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“The Truth Will Set You Free”
This morning, we are going to talk about slavery, and the Christian’s freedom (or liberty) from slavery. That’s what Jesus just talked about, is it not? Jesus tells us, here in verse 34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” So, Jesus is speaking about slavery, here, and he’s making a broad statement concerning everyone who practices sin. We’re slaves to sin, Jesus says.
Have you ever felt enslaved to sin, to desire, to something you don’t want to do? Perhaps it’s a reoccurring thought that you just can’t get out of your head, even though you know its evil. Perhaps it’s an addiction—the sort of addiction that people often compare with slavery (drugs, alcohol). We have no trouble, even in our broader secular culture today, when someone says “I was enslaved to the bottle, I couldn’t get away from it. It owned me.” But again, Jesus is making a broader statement. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Anger, lust, coveting, impatience, discontentment—Jesus says that these sins are representative of a much deeper problem. If you practice these things, you are a slave to sin. In other words, you’re a sinner and you have no other choice but to be a sinner. That’s what it means to be a slave, no? As a slave doesn’t have a choice but to serve its masters, so a person who practices sin does not have a choice but to serve sin. We must sin. We’re owned and ruled by sin, Jesus says. At least, that’s our natural condition if he doesn’t free us from this natural bondage.
It’s a shocking statement. Although, any honest and genuine person might be inclined to agree with Jesus, here. Even the pagan Greeks had Romans had their own categories for being enslaved to the flesh and certain vices which plague us in our natural condition of humanity. Plato and Aristotle generally understood that people have this odd problem wherein we do what we don’t want to do, even though we know that certain things we do are evil and destructive. “No, I don’t want to lie to my spouse, or be angry with my spouse, but I just can’t stop it!”. It’s slavery. You’re ruled by it. Humanity has always known we are ruled by something unpleasant, evil, destructive. Religions are built around seeking freedom from this condition, from this tension, this “flesh” (if I may).
What’s the answer? “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”, as even the apostle Paul cries out in frustration over this reality. Who can deliver us from this death, this slavery to sin? Jesus tells us in this passage, doesn’t he? Verse 31, ““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.” Jesus says it has everything to do with abiding in his word—knowing his word, his truth, and that will set you free. He will set you free. Jesus is so bold to say of himself in verse 36, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”. Do you believe that? At the same time, do you believe that without Jesus, you are a slave to sin, to obey its passions?
Three Marks of Slavery, Two Marks of Freedom
These are the two matters before us. In this morning’s passage, we see our slavery to sin, and we see the sort of liberty or freedom which Jesus offers us. More specifically, we’ll consider three marks of slavery to sin here, and two fundamental marks of the freedom Jesus offers. That’s where we’re going, this morning.
Discerning Our Slavery to Sin
Let’s dig into the story, this morning, and we’ll first keep an eye open to how this passage reveals to us the sort of slavery Jesus is concerned about.
Slavery to Fickle Faith (verses 30–31)
When you look at verses 30–31, where our reading begins, we might be momentarily encouraged and hopeful for some of the Jews who have been listening to Jesus up to this point at the feast. We read there, in verses 30–31, “as he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him…”. So, in our passage this morning, Jesus is specifically addressing a crowd who has recently come to believe in him “as he was saying ‘these things’”, as verse 30 puts it. What “things” has Jesus been saying, that this crowd would believe him? What kind of belief are we talking about? Seriously—Jesus is about to call these people “slaves to sin”, and offspring of the devil. I’d hardly call that saving, redeeming belief, there in verses 30 and 31. What’s going on, here?
