Free to be yourself (November 3, 2019)

Free to be yourself (November 3, 2019)

November 8, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Free to be yourself

John 8:31-36

You spend time on the things you value. That’s a fair statement, I think. Many of you know, I value my cars, so I can spend a fair amount of time on my cars if given the chance. It’s never just an oil change – there’s always something I can inspect, tinker on, or fix. Maybe you value your health, and so you take the time to prepare healthy meals and get your exercise in. Maybe you value your baseball team, so you invested hours and stayed up later than usual to watch the Astros in the World Series… maybe next time. I know many of you value your children – I should rephrase that. I know you all value your children. You spend the time getting them a good education, encourage them to join extracurriculars, and fit it all into your already busy schedule.

These are all great things to value. But go through the list of the things you value. Go through your daily and weekly schedule and identify the things that you spend the most time on. Then for each one of those things ask, “Are you a slave to this thing.” The thought crossed my mind recently, mainly because I had two bigger and necessary repairs on each of our cars that took up a big chunk of my time – what would have been my time off. This time it was necessary, but there have been other times when I’ve taken away time from my spouse and my family to do what I wanted to do. I go about these things thinking that I’m making the most of my free time – making it better for my family, when really, at times, I’ve only taken away from my family.

Are you a slave? I think we all know what a slave is from the historical sense. But I want you to consider a slave in more of a psychological sense, with this definition. A slave is “a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something.” Or, to be a slave is “to be so strongly influenced by something that you cannot make your own decisions.” I’ve seen even good things that we value become the master, and we the slaves. Do the sports you watch or play determine your weekly schedule? Do the activities your children engage in dictate where you need to be and when. Do you get so determined and so focused on your own interests that you block everything and everyone else out at times? You can be a slave to an interest if your life is excessively dependent upon it. You can be a slave to a coach if you let them control your schedule. Sometimes we become slaves to the things we value so much so that we cannot even make our own decisions.

And the worst kind of slavery is being enslaved by something we think we have under control. Or being enslaved and not even realizing it at all. Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you” – that’s a way of saying “pay careful attention” in Jesus’ day. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). Maybe you convince yourself that it’s out of necessity that you lie just this once. But then another opportunity to lie comes up, and another, and another – and very soon you are weaving some pretty complex stories and it comes so naturally. Or you’ve been stuck in a rough patch recently and try to numb the pain with substances. “I’ll quite once things get better,” you tell yourself. “I can quit any time.” Or there’s the juicy bit of information that you just can’t resist sharing. You know it is damaging to the person’s reputation, but “it’s just sharing information,” you tell yourself. “And besides, I’ll just tell one person.” Do we really think that we can just dip a little toe into sin and pull it back out unharmed? Unchanged? Adam and Eve tried that, and they couldn’t stop sinning – running from God, hiding, lying, and blaming. Do we really think that our story will be any different? “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). We are born into slavery, we inherit sinfulness from our parents. We are so strongly influenced by sin that we cannot make our own decisions.

This made their blood boil! The Jews replied to Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone” (Jn 8:33). Really? Israelites… You don’t remember about 400 years in Egypt? But they were making a spiritual point. We are Abraham’s descendants, children of the covenant of God. We have never been slaves to sin because God chose us! They just didn’t see it. They used religion as a cover, when really they were slaves to the law all along. And although they may have enjoyed living in their master’s house for a while, “A slave has no permanent place in the family” (Jn 8:35). A slave can be sold or kicked out at any time. The same goes for you and I, whenever we excuse our sin by saying, “I’m a Christian!” I can dip my toe into sin and stop whenever I want because “I’m a Christian!” If that were true, your sins wouldn’t be enslaving you. If that were true, would you go willingly into sin in the first place?

And if you are thinking, like the disciples did, “Who then can be saved?” (Mt 19:25), you are exactly right. I don’t deserve to be saved. You and I aren’t able to free ourselves from the slavery of sin. We thrust ourselves into slavery again and again. But there is one who frees us again and again. There is one who builds us back up and strengthens us to resist the slavery to sin. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

So enough about slavery, let’s talk about freedom. What do you think of when you hear the word, “Freedom”? Maybe the movie Braveheart. “FREEEEEDOOOOM!” Maybe the flag, or a bald eagle. Maybe it’s finally retiring after years of working. But Americans often have a misconception of what freedom means. Many people think that freedom means free from any kind of bond in every way. Free from all constraints and every influence. But that’s not what freedom is. In fact, that’s not even a good thing either. Take, for example, a fish in a pond. You could look at that fish and think that it looks rather confined by the banks of that pond. There’s a much bigger world out there to know and explore. You could then take that fish out of the pond and set it on the shore. It’s now free from that pond and in a much larger world! Except, there’s just one thing, the fish needed that water. It needed the water to move freely. It needed the water to breath freely. It needed the water to live. What looked like freedom, was actually it’s destruction because the so called “freedom” was contrary to it’s design.

The fact is, there is no such thing as being free from everything. And that’s not a bad thing. Astronauts have found that being free from gravity makes simple, everyday tasks very difficult. And long periods of anti-gravity actually harms the body. Like the fish, you wouldn’t want to be free from the air you breath. Also influences. You can be free from your parent’s influence only to fall into the bad influence of people you call your friends. So rather than thinking of freedom as being free from everything, we need to realize that we are really only free from something, so that we can live for something else.

So what do you want to be free from? What do you want to be free to live for? Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). The truth of God’s Word, will set you free from the slavery of sin. There’s a certain way that God designed you to live – just like there’s a certain way God designed fish to live. He didn’t design you for sin, yet in the Fall of Adam and inherited from your parents we are born as slaves to sin. Even the good we try to do is so easily stained by false motives and selfish thoughts. We are bound by sin. Addicted to it. So strongly influenced by it that we cannot make our own decisions.

But Jesus set you free from sin. He set you free from the punishment of sin. He set you free from the guilt of past sins. He even sets you free from the control of sin. That’s something that’s not often talked about in much depth. One of those things we know as a fact, but have a hard time realizing in our own lives. As a child of God, by faith, you have power over sin and the devil. Sin is not your master anymore. When you feel the temptation to sin you can – as a child of God – resist and destroy it before it enslaves you once again. Because you are a renewed creation. Finally freed to live the way God intended you to be. You are free to live according to his good design for you. And when tempted to return to the slavery of sin – to live contrary to God’s design – use God’s Word. It is powerful. Read it. Speak it. Pray it so that your sin doesn’t control you. So that you remain free from sin. Free to truly live.

This freedom, then, as a child of God, spills over into every aspect of your life – influencing, leading, guiding you every day. So that the things you value do not enslave you and control your life, barring you from the freedom you have as sons and daughters in God’s house. It’s ok to say no to activities that take away from your time with God. It’s ok to be upfront and talk about the freedom you have in Christ, so that you can truly live for a Father who values you.