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CHRISTIANS: BOUND TO BE FREE!

Who He Really Is

John 8:30-47
16th May 2004

While I was a country parson in Ararat, Western Victoria, forty years ago, I was the chaplain to J Ward, the psychiatric prison for Victoria’s psychotic murderers whose papers were marked with such statements as “to be detained at the Governor’s pleasure” and “never to be released”. I was given a massive iron key to open the thick heavy iron and wood doors of the maximum security division to enable me to visit the prisoners. “J Ward” was built in the 19th century of heavy blocks of dark granite, with high walls, topped with rolls of barbed wire. Every gate and window was barred with thick steel bars. The prisoners were considered the most dangerous in the country. The people of Ararat looked up to the top of the hill where the prison stood like a castle, fearful of the night when the sirens would announce a mass escape when they would all be murdered in their beds. There was no love for those prisoners in Ararat.

One of those I visited forty years ago was an old man, Bill Wallace. I thought he died years ago, until I read my successor buried old Bill in his 108th year. A handful of people from the prison carried the coffin to the windswept and soggy Ararat cemetery. Bill Wallace was Australia’s oldest prisoner. He had been locked in that prison for 63 years, a shameful scandal which illustrates the bankruptcy of our ideas of how to care for prisoners and the mentally ill. Bill suffered from Schizophrenia, but lived a quiet life as a prisoner. He never answered questions about the crime that had put him there. He had an argument with Ern Williams in the Waterloo Cafe in King St., Melbourne, in December 1925. They fought over a cigarette and Bill shot Ern with a hand gun. Bill refused to tell what had happened.

There were no witnesses and no trial. Two police doctors declared him insane, to be sent to Ararat, “to be held at the Governor’s pleasure.” Bill was wealthy. His trust account held more than $100,000. Yet it had cost a couple of a million dollars to have him locked away for 63 years. He had not been forgotten for the Queen had telegraphed congratulations on his one hundredth birthday as did the then Governor General Sir Zelman Cowan and the then Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Frazer. But he was a prisoner. The Governor eventually had enough pleasure after 56 years and reclassified him as an “involuntary patient” meaning he had no other option but to stay in the prison. I hope Bill appreciated the fine distinction as he stayed in the same small cell. When he was aged 104 years he was reclassified again. He was now free to stay in the prison as a voluntary prisoner! He was free to stay in prison.

1. THE DECEPTION OF BONDAGE.

Many accept a bondage that deceives them into thinking they are free. They think they are free even while they are in prison! Unbelievable, but true. Every drug addict will tell you they have been thinking of giving heroin up. They want to stop because they know not stopping is death. They will make the decision some time but not just yet. Just now they need another fix. After this next one, they will consider giving up again. Bound like slaves thinking they are free while in prison! Every alcoholic knows the experience. After another drink they’ll be free to consider giving it up again. There was a time when they could give it up if only they would, but now they would give it up if only they could!

2. THE FREEDOM IN FOLLOWING JESUS.

Following Jesus results in freedom. “The truth will make you free.” Following Jesus brings us four freedoms. It brings us freedom from fear. Following Jesus means you never again have to walk alone. You walk in the company of Jesus where all fear is gone. Following Jesus brings freedom from self. Many people know their greatest handicap is themselves. They may cry out: “I cannot change myself. I have tried, but it is impossible.” But the power and presence of Jesus can re-create a person until he or she is altogether new. Following Jesus brings freedom from what other people may think and say. The disciple ceases to care what people say, because he thinks only of what God says. Following Jesus brings freedom from sin. Many sin, because they cannot help it. Sin has so mastered them that, they cannot break away. Following Jesus breaks the chains that bind us and enable us to be the persons we ought to be.

3. THE DISILLUSION OF SLAVERY. John 8:33-36

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus’ talk of freedom annoyed the Jews. They claimed that they had never been slaves to any man. Obviously there was a sense in which this was simply not true.

They had been captives in Egypt and in exile in Babylon; and at the moment they were subjects of the Romans. The Jews set a tremendous value on freedom which they held to be the birthright of every Jew. When the Jews said that they had been no man’s slaves that was a fundamental creed of life. But it was another slavery of which Jesus was speaking. “Everyone, who commits sin is the slave of sin.” Paul later was to thank God that the Christian was freed from slavery to sin. Romans 6:17-20 “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” There is something interesting here. Sometimes when a man is rebuked for doing something wrong or warned against such a thing, his answer is: “Surely I can do what I like with my own life.” But the point is that the man who sins does not do what he likes; he does what sin likes. A man can let a habit get such a grip of him that he cannot break it. He can allow a pleasure to master him so completely that he cannot do without it. He can let some self-indulgence so dominate him that he is powerless to break away from it. He can get into such a state that in the end, far from doing what he likes, the sinner has lost the power to do what he likes. He is a slave to the habits, the self-indulgence, the wrong pleasures which have mastered him. This is precisely Jesus’ point. No man who sins can ever be said to be free. A man came and had a sandwich with me at lunch time recently. He wanted to know how he could be free from an enslavement to computer pornography. He was a slave in bondage as real as being in chains.

