Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
Jesus began this section of John's gospel with the words "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Hearing this, the people (in all honesty nearly everyone hearing this for the first time) are indignant -- "We have never been slaves to anyone," or in our time, "Who are you kidding, we clearly have free will." But Jesus will have none of it. Neither should we.
We have a lot of talk about "making good choices" and "exercising your mind to do the right thing." All well and good, in the proper context. I can make a large number of choices -- what to eat, what to wear, who to hang out with, how to vote, what job to pursue; the list goes on and on -- but Jesus is talking about a much deeper reality. Yes, we make choices and more often than not, our "choices" are influenced by factors beyond our control. Choose all I want, but I could never play basketball like LeBron James. Choose all I want, but I cannot keep from vomiting when I get certain stomach upsets. Choose all I want, but cancer, or heart disease, or any other of a number of ailments may have more control over my actions and desires than I can ever imagine. Finally, choose all I want, but personal selfishness, or greed, or vengeance, or just innate stubbornness will have an inordinate effect on the decisions I make. We are turned in upon ourselves, putting ourselves first, disregarding God and the neighbor in our supposed "free will choices." Often times even the very best things we may do are incredibly contaminated with selfish motives and intent.
I love my wife dearly, but I am not going to attempt to lie to myself or others in saying that my love for my wife is not contaminated by selfish desire. The divine standard as stated in Matthew 5:48 is "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." No one stands under that standard. Jesus told the crowd gathered to stone the woman caught in adultery, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." The scripture tells us that all the would-be stone throwers, beginning with the oldest, dropped their stones and walked away. So it is with us. In short, "we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves" as we confess together every week in our liturgy.
The Christian congregation is at its best, then, when it behaves as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. "Hello, my name is Lou, and I am a sinner." This kind of confession is what Jesus wants to hear. This is what He came to redeem. This confession leads the angels to rejoice (Luke 15:10). I am a sinner. Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus responded to this confession with "Today you will be with me in Paradise." That is precisely what happens when the word "Your sins are forgiven" is heard by a sinner with ears to hear. The new freedom is better than anything imaginable. Jesus has taken away all that sin, and I am free to be what God intends me to be. Not a slave continually working to undo or make up for the sins I have committed, but a son or a daughter of the Great High King, set free to enter into life and community with the gifts and talents the Father has given me, to be a blessing to others. Free at last! Forever!
Slaves to sin arise, your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake; the only thing you have to lose is your chains.
Always remember Whose you are --