Sola Scriptura

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  His actions set in motion a movement that changed the entire course of history.  The Reformation was, at its heart, a recovery of the Gospel.  Out of the Reformation came 5 essential truths that became the foundation for what the church stands for today.  They are known as the “5 Solas” – 5 Latin phrases that summarize what the church stands for:

  1. Sola Scripture (Scripture alone)
  2. Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
  3. Sola Fide (Faith alone)
  4. Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  5. Sola Deo Gloria (God’s glory alone)

To mark this great historical occasion, we are going to examine each of these and see how they apply to us today.

Sola Scriptura (our only foundation)

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” – Martin Luther

Sola Scriptura means just that – Scripture alone.  This does not mean that the instructions, counsel, advice or experiences of other people are not helpful.  This does not mean that the truth in the Scriptures is equally clear to all people.  Nor does it mean we don’t need the guiding, teaching and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit (I’ll be getting to that soon).   What it does mean is that the Scriptures are our only ultimate, reliable and infallible authority for all Christian faith and practice.

Psalm 119:89 says, “Lord, your word is forever; it is firmed fixed in heaven.”

Firmly fixed – sure, settled, immovable, unchangeable, reliable, dependable, trustworthy and true.

So why was this so important to the early Reformers?  Because in their day the ultimate authority was not the Bible.  It was the church.  Picture in your mind a 3-legged stool.  Label one of the legs “Scripture,” label the second leg “Tradition,” and label the third leg “Magisterium” (I’ll explain that one in a minute).  You now have a picture of the authority structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  Now think of marble column or staying with the analogy, a one-legged stool.  Label that one pillar or leg “Scripture.”  You now have a mental picture of the authority structure of Protestant Churches.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Scripture is only one authority.  Tradition has equal authority.  And so does the offices of the Pope and the Bishops (the Magisterium).  And the Pope, along with the Bishops have the authority to interpret the meaning of both the Scripture and Church Tradition (which come in really handy when it comes to making a change).  The Reformers protested against this saying, “No, we have only one authority: Scripture.”

Perhaps the most convincing text on this would be 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The word “inspired” is the Greek term theopnustos.  It means “to breath out.”  All Scripture is literally “breathed out by God.”  And that becomes even more significant when you understand the word for breath and Spirit are the same – the Greek word pneuma.  The Word of God comes from the Spirit of God.  That’s why we should never divorce the Spirit from the Word.  We should never pursue an experience of the Spirit apart from the Word.  Nor should we try to understand and apply the Word without any interaction with or dependence on, the Spirit.  The two work hand-in-hand.

Now everything we need for the Christian life is found in the Word so Paul is able to say, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (v.17).  It doesn’t spell out how to be a Christian astrophysicist or a Christian accountant.  But it points us to Jesus, shows us all the riches that are in Christ, it brings faith in Him which unites us to Jesus and equips us to bear fruit in all sorts of ways.

  • It teaches us the truth (by showing us what is right)
  • It rebukes us of sin and error (by showing when we are wrong)
  • It corrects our behavior (by showing us how to get right)
  • It trains us for righteousness (by showing us how to stay right)

No one else can do that for you.  I can’t do that for you.  Your spouse can’t do that for you.  The church can’t do that for you.  But the Word of God can do that for you.  It is able.  It has authority.  Because it is given by God Himself.

The Word of God is our authority.  We don’t have any other authority.  We listen and pay heed to what God in his Word tells us –

  • Not what tradition tells us
  • Not what human opinion tells us
  • Now what human wisdom and human reasoning tells us
  • Not what the culture we live in tells us
  • Not what our experience tells us

That is why this doctrine – Sola Scriptura is so important for us today.  Because we will always be tempted to move away from Scripture or to go beyond Scripture.  There will always be something out there that is more attractive, more alluring, more rewarding, more tantalizing, or more exciting.  Who wants to sit and do bible study when there are so many other things on offer?  But will those other things reveal to you the mind and will of God like his Word will?

