Are You Really Free?
“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32
A little over a year ago I wrote a message for this blog entitled “Truth Brings Freedom” and began the message with this same quote from John 8. That message focused mostly on the ability to discern truth from lies, suggesting that the lies that we believe are keeping us in bondage, so when we remove the lies and replace them with truth, we will experience freedom. In this message I want to expound on this idea with more focus on the concept of freedom, and our understanding of what true freedom really is.
To get a better understanding of true freedom we need to look closer at what Jesus said in John 8 in the verses that surround our quoted verses above. Jesus starts the discussion with this statement:
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
In the verses following this one the Jews challenged His statement and His authenticity, but Jesus reminded them that His testimony was true, especially since His Father in heaven has bore witness to Him.
Continuing the discussion at verse 23:
“He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They 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”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.’“ John 8:26-38
Here is what is important to glean from this passage:
- Jesus is communicating truth that has come from His Father in heaven who is the Divine Creator of the world and all those in it. This is not like the teachings of other men but is unique in that it is the equivalent of the Creator communicating directly with His creation.
- By believing that Jesus is the “Anointed One” from above who is the very representation of the Creator’s voice, and by following His instructions and teaching as His disciples, we can be truly free.
- Many of the Jews of that time who heard this message mistakenly thought that they were already free, not understanding the type of freedom that Jesus spoke of.
How is adhering to these truths that Jesus communicated the source of our freedom? Why were the Jews confused about freedom? I would like to explore these questions to give us a better understanding of true freedom.
At this point I would like to tell you about an experience I had in the past. When I first got serious about my Christian beliefs, speaking openly about them and turning from the sins in my life, I had friends and family members that approached me, probably with good intentions, questioning my situation. From their viewpoint they saw what I was doing as a restriction of my freedoms. They warned me about how much I would be missing out on in my life by living with these restrictions. What was interesting was that I personally felt that I experienced a positive change regarding freedoms in my life being a Christian. I felt freer with more happiness in my life. I had stopped my alcohol consumption, late night carousing, and sexual promiscuity, among other things, and they saw this as an evil that was restricting my freedom. My response: I was now free to do what was right!
Consider this Scripture verse in John 8:
“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:24
The source of confusion about freedom for many people is a lie that they believe. They see an individual’s freedom of choice as the ability to choose to do whatever we want whenever we want. But most adults quickly learn when they break out of their parental restraints when transitioning from childhood to adulthood that the situation surrounding our freedom is not as simple as we imagined in our youth. We learn that every choice has a consequence. We learn that freedoms come with responsibility. As such, our choices are actually limited.
For example, we could in theory chose to not eat or drink ever again, but as a result, we would die, so it really isn’t a choice and no one in their right mind would purposely choose to do that. All of us would (I think) understand and agree with the fact that there are limitations to our choices. In support of this, we find this understanding in movies and TV dramas that present this limited choice scenario in the story line. The question arises, “How could they do such a thing?” (e.g. sell national secrets to the enemy) and later we learn that, “their child was kidnapped and they were threatened with death so the person really had no choice but to concede!”, and everyone agrees and understands that they “had no choice”, or in other words, their choice was limited by circumstances.
Not all of our decisions have immediate consequences, but some consequences occur much later or are not as apparent, and this is what makes for even deeper complexities. For example, if we choose to smoke cigarettes, it may be a long time before there are negative consequences, or we may even think that we will beat the odds and never experience problems because our body is resistant or we will quit before any negative effects occur.
My point is that we all are faced with limits to our choices and with situations beyond our control that impact our choices. Although we may be free to do whatever we want whenever we want to in theory, in a practical sense our choices are limited by consequences. Most importantly there are moral and ethical choices that we make that can have grave consequences that may not be apparent or that can be deceiving.
