Teaching series from John

Jesus on Freedom

John 8:30-36

Teaching t22482


Reminder that John is an eye-witness. The setting is still the Feast of Booths and the continuing controversy over Jesus’ identity (8:25).

In this context, Jesus utters one of the most profound statements ever about freedom (read 8:30-36; HIGHLIGHT 5 times in the passage). What a universally popular theme! Who does not long for freedom? Yet what confusion there is over what true freedom is, where it comes from, and how we can get it. This is what Jesus teaches us in this passage. Let’s look first at where He says true freedom comes from...

Where freedom comes from

Twice Jesus claims to be the Liberator, the Source and Provider of true freedom. It is His word, or teaching, that sets us free (8:32). It is He, who has always enjoyed freedom as the Son of God, who can also set us free (8:35,36).

Put differently, freedom is not attained by our philosophical inquiry or religious discipline (e.g., BUDDHIST DISCIPLINES). Rather, freedom is bestowed personally by a Person (Jesus). This leads to the next point—what true freedom is...

What true freedom is

The first step toward this freedom is to understand what kind of freedom Jesus is speaking about. Jesus is speaking of true freedom (8:36; “indeed” – ontos – means in reality, as opposed to that which is fictitious or superficial). In other words, He is implying that there are other conceptions of freedom that are not genuine. Before we learn Jesus’ definition of true freedom, we must discern and reject other conceptions of freedom as the true freedom. Let’s consider the two most popular definitions of freedom. One is real, but superficial and inadequate. The other is false and deceptive.

Some conceive of freedom as socio-political—freedom from human slavery or governmental tyranny or discrimination. Jesus’ audience has this view of freedom, which is why they are confused/offended by His statement (read 8:33). They are saying, “Why do we need You to free us? We have never been unfree!” Actually, they are self-deceived, because the Jewish people had been politically and/or personally unfree for most of their history: e.g., Egypt, Canaanite people, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, and now Rome!

This is a fascinating example of humans’ capacity to deny reality, to insist that we are free even when we are clearly not free. We’ll come back to this in a minute.

The point is that this kind of freedom is important, but inadequate. To be free from human slavery, to be free from governmental tyranny, is a great gift that has been won and protected by great human sacrifice (“LINCOLN;” SOLDIERS DEFENDING COUNTRY; CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS). We should not take it for granted, we should be deeply thankful for it, and we should stand for it. Yet Jesus is saying that there is a deeper, truer, spiritual freedom. He is warning us that it is possible to have this kind of freedom, and yet not be truly free (e.g., AMERICANS). And He is promising us that He can make us truly free even if we do not have this kind of freedom, and it is possible to not have this kind of freedom and yet be truly free (e.g., AFRICAN SLAVES; PAUL IN PRISON; CHRISTIANS IN NAZI GERMANY & SOVIET RUSSIA).

Before we learn about this true freedom, we must consider a second conception of freedom which is in fact false and deceptive—and it is the dominant conception of freedom in our culture. I am speaking of the definition of freedom as ego-centric—freedom from moral constraint, freedom to get and do what I want.

It is the view of freedom that I imbibed from the music I listened to as a youth (JIMI HENDRIX: “I’m the one who’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”) It’s the view of freedom that originated and has driven the sexual “revolution” that “emancipated” Americans from the “bondage” of sexual “taboos.” It’s the view of freedom that Satan has, that he sold to Adam and Eve (Gen.3:4,5)—that freedom is the right to serve no one, to live for yourself.

This is the view of freedom that Jesus is refuting in 8:34 (read). “Sin” is not just an overtly immoral act (e.g., murder; assault); it is an orientation of self-centeredness, living for yourself. Jesus is warning us that living this way of life (“practices”) leads not to freedom, but to slavery. The more selfishness you insist on, the more freedom you lose. Our therapeutic culture doesn’t call this “slavery to sin”—it calls it “addiction.” And Peter adds (read 2Pet.2:19) that that this path which promises freedom in fact leads to slavery to corruption—the breakdown of your soul and life that results in misery.