As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, Jesus has made his entrance into Jerusalem at this feast of booths (also known as the feast of tabernacles), and he came with some big, bold statements—statements which people didn’t even fully understand. He’s talked about coming to them from his Father who sent him. He’s been said that he’s “the light of the world”. He has invited “anyone [who thirsts, let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”. Jesus is saying those sorts of things—and, mind you, he’s not doing any miracles at this feast. He’s not convincing anyone to believe in him by walking on water, or turning water into wine, or healing people. All he’s doing is teaching, proclaiming truth, and making some wildly big statements. And, as verse 30 tells us there, “as he was saying these things, many believed in him”. They were believing his teaching, in some way or another, even though they clearly didn’t understand it all. I think they were shocked, or taken aback by him. He had a certain, captivating gravitas which drew certain people in. Even the temple guards whom the Jews sent to Jesus, to arrest him earlier at this feast, returned back to the Jewish authorities empty handed because “no one ever spoke like this man!” (7:46). I’d hardly say they understood everything Jesus was saying. They simply knew he spoke with a unique, unadulterated authority which people did not want to trifle with.
And no, Jesus was not a people pleaser. As we saw last week, the last thing Jesus said to these Jews were condemning words. “I’m going away and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.” That’s a statement of downright judgment. “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins”, verse 24. It’s a massive, bold statement. He’s claiming to be the only answer for forgiveness of sins and fellowship before God.
So, we arrive at verses 30-31. “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.”. He was persuasive, folks. He didn’t need miracles to persuade people. I can imagine his presence was demanding, and startling, especially as he talked and taught about these particular matter at this feast. So, “many believed in him”.
Was their faith genuine? Verse 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.”
Wouldn’t that be a relief, if you truly believed what Jesus had been saying? He just said “I’m going away, and you’ll die in your sins unless you believe in me.” Think about that. “You’ll die in your sins”—you have no choice, you’re stuck with your sins, and God’s judgment against you in your sins, “unless you believe in me”. If you really believed Jesus, you’d say “what does it mean to believe you?! How do I believe you?!”. Well, Jesus gives the answer here. “if you abide in my word, you will know the truth and the trut will set you free”—you’ll be free from your sins. You won’t die in your sins, “if you believe me and abide in my words”.
Folks, there was something in this statement that tipped the scales for them. “the truth will set you free”—they couldn’t accept that statement. Look at verse 33,
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’?”
What happened to their “belief”, there? The second Jesus gets to the heart of the matter—to the heart of sin and his offer of freedom from sin—these so-called “believers” raise the red flag. They deny the premise that they need freedom. They deny the premise that they are enslaved, so as to need freedom from Jesus.
This verse—and more generally, this passage, shows us that slavery to sin often involves slavery to a fickle faith. That’s the first mark of slavery to sin, folks. It involves slavery to a fickle faith—slavery to a heart that waxes and wanes with whatever it is impressed with at any given moment. It’s a hard way to live, folks—one minute your loyalties are with Jesus, and the next minute your loyalties are with the world, with sin, or with whoever your impressed with on any week or year. It creates for a miserable life. It’s slavery to a vacillating, undiscerning, unpredictable, never satisfied heart. It’s never stable. It always ends up disappointed.
So yes, slavery to sin involves slavery to a vacillating, fickle faith that’s always amused, but never satisfied.
Slavery to Proud Hearts (v 33)
Although, the Jews’ statement in verse 33 doesn’t just reveal their fickle faith. It also reveals their pride. Think again about what these Jews are saying, here. Jesus says “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.” They respond, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Can you imagine the pride, folks, to say that as a Jew? Notice that Jesus doesn’t even bring up the matter of slavery, explicitly, in his statement in verse 32. He says more generically “the truth will set you free”. In some ways, it’s generic statement. You might expect a humble believer, or humble inquirer, to say “freedom from what, Jesus? are you talking about political freedom from Rome? Are you talking about freedom from sin, or the devil, or the miseries of this broken and cursed world?”
These Jews are not so humble. They immediately go on the defense. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone! We don’t need freedom, we’re not slaves!”. It’s like Jesus touched a nerve, a hot-button issue, or something.
