31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
We take freedom for granted.
That’s not new information. Surely we recognize that. And, if we don’t, we should.
We sit in our comfortable homes. We drive to Walgreen’s to pick up antibiotics, we go to work–mostly at places we choose to work at, for people we choose to work for. We who are Christ-followers in the west, are free to worship, to pray, to gather, to sing, to own Scriptures. To read them.
We are free to get an education. To vote. To go where we want to go.
And, because these are the little things that combine together to create our days as Americans, we become used to them. It is commonplace. It is our norm, and what is not the norm for hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of others who do not experience freedom daily, seems so far removed from us that we can’t begin to grasp what that must be like, for our brothers and sisters in so many other locations.
I think that must have been what it was like for people Jesus was teaching, in John 8.
Jesus tells them “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We love to parade that phrase out. More than one “evangelical” politician has carefully—or not so carefully—placed those words into a speech to rouse the American people–as if, to say, these words have anything to do with America.
But the people listening to Jesus on that day, no more grasped what He was saying, than we do, at times, today.
They said, ““We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
They couldn’t–or wouldn’t–see that even in their outward, circumstantial freedom of status as the children of Abraham–they were still enslaved, to sin. And the only path out of that debilitating slavery, was to abide in Jesus’ word; which, is to abide in Jesus, who is the word.
The same is true, for us. We may know freedom circumstantially in our citizenship if it lies in a free state or country, but we easily find ourselves entangled in sin that makes us captives. And, we may not even know it.
Sin is deceptive. It is shiny. It promises escape–for a bit. It promises security–for a little while. It promises pleasures–that are fleeting. It can even disguise itself as freedom. Freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, because, hey–I’m free.
Those Jesus were teaching? The ones who staked their claim in their kinship to Abraham, as their source of freedom? They saw true freedom as a threat. And, they wanted to kill that threat, who was the person of Jesus.
You see, that’s what we do, when we allow sin to turn our world upside down and create chaos. We start believing that the very thing that is enslaving us–our sin–is what our basis of freedom is rooted in, as opposed to the other way around. We become blind to the fact it is sin that threatens our freedom–the only true freedom any person can possess with any certainty: that of repentance and salvation that was purchased for us on the cross.
Tonight, I’m sitting in my home, just a few miles from the battlefields of Yorktown, VA, where Cornwallis and the British surrendered to George Washington, on Oct. 19, 1781. On those fields that are now peaceful and house wildflowers and deer, countless numbers of men died, to gain America’s independence. And, months, years, and decades that have followed, countless more men and women have died, protecting the freedom that we hold so dear. I hear fireworks all around my neighborhood, celebrating that tonight. And I am grateful.
But I am also keenly aware of my own frailty against the enslavement of sin. I am keenly aware of how easily I can forget to abide in Christ, and instead grasp at the shiny, deceptive calling of sin–the pull to things that so easily entangle.
And, in remembering, I am reminded that the battle is not over. I must continue to fight–daily–to abide in the Word. I must continue to fight–hourly–the pull to sin and cynicism and doubt and chaos. I must put on the armor of God, and I do not mean that in a t-shirt/coffee mug cliche’-dripping sense. No, I mean this: I must arm myself with truth, with God’s righteousness (not self-righteousness, which is an enslavement), faith, Scripture, and prayer–so that I can do this (Eph. 6:13):
The path to freedom that is eternal and not circumstantial–and is not predicated on my social standing, or my early citizenship, or my ability to point to a Bill of Rights (though, I am so, so grateful for my country–do not read that I am not. I am. And I will defend her always, should the need arise) is to stand firm on the truth of who He is, and the realization of who we are, and the acknowledgement that true freedom is found only in God–not in the status of being American.