Will they expose sin and error in your life?

Will they draw you closer to Christ?

Do they have the power to transform you?

Can they feed you spiritually so that you leave with your soul full?

Can they give you personal advice and counsel on just about any subject?

Can they comfort you in times of distress?

Can they help lift your eyes to God?

Can they give you wisdom that is needed for counseling others?

During the Reformation, the main contestant for authority in the church was tradition.  Tradition, along with the sacraments and rituals and relics trumped Scripture.  Today I believe it is experience.  If a Christian experiences it, then it is valid.  It is of God.  And the Bible is interpreted in light of the experience, not the experience in light of what the Bible says.  Don’t get me wrong here: it is a good thing to seek personal encounters with God.  It is a good thing to sense God’s presence and to have such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that you sense his leading and prompting in any given situation.  But just remember: experiences can be faulty.  Emotions are not always trustworthy.  Subjective impressions and so-called “leadings” must always be tested.  And the only sure test we have is the Word of God.

Because it never changes.  It always remains true.  It is always trustworthy.  It will never put you wrong.  And that is why it is our only authority.

Sola Scriptura.  Never forget it.  Lay hold of it each and every day.

 

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God time

Now that I have come to know God and enjoy walking with him daily, I don’t know how I or anyone else could live without him.  No one knows me like he does.  No one cares for me the way he does.  And certainly no one is able to fix up the mess I often make of my life (and the lives of others) the way he can.  And that is why, before I meet or talk with anyone else in the day, I first meet and talk to him.

Some Christians call it a “Quiet Time” which sounds a bit odd if you’re not conversant with ‘Christianese’ lingo.  It also doesn’t sit that well for us masculine types.  Another term is “Time Alone with God” (TAWG) which is better, but still doesn’t do really do it for me.  Bill Hybels calls it “chair time”.  Find a spot in your house where you can be alone, sit yourself down and connect with God.  When you’re in that chair, other people know to leave you alone because that’s your personal time with God.  I kind of like that – much better for us blokes.

Whatever you want to call it you need to make time for God.  You need to make time for God because it’s the foundation for your entire life.  Your relationship with God affects your marriage, your career, your finances, and your relationship with your kids, co-workers and neighbours.  It affects your thought life, your emotional health as well as your daily decisions and actions.  In fact, there is hardly anything I know that my relationship with God does not affect.  That’s why you need to develop a strategy to make time with God a priority in your life.

And just to make things clear, this isn’t about finding ways to earn favour with God; to get into his “good books” if you like.  There’s only one way to get into God’s good books and that is by believing and trusting in Jesus. “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).  Salvation is by grace, through faith.  We please God when we take him at his Word and trust in his way of making us right with him, not our own way.  No, this is about responding to God’s invitation to get to know him more intimately and allowing him to speak into our hearts.  This in turn will lead into a more enriching, satisfying and fulfilling life.

“My heart says this about you: “Seek his face.” Lord, I will seek your face” (Psalm 27:8)

God speaks to our heart and our heart speaks to us, and then we in turn speak back to God.  That’s how it works.

So how do I go about my Quiet Time or Chair Time or whatever you want to call it?  Well, it for the most part it consists of Bible Reading, Meditation and Prayer.  Those are the three main ingredients that help me connect with God.  It’s a tried and true method.  Godly men and women have walked this trail throughout the centuries and I’m happy to follow in their footsteps.

  • I read Scripture.  God speaks to me through His Word.
  • I meditate on Scripture, reading it slowly and thinking carefully about those words and what they might be saying to me.
  • Then I respond by speaking back to God

Now let me provide you with an example.  During one morning meeting with God this week, I opened my Bible to Psalm 119.  My focus was verses 33-40.  I asked God to speak to me through his Word, and reveal to me more about Himself and what he wants for me.  As I gazed over the text something caught my attention:

33 Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your statutes, and I will always keep them.,
34 Help me understand your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
35 Help me stay on the path of your commands, for I take pleasure in it.

