by Rev. Jeff Chapman
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
34Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)
In our passage last Sunday, Jesus was speaking to people who refused to place their faith in him. He warned them that if they persisted in their unbelief they would choose for themselves a destiny apart from the love and grace of God.
In our passage for today, Jesus now turns and speaks to those who have placed their faith in him and offers them a word of great encouragement. If you have placed your faith in Christ, these words are spoken to you. And if I had to summarize them in one sentence, this is what Jesus says to us. “If you want to be set free, you must become my slave.”
Now, Jesus doesn’t use the word slave here, but it’s implied. In verse 31 he says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” To continue in Jesus’ word means, essentially, to obey whatever Jesus says, to follow wherever Jesus leads, to submit completely to Jesus’ will. And that, by definition, is what it means to be a slave.
The Greek word for slave is the word doulos. We find that word nearly 150 times in the New Testament and, in the many of those instances, it is, in fact, used to describe the Christian’s relationship to Jesus. Biblical scholars often translate the word as “servant” rather than “slave,” but that’s not quite right. A servant is hired for wages to do a job and can walk away at any time. A slave, on the other hand, is bought with a price and is completely subject to the will of the master.
In our relationship with Christ, we are slaves. Ephesians 6:6 reminds us we are “slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from our hearts.” In the greetings to many of his letters, the Apostle Paul introduces himself as a “slave of Christ.” When describing the person who acts according to his will in one of his parables, Jesus himself says, literally, “Well done, good and faithful slave.”
Again, this is what Jesus is telling us here. “If you want to be set free, you must become my slave. I bought you with a price, now you must completely submit yourself to my will.”
Some of you right now want to ask how can slavery lead to freedom? Isn’t slavery the exact opposite of freedom, the total lack of freedom? Isn’t freedom not having to answer to anybody and being able to do whatever you want to do? How can you be free if you’re a slave?
What we forget is that there is only One who is totally free in this sense. No human is able to do whatever he or she wants to do. As created beings, severely limited in our knowledge and power and resources, we can never be autonomous like God is autonomous. In fact, as humans we were created to be subject to a power greater than ourselves. We were wired to be slaves.
As Bob Dylan famously sang,
You may be an ambassador to Englandor France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Everybody is a slave. It’s just a matter of which master you choose to serve. Jesus says that if you want to be free you must become my slave.
Now, I know this runs counter to our thinking. Our culture teaches us that freedom is the ability to act on your desires. We’re told the person who is free goes where he wants, eats what he wants, says what he wants, buys what he wants, sleeps with whoever he wants, decides whatever he wants. The truly free person is able to say, “I’m not going to let anybody else tell me what to do, not even God. If I desire it, I’ll do it.” Such a person may not be happy, but we’ve been taught to believe that at least he’s free.
He is not free. For can you see that the person who always does whatever his desires lead him to do has simply become a slave to his own desires. As Socrates once wisely asked, “How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him?” Which leads to another question, do you want to make your pleasures your master? Do you trust the desires of your heart to be a good master, to have your best interests in mind? That, really, is the question.
It’s a question that goes back to the beginning. Remember Genesis 3. God creates Adam and Eve, sets them in paradise, provides for them everything they will ever need to thrive, and gives them only one restriction. “Do not eat of the fruit of this one tree,” God says. “Eat from all the other trees in the garden as much as you want, just stay away from this one tree. Because if you eat from it, you will die.”
Then one day along comes the serpent who immediately questions their God-given freedom. “Did God really tell you not to eat of any tree in the garden,” he asks. Eve says, “No, we can eat from all the trees except this one. If we do, God says we will die.” And you can almost hear the serpent laugh as he says, “You’re not going to die. God is deceiving you. He’s trying to limit your freedom. The truth is that if you eat from this tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” In other words, “You will be free.”
The serpent may be evil, but he is brilliant. He knows just what to say to play on this deep desire in the human heart to be in charge of our own lives. He’s brilliant but he’s a liar. He says he offers freedom from slavery but what he really is offering is just another form of slavery. Which means that from very beginning this great choice is before us. Will we be slaves to God’s will, or will we be slaves to our own will? Every human being is presented with the very same choice. We all have to choose our master.
Now, imagine you are a slave. Imagine you have been captured by slave traders and have been placed on the auction block about to become the property of the highest bidder. Whoever is willing to pay the most will become your master, a master to whom you will be completely subject from that day forward.
As a slave, of course, you would not have your choice in the matter. But what if you did? And what if your choice was between two very different masters who were both bidding for your life? One master was a cruel man, known to buy slaves and use them completely for his own benefit. He fed them only what it took to keep them alive. He worked them literally to the bone. All his slaves existed, till the day they died, to make his life more comfortable. But the other master was a kind and generous man. In fact, the reason he bought slaves in the first place was to keep them off the plantations of the sorts of men he was bidding against. This master was famous for looking out for his slaves. He let them eat from his own table. They slept in his own house. Until the day a slave of his died, that slave enjoyed his master’s favor and protection.
