My aim in this message is that you would experience Jesus, the sovereign, risen, living Lord of the universe, as the source and content of real freedom in your life. For this to happen, we need two things: we need God’s liberating truth and we need God’s liberating grace. Which means I need to preach God’s word, and pray for God’s power.
So let’s read the Bible passage that I will speak from, and then I will pray.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:30–36)
Lord, open our eyes to your liberating truth — to yourself — and powerfully grant us to be set free from our bondage to sin. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
I take it for a certainty that everyone in this room wants to be free in the deepest, fullest sense. If the opposite is bondage and slavery, no one here wants that. You may be enslaved to some habits that are very pleasurable, and in that sense love your slavery. But when you step back from the pleasures and consider happiness without that slavery, you would like to be done with bondage. You would like to be happy in freedom, not a slave to pleasant addictions. We all want to be free.
And in John 8:36, Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is what we are after. “Free indeed.” Really free. Freedom in its deepest and fullest meaning. Jesus offers us that this morning. This is Easter. The celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He is alive. He is not mere memory. A mere historical figure like Caesar or Shakespeare or John Kennedy. He is back from the dead with a new glorious body. He is alive and reigning as the King of the universe, and he is making this offer of real freedom to all of us today.
I know I am taking a lot for granted when I say that. So let me back up. We Christians believe that what the 27 books of the New Testament record about Jesus is true. These books uniformly teach or assume that Jesus lived in history, died as a substitute for sinners, and rose again on the third day, and that he ascended to heaven, and rules the world as the very God of very God (as the old creed puts it).
These 27 books are shot through with references to the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For example, here in John 20:27–28, Jesus appears to Thomas, one of his disciples who had refused to believe that Jesus was raised, and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
These accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus are a thousand miles removed from myth — say like Greek or Roman mythology shrouded in a distant past that does not connect with real history. The New Testament books are talking about real history. Pilate, the Roman governor, Herod the king from Galilee, Caiaphas, the High priest. These are not mythical figures. These people are known from history outside the Bible.
The accounts of the New Testament (the 27 books) were all written while eyewitnesses were still alive. Paul’s letters were written fifteen to thirty years after the death of Jesus. In one of them, he mentions the fact that 500 people had seen the risen Jesus at one time and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). Most of the books, maybe all of them were written before AD 70, forty years after the death of Jesus. And even if John was written by the aged apostle around AD 90, the time is short.
Think of it. If we were the writers of the New Testament here in 2011, for some of us Jesus would have lived in the late 1980s, for others the 1970s and perhaps for one, in the 1950s. This is not mythology. This is history. Remembered history. Eyewitness history.
And add to this that the enemies of Christianity would have loved nothing better than to be able to wheel the body of Jesus into Jerusalem in a wheelbarrow, and prove that it was all a hoax, but they couldn’t. The tomb was empty, and there was no dead body. The disciples stole the corpse, and created the story of the resurrection? Really? The thought that these fearful disciples who abandoned Jesus for fear of their lives, who said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) — the thought they should suddenly agree among themselves to create a hoax, and then die for it, is ludicrous.
No these apostles of Jesus were not wacko; they were witnesses. What we have in the New Testament is not mythology, but the Jesus as eyewitnesses remembered him. Richard Bauckham, former professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews, put it this way in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: “The Jesus the Gospels portray is Jesus as these eyewitnesses portrayed him, the Jesus of testimony” (472). That is the conclusion of almost 500 pages of painstaking historical study.
One of those witnesses — the one we are studying, John — Bauckham devotes another whole book to, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. And the point of the book is that the author is an eyewitness and, “He intends to be faithful to the history” (27).
The point of all this is simply to say that when we Christians say Jesus is risen from the dead, we are not speaking mythically, and we are not speaking blindly. We are not speaking merely spiritually or emotionally. We are speaking historically. In the end, he has to win your trust. And my point is that the Jesus of history is not as inaccessible as you might have thought. So let him speak to you.
Let him speak to you about freedom. In John 8:32, he says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The people answered him, just as some of us might: We are already free! They say in verse 33, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” They are focusing on some aspects of freedom, but not the one Jesus has in mind.
So Jesus clarifies in verse 34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Now that is an absolutely walloping statement. We need several weeks just to unpack the foundations and implications of it. But we don’t have time. We will just say it, and let his word stand as one who knows us better than we know ourselves. Everyone sins. Therefore, Jesus is saying that everyone is a slave of sin. This means that sin is not just a bad act, but a power underneath in our hearts that makes us do back acts. We sin because we are sinners.
So our slavery is slavery to this power inside of us. There may be kinds of freedom that we can make for ourselves, but not this one. That’s Jesus’s point. This slavery is too deep. And all of us have it. Jesus alone can set us free. So he says in verse 36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
So sin enslaves in two ways. And, therefore, freedom comes in two forms. First, sin enslaves us by producing compelling desires. Sin enslaves by making anything look more desirable than Jesus. That’s what sin is: desiring something above Jesus and then acting on it.