Most of us would agree that our real desire is not to be free to do whatever we want but to make the wisest choices in our lives resulting in the best consequences. I would like to suggest that the restraints that impact our choices are represented by a set of laws or principles that govern our world and dictate the consequences of our choices. Wisdom would conclude that we therefore should accept this situation and make decisions accordingly to align with these laws and principles so as to have positive results. Doesn’t life teach us quickly the foolishness of making choices that go against the principles that surround us? You might say then that the freedom that we want is related to doing what is right, rather than what is wrong. True freedom comes from the ability to do what is right!
Let’s look closer now at the moral and ethical principles or laws that exist in our world and cause consequences to our decisions. This is a critical issue in this discussion. Consider if these laws were dreamed up by men and have evolved randomly over hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years and are still evolving, and have been put into place by the consensus of the majority. If this were true,then these laws would become somewhat nebulous. The majority of people could be wrong, or the laws could be ready to evolve further or, if we are smart enough, we can discover ingenious ways to get around them. Or maybe the opinion of the majority will shift and change resulting in new laws.
On the other hand, if these laws were put in place by a Creator and He has made them immutable, set in place forever with no way of getting around them, then we would be wise to understand the nature and purpose of these laws.
As Christians we believe that our Creator has put these moral and ethical laws in place. He has also revealed information about His laws for us and all of His creation in the Scriptures. When we were converted to Christianity we no longer viewed the world from the standpoint of a random, nebulous, evolutionary system, with rules based on popular opinion, but rather as a clear-cut and purposefully designed creation with purposeful, well designed laws put in place by the Creator. The laws in place reflect the authority of the Creator, and in fact, He has revealed that due to the disobedience of our first parents, there have been increased restrictions put in place, most notably our physical death. Fortunately for us, the Creator has sent His Messiah, or Anointed One, or Christ, to set us free from the bondage that has resulted from our inability to function properly within His legal system.
In the passage from John 8, Jesus was making it very clear that the information and teachings that He was presenting came from the Creator. His information was far superior to any other so called “geniuses” who have read books and observed the world for a few decades and came up with their view of reality from their limited perspective. The teachings of Jesus are from “above” not from “below” and are therefore absolute truth. Jesus was there in the beginning and was communicating what He had “seen in the presence of the Father”. This is absolute truth that we can be assured will guide our lives to true freedom.
Let us look also at some of this information that was revealed by Jesus, since it is also pertinent to our freedom.
The Scriptures have revealed that there are evil entities involved in our world, namely satanic or demonic entities that have been allowed to have some influence on humans. According to the scriptures, Satan and his demons can influence our thinking, affecting our choices, and seems that the more we choose to go against God’s laws, the more influence that Satan is allowed to have on us, in some cases resulting in demon possession. It is also fortunate for us that the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, has defeated these demonic powers and made a way for us to be free from their influence.
“And you he made alive, when you were dead though the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Ephesians 2:1-2
“When any one hears the world of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart;” Matt. 13:18
Most importantly, it has also been revealed that every human being will one day, after they have died, stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of what they have done. Not only will our choices have consequences in this life, but they will have eternal consequences. This is extremely serious!
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” 2 Cor. 5:10
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purpose of men’s hearts. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.” 1 Cor. 4:5
Let me summarize at this point: The truths that Jesus has communicated to us are the key to our freedom because they are from the Father in Heaven the Creator of this world. Our Creator God has put in place purposefully designed moral laws that govern our world, and it is therefore wise for us to adhere and function within these laws, and foolish to ignore or purposely attempt to circumvent these laws. Disregarding or not adhering to the moral and ethical laws of God will have grave consequences not only in this life but also in the afterlife. It is a lie to think that we are free simply because we can do whatever we want with no restrictions. True freedom comes from believing and accepting the revealed truths of the Creator and adhering to God’s instructions, teachings and laws.
Let me point out one further critical truth: It is impossible for us to adhere to these laws without a faith in the Creator and His Messiah. In other words, if we choose to live our lives apart from God without the realization that God’s laws govern His creation, then we are doomed to suffer the consequences of non-compliance.