Notice he asks for help twice – help in understanding God’s Word (v.34) and help for obeying it (v.35).  We need double assistance from God – light to know the way and strength to walk in it.  Not only does my mind need to be enlightened, my will also needs to be moved.  And I’m completely dependent on God to do both.

So I began to turn this into prayer – “Lord help me to understand your Word.  My mind is dull.  It sometimes cannot grasp even the simple things.  And then when I understand what to do, please help me to do it. You know me well Lord, I am full of good intentions.  I don’t carry through on my promises.  And then, when I do obey you, don’t let me forget it was all of you.” 

Now that I’m starting to do real business with God, I sense a reviving of my spirit; the spiritual pump is primed so-to-speak, and I begin thinking of other needs – my wife and family, people who need Jesus, people in my church, missionaries etc. I begin to pray for all those people.  And I’m away.

You have to remember there is no special technique in all this.  It works differently for different people.  Some people start by listening to worship music or singing; others use devotional material of various sorts.  Some use a combination of all those things.  A staff member at our church shared how she journals her time with God.  When the Lord impresses some truth on her heart she writes it down and then makes a note of that on the inside cover.  I thought that was a great idea.

I have learned over the years that it is good to vary your time with God.  Mix it up.  Try new things.  Don’t get stuck in a rut.  Avoid at all possible letting it become tedious, dry or dull.  Because God is not dull.  He is the liveliest, most spirited, and most interesting person in the universe.

You just need to spend the time, each day, to get to know him.

 

 

The tattoo man

This past Wednesday I flew up to Auckland with our church staff team to be part of a Ministry Leaders Forum.  It was great to get away together and thrash out ideas about how we can do ministry better.  On the morning we were due to leave, I came before God and made a request.  It comes from a prayer someone sent to me a few weeks back:

“God today I would like to present your message of love to anyone’s path I will cross.  If you have any ideas on this –  I am a willing participant:  Holy Spirit help me to hear your voice and help me to have the courage to obey.  I am available to be used by you today.”

After checking in at the airport I looked at our seat numbers and noticed that I wasn’t sitting next to any of the staff members – I was alone.  Well that’s interesting, I thought.  The Bible teaches us that nothing in life happens by accident.  All is governed by the hand of an all-knowing and all-wise God.  So I sent up a quick prayer: “Lord Jesus, you already know who I’m sitting next to, I’m available for you.”

The flight was delayed and then 20 minutes later, it was delayed again.  Finally, we were able to board.  I made my way down the back of the plane curious as to who the mystery passenger that would be sitting next to me was.  Then I spotted him, a guy in his mid 20’s, with tattoos running from his fingers all the way up to his neck.  A nervous thought passed through my mind: “Lord, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” 

It turned out he was quite friendly (footnote: don’t let tattoos scare you).  He’s a tattoo artist from the Coromandel, and a very talented one at that.  He has people from all over the world coming to see him.  Just recently he did a big job on the back of a high-flying businessman from Germany.  He showed me some of his products on his phone.  I was really impressed.

Then he turned to me and said, “So what do you do?”  Now as soon as that question comes up, I’m committed. There’s no going back.  People hear, “I’m a pastor” and the conversation can die right there. I have to move fast.  So as soon as the word “pastor” came out of my mouth, I turned to him and said, “So what about you?  Do you have any kind of faith or belief?”
“Yeah,” he replies, “I believe in the spirit world. I know it’s real.”

We’re away.  That’s an open door.

Then I ask him how he knows there’s a spirit world.  He says, “I’ve seen them – you know, those who have gone to the other side.”
“Really?” I reply, a little nervous as to where this might be going.
“Yeah, they appear to me from time to time, sometime at the end of my bed.  But they rush at me really fast, it kind of freaks me out.”

Now while all this is going on the plane is experiencing some turbulence.  It’s getting a little bumpy.  Right at the time he talks about these spirit beings rushing at him, we hit a massive downdraft and my seat disappears from under me.  Everyone stops talking and a few cry out. And this guy is just looking at me cool as a cucumber, and keeps on talking.  “That does sound kind of freaky,” I replied, turning a shade of white and working hard to retain composure.

