By Pastor Glenn Pease
The battle for freedom of some kind is being fought around the world. Here in our own land there are constant battles for freedom of religion. Minorities all over the world are fighting for freedom. Years ago Heine said, "Freedom is the new religion; the religion of our time." The possibility of freedom is becoming known to all people because the world has gotten smaller and people everywhere can see that some other people have attained it, and they want it also. Once they have seen what can be, what is becomes intolerable to them. The words of Patrick Henry in 1775 expressed the feelings and minds of millions. He concluded his address by saying, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty powers! I know not what cause others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." Moore puts the same idea into poetry.
Better to dwell in freedom's hall,
With a cold damp floor and moldering wall
Then bow the head and bend the knee
In the proudest palace of slavery.
Men everywhere are recognizing they were made to be free, and they want to be able to sing with the patriots of America, "My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing." They want to boast with the patriots of Columbia, "And ne'er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves, while the earth bears a plant, or the sea roles its waves. Men want to be free and stay free. Lord Acton said, "History is the record of man's struggle to be free." What is of interest for us to notice is that in this struggle men are concentrating on only the lesser of two kinds of freedom. There is a freedom of external restraint, and a freedom from internal bondage. Man is giving himself to battle for the first, but is hardly even aware of the second kind of freedom.
It is the second kind of freedom that brought the Son of God into the world to become the great Emancipator and Liberator from sin. Jesus would not think lightly of political freedom, but this was not the freedom He came to give. The Apostles would not be indifferent to man's political oppression, but this was not the message they proclaimed. Man is in a greater bondage than that which man can make. He is in bondage to sin, Satan, and his own fallen nature. What can set him free from these tyrants is the greatest freedom. Jesus stands alone as the one who is able to lead men into this greatest of freedoms. This means the church is the most relevant body of people in the world, for it alone has the answer for escape from the bondage to sin. We want to look at three aspects of Christ's teaching concerning this greatest freedom.
I. THE CONDITION NECESSARY TO RECEIVE IT. v. 31
Jesus had been speaking to a crowd of Jews who were not His followers, but as He was speaking some of them believed, and so He addresses those who had just made their declaration of independence from the crowd, and Jewish leaders. Jesus made it clear to them that it is not the start that counts, but the continuing. Anybody can make a commitment on the basis of a good sermon or idea shared, but the real test comes when you continue on and discover truths that you didn't agree with at the time of the commitment. This happens to so many people. They get started, but they do not keep going. Israel was happy to leave Egypt and escape their bondage. They were off to a wonderful start, but it didn't last, for soon they were longing to return.
Someone has said that if all the Christians who looked back to their sinful life with a sense of longing to return were turned into salt, like Lot's wife who looked back, there would be a great many more pillars in the church, and they would be literally the salt of the earth. Jesus came to make us free, and free indeed, but if we do not fulfill the condition of pressing on, and of continuing in His Word, we will forfeit the goal. Jesus says that only those who continue in His Word are true disciples. A disciple is defined here as one who continues in the Word of Christ.
He is no true follower of Christ who only follows when the Master walks where the follower wants to go. He is no true believer who only believes when the Lord teaches what he agrees with. Jesus did not encourage any superficial discipleship. He told those who believed right on the spot that when they made a commitment to Him it was absolute and permanent, for it was of no value. Calvin said, "Here Christ warns them in the first place, that it is not enough for anyone to have begun well, if there progress to the end does not correspond with it." Just as man's bondage to sin is due to his continuance in sinning, so also our hope for freedom from those powers depends on continuing in the Word of Christ. Jesus was saying this to believers. The distinction between one who is a believer and a disciple is that a believer is one who has begun, but a disciple is one who has continued. Discipleship is the condition for receiving the greatest freedom.
II. THE CAUSE OF RECEIVING IT. v. 32
Discipleship, which has been defined as continuing in the Word of Christ, leads to the discernment of the truth. Jesus says that if you continue in it you shall know the truth. It is not maybe, but you shall know it. It is a promise, and it will be the knowing of the truth that shall liberate you. The greater the discernment of truth, the greater the freedom. All ignorance is bondage, but none if more so costly as the ignorance of the truth of Christ. Men will go to the battlefield to kill and be killed for national freedom, but they will not take the time to study the Word of Christ that they might gain and maintain the greater freedom from the bondage to sin. All other freedoms lose their value to the degree that one does not possess this greatest freedom.
J. C. Ryle said, "All political liberty, however useful for many purposes is worthless, unless we are children of God, and heirs of the kingdom by faith in Jesus." The problem is that one cannot even discern this truth unless he fulfills the condition and continues in the Word. It is only by continuing that one can find the truth, and only as one has the truth can he be free. Truth is the battering ram by which we smash down the gate of ignorance and escape into the light from the dungeon of error. Truth is what sets us free because it is only by knowing the truth that we even become aware that we are in bondage. The Jews to whom Jesus talked were not even aware of their bondage. Like men today they considered only the external factors and never thought of the tyranny within. They were surprised and probably indignant at his statement that the truth would set them free.
In verse 33 they reply that they are Abraham's seed and never were in bondage to anyone. Jesus did not argue their claim about never being in bondage even though he could have easily won the debate, for they had been in bondage to Egypt, Babylon, and now to the Romans. Jesus is not concern about winning an argument about external bondage. He is concerned about the worst bondage and the greatest tyrant that man faces. So in verse 34 Jesus comes out with a clear statement that He is talking about spiritual bondage and slavery to sin. A good many Americans would be offended just as these proud Jews were, if you told them they were slaves and not free. Many who sing of liberty are in greater bondage than they realize. They do not know that they are captives of their sinful nature. It is the job of the church to help those who live in our great land of liberty to realize that they still need to be set free through the truth of Christ. No person is truly free until they have found the greatest liberty in Jesus.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF RECEIVING IT. v. 35-36
On the 4th of July, 1779 this proclamation was made: "This day being the anniversary of our glorious independence, will be commemorated by the firing of 13 cannon from West Point at 1 o'clock P. M. The Commander-in-Chief thinks proper to grant a general pardon to all prisoners in the army, under sentence of death. They are to be released from confinement accordingly." Certainly it would be that these men so pardoned would the happiest men alive, for what greater freedom could be had than that which came to them as a consequence of national freedom? We already know the answer, but Jesus in verse 36 stresses it. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. That is to be truly and really free.
All other freedoms, however good, are only partial, and they do not make one free indeed. These men pardon from prison gained freedom from the external restraint, but it would not release them from their internal bondage. A greater boon it would have been if they had been given the Gospel of Christ, for it they would have received Him they would have become free indeed. This was the case with Madam Guyon who spent 10 years in French prisons, but who had such inter freedom that she could write,
My cage confines me round;
Aboard I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My hearts at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Oh, it is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose providence I love.
And in thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.
Jesus says in verse 35 that a servant does not abide forever in the house, but only the son does. All men are still slaves, no matter how many freedoms they have, if they have not found freedom in Christ. Knowing this will not make the Christian less patriotic and less thankful for the great liberties of our land, but it will keep him from sentimentalism, and idolatry of the state. It will make him conscience that when the state has done all it can, it has not begun to do the work that only the church can do by the power of the truth in Christ. This truth when received leads to the greatest freedom.