November 2, 2008
John 8:31 – 36
On July 21, Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God Day-by-Day wrote about being “Born Again”. Here is what he said:
Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3
Entering a saving relationship with Christ is a life-changing experience! All things become new! Not some things, but all things (2 Cor. 5:17). For the first time in your life, Christ is Lord; God is Master. When you become a Christian, Christ's presence will affect every part of you. You will have new thoughts, new attitudes, new values, and new sensitivities. New priorities will dramatically affect your relationships. You will view everything in your life from a Christlike perspective. Christianity is not something you add to your life; it is life!
Nicodemus thought that salvation meant performing certain religious exercises and holding to particular religious teachings. He had no idea of the all-encompassing nature of salvation! When you become a Christian, God gives you a new heart so that everything becomes new! God gives you a new mind, like that of Christ, so you think differently. He gives you new emotions, so you feel deeply about completely different matters. You become sensitive to sin, so you are no longer comfortable with it. Your recreation will be affected as you are made aware of what is honoring to God and what is not. Your relationships will now be guided by the Holy Spirit. Destructive habits and attitudes, previously immune to change, will be transformed.
Have you noticed the changes God has brought to your life since you entered a vital relationship with Jesus Christ? These changes should be very noticeable as a testimony of the new life you received when you trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
To be saved by Jesus Christ is to be set free from sin, guilt, and self-centeredness.
Today’s message is all about this freedom Christ promises. Let’s read today’s key Scripture passage. Please turn your Bible to John, chapter 8, and we’ll read verses 31 through 36: Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. Free! There it is, mentioned 4 times in this passage.
There are two reasons why I have chosen the topic of freedom. The first is that everybody is thinking and talking about freedom today, and many people are spending their lives in pursuit of freedom.
For some countries it is national freedom: emancipation from the colonial yoke. For others it is civil freedom: civil rights and civil liberties, freedom from an oppressive regime. For others it’s economic freedom: freedom from hunger, poverty, and unemployment.
For all of us, it is personal freedom. Even those who are campaigning most vigorously for other freedoms I’ve mentioned, often know that they are not free themselves. They cannot identify what the oppressions or tyrannies are in their lives, but they feel frustrated, unfulfilled, and unfree.
So freedom is a common topic of conversation and thought today.
Our ladies are currently studying “Breaking Free” by Beth Moore. In her introduction she states that many Christians deny they are in bondage. They just don’t see it. So she lists many “yokes” people carry from their childhood – al of which can keep us in captivity, keep us from Freedom in Christ. Listen to what she says. When I realized God was calling me to write this study,- I asked the group of women I teach to broaden my horizon in terms of areas of captivity believers can face. I asked any of them who had been set free from an area of bondage to consider sharing with me two pieces of information through a letter:
· the specific area of captivity they faced
· the specific ways and lengths of time God
employed to set them free
I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for their responses. I have permission from some of them to use excerpts from their letters at appropriate times in this study. Although they will remain unnamed, you know women just like them. These respondents are bright, educated Christian, women. They serve faithfully in their churches. Many sing in the choir. They come from all economic backgrounds. For fear of judgment many of them have never told anyone but a godly counselor what they battled.
I heard painful testimonies of bondage to lust and a pattern of falling into sexual sin. 'I tearfully read about struggles with homosexuality and a fear of men because of child-hood abuse. Some spoke about a previous inability to love people fully, including their own husbands and children, One wrote me about the victory God had given her over a compulsion to steal. Another had been freed from habitual dishonesty. A friend I never would have suspected wrote me about her freedom from the bitterness flowing from physical abuse she endured as a child. My heart broke for one woman who described how deep insecurity had stolen friendships, church work, and a contented marriage from her. I've heard from many who were held captive by a critical and judgmental heart toward people. Others had wrestled terribly with anger toward God. Doubt. Discouragement. Loneliness. A chronic lack of satisfaction.
Please keep in mind that these letters were only from those who had found freedom in Christ. Imagine how many are still struggling! She goes on to remind us that Christ came to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners (Isa 61:1). As followers of Christ, we have this freedom. It’s one of the :spiritual blessings” given to us at salvation (Eph 1:3). 2 Peter 1:3 says “we have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness …” Everything includes freedom. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things have passed away; new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17) Two weeks ago, at our District Conference in Regina, our key speaker, Bruce Redmond, challenged us to get back to basics – the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The great Commandment is found in Mark 12:30-31: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.
And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. Freedom is for Christ’s disciples, thru Christ’s power. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we will want everyone to enjoy this free gift, the relationship we have with our Lord and Savior. We are commended to make disciples. Why? How will the truth (that is Jesus) set anyone free until they are disciples, followers of Christ?
