their own counter-campaign – “Jesus: All about lies”. Today many claim that following Jesus is not the truth.
And these opponents go on to say that far from setting you free, following Jesus heavily burdens you. Religion is something to be escaped. Religion obstructs freedom, liberty and proper scientific research. Atheists and humanists are the ‘freethinkers’, religious types are not. To these and many in our world religion does not liberate – it enslaves.
So how can Jesus say if you continue in his word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free?
Well the answer comes in knowing what the ‘truth’ is. And we see in verse 31 that the truth is a body of knowledge, it’s a message.
‘if you continue in my word...you will know the truth.’
The truth is the ‘word about Jesus’; Jesus’ words, Jesus’ message. And that message is: Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection to new life.
But more profoundly the truth is found in the person of Jesus himself. Jesus himself encapsulates this message. When you understand who Jesus is, you understand the truth – the gospel – and then the truth will set you free.
How? Let me explain.
The theme which governs this entire section is found in chapter 8 verse 12 when Jesus declares himself as the ‘light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. Now when Jesus claims to be light of the world he doesn’t mean he’s going to have a giant halogen light strapped to his head and stand on a cliff waving at passing ships; he’s claiming to be the salvation of the world.
Jesus claims to fulfil Old Testament prophecies concerning a light of salvation coming to the world. See Isaiah 49:6...
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’
The light to the nations is entwined with salvation. The light of the world will bring salvation – and the light of the world is who Jesus claims to be. So the identity of Jesus is entwined with his mission. Knowing Jesus as the light of the world means knowing he’s the salvation for the world. Knowing Jesus’ identity means knowing his message and knowing the truth.
Because truth is tied up with salvation, truth is not simply intellectual. There is also a moral component. Light exposes darkness. This metaphor was used earlier in John to describe moral evil, the things committed in the darkness. The truth is not just an intellectual truth, but is salvation from moral darkness and sin. Jesus’ salvation brings freedom from sin and darkness.
This is where I believe John Farnham illustrates this profound theological truth.
You don’t believe me? Well think about the chorus of his song, ‘that’s freedom’. It goes like this...
It's a song of the heart;
A race in the wind;
A light in the dark;
It's a reason to live
And after the rain
Rekindle this fire
Let freedom ring
Did you pick it?
Initially when I read those lyrics I thought, this is a strange type of freedom. What kind of a bizarre freedom involves ‘a fire being rekindled after the rain.’?
But what about the line, ‘a light in the dark; That’s freedom’? This is profound for this is exactly what Jesus is claiming here. Jesus is the truth, the light of salvation, and this light will set you free from darkness, sin and death – that’s freedom!
If Jesus isn’t the truth, the atheists are right, belief in Jesus is irrational and wrong. But if Jesus is the truth – then this immediately prompts searching questions – not just intellectual ones, but probing moral questions. If Jesus is the truth, what would he say about the way I live my life. If Jesus shone a light and exposed my life, would we be proud of what was revealed? My morality, the way I treat others? The way I treat God? The way I ignore God?
Remain in Jesus and you will know the truth of the gospel and you’ll be free from darkness, sin and death.
No-one is free for we’re all slaves to sin
Here the Jews misunderstand Jesus. They think Jesus is speaking about freedom from physical slavery. Look at what they say in verse 33,
‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves of anyone’
The Jews are claiming spiritual superiority. Declaring how unnecessary it is for them to be made free. Why do we need to be made free? We’re descendants of Abraham. They considered freedom as the birthright of every Jew.
But when we read their claims here we’ve got to rub our eyes in disbelief. ‘Did they really say that?’ Their claim is truly breathtaking. They’ve ignored one of the most significant Old Testament events: the Jewish enslavement in Egypt. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and needed Moses to plead with Pharaoh, ‘let my people go’. Remember our Old Testament passage tonight where we met Abraham. Abraham was told then about a time when his descendents would be enslaved in Egypt. I don’t understand how these Jews could claim they’ve never been slaves of anyone and know their Old Testament.
But it gets worse. The whole history of Israel is littered with enslavement and oppression. Several hundred years after the Exodus the Assyrians occupied, deported and enslaved most of Israel. Then 150 years after that Babylon came in and finished the job. And if that wasn’t bad enough the Jews don’t seem terribly conscious of their current political predicament. Israel was occupied by the Romans. Sure, technically the Jews weren’t slaves, but they were hardly a free people.