It’s painful to watch this go down, folks. Have the Jews been enslaved to anyone before? That’s literally their national history, folks. They were slaves in Egypt, and God brought them out. Slavery—and being freed from slavery—is how they became an nation, a people. Then, they were enslaved to Babylon and Assyria. In a lesser degree, they were enslaved in some capacity to other nations when they made treaties with them (despite God’s stern prohibition of such treaties). At that moment in history, these particular Jews of Jesus’s day were controlled by Rome—not quite as slaves, but they certainly weren’t entirely free by any means.
“We are offspring of Abraham, and we have never been enslaved to anyone…”. Clearly, they must not have been talking about political slavery. That’s just not true at all. Perhaps they were speaking of spiritual slavery. So, they must have been speaking of spiritual slavery—slavery to sin and the devil. “We are offspring of Abraham”—meaning, “we aren’t offspring of sin, of this world, of the devil”. They are claiming to be spiritually distinct and holy, or set apart from the world in terms of sin and purity.
I think that’s what they’re claiming, here. They are looking at their heritage to free them from sin—and folks, they’re totally ignoring what God has been saying to them as a people from the beginning. It’s such a prideful, arrogant thing to say. Moses himself called the Jews “hard-hearted, stubborn people” who are ever inclined to sin. God sent his prophets to these people—personal spokesmen—to tell Israel to repent from sin, and Israel didn’t listen. They didn’t stop sinning even after God sent his judgments upon them. You have to look at that kind of history and think, “hmm, I wonder what that means for us? perhaps we are slaves to sin, unable to decide not to sin”.
Slavery to sin, folks, is slavery to pride. It’s slavery to ignoring the facts—God has said everyone is a sinner. Everyone practices sin, and deserve the wages of sin. That’s crystal-clear throughout the whole Bible. Yet, as the proverb goes, “pride goeth before a fall”. Pride keeps us from seeing that we’re slaves to sin, if we have Jesus. We think we don’t need him.
It’s a hard truth to grasp, folks. It’s an ugly image. In fact, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter later on when he says to these Jews in verse 43, “ 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” Slavery to sin involves such a pride that cannot bear to hear truth. Have you ever tried to tell a prideful person that they are wrong—even sinful? Pride cannot bear to hear that it’s a slave to sin. It denies the premise. Let’s say, as Jesus says, “the truth will set you free”—pride says “I’m not slave”. That’s what we’re seeing here. It literally has no place for Jesus’s word of truth in its soul. “My words find no place in you”, Jesus says in verse 37.
So, two marks of slavery to sin are (1) a fickle faith that’s always searching and never satisfied, and (2) pride which has no place for Jesus’s words of truth—especially his harder words. “You’re a slave to sin”.
Slavery to Practicing Sin, Even Murder (v 34, 37, 43–44)
Now, the third mark of slavery. What might you expect to see out of a slave to sin? Jesus says it quite clearly in verse 34.
“Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin”, verse 34.
In other words, slaves to sin practice sin. It’s that simple. They sin. But folks, don’t get this turned around. Jesus is referring to the practice of sin as the fruit of slavery. Slavery, here, folks, is a condition. It’s not “you sin, and that sin makes you a slave to sin”. That’s not how the logic works, here. You’re a slave to sin, therefore you make a practice of serving your master. You make a practice of sin. How can you know you’re enslaved to sin? “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
Notice, in this passage, Jesus singles out one particular sin. Did you see the sin he singled out? Verse 37—
you seek to kill me [to practice that sin] because my word finds no place in you.”
Jesus is singling out the sin of seeking to kill Jesus—and, notice that they are seeking to kill Jesus because they hate his word. His word does not and cannot abide in them. “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you”.
Folks, I really think that’s a significant observation, here, that Jesus is calling out that sin. Jesus is exposing them. He’s brining truth to them, and they can’t bear to hear it. So, they’ll seek to snuff him out and kill him, and silence him. They’re slaves to sin, slaves to lies, and they hate the truth. Jesus is the truth, he exposes them, and they hate him for it. So, they seek to kill him.