Jesus makes a veiled threat, but one the Jews would understand. The word slave reminds him that in any household there is a difference between the slave and the son. The son is a permanent dweller in the household, but the slave can be ejected at any time. In effect Jesus is saying to the Jews: “You think that you are sons in God’s house and that nothing, therefore, can ever banish you from God. Have a care; by your conduct you are making yourselves slaves, and the slave can be ejected from the master’s presence at any time.” Here is a threat. The Jew believed that he was safe because he was a descendant of Abraham. But Abraham had welcomed God’s messenger; the Jews of the present were trying to kill God’s messenger. How could they dare call themselves descendants of Abraham, when their conduct was so very different? At the end of this passage comes a shattering statement. “You,” said Jesus, “do the works of your father.” He has just said that Abraham is not their father. Who then is their father? For a moment the full impact is held back.

Their father is the devil. Every sinner is deluded into thinking that they will get away with their sin. They believe their continued sin is having no effect upon them and that at any time they can cease. But they are bound like slaves thinking they are free while in prison! Some believers in Jesus thought they could believe while continuing to live as they always had. But discipleship is a radical demand: those who bind themselves to the way of Jesus find a great liberty, while those who do not tie themselves down to completely following Him, are fooling only themselves. They are bound like slaves thinking they are free while in prison!

4. THE BENEFITS OF BELIEF. v31-32

His teaching was being given to those who believed: “Jesus said to those who believed in Him”. This is the condition of finding true freedom: “belief in Him”. Then to belief was added obedience to His teaching: “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Jesus here gives the definition of true discipleship: obedient belief brings true freedom. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Belief benefits: obedient belief brings true freedom. Opposite this lies the deception of sin which binds a person. You do not realize your own slavery to it. Like Bill Wallace you can live in prison thinking you are free. And those who sin are deceived and enslaved most of all. “Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” Ironically, the person who lives a wild, hedonistic life thinking only of self and sin and says “This a real living. This is the good life. I’m really free enjoying this!” is totally deceived. It is death not life, it is evil not good, it is bondage not freedom, and it leads to despair not joy! That is the deception of sin that enslaves. Do you live under the deception of sin?

5. THE FREEDOM OF JESUS. v36

This is the alternative. No deception only reality. No slavery only sonship. “A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever.” The family of God wants no slaves only sons. So “if the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.” This is the great reversal: those who bind themselves to Christ find true freedom.

CHRISTIANS ARE FREE TO BE BOUND. It sounds incomprehensible but that is a fundamental principle of life. Why is a piano string made? To make music. So here I hold in my hand a piano string. Is it free to make music? Yes but only if it allows itself to be bound into a piano, tied down and tightened. The strings of the piano are free to make music only when bound! Christians were made for true freedom but to be free they must give themselves to Jesus Christ in full surrender. When fully committed to Him they discover they are most free. “Make me a captive Lord, then I shall be free. Force me to render up my sword and I shall conqueror be.”

The custom of men wearing earrings goes back to the slaves of the Israelites. Moses ordered that slaves were to be released after six years of service and allowed to go free together with his family. There was no holding the slave back. But Moses added: “But if the slave declares He loves his Master, his wife and his children and does not want to be set free, then his master shall take him to the place of worship. There he is to make him stand against the doorpost and put a hole through his ear. Then he will be His willing slave for life.” Exodus 21:1-6 Christ sets us free but if we love our Master and say to Him “I will not be set free, I love you Master” then we can be His forever: we are free to be bound. Christians bind themselves freely to Jesus Christ. And when we do we find in Him perfect liberty and freedom. Everyone else is simply bound like slaves thinking they are free, while in prison. The deception and bondage of sin! But Christians are bound to be free! Will you discover true freedom by binding yourself to Jesus Christ right now?

The famous English Anglican Evangelical Bishop Handley Carr Glynn Moule of Durham, wrote a hymn which portrays a Christian, having been freed by Christ, coming back to Him to offer himself as a willing slave to serve Christ. Regretfully this hymn is today not well known:

“My glorious Victor, Prince divine,
  clasp these surrendered hands in Thine,
At length my will is all Thine Own,
  Glad vassal of a Saviour’s throne.
My Master, lead me to Thy door;
  Pierce this now willing ear once more;
Thy bonds are freedom; let me stay
  With Thee, to toil, endure, obey.
Yes, ear and hand, and thought and will,
  Use all in Thy dear slavery still!
Self’s weary liberties I cast
  Beneath Thy feet; there keep them fast.
Tread them still down; and then, I know,
  These hands shall with Thy gifts o’erflow;
And piercd ears shall hear the tone
  Which tells me Thou and I are one.”

REFERENCES

  • William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible — John.

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.