Discipleship results in freedom. "The truth will make you free." "In his service is perfect freedom." Discipleship brings us four freedoms. (a) It brings us freedom from fear. The man who is a disciple never again has to walk alone. He walks for ever in the company of Jesus, and in that company fear is gone. (b) being a disciple of Jesus brings freedom from self. Many a man fully recognizes that his greatest handicap is his own self. And he may in despair cry out: "I cannot change myself. I have tried, but it is impossible." But the power and presence of Jesus can re-create a man until he is altogether new. (c) discipleship brings freedom from other people. There are many whose lives are dominated by the fear of what other people may think and say. H. G. Wells once said that the voice of our neighbors sounds louder in our ears than the voice of God. The disciple is the man who has ceased to care what people say, because he thinks only of what God says, and lastly, (d) discipleship brings freedom from sin. Many a man has come to the stage when he sins, not because he wants to, but because he cannot help it. His sins have so mastered him that, try as he will, he cannot break away from them. Discipleship breaks the chains which bind us to sin and enables us to be the persons we know we ought to be. Discipleship results in freedom – freedom from fear, freedom from self, freedom from enslavement, freedom from sin.
Freedom is a great Christian word isn’t it? The Lord Jesus is portrayed in the pages of the New Testament as the world’s supreme liberator. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61to John the Baptist’s disciples who wanted to know if Jesus was the Expected One. Jesus said he came “to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty the oppressed.” In our key passage this morning, Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” This is the Good News Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 61:1.
The apostle Paul appealed to the Galatians to stand firm in the liberty with which Christ has set us free. And for those who find “salvation” a rather embarrassing word or a word of traditional religious vocabulary that has no meaning today, “freedom” would be an excellent substitute. To be saved by Jesus Christ is to be set free. Salvation may be out of vogue, but freedom sure isn’t, is it? Are you free? Have you accepted the free gift of freedom that only Jesus gives? It was for freedom, Christ set us free! You are called to freedom!
What is freedom? I want to begin negatively with those tyrannies from which we need liberation, and then I will turn toward the positive counterpart. There are many tyrannies, but two major ones are guilt and self.
I’m thankful there is a reaction today against Freud’s insistence that guilt feelings are pathological and should be avoided at all cost. No! Guilt, like pain, is a symptom that something is wrong, and not to be ignore. Sigmund Freud said – and I quote – “A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what drives his conduct in the world.” What would Jesus have said to Freud? I venture to say, Jesus would have said, “Call sin sin”; it is never a legitimate drive.” Freud and Popeye would have got on well! “I yam, what I yam, what I yam!”. Psychologists are now telling us that we must take our responsibility and guilt seriously. Indeed, it’s part of our distinctive humanness that God made us moral beings with an urge to do what is right and a sense of guilt when we do what we know to be wrong. We were given a conscience to guide us.
You’ll know, I’m sure, one of Mark Twain’s many witticisms about man as the only animal that blushes and the only animal that needs to. For there have been times when we did things for which we now are thoroughly ashamed. Guilt and shame are for our good. They keep us in line.
The Bible is explicit on this point. It tells us that we have asserted ourselves against God’s love and authority. We’ve gone our own way. We’ve provoked his just displeasure, and our conscience tells us so. Our first and greatest need from God is forgiveness. My constant litany is, “Lord forgive me; cleanse me. For I know my righteousness is like filthy rags and my sin, like the wind, can carry me away. (Is 64:6)
Nobody is free who is unforgiven. If I were not sure of the forgiveness of God by his sheer unutterable mercy, I could not look God in the face. I could not even look you in the face. I’d want to run away and hide as Adam did in the Garden of Eden, because it was there in Eden, not at Watergate, that the device called “cover up” was first invented. Guilt and shame! We can cover them up, or we can come clean before God with His forgiveness. In 1 John 1:9 we read: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
A leading British humanist was interviewed recently on television. In a moment of surprising candor, she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.”
There is forgiveness with God, for he entered into our world in the person of his son, Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life of love, and on the Cross identified himself with our sin and guilt. God in Christ bore in his own innocent person the condemnation that we deserve, and he did it in order that we might be forgiven. I’m going to give you one more example. This one hits closer to home because it involves my family. For years Marcy had ignore a pea-sized cyst beside her eye until our daughter Lindsay badgered her into seeing a doctor about it. Marcy’s attitude had been, “It will go away eventually; it’s not bothering me; it’s not noticeable.” But when the doctor revealed to her that it is skin cancer, she immediately consented to having it removed. Guilt is like that cyst: it may not be noticeable to others, it may not even bother you much, and you may think it will go away eventually. But guilt is a cancer. It will not go away on its own. It needs the Great Physician to do a work on it.
Guilt is the first tyranny. We know it very well, and I trust we have already found the remedy in Christ.
The second tyranny is self or self-centeredness.
Once speaking to some Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Jews were indignant. They said, “What on earth are you talking about? We’ve never been in bondage to anybody.”
Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Like “salvation,” “sin” is another word of traditional religious vocabulary, and many people today are saying that sin has no meaning.
John Stott says “I can remember when I was an undergraduate student, how enlightening it was to learn from William Temple that what the Bible means by sin is “self-centeredness.” Let me tell you how Temple puts it in his great little book, Christianity in the Social Order. He says, “I am the center of the world I see. And where the horizon is depends on where I stand. Education may make my self-centeredness less disastrous by broadening my horizon of vision. It’s like a man climbing a tower who sees further in terms of physical vision while remaining himself the center and the standard of reference. I am the center of the world I see.”
That’s what the Bible means by sin. Luther talks about man curved in on himself. Malcolm Muggeridge talks about the dark little dungeon of my own ego. That is sin, a twist of self-centeredness that has us imprisoned. But God’s order is that we love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and being, and then that we love our neighbor and put ourselves last. Sin is the reversal of God’s order. We put ourselves first, our families and friends next, and God last. That is sin’s order. But Christ died so we can have the power to put the order right.: God first, neighbors second, ourselves last. In Romans 12:1-3a God’s Word says I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
We Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the only remedy for this radical self-centeredness and conceit. He not only died on the cross, he also rose again. He is alive, and by the power of his Spirit he can enter our personality and begin to change us from within. Christians do not claim to be perfect. We claim that Jesus has begun to liberate us from the cramping bondage of our own self-centeredness.
Here is the good news of freedom from tyranny. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have freedom from our guilt because he died for us, and freedom from our self-centeredness in the power of his resurrection.
I cannot stop there because I think the second part of my message is more important. It’s a great mistake to think of freedom in purely negative terms—in terms of those things from which we’ve been set free. We need to think of freedom in positive termsThis is the principle I want to develop: True freedom is freedom to be myself, my true self as God made me and meant me to be. Let me illustrate that principle.
I begin with God himself. Have you ever thought that God himself is the only person who enjoys perfect freedom? You could argue that God is not free. His freedom is certainly not absolute in the sense that he could do absolutely anything whatsoever. He cannot. The Bible speaks of several things that God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot sin. He cannot tempt or be tempted. So, God’s freedom is not absolute, but God’s freedom is perfect because he’s able to do absolutely anything that he wills to do.
The major thing that God cannot do, according to Scripture, is to contradict Himself. God’s freedom is freedom to be always entirely Himself. But there’s nothing arbitrary about God, nothing capricious, nothing unpredictable. He never changes. He’s always the same, and he never contradicts himself. If he did, then, of course, he would be God no longer. So God finds his freedom in being himself and never changing.
Do you know what is true of God, the Creator, is equally true of all His creatures? Absolute freedom is impossible for God, therefore it must be impossible for us. The freedom of every creature is found in its nature, and it is limited by that nature.
Take a fish as an obvious example. God created fish to live and thrive in water, whether salt or fresh. Gills are adapted to absorb oxygen from water, so water is the element in which a fish finds its identity, its “fishness,” its freedom. It finds itself in the element for which it was created: water. It’s limited to water, but in that limitation is liberty.
Suppose you had a little tropical fish in one of those old-fashioned, spherical goldfish bowls. Suppose the little fish swam round and round his blessed bowl until its frustration became unbearable. The fish decided to make a bid for freedom and leap out of the bowl. If it landed in a pond in your backyard, it would increase its freedom because there would be more water to swim in. But if it landed on the concrete or on the carpet, then its bid for freedom would spell death.
If fish were meant for water, what are human beings made for? It would be interesting if we had time to sit down alongside one another and share our answers to that question. If fish were made for water, what are human beings made for? What is the element in which human beings find themselves, as water is the element in which a fish finds itself?
I don’t hesitate to say that according to Scripture the answer is love. Human beings are made for love because God is love. When he created us in his own image, he gave us the capacity to love and to be loved. So human beings find their destiny in loving God and in loving their neighbors.
It’s not an accident that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and being and to love our neighbor as ourselves because in obeying those commandments we find out that. A truly human existence is impossible without love. Living is loving, and without love we die. In 1920, DR. J. Brennerman, a hospital paediatrician, introduced a rule in his wards that every baby should be picked up, carried around, and “mothered” several times a day. Why? At the beginning of the 20th century the mortality rate among children under 2 years living in orphanages in Europe and North America was almost 100%. These children were being taken care of physically. They had food and health care, yet they died by the hundreds. Why? Touch is so important that an infant deprived of affectionate touch will perish from a syndrome called “failure to thrive”. Babies can thrive without sight, without smell, without hearing. But they cannot thrive without love. We are made by God t be loved and to love.