So imagine, both these men are bidding to make you their slave. If it were up to you, which master would you choose? The choice would be easy. You wouldn’t think twice.
We are bound to be slaves. We were created to serve somebody, something. We have no choice in that. We do, however, have a choice in masters. We can make Christ our master or we can make our own desires our master. We can be subject to God’s will or we can be subject to our own will. That is our choice and it ought to be easy one. For one Master will give us life but the other master has only death to offer.
There is a brilliant passage in Romans 6 where the apostle Paul says this beautifully.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness…For the wages of [the master] sin is death, but the free gift of [the Master] God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is what Jesus means when he says, “If you continue in my word as my disciples – [if you become my slaves] – you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” What is that truth? What is the truth that makes us free? It is the truth that as our Master, God gives us life. God, in Christ, loves us unconditionally, forgives us completely, commits himself to us eternally, promises to always and forever look out for our best interests.
You know, as a father I can say that I will always look out for the best interests of my children, but I can’t make any guarantees. For one, as a sinful person myself there are times when, truth be told, I’m looking out for my own interests, even ahead of my own kids. That’s who I am. And even when I am putting my children first, there’s no guarantee that things will always go well for them. I am not in control of every circumstance and there will be things that happen to my kids which hurt them, things that I cannot control.
Our Heavenly Father, however, is different. Unlike me, God is not only the sovereign King of the universe, but has demonstrated that he is a loving and selfless King, willing to even die for his subjects. That means that when God promises to lead us to a place one day where our lives will flourish apart from any sin, or pain, or grief, or sadness, we know that, one, He fully intends to keep that promise and, two, nothing in all creation will stand in the way of Him doing so.
This is the truth which makes us free. For you see, true freedom is not the ability to ultimately do whatever it is you want to do. True freedom is submitting to the One who will ultimately give to you all that you really need. True freedom is becoming the people that we were always created to be and there is only one Master who can make that happen.
You go to the zoo and you see a golden eagle locked up in a cage. And there’s something marvelous about it because you have this rare opportunity to get right up close to this stunning bird, close enough to be awed by its nobility, it’s beauty, it’s power. It’s wonderful but it’s also tragic. Because golden eagles weren’t created to sit in cages. And if you’re somebody who has any love for that bird, you would easily trade the opportunity to see that magnificent creature up close in a cage for the opportunity to see it from a distance soaring on the wind high up among the clouds. That’s what an eagle was created to do. That’s when an eagle is truly free.
We are no different. We were created to live in perfect companionship with our Creator, to walk with God through a life free of sin, guilt, shame, worry, stress, and fear. We were created to know God as we are known by God. We were also created to live at peace with one another, to enjoy a world where nothing ever comes between people. True freedom, then, is when we live as we were created to live and what Jesus is saying is that the only way to find this freedom is to become his slave. If you submit to me, he says, this life will ultimately be yours.
You see, Jesus is trying to help us redefine our understanding of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of a master. As humans, that is an impossibility anyway. Everybody has a master. Freedom, instead, is simply choosing the right master. And true freedom only comes when we make ourselves slaves to Christ.
Earl Palmer was the longtime pastor at University Presbyterian Church inSeattle. Some years ago he was preaching a sermon about this freedom we gain as slaves of Christ and he used the image of a kite to help make his point. As he spoke, a member of the church named Bruce Bailey was so inspired by the imagery that right there in the pew he sketched out a poem on his bulletin. The poem is called “I Am the Kite.”
I am the kite:
Red and orange,
Fire in the sky,
And gashes in the blue,
My skin vibrates
On my frame with power.
I cut the cord
To fly yet higher still,
To show the rest
What freedom’s all about.
I turn and twist
My fanciest curl
And set my course
But, my mistake
To take the wind for granted,
But the cord
That tensioned me
To one I did not see
So far below.
The flyer is not me.
Lord, give me the anchor. Give me pause.
Let me know in freedom’s limited flight,
The kite’s first cause.
If you were a kite it would be easy to imagine that true freedom was only possible if you could somehow be cut loose from this cord which kept you from soaring to where it was that you wanted to soar. You think the cord is your cruel master, keeping you from where you want to go. But how tragic it would be to fail to recognize that it was actually the cord, and the one who held tightly to the other end down below, which gave you the freedom to do what it was that you were created to do, cutting loops and gashes in the blue.
Fredrick Buechner once wrote, “To obey Love himself, who above all wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves.”
I suspect that many of you do not think of yourselves as slaves. The people Jesus spoke to that day certainly did not. “We are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We’ve never been slaves to anybody.” Which wasn’t quite true, you know. They had been slaves inEgypt. They had been exiles inBabylon. Even now they were subject to the Romans. But none of us likes to think of ourselves as slaves. We like to think we run the show.
