Imagine a husband taking his wife out to a nice restaurant for their anniversary. Over candle light he expresses his love for his wife by quoting a list of her physical features as if reading the information from her driver's license.
- You are 5' 4" tall.
- You weight is 120 pounds.
- You were born in January.
- You have brown hair and brown eyes, and you live on East Maple Street.
Now imagine the same situation with the husband saying,
You walk in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all the is best of dark and night,
Meet in the aspect and your eyes.
While the romantically challenged husband in the first situation communicated information that was accurate, he failed to communicate the depth, the magnitude, and beauty of his love for his wife. Love is more than a list of factual information. Love is a mysterious and beautiful relationship between two people. That is why poetry is often used to express the emotion and beautiful attraction that lovers feel toward each other.
I mention the use of poetry to introduce the idea of what Jesus is speaking about in John 8. Jesus does not use poetry, but He is proclaiming information that is explosive, emotional, and transformational. The concepts of truth, sin, and freedom are more than fill in the blank answers from a Sunday School quiz.
We have a hint that the subjects discussed in John 8:31-36 are massive theological concepts illustrated in the discussion describing the difference between a son and a slave. Jesus is proclaiming freedom not from individual sins or a specific act of disobedience, but He offers freedom from the nature or condition that enslaves all people.
The truth to which Jesus refers is more than the factual correctness that dominates so much of western Christianity. We can quote verses about evangelism, prayer, or compassion, yet we rarely seek to extend compassion prayerfully bringing the gospel to those living in darkness. The freedom that Jesus offers is not a political system; it is a release from the chains that enslave one's soul.
I. Possibility of freedom
Jesus makes one of the most amazing Inspirational claims in history. Consider for a moment the incredible hope expressed in the promise that Jesus can set people free. Unless you have lived a sheltered life, you have probably experienced an enslaved soul or have known loved ones who struggle to break free from ungodly chains. These ungodly chains my be easy to identify like an immoral addiction, or the chains may be more "acceptable" like fear, greed, poverty, worldliness, doubt, anger, bitterness, legalism, racism, insecurity, despair, and depression. Whatever category you classify your slavery, the result is the same - a failure to experience the abundant life promised by following Christ. To those living in bondage, Jesus offers freedom!
A. The freedom offered by Jesus is spiritual
His freedom is not a political revolution. True freedom is not about changing your outward circumstances. This is a significant concept because it reveals that Jesus can free you wherever you are. Paul was on the road to Damascus persecuting Christians. The prodigal was in a pig pen. Peter was in a boat fishing. One woman was drawing water from a well. Another woman found freedom when caught in adultery. A thief was on a cross of execution when Jesus set his soul free!
Spiritual freedom is not dependent upon physical circumstances that may have led or contributed to your bondage. Jesus can set you free in your marriage without causing a divorce. Jesus can set you free when you are overdrawn in your checkbook without making a deposit. Jesus can set you free from past or current failures without loading a U-haul truck. Don't misunderstand this concept to mean something it doesn't. We may need to make, and Christ may lead us to make, some physical or circumstantial changes. But, one of the main truths of divine freedom is Jesus is more concerned about setting your soul free than defeating the Roman Empire or some other external force in your life.
B. Jesus' freedom is also purposeful
Jesus describes the freedom He offers resulting from abiding in His truth. Freedom is not a lack of restraint that allows one to fulfill any selfish desire, but genuine freedom takes place in the arena or stadium of divine truth. As we abide in Christ we are released from the chains of the world and released to be all that God created us to be. Like a fish has been created to swim in water, we are created to live in the truth of Christ's love.
Consider playing an instrument like the piano. Who is free the toddler who has never taken a lesson but freely bangs on the piano keys, or the person who has taken lessons, reads music, and creates beautiful even worshipful sounds with the same piano? Obviously, the skilled musician is free to play the instrument as it was designed. We were created to walk in fellowship with almighty God, but sin hinders that relationship by enslaving us in a separated life from God. Christ is the only one who can set us free to enjoy the life as a child of God instead of living as a slave of the world.
II. Perils of freedom
Even though Jesus clearly declared that freedom was possible, the sad reality is that very few experience it. The following is not an exhaustive list, but several perils or roadblocks hindering freedom are identified in the text.
