Search This Blog

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent 20: Waiting to be set free

“People are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” (2 Peter 2:19) What are we mastered by? The peculiar chains that bind each of us are slightly different: anxiety about the future; the pain of ongoing sickness; fear of what other people think; addictions to what hurts us; financial insecurity; worry about weight and appearance; the pressure to buy certain things and appear to live a certain lifestyle. We are all enslaved by something. 

When Jesus came he proclaimed that freedom had arrived. He set free those who had been chained by tormenting spirits and thought processes (Mark 5:15), those we had been sick for many years (Luke 8:48), those who were estranged from their communities (Mark 1:40-45, Luke 9:42-43), those whose tongues had never let them speak (Mark 7:35), whose eyes had never let them see (John 9:6-7), whose legs had never let them walk (Mark 2:11-12) He fulfilled the ancient promises of the prophets by declaring that he was the one who had come to release the captives from what bound them. (Isaiah 61:1)

But, Jesus also declared freedom of an altogether more powerful kind. He claimed that he had come to set us free from the one thing that masters everyone: sin. When speaking to a crowd about freedom, the crowd took offense at him claiming that they didn’t need his help. We are already free, they said. Don’t talk to us about freedom. But Jesus went on to say that all of them were, in fact, slaves because all of them were sinners: “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:31-36)

This is an extremely uncomfortable claim. We are all slaves because we all sin. We all do things wrong. We all do things that we don’t really want to and we know will cause hurt and yet, somehow, we are powerless to not do them. The angry word spoken once, sworn never to be spoken again, that pops out a second time. And a third. That snide comment about someone else’s family or ability or appearance that spills out before we can hold it in. That dig about someone else which makes us feel good. That small, white lie that saves our own skin. That secretive snacking on cake in the kitchen whilst claiming to everyone else to be on a diet. That smug satisfaction about seeing someone else fail to do something that we ourselves struggle to do. The determination to do better, be better, think nicer next time that fails the second a particular circumstance arises.

Sin is not just the acts themselves but the thing in us that makes us do those acts. There is something inside me that I can’t get a handle on, something deep down and rotten that I can’t control and can’t squash down no matter how hard I try. This slavery is too deep to be broken by myself. I cannot be free of it. And this is precisely what Jesus is talking about. This is the slavery that he offers to set us free from. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) We will be free from living under sin now and freed from the deathly wages of sin in the future.

But Jesus's freedom is paradoxical. We enter in to it through a kind of willing slavery, exchanging our current master for a new one. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) Freedom comes by following the rules. I assume that freedom looks like throwing off a set of shackles but Jesus says that his followers allow him to bind them in a different way. There is liberty in submitting to his leadership. His boundaries are good. The limits he puts in place allow us to be truly free. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the Father and yet he knew what it was to be free; he invites us to do the same – to run in the path of his commands because there is freedom there (Psalm 119:45), to be set free from sin and become his slave instead. (Romans 6:22)

No comments:

Post a comment