The fourth of July has become my favorite national holiday. I love the sense of nationalistic pride that comes from hearing patriotic songs on the radio. I love the brilliance and boldness of the red, white, and blue of the American flag displayed everywhere. I love the tumultuous sound of military aircraft on display down by the river in our town in the late afternoon hours as we wait for the coming of the dark. And I love the sights and sounds, the lightning flash and thunderclap, of fireworks bombarding the night sky and penetrating into my soul. I love all these things for what they have come to symbolize for me and so many others: freedom.
But what is freedom? What is liberty? Can anyone really possess these things? Are not those who claim to be free simply delusional, ignorant of reality? Can I really be free if I am required to work to earn money to pay bills and eat and cloth myself and my family and stay alive? Is not liberty elusive, deceptive, unattainable, and so unsatisfying? Can anyone legitimately say that they are truly free?
Jesus and Freedom
Listen to Jesus’ words in John 8:31-36: So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
To follow Jesus’ logic here, it helps to read backwards. True, ultimate freedom only comes through Jesus the Son (v. 36). True freedom is freedom from slavery to sin (v. 34). The Jews in Jesus’ audience didn’t recognize their slavery (v. 33). Truth, or better, knowing the truth, is what makes a person free (v. 32). Truth is learned by being a disciple of Jesus (v. 31). A person is a disciple of Jesus by obeying His word (v. 31). I want to briefly examine each of these statements.
Liberty as Divine Gift
Ultimately, Jesus teaches the Jews in these verses that the Son is the agent of freedom. In the ancient household, the son had the rights of inheritance and all the privileges that came with those rights. The Son alone, Jesus says, referring to Himself, can make a person free. This shows that freedom is a gift that comes from above. Only Jesus, the eternal Son of God, has the ability to grant true freedom. Liberty can only be attained through an encounter with Jesus Himself. Unless the Son sets a person free, there is no ultimate freedom.
Liberty as Deliverance from Oppression
Jesus, in answer to the Jews’ statement that they are not slaves nor never have been slaves, asserts that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (v. 34). This is a game changer for our present society. Jesus words here apply to the entire world, since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). At some level, then, all humanity has at some point been enslaved. The slave master is sin rather than any human being, but that does not make the slavery any less real. In fact, it makes it even more penetrating. Slavery to sin permeates to a degree that physical slavery could not. Physical oppressors might imprison the body, but they do not have power over the mind or soul. Sin saturates into every aspect of humanity. True liberty must deliver from the oppression of slavery to sin.
Liberty Wrongly Appropriated
The Jews are appalled that Jesus would talk about them as enslaved. It is offensive to them. It is abhorrent. Their physical freedom had been hard fought and won through great sacrifice at several points in the past (they had been slaves in Egypt, Babylon, and even in their own land under the Antiochene Seleucid rulers. Their ancestors fought for their freedom, and now they were enjoying that freedom. This was as radical for the Jews to hear as it is for 21st century Americans to hear. You might be living in the USA and not be free. In fact, the majority of individuals celebrating freedom in this country are slaves unknowingly. They have been told they are free when they are not. Physically they might enjoy elements of liberty, but ultimately, spiritually, their sin enslaves them.
Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day thought themselves free, many in our world today consider themselves free. Yet just as the Jews in that audience were mistakenly appropriating liberty to themselves that they did not possess, so today many claim freedom who are not truly free. They have never encountered the Son of God. They have not allowed Him to free them from their sins. They remain enslaved without hope of escape. True freedom is the divine gift of deliverance from the oppression of slavery to sin, and many have not received this gift. How, then, is this gift received?
Liberty, Truth, and Justice
Jesus says that freedom comes through knowing the truth. Interestingly, John later records Jesus as saying “I am…the truth,” (14:6). In chapter 8, truth is learned by being a follower of Jesus and obeying His word. Liberty, then, comes from knowing the truth found in Jesus Christ, and this knowledge is found through believing Jesus (following Him), and then obeying His word (acting rightly on it). Specifically, a person must believe in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, which is where God’s justice/judgment against sin was satisfied. Through faith in Jesus, they are then given new life to do justice and live righteously, which demonstrates the truth they have learned through Jesus Christ, which shows the freedom they have obtained. True liberty, then, comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Ultimate truth can only be found in Jesus Christ. Justice can only be executed rightly through those in right relationship with Jesus Christ.
The concept of liberty in our world has come to be equated with only physical freedom. Yet true liberty, as Jesus defined it, is freedom not only from material oppression but from immaterial, spiritual slavery to sin. In a sense, the term liberty itself has become enslaved to a definition devoid of God and subject to a depraved society. Believers in Christ must take the opportunity to be more vocal about the pseudo-freedom celebrated largely in society and the true, ultimate freedom that can only be known through faith in Jesus Christ.
Are you truly free? Have you experience this wild and unchained liberty that is only known through Jesus? If you have never put your faith in Jesus for salvation, you may enjoy material freedom in some senses, but you are a slave to your sinful passions and lusts. Only Jesus offers true freedom, and He offers it freely. He desires to set you free. If you are reading this and desire that true freedom, ask God to forgive your sins and put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, and He will give you eternal life liberated from slavery to sin. If, reading this, you have that true and abiding freedom found in Christ, enjoy it to its fullest, and realize that the preaching of the gospel of Jesus is the proclamation of liberation and freedom par excellence.