“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, anyone who sins is a slave of sin” – John 8:31-33
The context of this passage, is Jesus talking of his complete unity with his Father. It was difficult for those listening to follow along, as they didn’t yet seen him as the Son of God.
I am convinced, more than anything, that the problems of our world are only moral ones. There are no others. We are, as Jesus so rightly says here, slaves to sin, confused and lost. At the moment, in our disciple making, we are working alongside half a dozen people who are, even by normal standards, messed up. At the bottom of it is the problem of sin. Sin has made them slaves, and extreme sin has put them in almost total bondage. Jesus compares sinfulness with slavery, and truth with freedom. What does that mean though?
At the heart of sin, is our total disregard for God. It is the very opposite of what Jesus speaks of here. We become the centre of our universe, not him, and in doing so we live for ourselves. Very quickly, things spiral out of control, and we find ourselves slaves to sin. Try telling a drug addict to simply ‘stop sinning’ and they will look at you in a hopeless haze. Are you serious, I cannot, I am a slave.
What is the antidote? Ultimately, unity with the Father through Christ.
Every year, I read again “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. Manning was an alcoholic Catholic priest who married. Not exactly the model priest, and as a result he suffered acute depression. In ‘Ragamuffin,’ Manning brazenly presents a one-sided Gospel that only deals with the ridiculous love of God. There is no other side to his story, and that is intentional. It is a refreshing book, because after reading it, my focus is again on the outrageous love of God that came alive through Jesus Christ. It reminds me that I am not good enough, and I will never be good enough but he still loves me.
Why is that so important, we may ask? Because, at the core of the Gospel message is God’s love for all humanity, and it is a story that needs to be told. We must be careful when presenting the Gospel that God’s love – not our sin, or even our response to sin, is at the centre of our story. “For God so loved the world…” we are told before any mention of what we have done.
In my experience, most people are totally unaware that there could possibly be a God that loves them, while the church has been telling them for centuries to stop doing whatever it is they are doing. That’s not to say that we need to present a soft Gospel, that doesn’t demand a response on our behalf. God’s love is available to everyone, and how we respond to it has eternal consequences.
Jesus tells us here though, that if we remain faithful to his teachings, we will be set free. Yet his teachings – in fact his entire life, were centred around the love of the Father. Many of his parables were about God seeking and searching for the lost to bring them home (it’s worth noting that the only harsh parables seemed to be reserved for the religious elite of his day, warning them of impending disaster). His whole life was a life lived out in the assurance of his Father’s total love, which he then showered on those around him. You and me.
In a recent post I mentioned Luther’s first treatise in his 95 theses, that “all of life is repentance.” This says to me that everyday, I need to come to the Father in humble submission and acknowledge my wandering off on my own, acknowledging that due to my own misgivings, we have become separated. As I do this, I begin to see his great love for me, and it is the love, this final admission that he loves me and wants me as part of his family, that begins to change me. My response is to God, rather than what I have done, or even what I can do.
His love for me will not be sentimental, in fact at times it may appear quite austere, but nonetheless it is unchanging. He points me to the cross of his Son as the ultimate example of just what such a love means. Sin, our separation is very serious.
But, in our explanation of the Gospel message to others, I am becoming more persuaded that it is this ultimate love of God that will begin the first change in a person. Along the way, we will need no doubt to point out the need for them to ‘turn from their sin’ in repentance. But for some, the response to that is likely to simply be too difficult. ‘I’ve been like this all my life, how do I change?’
The answer is as Jesus suggests here, unity with the Father through him. Turn our gaze from ourselves and our problems to him, and watch him begin to do the impossible in our lives. He will change us. Some of that change may happen instantly, for others it may take longer.
But, our job as disciple makers is to keep these new-born’s, indeed even the mature among us, reminded of our need to get in close to God, to discover his love in our lives, his desire to change us, his willingness to work with us and draw us to him, because of what his Son has done.
We are all slaves to sin, but the antidote is not so much what we do about it, as what he has done about it. This is the story we must tell.
Shall we get started?