I started doing drugs exhilarated by the freedom of “breaking the rules.” But within a year, I was no longer free to not get high and plagued by depression. A friend of mine starting watching porn as a teen as an act of freedom from his parents’ “control.” But now, years later, he is in bondage to a habit that has ended his marriage and ruined his family. Another friend from high school declared himself free to make as much money as he could make. But now, he is a workaholic millionaire who is lonely and miserable.

Beneath all of these specific freedoms that led to bondage and corruption is the general view of freedom as freedom to live for self. That’s why people who get free from one addiction usually wind up with another addiction. That’s why a culture that prescribes living for self becomes a culture full of addictions, depression, etc. The root problem is the definition of freedom!

Jesus defines true freedom in a radically different way—not as the ability to get and do what you want, but as the ability to give yourself away in love to God and others.

This is why He said that the two greatest commandments are (quote Matt.22:37). This is what He meant when He said (quoteMk.8:35 ). This is why Paul says (read Gal.5:13).

If you ask how this can be true, the biblical answer is that true freedom is freedom to be our true selves, to live as we were designed to live.

Fish were created with gills and fins, and are therefore free when they swim in water, not when they try to walk on sidewalks.

Humans were created in the image of an other-centered, loving, Triune God—and are therefore free when they love God and others, not when they live for self. Do you believe that this is true freedom? You will never be free until you do. But even if you believe this, only Jesus can set you free from selfishness to live this way. Let us now see how He says we can get this freedom from Him...

How to get freedom

Jesus says that we receive this true freedom from Him by taking two take two distinct relational steps toward Him.

The first step is deciding to entrust yourself to Jesus. This passage begins by describing people who “came to believe in Him” (8:30; USE NASB). It is to these people who had come to believe in Him that He made the promise of 8:31,32. “Came to believe” is in the aorist or punctiliar tense, which signifies a definite decision at a point in time. “had believed in Him” is in the perfect tense, which signifies action that began at a point in time and continues. TIMELINE: The “X” is your conscious decision to entrust yourself to Jesus as Savior and Deliverer.

It is this decision that unites you with Jesus, who gives you a new nature and exposes us to His motivation and power to begin to live to love God and others rather than live for self (Phil.2:13). Have you made this decision? Why not make it today (EXPLAIN HOW).

But you can have come to believe in Jesus and yet still not get true freedom. That’s why Jesus said 8:31,32 to those who already believed in Him (read). True freedom comes to true believers who live as students of Jesus’ word. To “abide in” means to make something your “abode”—where you live. A “disciple” is a student-apprentice. What does this involve? (3-LEGGED STOOL)

It involves scheduling lots of exposure to the Bible: e.g., private reading of the Bible & quality Christian books, teachings (including classes), discussions with other Christians, etc. Sometimes we are perplexed at how little freedom we have, when the reason is embarrassingly simple—we are living below a subsistence level of intake of God’s Word! Is this you? What will you do about this? (PROMOTE HOME GROUPS)

It involves focusing especially on God’s promises and provisions. Memorizing and meditating on these reminds us that we are secure in God’s love, and this motivates us to give ourselves away in love to Him and others. This is one main way that abiding in Jesus’ word sets us free.

It involves acting on Jesus’ direction to love others. “When I hear, I forget. When I see, I remember. When I do, I understand.” As you live as Jesus’ student in the above two ways, He will engineer opportunities for you to give His love away to others. This enables us to experience the joy of giving ourselves away to Him and others. This is the other main way that abiding in Jesus’ word sets us free.

The more you live as a student of Jesus’ word in these ways, the more He will set you free! “We learn the Word of God, we obey it, and we (get some freedom). The exhilaration of that freedom motivates us to study the Word of God more, and when we again obey it, more freedom comes. And on and on it goes—from freedom to freedom to freedom.” How free do you want to be?

“If you insist on... living for yourself, and refuse to let yourself go, you will lose yourself. But if you are willing to give yourself away in love, then... you find yourself and your freedom. It is only sacrificial service, the giving of the self in love to God and others, which is perfect freedom.” John R. W. Stott, The Contemporary Christian (InterVarsity Press, 1992), p.56.

R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Crossway Books, 1999), p.247.