These Jews had an overinflated view of their own spiritual importance which meant denying the Old Testament; denying their history; and denying their current situation.
Yet see how Jesus answers these people in verse 34. Jesus doesn’t deal with their faulty revisionist misconstruction of history, he doesn’t argue over whether the exile or the Roman occupation was true enslavement or not. He goes beyond national pride and gets to their individual hearts. Jesus identifies a far deeper problem by saying one of the most controversial things he ever said. Look in verse 34.
‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
Jesus says two really controversial things.
The first: Jesus is saying that no-one is really free. He says anyone who sins is completely controlled by sin.
Slavery is complete ownership and control by a master. Slavery – bondage – servitude. This is how sin owns us.
Notice how complete Jesus’ attitude is towards sin. Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Everyone who sins is really a good person underneath, they just make a few mistakes every now and then.’ Jesus says ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’ Anyone who sins is completely owned and controlled by it. We aren’t really free, we’re controlled by sin.
The second controversial thing Jesus says is that this is everyone’s problem. Everyone is a slave to sin, it is universal. Have you ever met anyone who has never sinned?
I head a story about a man who didn’t think he ever sinned. Someone else challenged him and said, ‘ok, see if you can go through a whole week without telling a lie’. He agreed. A week later the two met again to see how this supposedly sinless man had gone. And he was exasperated. He’d failed the challenge, but he said ‘the challenge wasn’t fair’. Why? ‘I just started a job as a real estate agent!’
We all sin, every one of us. We’re all slaves to sin. Go out onto Lygon Street and you’ll hear the chains chinking. The logical conclusion of Jesus’ statement is frightening. Everyone, slave, of sin.
Now when we hear Jesus’ words here what do you think? Is this really the case here in Australia here today in the 21st Century? Perhaps our response is similarly indignant to the Jews. “We’re Australians, we’re young and free. No-one or nothing enslaves us.”
Australia may be a ‘free’ society but we’re becoming increasingly slaves to our work. Recent research from the Australia Institute says that in Australia now we work the longest hours in the developed world. In his recent book ‘the future of Jesus’ the archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen writes concerning modern Australia ‘In this utopia, which we now inhabit we have never had less time or been so enslaved to work or addicted to shopping or so dependent on the government or drugs’.
Are we really ‘young and free’ in Australia?
But what about our hearts - remember Jesus went to the heart. He says everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Is that true of our experience here in Australia? Are we slaves to sin? Sin addicts?
Sin is the failure to love God or love others. Sin is doing exactly what I want, any old time. Sin is profoundly selfish. It will mean we have destructive relationships, destructive habits and by doing whatever I want whenever I want, I end up being a slave to my own selfishness and selfish desires.
The act of sinning proves we’re enslaved, we’re addicted to it. Look out in our world. People may criticise the Christian fascination with sin. But don’t you think deep down, it describes something about us. Sin as a habit we just can’t break.
I read a little book called ‘The means and manner of obtaining virtue’ by Benjamin Franklin. Here Franklin sought moral improvement and he developed a plan for self examination. This plan meant he recorded a little mark in a book when he failed in a certain moral category. He said initially he was surprised to find he was so much fuller of faults than he’d imagined. Over time the number of marks in his book diminished, but they were still there. Despite his most concentrated attempt at moral excellence he still failed. Sin was a habit Benjamin Franklin couldn’t break.
Benjamin Franklin claimed some moral improvement, but I wonder how many marks would be in his book if his wife recorded them? Or his children?
Or God? Loving God wasn’t one of Franklin’s categories of virtue.
Slavery to sin is something none of us can break. We’re all sinners and we’ll always sin. We always fail ourselves, our loved ones and God.
Atheists who claim religion enslaves fail to appreciate the moral failures of humanity as a whole. They have no solution to the moral problems we have, they have no solution to the moral disease which infects us all. They have no solution to selfishness, no solution to rudeness, to greed, to harsh and spiteful words.
They fail to recognise that we’re all not free. We’re all slaves to sin.
If the Son sets you free – you’ll be free forever
Jesus outlines the implications of this slavery in verse 35?
‘The slave does not have a permanent place in the household’.
Slaves aren’t part of the family. They hang around the family, they may even be in the family photos but they’re never actually a part of the family. Father Abraham may have many sons – but if you’re a slave, you can’t be one of them.