Have you ever been in an argument, and you can’t bear to hear the other person speak even one more word? In fact, take it up one step further. Have you ever been in and argument, and you know you’re in the wrong—and you’re only fighting because you’re seeking to preserve your pride? The person is exposing you, and you know it—and every word they speak feels like poison to your soul. You hate that person, in that moment—you want to snuff out their words and just “get rid of them”. It’s an awful moment of pride. It’s slavery to sin, folks. You’ll do anything in the service of sin to keep your sin hidden as the light is shining upon it. Jesus is saying that slavery to sin involves that emotion, especially directed at Jesus. Verse 43 is so telling, and so frightening—
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a
murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in
him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The devil has always sought to murder any semblance of God’s truth and word off the face of this planet. He lies to get rid of God’s truth. He murders to that end. He can’t bear to hear God’s truth. That’s slavery to sin.
So, again—(1) slavery to sin involves a fickle, vacillating faith that’s never satisfied and always searching; (2) it involves pride that denies the premise of sin and slavery—“we’ve never been enslaved to anyone! we’re our own free people!”. Then (3), slavery to sin involves practicing sin—and, even the sort of sin that is ever inclined to resist God’s word and snuff it out. “I can’t bear to hear those Christians, or that word.” That’s slavery to sin.
Those are three marks—and yes, we could easily add one more. Slavery to sin also involves slavery to the wrong father. Verse 44—“you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” There’s a lot that could be said about that, if we had time this morning. But in a word—Jesus is telling us that we are in deep bondage to deep sin, deep judgement, and deep evil.
Discerning Our Christian Liberty in Jesus
Jesus gives us the answer in this passage, folks, and it’s a wonderful, freeing answer. It’s freedom from these three miseries which we’ve just spent time unpacking. Without Jesus’s freedom, you have “no place” for his word in your heart (verse 37). Without this freedom, you “can’t bear to hear” Jesus’s words, which expose you in your pride. So, you’ll die in your sin.
Think about that. If that’s true, then what must Jesus do to liberate you? Jesus can’t simply offer freedom, can he? If his words have “no place” in you, and you “can’t bear to hear” his words—if that’s the sort of spiritual bondage we’re talking about, then what good is it going to be for you if Jesus says “abide in my word, and the truth will set you free”? There’s no abiding in Jesus’s word when you can’t even bear to hear it! It’s not enough for Jesus to simply offer to free you. He must really, and actually, free you—yes, from your sin and death but also from yourself. He must free you from your pride, from you, from your sin which comes out if you. HE must do it!
Jesus Effectually Frees Us
So, that’s the first discerning mark of Jesus’s liberty, folks. Jesus effectually frees us, even though we naturally have no place for him, to desire him. Look at verses 35–36, where Jesus gets at the heart of the matter.
35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.
So, Jesus is basically saying that in a house full of slaves, he’s the son. He’s the eternal Son of God. He’s not the slave, he’s the master who has power over the slave. Jesus is simply saying he’s in the position to free slaves, because he isn’t a slave in the house. Therefore, verse 36—
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
That’s it, period. What does a master do to set a slave free? The master simply declares it. The master says “you’re free, I’m relinquishing my authority over you”. That’s how that works, whether the slave wants it or not. The master simply declares it, and it’s done.
Now, just to clear up a misunderstanding, how does that translate to Jesus declaring us free from our slavery to sin and the devil? Wouldn’t Jesus only be able to free us from slavery to, well, Jesus? How can Jesus free us from slavery to sin and the devil—aren’t sin and the devil our masters, who could declare us free? I think that’s how we often feel—we’re slaves to this elusive idea of sin and the flesh, or slaves to some spiritual evil person like the devil.
Remember, folks, sin is ultimately against God, against Jesus. Slavery to sin and all of sin’s consequences are part of God’s curse. Romans 1 talks of how God handed us over to our desires, to our sins, and all of our sins add up to an immeasurable weight of God’s wrath over us. The wages of sin is death—and, that’s because death is God’s judgment against sin.
