Short Sayings of Jesus

True Freedom

John 8:30-36

Teaching t14002


We are doing a series entitled “Short Sayings of Jesus.”  Jesus was a master teacher, and He employed many teaching forms (e.g., lecture, Socratic discussion, parables, real-life exercises followed by debriefing; etc.).  He also uttered short sayings that are easy to memorize and have wide application.  He used two types of short sayings:

Aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth – either directional (“If you want it, save your money!”) and/or observational (“One bad apple spoils the whole barrel”).  Many of the Old Testament Proverbs are aphorisms (e.g., Prov. 17:14 NIV).

Mini-teachings, which briefly develop an important truth.  Jesus frequently utters these in response to a situation/person, as is the case with this passage.  The setting is a Jewish festival, amid the continuing controversy over Jesus’ identity (8:25).  In this context, Jesus utters a profound statement about freedom (read 8:30-36; HIGHLIGHT 4 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, and how we can get it.  This is what Jesus teaches us in this passage.  Let’s take a closer look . . .

What true freedom is not

Jesus is speaking of true freedom (8:36; “indeed” – ontos – in reality, as opposed to that which is fictitious or superficial).  By using this term, He implies that there are other conceptions of freedom that are not true freedom.  Let’s consider the two most popular definitions of freedom.  One is genuine, but inadequate.  The other is false and deceptive.

Some conceive of freedom as essentially socio-economic-political – freedom from human slavery or governmental tyranny or discrimination (e.g., democracy) or economic inequity (e.g., Marxism).  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 genuine and important, but inadequate.  To be free from human slavery, to be free from governmental tyranny, to have some level of parity of economic opportunity is a great gift that has been won and protected by great human sacrifice (WW 2 SOLDIERS DEFENDING COUNTRY FROM FASCISM; ABOLITIONISTS & 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 freedom.  He is warning us that it is possible to have this kind of freedom, and yet not be truly free.  And He is asserting that it is possible to not have this kind of freedom and yet be truly free.

Before we learn more 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 freedom to pursue my personal desires.[1]

In a liberal society like ours, this definition of freedom is usually camouflaged by the innocuous phrase “freedom of personal choice.”  Of course, freedom of personal choice is an important value – needlessly taking this away is an evil.  But the key question is: freedom of personal choice to what ultimate end?  The unspoken but obvious answer is: freedom of personal choice to pursue what I want.

But why is this the only answer?  Beneath this assumption lies a belief-system about what it means to be human/human nature.  This belief-system is profoundly ego-centric – it assumes that the purpose of my life revolves around rather than around God.  And it is profoundly humanistic – it assumes that I know within myself by my desires what will fulfill me (rather than being fallen and vulnerable to deception).  You can hear this belief-system from many voices:

It is the view of freedom that I imbibed from the music of my 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 is the view of freedom that originated and has driven the sexual “revolution” that “emancipated” Americans from the “bondage” of “repressive” sexual “taboos.”  It is the implicit and virtually unquestioned view of freedom in our culture.  The Bible says that it is also originated by Satan, and that he sold it to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:4,5) – that freedom is the right to live for yourself, to pursue your own desires.

This is the very view of freedom that Jesus is refuting in 8:34 (read).  “Sin” is not just an overt assault on others’ freedom of choice (e.g., rape; murder); it is an orientation of self-centeredness, living for yourself.  Jesus warns 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.[2]  And Peter adds (read 2 Pet. 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 for yourself and others.

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 anxiety.  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 pursue our personal desires.  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.  The tragic irony is that our society has experienced more of this kind of freedom than any other (SOCIAL; MONETARY; GEOGRAPHICAL; SEXUAL; etc.) – and yet it may have more destructive addictions than any other society!  The root problem is the definition of true freedom!

Jesus defines true freedom as something radically different from either of these two definitions.  He teaches three profound truths about true freedom in this passage . . .

What true freedom is

First, Jesus teaches us that true freedom is not pursuing our personal desires, but the commitment and ability to love God and other people.  He states this negatively in this passage (8:34), saying that love’s opposite (sin/selfishness) leads to slavery.  But He teaches this positively elsewhere.  This is why He said that the two greatest commandments are (quote Matt. 22:37-39).  This is why Paul says (read and explain Gal. 5:13-15).

True freedom is the ability to be our true selves, to live as we were designed to live.  Since 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.  “Unless you are willing to experience the loss of options and the individual limitation that comes from being in committed relationships, you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things (i.e., true freedom) . . . You were made for . . . self-giving, other-directed love.  Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made (you to be).”[3]   Do you believe that this is true freedom?  You will never experience true freedom unless you do.

Secondly, true freedom comes only from and through Jesus.  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 unique Son of God, who alone can 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 a gift given by Jesus to everyone who believes in Him.  This passage begins by describing people who “came to believe in Him” (8:30).[4]  The first step to freedom, therefore, is deciding to entrust yourself to Jesus.  TIMELINE: The “X” is your conscious decision to entrust yourself to Jesus as Savior and Deliverer.  Have you made this decision?  Why not make it today (EXPLAIN HOW)?

Thirdly, true freedom increases as we live as student-apprentices of Jesus’ teaching.  This is why Jesus said 8:31,32 to those who already believed in Him (read).  True freedom comes to true believers who continue in Jesus’ word.  To “continue in” (“abide in”) means to make something your “abode” – where you live.  A “disciple” is a student-apprentice.

Our culture commonly misapplies 8:32 (University of Texas SLIDE).  Our universities often inscribe this statement to communicate that academic knowledge about general revelation will make us free.  But, as valuable as such knowledge is, it does not make us free.  Science and history and mathematics and human philosophy can answer many “when” and “how” questions, but they cannot answer the most important questions: Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my root problem?  What is the root solution?  What happens after I die? 

Only special revelation can answer these questions.  Jesus is claiming to be the Source of this revelation – the very Word (answers) of God.  To become a student of Jesus’ Word is to learn the answers to all of these questions (and many more), which is necessary for true freedom.  This is why those who meditate on God’s Word, even if they lack formal education, can possess a freedom that more educated people may lack (read Ps. 119:97-100).  Continuing to learn and focus on Jesus’ Word not only provides us with these answers; it also mysteriously unleashes the power of God’s Spirit to transform us into people who love God and others like Jesus (read 2 Cor. 3:18 NIV).


NEXT WEEK: “Developing Hope”

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS: What are some practical ways we can “continue in Jesus’ word?” 

[1] This view of freedom goes back into the Greco-Roman roots of western civilization.  Cicero said: “What then is freedom?  The power to live as one wishes.”

[2] “To choose to follow your own will rather than God's is a terrible freedom which is really slavery to your own desires.”  Rose Marie Miller, From Fear to Freedom.

[3] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Riverhead Books, 2008), pp. 226,227.

[4] 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.