God made me for loving and loving is giving. In order to be free, I have to deny myself and give myself to others in love. In order to be free, I have to serve. In order to live free, I have to die to my own self-centeredness. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Paul said, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” This is one of those Christian paradoxes: to be first, you must be last; to live you must die; to be free you must be enslaved to Christ.
Michelangelo is recorded as having said, “When I am yours, then at last I am truly myself.”
True freedom is the exact opposite to what many people think it is. Most people think freedom is freedom from responsibility to God and others in order that I may live for myself and be free. That isn’t freedom. That’s bondage to my own self-centeredness. True freedom is to be set free from my silly little self in order to give myself in love to God and to my fellow human beings. That truth will set you free!
Jesus' talk of freedom annoyed the Jews. In John chapter 8, they claimed that they had never been slaves to any man. Obviously this was simply not true. They had been captives in exile in Babylon; and at the moment they were subjects of the Romans. Didn’t they see it? Were they in denial?But the Jews set a tremendous value on freedom which they held to be the birthright of every Jew. In the Law it was laid down that no Jew, however poor, must descend to the level of being a slave. "And if your brother becomes poor beside you, and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: ... For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves" (Lev 25:39-42). Again and again Jewish rebellions flared up because some fiery leader arose who insisted that the Jews could obey no earthly ruler because God was their only King.
Josephus writes of the followers of Judas of Galilee who led a famous revolt against the Romans: "They have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and they say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18: 1, 6). When the Jews said that they had been no man's slaves they were saying something which was a fundamental article of their creed. And even if it was true that there had been times when they were subject to other nations, even if it was true that at that very moment they were subject to Rome, it was also true that even in servitude they maintained an independence of spirit which meant that they might be slaves in body but never in soul. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote of Joseph: "Joseph was sold to be a bond slave, yet he was free, all radiant in the nobility of his soul." Even to suggest to a Jew that he might be regarded as a slave was a deadly insult.
But it was another slavery of which Jesus was speaking. "Everyone," he said, "who commits sin is the slave of sin." Jesus was reiterating a principle which the wise Greeks had stated again and again. The Stoics said: "Only the wise man is free; the foolish man is a slave." Socrates had demanded: "How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him?" Paul later was to thank God that the Christian was freed from slavery to sin (Rom 6:17-20).
There is something very interesting and very suggestive here. Sometimes when a man is rebuked for doing something wrong or warned against such a thing, his answer is: "Surely I can do what I like with my own life." But the point is that the man who sins does not do what he likes; he does what sin likes. A man can let a habit get such a grip of him that he cannot break it. He can allow a pleasure to master him so completely that he cannot do without it. He can let some self-indulgence so dominate him that he is powerless to break away from it. He can get into such a state that in the end, as Seneca said, he hates and loves his sins at one and the same time. So far from doing what he likes, the sinner has lost the power to do what he likes. He is a slave to the habits, the self-indulgences, the wrong pleasures which have mastered him. This is precisely Jesus' point. No man who sins can ever be said to be free.
Then Jesus makes a veiled threat, but one which the listening Jews would well understand. Look at verse 35 with m. It says “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.” The word slave reminds him that in any household there is a difference between the slave and the son. The son is a permanent dweller in the household, but the slave can be ejected at any time. In effect Jesus is saying to the Jews: "You think that you are sons in God's house and that nothing, therefore, can ever banish you from God. Have a care; by your conduct you are making yourselves slaves, and the slave can be ejected from the master's presence at any time." Here is a threat. It is a terrible thing to trade on the mercy of God--and that is what the Jews were doing. There is warning here for more than the Jews. There is a warning here for us. The same warning given in Matthew 7:23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' When we were at the conference in Regina, our speaker, Bruce Redmond, emphasized again and again what God asks of us – to love Him first, to love our neighbors second, and ourselves last. We call this the great “commandment” or the golden rule. Then there is the Great Commission, Jesus’ last and greatest job description for us was “Go into all the world and – do what? Make disciples! Win people to Christ! Teach them to obey Him! Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. And do people (non-Christians) want to be won to Christ? Statistics reveal that only 5% of people are antagonistic towards Christianity, 21% are resistant, 36% are neutral, 27% are friendly toward the gospel message and 11% are very friendly. The statistics reflect the North American average. And what do they say? They say that even though 1/4th of the population is not open to hearing the gospel, 3/4ths are not adverse to spiritual things. So, what are we waiting for? Jesus said in John 20:21 “as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
In conclusion, let me remind you that this is what Jesus himself taught. He taught it in one of his famous, favorite epigrams, “He who holds on to his life and refuses to let himself go will lose himself, but he who loses himself is willing to give himself away in love and in the service of God and others. In the moment of complete abandon, when you think everything is lost, at that moment you find yourself, and you are free.”
Do you want to be free? Do you want to reach the pearly gates and have God say, “Depart from me, I never knew you”? Or do you want Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter your reward?”
Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,
so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.