Jesus contrasts the position of the slave with the position of the Son. See there again in verse 35,
‘the son has a place there forever’.
The Son has a permanent place in the family. So if you want to be a part of the family, you need to be with the Son. And if the Son sets you free you’ll be free indeed.
The Jews think being associated with Abraham will be enough. Jesus recognises this and says, ‘I know you think you’re special, but ultimately you reject me – in fact you want to kill me. The irony of which is if they really were Abraham’s descendants they’d follow the Old Testament which forbade murder. But they’re enslaved. Their chains are chinking. They need the son to set them free yet there is no place for him in their lives.
A few years back a guy I used to work with said, ‘It’s all about how you treat people’, but there was no place for Jesus in his scheme. Jesus was missing. We are all enslaved to sin. And only the Son, only Jesus can set us free from moral failure, from selfishness, from sin, darkness and death.
There was a man who lived some 500 years ago, Martin Luther – not to be confused with the American civil rights activist Martin Luther-King! But Martin Luther was acutely conscious of his own sinfulness. He was very conscious of his own slavery to sin. He entered a monastery to achieve holiness, but he never found it. For three years he sought for holiness and freedom from sin by denying himself. He shut himself up in a cell with water and little food, and fasted cut himself and earnestly sought to gain holiness. No one surpassed Luther in his outward, external desire for holiness. He claimed of his efforts, “If ever a monk got to heaven by monkery, I would have gotten there.” He wearied his instructors about how to achieve holiness, and kept the priests in confession for hours at a time. He was miserable. Here was a man who acutely felt his own slavery to sin. He felt no way out, he felt nothing but darkness and pain.
But then he found Jesus.
Luther discovered the freedom Jesus offered and he felt that he "was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates" Luther’s conscience was at rest, and he was certain of his salvation. He had been freed from his slavery to sin and he was free indeed.
Martin Luther’s story is a great example of release fro the slavery of sin, but Luther lived 500 years ago, what about today?
I’d like to invite Will Mackerras up now. Will is a member of our 5’O’Clock congregation. He’s currently studying at theological college, but slavery to sin was a big factor for Will when he was younger, can you tell us how you used to feel when you reflected on sin in your life?
Jealousy, other areas. Feeling wretched. Depressed.
God made me a new person through death and resurrection of Jesus.
Made you free – free indeed?
Will’s story is a story of liberation from sin. If we remain in Jesus, we believe in him, trust in him, live for him, we will be free from sin. We need to be connected to the Son. If the son sets you free – you are free indeed.
The Rolling Stones song “I’m free to do what I want any old time” misunderstands freedom. We shouldn’t confuse multiplicity of choice with freedom. It’s wrong to describe the ability to do whatever we want any old time as freedom.
Mick Jagger was no hypocrite. He seems to have lived his life just like his song. He’s done pretty much whatever he wanted at any old time. He was free, but his freedom left a trail of destruction. According to Wikipedia, the source of all sermon illustrations, Jagger has been married twice and had numerous affairs. He has had seven children by four women. His first wife Bianca de Macias claimed, ‘my marriage ended on my wedding day’.
Is this your vision of freedom? Unconstrained, unfettered selfish freedom?
True freedom is not multiplicity of choice. This is so shallow and selfish. It assumes we’ll make decisions which are good for ourselves and good for others. Living selfishly enslaves.
Following Jesus sets us free.
Jesus sets us free from our past; freedom from sin and freedom from death, sin, evil and selfishness.
Jesus also sets us sets us a vision of freedom for the future. He sets us free from having to choose the selfish, popular way. We don’t have to sleep with our girlfriend or boyfriend like everyone else in the world, because we’re free to choose the good and the right. We don’t have to spend hours in the office making a fortune to buy the biggest house we can, because we’re free to be generous with our time and money and serve others. This is freedom, of knowing what my sinful, selfish heart wants, but saying no because there is a better way.
We need freedom. We don’t need the freedom of the Rolling Stones. We need to be set free from sin. We need the Son to set us free.
True freedom comes through Jesus and only Jesus. He liberates us from our true slavery; slavery to sin, we struggle in this world, but we know sin is beaten. We are free to live a better way.
Trusting Jesus, trusting and continuing in his word, remembering his death and resurrection, will free us from our past and make us free forever.
If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!