The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross is the starting point for our freedom in that it frees us from the penalty of sin, allowing us the promise of eternal life. When we accept this sacrifice, we also enter into a covenant with the Creator, dying to this physical world system and shifting our attention and affections to the promise of heaven. This causes a spiritual birth that frees us from the influence of Satan and gives us the ability to walk in love, having shifted our life’s focus from our personal advancement to pleasing God. As we will see, this is the pathway to true freedom.
I would like to look deeper at the nature and purpose of God’s laws to complete our understanding of true freedom and the moral decisions that we make. First though, we must realize that it has also been revealed that mankind has another problem: Knowing God’s law is not enough; it takes more than just knowledge of the law to obey the law. The Israelites were shown clearly the laws of God, in detail, but they were unable to obey them. In fact, the Scriptures also reveal that they were trapped in a cycle of disobedience and guilt that spiraled downwards to spiritual death. (See Romans chapter 7) As we will see, God has made a way for us to fulfill His laws.
Looking closer at God’s laws, we come to understand that the majority of His laws are focused on the way that we treat each other. We are told in the Scriptures that love fulfills the entire law!
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
This is the core issue: our ability to love God and to love one another on the one hand, and on the other is our selfishness or focus on our own advancement or pleasures, putting ourselves before others.
As Christians, we are actually free from the laws of God in the sense that the transformation that occurs in us from being self-seeking, worldly minded to becoming “new creations” that are “born again” in the spirit and able to walk in love. We now can naturally fulfill the laws; the laws are written on our hearts.
“As I have said before, the Christian position is this: I may do anything, but everything is not useful. Yes, I may do anything but everything is not constructive. Let no man, then, set his own advantage as his objective, but rather the good of his neighbor.” 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24 (J.B. Phillips)
As we see from this scripture verse, when we shift the objective of our life from gaining “our own advantage” to “the good of our neighbors” we fulfill the law and we are free from the consequences. This is true freedom.
Isn’t it amazing that our Creator has designed this world so that the laws that govern it support those who walk in love, and place into bondage those who walk in self-centeredness. The laws that govern our world have not come about coincidentally from random activity during millions of years of evolution. On the contrary, they are amazingly and efficiently designed with the most valuable asset in mind: love. This love is the very nature of God and includes justice, fairness, peace, joy, patience, gentleness, and hope.
“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32
We come to know the truth by continuing in the words of Jesus. These words are recorded in the Scriptures, in the Holy Word known as the Bible. The truths contained in the revealed Word are the source of freedom.
Walking in the spirit includes a realization that God’s laws are perfect and that we can experience the true freedom from bondage and undue suffering as we walk in love. This power to love is the result of our faith, by dying to this world, living with our hopes and affections set in heaven, transforming our minds to conform to God’s ways and a spiritual perspective, and with the Holy Spirit living inside of us. This is the truth that Jesus has provided for us that will truly set us free!
Thinking back about those family members and friends who were concerned about my freedoms, I think that their concerns revealed something about the condition of their own hearts. They had placed a high value on their own “freedoms” or, more accurately, their choice to not adhere to God’s regulations due to their own immediate benefits without regard for the future consequences. At the root of this was the fact that they really didn’t believe in Jesus or His teachings.
There is an interesting irony in this: the person who thinks they are “free” because they live apart from the restrictions of God’s laws or guidance, but follow what they think is right, they are actually in bondage. When someone purposely restricts themselves by following the teachings and principles of their Creator, they become free.
People who live apart from God’s Word without the understanding of His truth experience varying degrees of bondage, some may be very painful. And yet they are unaware of the source of the bondage, but only see the resulting symptoms. Jesus came to set us free, not only for this life, but most especially, for the day that we stand before Him in heaven. We can have forgiveness for past sins as well as the ability to be obedient to His law of liberty by walking in love.
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:15-17