But I knew that the Holy Spirit was absolutely in this and so I said to him, “You know Jesus dealt a lot with the spirit world.  He was working with that stuff all the time.”
“Really?” he says, interested.
“Yeah, you ought to read about it.  It’s in the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible.”
“I’ve always told myself I’ll read that, but never got around to it.”
“By the way,” I continued, “Has anyone ever told you the Jesus story?  It’s called the gospel.”
“Nope – no one has”
“Would you like to hear it?  It doesn’t take long.  I can do it in a few minutes”
“Sure, go ahead”

So then, while the plane is rocking all over the place I tell him the simple story of who Jesus was, why he was a special human being, his miraculous birth and some of the miracles he performed.  I focus in on his authority over evil spirits – how he can command them to do whatever he wants.  Then I talk about his death on the cross and the resurrection and how what that means for all of us today – that we can be fully forgiven of our sin and have eternal life.  And at the end I said, “So what do you think about that?”
“That’s pretty cool,” he says.

Now he wasn’t ready to make any kind of response just there.  But he was really interested.  I gave him a little gospel tract that tells you how you can find eternal life (I try to carry one with me when I travel), and then I wrote my email address on the back. “If you have any questions, write to me. I’d love to help.”

I was reminded that day what can happen when you make yourself available to God to be used.  All it takes is a little intentionality in a conversation and you can find a way in to talk about spiritual matters.  In this case it was an easy in, because the spiritual realm is real to him.  For others it’s not, so you have to go in another way.

But I’m learning an important lesson in all this: don’t think people don’t want to know. Don’t assume anything.  Here’s a fully tattooed young guy who wanted to know about Jesus.  I wouldn’t have picked that looking at him.  How many people like this man do you brush past each day, thinking they would never be interested in spiritual things but actually are?  I think sometimes we are blinded by our own scepticism and unbelief.

If you put your hand up to be used by God, don’t be surprised when he sends the most unsuspecting people your way.

Angry at God for not existing

surprised-by-joy_cs-lewis_620A recent post caught my attention the other day. It was called: 9 Things You Should Know About C. S. Lewis. It was quite an eye opener. I didn’t know that C.S. Lewis was the author of more than 60 books or that he had a fondness for nicknames (he and his brother called each other “Smallpigiebotham”). I didn’t know that he fought in the Battle of Somme in WWI, or that he was wounded.  I also did not know that Lewis was raised in a church-going family. I thought he was always an atheist, but he didn’t become one until the age of 15.  Lewis later wrote,

“I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”

Now I find that interesting. It shows that many self-claimed Atheists live in a contradiction. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet (and this aligns with modern empirical studies), they tend to be the people most angry at him.  Back in 2011 the Journal of personality and Social Psychology found through their studies that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like.  Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of that study wrote,

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalysis of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Fascinating. I had a conversation with a close family member not long ago. This particular individual grew up in a Christian home, regularly attended a bible-teaching church and was later baptized. Then at age 18 he renounced his faith. Now he’s angry at God (whom he doesn’t believe exists).  He can’t understand why God, who is (supposedly) all-loving would allow evil. He can’t understand why he would create people, knowing full well they would sin. And he can’t understand how God could create a place called hell, so that the majority of the human race who don’t want him in their lives can suffer there. Now there are things there that many Christians have a hard time with. I’m not going to take the time to give my two cents worth on it – that’s for another post. The point I’m simply making is here is a young man who is angry at divine Being that, according to him, doesn’t actually exist. And that’s a contradiction.

But it’s a good contradiction. It means there is still hope. Atheists and agnostics (people who believe that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God) are more religious than they think.  God has put eternity in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). They have a hard time shrugging that reality off. They just keep fighting, untill one day, God willing – they give in.

And that gives hope to all believing friends and family of atheists.