Do you realize how indebted we are to God? Do you realize how much of our slavery to sin is not just oriented inward at ourselves and our flesh, but upward to God? We often say “the wages of sin is death”—but folks, those are God’s wages that he’s hanging over you for your sin against him. That whole system of slavery to sin—the dishonor, the consequences of your sins, the death due to sin, the pride—all of it is with reference to God. This is all deeply personal to God. It’s not as though we are arbitrarily slaves to some arbitrary idea of sin. It’s not as though we are merely slaves to our flesh. We are slaves to sin against God—we’re slaves to bad fellowship with God, dishonor beforeGod, and to God’s judgment. That’s why we’re talking about slavery to sin and not generally slavery “the flesh” or “our desires”. Sin is always and ultimately about God, folks.
So yes, Jesus—who is God—is in a position to free us from this situation as he illustrates in verses 35–36. As he’s the one offended, and he’s the one who is holding us in his debt and judgement, he’s the one who can declare us free from our debts and from the devil whom he’s handed us over to. “You’re free from sin”—from the wages of sin (God’s judgment and wrath), from the father of sin (the devil), from the power of sin (the flesh), and so much more.
I love how our Westminster confession states it (page 859 in the hymnal). “The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions [as God now works everything together for our good], the sting of death [as death leads us to glory]… and everlasting damnation” All of those miseries are God’s orchestrated bonds to sinners whom he hands over to judgement and evil. Jesus comes, dies on the cross for our sins, rises from the grave, and he sets the captives free.
Again, verse 36, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The words “free indeed” there could be better understood as “truly free”, or “positionally free”. You’re no longer owned by the dominion of sin. You’re free from those things.
Now, think about that. If that’s true, and if you’ve been convinced that Jesus has forgiven you and freed you from all the wages and powers and devastating consequences to sin—then do you have any reason not to abide in Jesus’s words? Do you have any reason to have “no place” for Jesus’s words in you? His words are “forgiveness”, “freedom”—not “sinner!”. Verse 36 says “if the son sets you free”—if he really and truly does that for you, “then you will be free indeed”. He will send his Spirit upon you, to convince you of these things, and set your soul free to receive him and abide in his word. But he must free you from your guilt and judgment and shame first. He must first die for you, and declare you “free”.
So, the first and most important mark to Jesus’s freedom is that he effectually and unilaterally accomplishes and declares it. It’s his work, folks. It’s a positional freedom—even though you may struggle with sin, you’re free from its bonds, its judgments, its wages. You’re even free to fight it, with the help of Jesus whom you are free to receive.
Free to Abide in Jesus’s Word
That of course leads us to the other big statement Jesus makes in this regard. It’s that opening statement, there in verse 31 and 32. “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.” Jesus’s true disciples are those who abide in his word.
What’s it mean to abide in Jesus’s word? It means to receive it and cherish it as life. It means to walk in it, to obey it, to rejoice in it—and, all of it. This is the gospel of John we’re talking about, folks. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and the word was God”. That word is Jesus, folks—he’s God, and all of God’s words are Jesus’s words. This Bible is Jesus’s words—abide in it. Live in it, breathe it, memorize it—it’s life to you. Cherish and rejoice in the promises. Walk in the commands. Be moved by the stories as they direct you to God’s goodness, justice, patience, kindness, holiness and glory. Be terrified at his wrath and holiness, and deeply moved and comforted at his forgiveness and patience in Jesus. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” as you abide in Jesus’s words. You’re free to receive them, because Jesus has freed you from your sin and guilt.
So, naturally, we are slaves to sin—(1) slaves to a fickle, vacillating heart and faith; (2) slaves to pride which deny the premise of sin before God; and (3) slaves to practicing sin—even sins which seek to snuff out God’s word of truth. Jesus has accomplished our freedom, and he has declared it, if we receive him by faith and abide in his word.