And the second way sin enslaves is that it eventually damns us. Unless something intervenes, it leads to hell. I call this slavery because someone might say, “I’m fine with desiring things more than Jesus. Sounds free to me.” But you wouldn’t say that if you saw clearly that the end of that road was destruction.
Jesus alone can free us from these two kinds of slavery: the domination and damnation of sin. He frees us from the damnation of sin by becoming a damnation for us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). And he frees us from the domination of sin by changing our nature at the root through the new birth. And the essence of it is that he gives us eyes to see that our Savior is more to be desired than anything in the world.
When our sins are forgiven, and God’s wrath is taken away, and we see Jesus as a greater Treasure than all the world, we are freed from both the damnation and the domination of sin. We are free indeed. That’s what Jesus is offering you today.
Now let me step back relate this kind of liberation to the freedom that we really long for. It may be that you hear all this and still say, “I’m already free. It’s you Christians who are all tied up in moral knots. I just do what I feel like doing. And I’m thankful for a country where I can do it. And that’s all the freedom I care about.”
So let’s end this message by making as clear as we can what full freedom is. “Free indeed,” Jesus says. That’s what he alone can give. So what other kinds of freedom are there? What freedom comes short of “free indeed”?
There are at least four kinds of freedom. And each one adds a crucial dimension of freedom to the last until we get to the full freedom — “free indeed.” Let me try to sum up these four kinds of freedom in one definition of full and complete freedom: You are fully free — completely free, free indeed — when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will make you happy in a thousand years. Or we could say, You are fully free when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you no regrets forever.
- If you don’t have the desire to do a thing, you are not fully free to do it. Oh, you may muster the will power to do what you don’t want to do, but nobody calls that full freedom. It’s not the way we want to live. There is a constraint and pressure on us that we don’t want.
- And if you have the desire to do something, but no ability to do it, you are not free to do it.
- And if you have the desire and the ability to do something, but no opportunity to do it, you are not free to do it.
- And if you have the desire to do something, and the ability to do it, and the opportunity to do it, but it destroys you in the end, you are not fully free — not free indeed.
To be fully free, we must have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will make us happy forever. No regrets. And only Jesus, the Son of God who died and rose for us, can make that possible. If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed. To be happy forever, our sins must be forgiven and God’s wrath removed and Christ must become our supreme Treasure. Only Jesus can do that. In fact, he has already done it. He died for our sins. He absorbed God’s wrath. And he rose from the dead and is today therefore supremely precious. And he offers us that now as a free gift.
Let me draw a picture of this freedom to see if I can make it as clear as possible.
Let’s take skydiving, for example. What you want is to experience the fullest possible exhilaration of freedom in skydiving. Let’s suppose then that you are on your way to the airport to go up for your first real jump, but your car hits a pothole on Hiawatha Avenue, you have a blowout, and run into a telephone pole. You are no longer free to jump, whether you have the ability or not, because the opportunity passes while you wait for the tow truck. You lack the freedom of opportunity.
Or suppose you do make it to the airport, but it turns out that you skipped all the classes and don’t know the first thing about skydiving. You lack the most basic abilities — like how to operate the parachute. The opportunity is there, but you don’t have the freedom of ability. They’re not going to let you jump.
But suppose that you make it to the airport, you went to all the classes, and have all the abilities needed. You take off in the little plane, but as soon they open the door and you look down, all your desire vanishes and in its place comes a paralyzing fear. The opportunity is there, the ability is there, but you don’t have the freedom of desire.
But there is one last requirement for full freedom. Suppose you get to the airport with no obstacle (you have the freedom of opportunity); you have all the know-how necessary (you have the freedom of ability); you look out the door at the tiny clusters of silos and barns and farmhouses a few miles down, and just can’t wait to jump (you have the freedom of desire). So you jump.
And as you free fall, enjoying every second of it, unknown to you, your parachute is defective and is not going to open no matter what you do. Are you free — fully free, free indeed?
No. What you are doing so happily and so freely is going to kill you. Even though you don’t know it yet, you are in bondage to destruction. It feels like freedom. But very soon the whole thing — all the exhilaration — will prove to be an illusion. In thirty seconds you’ll be dead.
In order to be fully free — free indeed — the Son of God must set you free.
We have no manmade parachute. We have a Savior. Because he died for us, there is no condemnation. The inexorable, deadly, gravitational pull of our sins is broken. He has caught us in mid-fall and has become our supreme Treasure. Our destiny and our desires are new. He is their source, and he is their content. He gave us the new desire, and he is the new desire. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Is it not then utterly foolish for a Christian to envy the so-called freedom of those who pitch themselves out the skyscraper window of sin and exult for a season in the exhilaration of free-fall greed, or free-fall drugs or free-fall fame, or free-fall sex, or free-fall power, or free-fall luxury oblivious of Jesus. All this freedom is like a vapor, but those who trust in Jesus, and treasure him above all, will mount up with wings like eagles, and be glad — a thousand years from now. They will be free indeed.
Jesus is not just giving you information in this message. He is giving you an invitation. Trust him. Treasure him. He died and he rose again to make you free indeed.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.