 

Friendship

friendsTaking photos is a hobby of mine. I’m not a professional photographer. I haven’t taken any classes (though I probably should do at some stage).  I just love capturing memories – of people and life and events. I love scenes of nature and the beauty of God’s creation.  Sometimes I’m just looking for a scene that catches my eye. I’m not sure what will come of it – I just have a sense there is something special about it. Here is one of those scenes.

I was initially looking at the man with the dog in his jacket. He was having a little conversation. It was kind of cute.  Then he started pointing to things across the water and telling his dog about it. There’ s a shot, I thought. I was only when I looked through the lens of my phone that I saw the two friends having a conversation on the other side of the boat. Now here’s a real shot. I got it in the nick of time. One fraction of a second too late and I would have missed it.

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The same scene a millisecond after I took the shot

I think this may be one of the best photos I’ve ever taken. Let me tell you why.

First, it tells story. It’s a story about friendship – a man and his dog and two teen-age girls (my daughter and her best friend). Both are fully engaged in their friendship, speaking close into the ear of their companion, over the noise of the boat engines. But they don’t notice each other. They are in their own little worlds, yet on the same boat (so to speak). Second, there is symmetry. Notice how both scenes are perfectly and evenly divided by the boat wake trailing in the background, with the two lifebuoys either side. And then third, there is a hidden element. There is a woman in the background, seated behind the girls who is gazing into the horizon. That happens to be my wife.

If you’d like to comment on this photo I’d be interested in your thoughts (especially if you’ve had any training or have an artist’s eye). I don’t mind you telling me it’s over-rated. I don’t get offended easily. I just enjoy taking pictures and telling stories.

 

Riding the Craigieburn Trails

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I stumbled across the Craigieburn Forest almost by accident, while driving the Arthur’s Pass between the West Coast and Christchurch earlier this year. Signs on the side of the road flashed by: “Mountain Bike Trails”. I immediately depressed the brake pedal. “Come on,” I said to Francelle, “We have our bikes on the back. Let’s have a look.” The landscape was Stunning. We jumped on a trail not far from the road and were soon weaving through dense beech forest and along tussock-covered hills, all beneath a 270-degree vista of snow-capped mountain peaks. I only wished we had more time. I knew that one day I’d be back.

mankymap1That day came last weekend, at my sister’s book launch in Oxford, Canterbury. I’ve learned the best plan is to map out your ride in your head before you leave, otherwise you get easily disoriented and lost (with no phone data connection). The trails are well set out on a number of different internet sites (see here and here). One of them caught my eye – the Craigieburn Edge trail. Here’s a description:

“Best suited to intermediate to advanced riders… Riders’ nerves are tested from the start as the Craigieburn Edge trail cuts across a steep scree slope before dropping into beech forest for a thrilling descent.”

Excellent! Sounds like a bit of me. I strapped the bike on the back of the car and set off. The trail starts at the end of Craigieburn Ski Field Rd, which is about a 700m climb from the main West Coast Rd. It was off-road stuff, one lane only with fords. It’s places like these where 4-wheel-drive vehicles come in handy.cbt-1

cbt-2When I reached the top there was a car park and a ski village, but no sign of any bike trail. That’s a pain, I thought. While I was wondering what to do next a Double Cab full of bikes and bikers turned up. This looks promising. I asked them if they knew where the Craigieburn Edge Trail was. “We’re heading there now,” they said. “You can follow us.” Perfect.

Well I was glad they arrived because I would have NEVER found the beginning of the trail. We traipsed with our bikes through the last of the winter snow to the bottom of the ski lift and there, very evident, was the Edge Trail.cbt-3

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After taking a few pics of each other we mounted our “steeds” and headed off.cbt-5The trail was a bit tricky and you had to navigate through the shale and pieces of rock that had slid down the mountain. Every now and then the path disappeared altogether and you had to stop, pick up your bike and walk over the rock. But the view was stunning (as you can see).cbt-6

Here’s a couple of more pics on the same track I leached from :beer-045c1090

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Less than 10 minutes into my ride I came around a corner and my front wheel hit a rock which spun my handlebars violently to the right and sent me flying full speed into the rock face. It was the hardest fall I’ve had yet. I felt a sharp pain in my right arm – really deep at the bone level. I looked down and saw a bunch of skin missing and quite a bit of blood coming out. Fortunately, I hadn’t broken anything. But it was a close call. I probably should have sat down and taken it easy for a few minutes. But, like most bikers, I got back up, straightened up the handlebars, and took off (I paid for this later).

