To the Jews who had believed him, 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.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-35
Things in the past can enslave us. Mistakes we have made, experiences we cannot forget, things that have been done to us. Bitterness and disappointment can consume our thinking, robbing us of joy and hope. Images burned into our consciousness, like pornography or sexual perversion, can cause us to relapse into patterns of sin. Anger over the harm others have done to us can overcome us in quiet moments, long after the events have passed. We can find ourselves trapped by the past, unable to find the freedom we desperately need. We become blocked from the life we want to have, the life that Jesus means for us to have: The abundant life in Him.
Jesus offers us a life of freedom and power.
I just prayed with a young man who was struggling with the past, controlled by the disappointment of a broken engagement from long ago. He told me he couldn't get it out of his mind, years later. He was blocked in the present, struggling to find hope and peace. I know how he feels. I've gone through times when I couldn't turn my mind away from things in the past—times when I've been overcome with unforgiveness, anxiety, and regret. We live in a world that promises fulfillment but always disappoints. The promise of temporary happiness draws us along a path in its pursuit, but there is always a point where it runs out. We find ways to manage our pain and disappointment that lead us into more bondage. As the years go by, we find ourselves locked in the prison of our own thoughts. We can't find our way to the life we want.
In John 8, Jesus was talking to people who were yearning for something more. Some were broken people, rejected and judged for their failures. Others were poor or ritually unclean, ignored and mistreated by their own people. Others were members of the religious community who had been left empty by tradition and were seeking God's Spirit in his promised kingdom. But they all had something in common. They were slaves to the mistakes of the past and were separated from the true life that God wanted for them.
The world has no solution aside from distraction and entertainment. It keeps us locked in a cycle, deeper in bondage the longer we pursue the goals it lays before us. Like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, we can regard ourselves as free, but our lifestyles prove otherwise. We don't have the freedom not to sin. We can't break away from the same self-destructive pursuits as everyone else. We can't find the power to be free, in and of ourselves, to the degree we're a product of the world around us. Freedom isn't a state of mind, it's a condition of identity.
Jesus's solution in John 8 is to become children of a new family—his family. Membership in his family means new identity and new life. Those who are children of God are truly free. The way we become sons and daughters is by following in Jesus's footsteps. As we trust the Father the same way Jesus did, we are adopted into his family and can see the truth. We don't need the hollow solutions the world holds out to us, with its empty promises of happiness. We don't need to let the past define us, and we don't need to let sin control us. We have the freedom and power to be the people we were meant to be. We have a new destiny, given to us by the one who died for us. As we fix our eyes on him, we find our way to the life we were meant to have, and along that path lies freedom from both the present and the past, and the hope of an eternity with the one who loves us.