Jesus won’t let us forget. “Very truly,” he says in verse 34, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” We know what he means, don’t we? Think about it carefully and you know exactly what Jesus means when he says we are slaves to sin. A writer named William Barclay puts it like this. The man who sins thinks he is doing what he likes, but he is not. He does what sin likes. The habit grips him. The pleasure masters him. The self-indulgence dominates him. And he gets into such a state that in the end he hates and loves his sin at one and the same time. You know exactly what this is like. So do I. And this is Jesus’ point. No person who sins can ever be said to be free.
Jesus then goes on and says that if you are a slave to sin you have no permanent place in God’s house. You’ve chosen a different master and you’ve now got to live in his house. But, Jesus says – and this is brilliant –the Son always has a place in God’s house. And so if you make the Son your master, instead of sin, then the Son will set you free. And when the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Follow me here. As we make Christ, the Son, our Master, we are set free to live forever in God’s house where we were originally created to live. And though we enter into God’s house as His slaves, through Christ we will be made God’s friends. Then, as friends of God, we will be made children of God. At last, as children of God, we will be made, along with Christ, heirs of God, sons and daughters standing to receive from our Father all that belongs to Him.
When you know this is your destiny, when you know that you are not just a slave to a great Master but a child of a Heavenly Father who has promised his inheritance to you, when you know these things you know a truth that will set you free. And then, no matter what circumstances you face in the meantime, those circumstances can be endured. When you hold freedom in your soul, you know that whatever chains bind you are only temporary.
I’ll close with this story. It may not seem like it at first, but it’s a story about freedom.
A young Christian woman namedElizabethwas the oldest of seven children living inSoutheast Asia. Between her sophomore and junior years of high school, she was looking for a job to help her save money to go to Bible college one day. A trusted woman in the community offered to travel with her to a neighboring town where she knew of some work that could be had. Once they were out of sight ofElizabeth’s hometown, however, this woman turned on her and sold her to a human trafficker who, in turn, smuggled her across the border and sold her to the owner of a brothel. Before she knew what had happened to her, this young woman on her way to Bible college had become a sex slave, trapped in a foreign country and subject to horrifying abuse.
Stuck in circumstances which would crush the spirit of many people,Elizabethbegan to pray. Every night she prayed that God would rescue her. The other girls at the brothel mocked her and told her God would not hear her, and yet she still prayed. As she looked back on that time years later, she confessed, “Even in the midst of that dark place, I still believed.”
Much time went by, but eventually Elizabethwas discovered. An operative from the International Justice Mission, an organization which works on behalf of people like Elizabetharound the world, found her and the other girls who had been held captive and worked for their release. On the very day she was rescued, those who went into the brothel to gather her few belongings and take her home, found that she had inscribed some words on the wall of her room. Just above her mattress, upon which her freedom had been violated in unspeakable ways, Elizabethhad etched these words from Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Every one of us is a slave. You’ve gotta serve somebody. But we have a choice in masters. And if we choose Christ, if we make ourselves slaves to Christ, his promise is that he will make us free. And that promise, made by One we can trust because he gave his very life for us, will give us the hope, give us the strength, to endure the cruel masters of our age. The truth will set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Amen.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 8:31-36. What sticks out to you here?
Jesus says that the truth sets us free. Is that always the case? Does the truth always set us free?
Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Assuming you sin, do you feel like you are a slave to sin?
II Peter 2:19 says, “We are slaves to whatever masters us.” What does this mean to you? How has this been true in your life?
Read Romans 6:15-23. Paul here sets out our choice between slavery to sin or slavery to righteousness. What is he trying to teach us here?
C.S. Lewis once told the story of schoolboy who was asked what God was like. He replied that as far as he could work out, God was the sort of person who was always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying themselves and then putting a to stop it. Do you know anybody who has this view of God?
Who are you a slave to today? Who is your master? How do you know?
Recall the story Jeff told about Elizabeth who was sold into slavery. If a woman like that can live with the hope of ultimate freedom in the midst of such brutal circumstances, do you think you might be able to endure the hard circumstances of your life with a similar hope for freedom?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Romans 6:15-23 – Slaves to whom?
Tuesday: Genesis 3:1-24 – The choice before us
Wednesday: Matthew 11:28-30 – The yoke of freedom
Thursday: I Corinthians 9:1-27 – Slave of Christ
Friday: Philemon 1-25 – Letter to a slave
Saturday: In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 8:37-47.
 See Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Titus 1:1.
 Matthew 25:21.
 Romans 6:16, 23 (NRSV).
 Fredrick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 30.
 Paraphrase of William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: John, Volume 2, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 23-24.
 As told by Michael Card, A Better Freedom, (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 2009), p. 141-142.