It was only early afternoon and I had a few hours left.  Even with my sore and bloodied arm I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to investigate one or two more trails.  There was one I wanted to re-visit, when I was with my wife earlier on in the year: the Dracophyllum Flat Track.  It’s a beautiful ride along a plateau that weaves through tussock while you have an almost 360 degree view of mountains.

The pictures I took just didn’t do it credit so I grabbed a couple from the web to give you an idea: beer-053img_0684I just love places like this. I love the beauty, the ruggedness and the remoteness of it all.  It’s time where I can unwind, unplug work devices and breathe in the mountain air. I not only see the beauty of God’s creation; I experience it.

Reflecting once again on all this, Psalm 104 came to mind. It beautifully describes the creative power of God in forming the earth. I’ll leave with a few verses:

He established the earth on its foundations;
it will never be shaken.
You covered it with the deep
as if it were a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At Your rebuke the waters fled;
at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away —
mountains rose and valleys sank —
to the place You established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
they will never cover the earth again.
He causes the springs to gush into the valleys;
they flow between the mountains.
They supply water for every wild beast;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky live beside the springs;
they sing among the foliage.
He waters the mountains from His palace;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of Your labor.
Psalm 104:5–13 (HCSB)

The truth will set you free

brokenchainOne of the benefits of living in a democracy is we get to enjoy a lot of freedoms. Take the New Zealand Bill of Rights – it’s a public document – you can look it up online. Under the section “Democratic and civil rights” you’ll find this:

nz-bill-of-rights13 Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

14 Freedom of expression
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

15 Manifestation of religion and belief
Every person has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.

16 Freedom of peaceful assembly
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

17 Freedom of association
Everyone has the right to freedom of association.

But for many in our society, when they hear the word “freedom”, they are not thinking civil rights. They are not thinking freedom of speech and religion. They are thinking from all moral restraints.  “Real freedom,” they say, “means doing whatever I want, whenever I want, without anyone stopping me.”  And we all know where that kind of freedom takes us – don’t we?

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son. He wanted to leave home. He didn’t like living under his Father’s restraints. So he demands his inheritance and goes off to live a life of self-indulgence and instant gratification.  But it doesn’t take long before he realizes it’s another form of slavery. Thomas Huxley – a famous atheist was right. “A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.”

If we are to be truly liberated or truly free, that liberation must take place deep within. That’s where Jesus comes in. According to Jesus, there is a special kind of freedom that only HE – the Son, can give us.

In John 8:31-32 Jesus speaks these most profound words,

“If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Jews respond in the next verse:

“We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Well this is a very interesting response isn’t it, considering their history. They were slaves of the Egyptians. They were in bondage to the Assyrians and Babylonians, and then the Medo-Persians and the Grecians. And now they’re in bondage to the Romans.

Jesus replies with these words:

 “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34)

Now this would have hit them like a slap in the face, and it does the same for us.  Jesus is telling us something here about our true problem. It is sin. And sin, Jesus says, is not just something bad we do but a power deep within us that makes us do those things.  We sin because we are sinners.  We are in bondage.  And the more we repeat an act of sin, the more that bondage grips us.

We know this to be true – don’t we?  You remember the first time as a child that you stole something –  perhaps it was some money from your mother’s purse. You felt terrible doing that.  You lay on your bed that night crushed by guilt.  A day later you take some more.  And then some days later, some more. Each time it is less of a struggle. Some weeks later it comes normally.  You have been overtaken by that sin.  You are now completely enslaved.  It’s the new normal.

