The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America, not the Ten Commandments and not the law of Christ. A similar thing may be said of all other countries. When we speak of freedom and law we must remember that there is a supreme law of liberty (James 1:25; 2:12), and it is found in the Bible. What is it? What is freedom?
To know what freedom truly is.
We will begin with John 8:31-39, explore what freedom is and discover how we can have it even for those who live under the most oppressive of this world’s regimes.
Reading: John 8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did,1
True Disciples (John 8:31)
Here we read of those who “had” believed in him. Did they now no longer believe in him? Was their faith weak and wavering? Are these some who would now stone him but later be among the thousands converted on Pentecost? Jesus now gives a remarkable definition of a true disciple: those who continue in his word. It does not say those who continue in a particular denomination, or even those who continue in some kind of succession of ordinations from the original Apostles, but those who continue in his word. The phrase “in my word” is from “logo” and in this context means instruction. Collections of the sayings of Jesus are sometimes called the “logia” and Jesus’ teachings are at the root of all orthodoxy, the basis of real Christianity. The sayings of Jesus are primarily in the Gospels.
True Freedom (John 8:32)
What is truth? Is it what a political party tells us? Is it what advertisers tell us? Jesus teaches us here that we will know the truth if we continue in his word. What does that truth do in our lives? It sets us free. What is freedom? Free countries guarantee us certain political and religious freedoms. Political freedom gives us certain human rights and civil liberties such as freedom of assembly, of association, of speech, of religion and economic freedom. It does not free us from troubles, crime or death. Religious freedom does not free us from false religion. Our words do not set us free, but the words of Jesus do. They set us free from sin and from death. The Old Testament law could not do that and our national freedoms cannot do that, but Jesus can.
Have We ever been Slaves? (John 8:33)
Abraham is a father of many nations and in Jewish tradition Avraham Avinu (our Father Abraham). Americans speak of George Washington as the Father of His Country. Like the Jews, Americans could claim they have never been slaves. Is that really true? Not according to Jesus. What exactly is slavery? The Americas once had a form of slavery that even the Bible does not allow. Kidnapping has always been against the Bible, yet North and South Americans kidnapped people from Africa and sold them as chattel slaves. Other forms of slavery are more common today, such as bonded labor (slavery to a debt), forced labor (such as child slavery, chain gangs, conscription, human trafficking and prostitution), forced marriage and dependency. Many of us have experienced slavery to debt or conscription. There is another form of slavery common to us all.
Slave to Sin (John 8:34)
Everyone who commits sin is a slave to it. That is 100% of us. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). So, here we are, slaves in a free country. How can that be? The freedom guaranteed in western countries is not the same freedom guaranteed by Christ. Our national freedoms are civil liberties and limited. The freedom that Christ guarantees is eternal and unlimited. Our lives are dominated by sin: everything from minor issues such as just missing the mark to abject moral evils which plague every society. As with many misunderstandings in life, our definitions differ. When modern westerners or ancient Jews speak of freedom they are defining it differently to what Jesus is talking about. He is speaking of absolute, spiritual freedom.
A Permanent Place (John 8:35-36)
When God made the world, he made it good, but we came along and messed it up. We caused suffering and troubles in the world, and we know that these conditions will not last forever. God will reestablish things the way he intended them to be, but for a time he allows us to suffer the consequences of our ways. Those who choose to remain in the slavery of sin will not survive forever. They and their ways will cease. But those who choose to live a forgiven life, even in their faults, will live forever. That forgiveness is a decision made by the Son. If he frees us from our slavery to sin, we are free indeed. It is not up to us. We are merely the recipients of a free gift from heaven above what we deserve.
Heritage does not Guarantee Freedom (John 8:37)
Those discussing freedom with Jesus were descendants of Abraham and thought that their heritage gave them freedom. In many countries we are descendants of the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Whatever our heritage and pedigree, if there is no place in us for Jesus’ word, we are no better than those who sought to kill Jesus. The same could be said of apostolic succession, the idea that an ordination is only valid if it is in direct line of succession from the apostles. However, if one ordained by succession rejects Christ’s words, does that invalidate their ordination and if one not in succession accepts Christ’s words is not that a succession in faith?
Obedience to God Trumps Heritage (John 8:38-39)
Those men claimed the privileges of descent from Abraham. They claimed Abraham as their father but did not follow his example. Americans claim George Washington. Canadians claim John Macdonald. Mexicans claim Miguel Hidalgo. South Africans claim Nelson Mandela. The Philippines claims Corazon Aquino as their mother. Jesus saw his Father in heaven. He tells the men to obey what they heard from the Father. Whether Abraham or God the Father is intended, the meaning is the same: to obey God as Abraham did. Perhaps a double meaning is intended as in verse 44. They actually obeyed their father the devil. Galatians 5:31-39 describes the difference between the misuse of freedom in self-indulgent pursuits and the good use of freedom, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. If indeed Abraham was their spiritual father they should have followed his example.
The freedom given to us by human governments cannot match the freedom given to us by heaven. In Jesus we will eventually find complete freedom from all our problems and ultimately freedom from death in life evermore.
1 New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.