“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).
In the United States, almost two-thirds of prison parolees are rearrested within three years after their release. Billions of dollars have been spent to figure out why the rate of recidivism is so high. Experts cite poorly executed prison programs, lack of post-release programs, and the parolee’s need to support a drug habit as big reasons why they turn back to crime. They also cite what psychologists refer to as “institutionalization”—that after a certain period of time behind bars the inmate simply forgets how to function in normal society. His decisions have been made for him for so long that he can no longer make good decisions on his own.
In the movie “Shawshank Redemption”, Red Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) speaks a word to this psychological syndrome:
“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”
Jesus says the same thing happens with sin—that people who live in sin become enslaved to it. Sin does have a way of sinking its claws into you and holding you captive. We see it especially in sins like alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, greed, and power. Not only do we become institutionalized in our sin, we become desensitized to it. Sin starts to feel “normal” and we accept our sinful lifestyle as “just the way it is … that’s just who I am.”
When we trust Christ to provide all our needs, we are set free—free to love and to serve, free to experience joy and peace, free to live without worry and anxiety, free from the devastating guilt of sin.
Of course, the Good News is that Jesus came to free us from our slavery to sin. He gives us wonderful words of truth, hope, and reassurance in John 8:31-32, 36: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Those words are so precious to us that we’ve etched them in stone on a building at the University of Texas!
How sad that the first hearers of those great words reacted to them with outrage. In John 8, a group of Jews who had a shallow faith in Jesus finds that his words of truth make them uncomfortable. Truth can be painful. Instead of facing up to the uncomfortable truth, they react to Jesus in a way that is both defensive and accusatory. Twice Jesus accuses them of being murderers. Of course, they deny this. But by the end of the story, they have taken up stones to kill him. The truth hurts.
Jesus sees through the faux faith of these “believing Jews” and presents us with a profile of the true disciple. We will examine this profile Sunday morning.
My prayer is that you and I will not react to Jesus like the Jews did. We should not try to defend ourselves or accuse Jesus of being something he’s not. We should not respond to him with personal pride and grow angry with him when his truth makes us uncomfortable.
We should respond to the truth with a humble heart and a willingness to change. Jesus tells us the truth about ourselves because he knows what is best for us. When we see ourselves as we truly are and surrender ourselves to Jesus, he will set us free from the prison of sin.
When we trust Christ to provide all our needs, especially the need for love and worth, then we are set free—free to love and to serve, free to experience joy and peace, free to live without worry and anxiety, free from the devastating guilt of sin. That’s how God created us to live—free from fear of death, and free to live in an intimate relationship with Him.
This freedom is not just available, it is given as a free gift to those who’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb. This means that, for most of us, we already have such freedom! We just need to start living like we have it.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).