This is how addictions develop. Take the man addicted to pornography. He begins by looking at one or two pictures.  Just a little bit, I’m just curious, he says. The image flashes and his heart races – he gives him a high. Then he needs a little bit more – something more explicit; more exciting, more lewd. As time goes on his craving increases as his satisfaction level decreases.  He’s on the way to prison. He’s enslaved.

John Calvin mentions this when he says, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is burdened under and buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will. Isn’t that interesting? The more we are overcome by sin, the more we are inclined to say we are free.

It is from this bondage and this misery that Jesus gives us hope.  He says in verse 35:

“A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” (John 8:35–36)

A slave’s position in a house is tenuous, shaky and fragile. A slave could be sold, or traded or simply got rid of.  But not the Son.  The remains in the house forever.  The Son has the authority to liberate a slave and change his status. If the Son sets you free, you are completely free.  This is what Jesus, the Son of God, can do for us.

Spurgeon calls this text the “The great liberator.” That’s who Jesus is – He is the great Liberator. Can He free me from guilt? Yes, He can free you from guilt. Can he free me from the punishment that I deserve because of my sin? Yes, he can free you from that too.  Can he free me from the power of sin in my life?  Yes, he can free you from sin’s power. Can he free me from the fear of death? Yes he can, for he has taken the sting out of death and death is no longer an enemy.

So we now see our problem.  Our problem is slavery.  We are in bondage to sin.  And we have seen Jesus’ promise that he can set us free from that bondage.  The only question we are left with now is HOW?  Go back to the beginning. Look again at verses 31-32:

 “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Note the chain reaction.  It begins with BELIEF.  That’s the first step. You look closely at the person called Jesus.  You listen to what he says. You hear his claims. And you make a conscious decision: “This man is the real thing. This is the Son of God. He came to take away my sin.” And you put your faith in him.

But that’s only the first step. You can’t stop there. You must CONTINUE IN HIS WORD.  This is the Greek word meno.  It means to stay or abide.  You don’t just visit God’s Word as an occasional guest. You move in and live there. You wake up with the Word and you return there every night.  The word begins to have a deep effect on you. It changes your worldview. It governs and guides your thinking, your attitudes, your speech and your behaviour. There isn’t any area of your life that not influenced by the Word in some way.

And then, what is the result of continuing in his word?  YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH. He’s not talking about rational or logical truth. He’s not saying you’ll know that 2 + 2 = 4. Jesus is talking about spiritual truth. Truth about God and man and sin and man’s need for redemption.  Truth about why we are here and where we are going after we die. Truth about life and death, heaven and hell.  Truth about how sin enslaves and how we can be free, you see.  That’s the truth he’s talking about.

When we know that truth, Jesus says, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.  Really free.  Truly free.  I like how John Piper puts it: Free is the sense that you have the desire, the ability and the opportunity to do what makes you happy – not just for today, not just for a week from now, but 10,000 years from now.  A freedom that leaves you with no regrets forever. That’s the kind of freedom Jesus promises.

It’s a terrible thing to live in bondage to sin, while all the while thinking you are free. I lived that way for the first 20 years of my life. I looked at Christians and thought to myself, “those poor people – look what they’re missing out on in life!  All that Jesus stuff – studying their bibles and going to church. How boring!  How dull!”  And so I continued to enjoy my life of sin – my so-called “freedom.”  But there was something about those Christians that bothered me.  They had a joy and an inner I didn’t have.

Then one day I started to investigate Jesus for myself.  I read through the New Testament.  And I came one day to these words, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” And I said to myself, I want that freedom. I want that peace and joy those followers of Jesus have. And so I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus. I began to study His Word.  I began to understand spiritual truth.  And that truth has set me free.

Do you also want to be free?  Then recognize your true condition. Believe the wonderful message of Jesus – that he died and rose again for us, to set us free. Come to Him.  Put your trust in Him. Have him break the chains of sin give you true freedom.

For if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

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