A. The first peril is Ignorance
Jesus is declaring new truth to some who did not know that freedom was available. The Bible describes those who lacked knowledge of Christ's ministry as "living in darkness," and Jesus came to bring light to those who lived in darkness.
B. A second peril is arrogance
The Pharisees' statement that they had never lived as slaves is not just inaccurate; it is arrogant. Israel had experienced slavery under the Assyrian Empire, Babylonian Empire, Persian Empire, and now the Roman Empire. But their greatest slavery was to their own sin. They were unwilling to admit that they had failed to meet God's holy standard. They lived by a legalistic code and arrogantly rejected the offer of God's amazing grace.
Reluctance is the third peril that prevented some from responding to Christ's offer of freedom. The context reveals that some had placed their faith in Christ (v. 30), while others believed what Jesus was preaching but had not taken the next step placing their faith in Him. This group was not ignorant. They were not arrogant because they recognized a need for Christ, but they were unwilling to surrender to the lordship of Christ.
Contained in the text is the exhortation to be free indeed or complete freedom. This exhortation seems to stand in contrast to those who would accept marginal freedom. A little bit of freedom was acceptable instead of trusting Christ for abundant freedom. Attending synagogue, offering some sacrifices, and celebrating the traditional "holy day" festivals was okay for most people. Jesus offers true freedom from the top shelf instead of settling for the cheap prizes at the bottom shelf.
A friend shared the story of taking his four-year-old daughter to Chuck-E-Cheese. On previous visits she won a few tickets and was limited to choosing prizes from the bottom shelf at the redemption center. But on their last visit to Chuck-E-Cheese, the daughter hit the jackpot on one of the games winning a large number of tickets. As they were going to the redemption center to claim her prizes she said, "Daddy I don't have to choose from the bottom shelf this time. Today, I have enough for the good prizes on the top shelf."
I am convinced most individuals who call themselves "Christians" live complacent lives choosing blessings from the bottom shelf when abundant freedom is available. Are you living "fee indeed?"
III. Process of freedom
Jesus identifies a process for experiencing true freedom with the words, "If..then." The process should not be confused with a legalistic formula. He does not say, "If you have a daily quiet time with thirty minutes of prayer, tithe faithfully, and only miss Sunday School twice a year, then you can be free." While Jesus does not prescribe a formula, His words do reveal a way in which things operate in His kingdom. For example, you are free to watch the sun rise each morning, but you must do two things to see it. You must get up early in the morning, and you must face east. If you sleep until ten o'clock and look west, you will miss the sunrise even though you are free to watch it. Why? Because there is a way things work.
The little word "if" is a big concept in the kingdom of God. The word represents an invitation. True freedom will not attack you; rather you must respond to God's invitation to accept His complete freedom. As we have already discussed, most do not accept God's offer.
Jesus also reveals the expectation to abide.
Two concepts emerge from the text related to abiding in truth. First, abiding refers to perseverance. True freedom is not found through a casual glance at the claims of Christ, but one must be willing to "dwell" in the Word of God (v.31). This is not a 30 day trial of faith. Jesus is not talking about a 12 week Bible study. Jesus offers freedom to those who abide in His Word. Abide comes from the root word abode meaning home or dwelling place. The word picture communicated is one of moving to a new home. It represents a significant and ongoing change in one's life.
The second concept of abiding is place or location. Jesus declares that true freedom is found in, "MY word." Freedom is not found in self-help programs, legalistic religion, the teaching of Buddha, or Muhammad. Freedom is not found in the pop psychology of Dr. Phil, Oprah, or through selfish indulgence of unrestrained sin. True and complete freedom is found in Christ.
Most of us have experienced the crunch of high gasoline prices. When my teenage daughter asks to ride with her parents because she doesn't want to use the gas in her car, you know that gas is expensive. Imagine if congress allowed drilling for oil in my backyard to help reduce the cost of gas. What do you think the impact would be upon prices? None! Why? Because they aren't in major oil reserves in my backyard! The soil deposits in this geographic region do not contain the chemicals necessary for producing large quantities of fuel like those of Texas, Alaska, or Saudi Arabia. Not matter how hard I work and no matter how sincere I believe, digging for oil in my backyard will not produce the desired result. To get oil, you must dig where there is a deposit of oil.
Jesus declared there is a deposit of truth in His words that can set you free indeed!